NASCAR Race Weekend Central

4 Burning Questions: Will Team Penske Finally Win the Brickyard?

Will Team Penske’s Brickyard 400 winless drought continue?

Hard to believe a team with 16 wins and 17 poles in the Indianapolis 500 has failed to achieve neither in the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

But for Team Penske, it’s been one of those races that has not played out in its favor over the years, even with current drivers Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski. In Keselowski’s case, the driver of the No. 2 has never finished higher than ninth in six Indy starts, though he did grab the inaugural XFINITY Series race win there in 2012 for Penske and recently won consecutive races at Daytona International Speedway and Kentucky Speedway for the Blue Ovals.

Meanwhile, the same can be said for Joey Logano, who has been a hot streak in 2016 with five top 5s in the last six races. He has yet to taste victory at Indy, though he finished second in 2015 after leading 28 laps and finished fifth the year earlier.

The NASCAR trophy ready for the Jeff Kyle 400 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway
One of the only trophies not on Roger Penske’s case. [Photo: NASCAR via Getty Images]
Any time the name Penske drives into the 2.5-mile legendary track, people pay attention, and if you know Penske and his drivers at all, you’ll know there is a consistent level of desire to bring home trophies instead of tears. Unfortunately, this race has eluded the organization despite its hunger for success.

This string even goes as far as the manufacturer as a whole. Ford hasn’t won at Indy since with Dale Jarrett in 1999 and has only taken one pole since 2005. Even though the competition is phenomenal across the board, it’s shocking to see a run like this continue any longer.

But following a 12-year run of wins for Chevrolet from 2003 to 2014, I think Team Penske’s current roll will bleed into the bricks, bringing both Penske and Ford to Victory Lane.

How will Jeff Gordon perform in the No. 88 in Indy?

How can this not be a burning question? He’s the guy everyone is talking about in the story that has flipped the sport on his head over the last week. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is out and Jeff Gordon is in. Bam, just like that.

Returning behind the wheel for start No. 798 of his career, Gordon has never been in a number other than No. 24, and he’s never been out of a car for more than an offseason and he’s never been in a position quite like the next two races. Filling in for an injured Earnhardt, Gordon and Hendrick Motorsports will come together at a pretty good time, as he’ll race at his home track of Indianapolis one more time this weekend (well, until a Hendrick driver gets hurt again).

From the very first stock car race at the Brickyard, it has seemed to gel well with the four-time champion. Not only did he win the first in 1994, he also has become the winningest driver on the oval track — a staggering little number when you remember the 107-year history of the track. Even with his wins to the side, only three finishes outside the top 10 since 2000 makes Gordon one of the best picks to Victory Lane.

(Photo: Mike Neff)
Will this stand as Gordon’s last victory after these two races? [Photo: Mike Neff]
However, should we only look at his numbers when we make our pre-race predictions? The odd circumstances put Gordon in a position almost equivalent to racing for someone else. Not only does Gordon want to win for Gordon, but he wants to get one for his friend Earnhardt and the entire No. 88 team, who will work with a third different driver in the last three races.

Another oddity will occur when Chase Elliott‘s No. 24 is found racing against Gordon’s No. 88 on the track. By how quick Elliott has been this year it’s a safe bet he’ll be further up the grid during the race.

Will Ferrari win first race of 2016 in Hungary?

Alert the presses: Mercedes hasn’t won at Hungary since 2013.

The past two years has flipped many fans on their head when it comes what to expect when the Formula 1 circuit comes into the Hungaroring, as the ever-so-dominant Mercedes team hasn’t seen a race-winning result since Lewis Hamilton‘s victory in 2013.

In 2014, the 70-lap event saw Hamilton charge through the field from a pit lane start to finish third while Daniel Ricciardo passed a then-struggling Ferrari of Fernando Alonso for the win with three laps to go. Meanwhile, last year, a shocking amount of passing, strategy and surprise competitors filled the race from start to finish, as Sebastian Vettel stormed to victory by more than 15 seconds.

With back-to-back strong runs by Ferrari, can the Prancing Horses grab their first wins on Sunday? Judging from their track and season results, it could very well happen.

vettel_hungary_2015_afp
Ferrari can use the extra kick in the pants if they want to catch Mercedes for the 2016 championship. [Photo: AFP]
As Vettel is the most recent Hungary winner, Kimi Raikkonen has been the hot man in red this season, finishing significantly better this season with seven top 5s and four podium finishes. Though he hasn’t won Hungary since 2005, a run of five straight podiums from 2007-2013 makes the Ice Man one to watch.

The combination of an unpredictable track and a steadily consistent race team can bring victory for Ferrari on Sunday.

How important is it for Ty Dillon to win at Indianapolis?

Two years ago, it was Ty Dillon‘s weekend to prove why he’s here. Unlike Ryan Blaney‘s late-race loss last season, the No. 3 Chevrolet was able to hold off Kyle Busch – who has taken two XFINITY wins and a Cup win in the last three years – to win his first XFINITY race in 2014.

But thinking back another couple years to Dillon’s second-ever series start in 2012, he drove the No. 51 Chevrolet to a third-place result.

So, what is it about this place and what would another win mean for his career?

Dillon tends to bring out the best of himself when NASCAR heads to the flat tracks. This year at Pocono Raceway, Dillon finished third before we went on to lead his first career laps in the Sprint Cup Series on the following Sunday. Some track types simply fit certain drivers and that can be said about Dillon and flat tracks.

But winning in 2016 is almost crucial. Sitting third in points, Dillon has been known as a man of consistency, not someone who can win any week.

As most drivers usually compete in only two years of XFINITY before climbing to full-time Cup or losing their ride, in his third year of semi-sweet results, another victory on the board would be wonders toward keeping his name in the loop for the 2016 championship — and beyond.

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