The Frontstretch: Race Trax : Allstate 400 At the Brickyard by Amy Henderson -- Thursday August 3, 2006

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Race Trax : Allstate 400 At the Brickyard

Amy Henderson · Thursday August 3, 2006

 

On Track
The Allstate 400 At the Brickyard may be the twenty-first race on the 36-race NASCAR Nextel Cup Series Schedule, but it is easily one of the most prestigious, given the track's rich history with open wheel cars. This is the only time the Nextel Cup Series will visit the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2006; Indy has hosted the Nextel Cup Series since 1994, and Jeff Gordon was the first driver to win here in Cup competition. The track is a rectangular oval with four distinct (and at nine degrees, very flat) corners connected by two 3,300 foot straightaways and two 660 foot “short chutes,” all of which are completely flat. Drivers will race 160 laps ad 400 miles for the checkered flag. The entry list includes 2005 polesitter Elliott Sadler and 2005 race winner Tony Stewart.

50 teams will compete for 43 starting spots on Sunday. The Top 35 in car owner points are already guaranteed a starting position along with Bill Elliott, who can use a champion’s provisional if he fails to qualify on speed. Qualifying runs consist of two laps, with the fastest lap setting a team's time. The Nextel Cup Series qualifying record at Indianapolis is 186.293 mph, set by Casey Mears in 2004.

The Nextel Cup Series points race saw another shakeup after Pocono. Jimmie extended his lead over Matt Kenseth to 97 after his quiet sixth-place result in the Pennsylvania 500. The run was also Johnson's sixteenth Top 10 finish, which remains tops in the series. Behind those two, Jeff Burton held down the third spot in points, Kyle Busch remained in fourth, and Kevin Harvick moved up three spots to round out the Top 5 in fifth. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. dropped to eleventh in the strandings after his second straight 43rd place finish, and Greg Biffle fell out of the Top 10, too, as Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin fought past them with six races to go before the Chase for the Nextel Cup.

What To Expect
Indy is a huge spectacle, the biggest race of the summer months in terms of prestige and press. Everyone wants to race at the historic track, and they want to win even more. The Brickyard 400 has produced several very exciting finishes, and a last lap duel for the win is not out of the realm of imagination. The flat corners allow some drivers to run a looser car than they might normally try, and in racing parlance, “loose is fast.”

Loose may be fast, but it's still loose. Take a too loose car or a flat tire too hard into the corner, and the SAFER barriers here often get a workout. Jimmie Johnson was taken to the hospital last year after what he describes as “the hardest hit of my career,” and his season never fully recovered. Stewart's win, on the other hand, was a catalyst in his championship run. Indy is not a Chase track, not even much like any of the Chase tracks, but a good (or bad) run can certainly change the face of the points race because of how much the momentum swing can be.

Who to Watch
It's hard to bet against four wins, three poles, seven Top 5, and ten Top 10 finishes in twelve races. Those are Jeff Gordon's numbers in this race, and his team is putting it together at the right time for another great run this week. Gordon’s rival Tony Stewart won last year in front of his hometown crowd, and is by all accounts more relaxed than ever headed into the race. Meanwhile, last year’s Indy runner-up, Kasey Kahne, already leads the series in point victories with four, and in just two races at the Brickyard, he has an average finish of third.

Also, don't forget aboutrookie Denny Hamlin, who will bring the same car that he won twice with at Pocono, another flat track with long, fast straightaways. Ryan Newman continues to struggle this year, but has never started worse than 7th at Indy his entire career. Don't count out Kevin Harvick, either, with his latest surge in the standings; remember, Harvick won here back in 2003. Also remarkably steady this year are Jeff Burton, Mark Martin, and Jimmie Johnson; along with Harvick, none has failed to finish a race in 2006, and the points show that. Johnson's Indy finishes have been disappointing in particular, but any of those three have the experience and potential to put it all together on raceday and be a threat for the win here.

Did You Know:

  • The winner of this race has led the points standings to begin the Chase for the Nextel Cup both years the format has been used?

  • The inaugural Cup race at the Brickyard featured 21 lead changes?
  • That two drivers who call Indiana their home state have won the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard? Jeff Gordon was born in California, but moved to the Hoosier State at a young age, and Tony Stewart was born and raised in Indiana.

You Don't Say…
“I can't wait to get back to Indy. A win at Indianapolis would mean more to me than a win at any other track we race on for obvious reasons. To this day, one of my most memorable moments in racing was winning the pole in 2004. It was unreal to me. As I've gotten older, I've really come to appreciate Indy, its history and what my family has accomplished there. I was too young to see my dad and uncle race there, so I grew up attached to it through television. I think most people would be surprised to know the first time I ever stepped foot at Indy was not until the early 90s after I won a Jim Russell USAC Championship and they were holding the banquet at the Speedway. My first lap at the track was as a passenger in an SUV, and the track was covered in about six inches of snow.” driver Casey Mears on the Brickyard (his uncle, Rick Mears, won the Indianapolis 500 four times)

“You dream about something for so long, you become consumed by it. When I was in USAC trying to make a living as a race car driver, I drove a tow truck for a guy I raced Sprint cars against. I would drive down Georgetown toward 16th Street, parallel with the frontstretch, and wonder what it would be like 300 feet to the left running 200 mph. I got a chance to do that, and finally, after years of trying to win, be it in Indy cars or stock cars, I got to know what it feels like, to see that view coming down the front straightaway, seeing the checkered flag and knowing that I was the first driver to cross the stripe, versus the second, third or fourth-place guy. I had wanted that moment for so long, and I finally got it.” driver and Indiana native Tony Stewart on winning the Allstate 400 At the Brickyard

“I think it's pretty cool that we've got Randy Moss on the car. He's had a lot of success in football, so I'm hoping he'll be a good luck charm for us this weekend and help us be successful on the track. I've heard this is the first time a football player has been featured on a stock car, so that's pretty neat, too. Randy's a fast guy, so he should feel right at home on a race car.” driver Jeff Green, referring to a special paint scheme for Inta Juice that features the NFL great

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Did You Notice? … A Return To Richmond, Post-Spingate And Quick Hits
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Contact Amy Henderson

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