Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon appear primed for another championship run. And as NASCAR Sprint Cup teams prepare for Sunday’s Allstate 400 at The Brickyard, both return to a special place.
Courtesy: NASCAR Media Relations
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Tony Stewart (No. 14 Old Spice Chevrolet) and Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) both own multiple NASCAR Sprint Cup Series titles, multiple wins at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the top two spots in the current series standings, respectively.
Both drivers also appear primed for another championship run. And as NASCAR Sprint Cup teams prepare for Sunday’s Allstate 400 at The Brickyard, both return to a special place.
An Indiana native, Stewart resides in Columbus and considers Indianapolis his home track. Gordon spent his formative racing years in Indiana.
Aside from personal impacts, another victory in the Allstate 400 at The Brickyard would count not only as a standings boost for either driver, but also toward potential seeding in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
For Gordon, it would mean history.
The four-time series champion leads all NASCAR drivers with four wins at Indianapolis (1994, 1998, 2001, 2004). A fifth win would tie him with Formula 1 great Michael Schumacher for most wins at the historic facility. He’s tied for second with A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears – Indianapolis 500 champions, all.
As a kid growing up, I always dreamed about racing at Indy and thought those dreams had gone away when I was moving down south and starting my NASCAR career,” Gordon said. “I love the fact that the Brickyard 400 happens every August or July. And it's just a spectacular event.”
Stewart, a two-time series champion, has two Indianapolis victories (2005 and 2007). A third would mean another personal milestone in his first year of team ownership; even if Stewart-Haas Racing teammate and fellow Hoosier Ryan Newman (No. 39 Stewart Haas Racing Chevrolet) wins, Stewart would score his first victory as an owner at his favorite track.
Wins are crucial: Sunday’s Allstate 400 at The Brickyard marks the fourth event in the Race to the Chase, the 10-race stretch prior to the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Drivers begin the Chase by having their point totals reset at 5,000, then are seeded according to the number of wins they accrued in the season’s first 26 events (10 bonus points for each win).
Stewart has two wins thus far; Gordon has one.
Brick In The Road: Indianapolis An Important Stop For Title Contenders
Depending on who pulls into Victory Lane, Sunday’s 16th annual Allstate 400 at The Brickyard could portend the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion.
The eventual series champion has won the race seven times in its 15-year history – no crystal balls required. That suggests Indianapolis as a serious signpost en route to the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Two drivers have won it twice – Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet). Gordon won at Indianapolis in his title years of 1998 and 2001 while Johnson did so in 2006 and 2008.
Three drivers have done it once – Dale Jarrett in 1999, Bobby Labonte (No. 96 ASK.com Ford) in 2000 and Tony Stewart in 2005.
“I think the momentum is really going to be key just prior to the Chase,” Gordon said during Tuesday’s NASCAR Teleconference, “who can get that momentum and go into the Chase and even start the Chase with that strong momentum and continue it on.
“That, I believe, what's going to separate the team or the top teams that are going to go vie for the championship.”
Johnson said mastering the environment is the first step toward succeeding at Indianapolis.
“The track is a tricky track,” he said. “Clouds blow over, it changes the track dramatically, and speed, and how the car handles. All four corners are different and technical. The true character of that track shows up and the challenge of that track presents to everybody that shows up. And for a lot of years, it’s haunted me.
“But, here, the last couple times, it’s been good to me.”
NASCAR’s Role In Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s Centennial (1909-2009)
Indianapolis Motor Speedway is celebrating its 100th birthday this year, and although known more for its open-wheel tradition, the track has seen its share of NASCAR history.
Stock-car racing became a fixture there in the early 1990s, with the advent of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ Allstate 400 at The Brickyard.
But NASCAR references and competitive crossover are found throughout Indianapolis’ long existence. Some examples follow:
- NASCAR founder Bill France was a pit-crew member for driver Joel Thorne during the 1938 and 1939 Indianapolis 500s. Thorne finished seventh and ninth, respectively.
- The car that Mauri Rose drove in his 1941 Indianapolis 500 victory proved quite versatile. The grandfather of outgoing Indianapolis Motor Speedway President (and soon-to-be International Speedway Corporation Vice President for Business Operations) Joie Chitwood drove the same car in the 1946 Indianapolis 500.
- Buck Baker later drove the car in the NASCAR Speedway division title in 1952. It remained in Charlotte, N.C., until Bob Harkey arranged for its return to Indianapolis. The car now is on display at the IMS Hall of Fame.
- Red Byron, the first NASCAR Sprint Cup champion (1949), practiced, but didn’t qualify for the 1947 and 1948 Indianapolis 500s.
- Red Vogt, one of stock-car racing’s earliest and most sought-after mechanics, helped Byron prepare for his Indianapolis 500 attempts.
- Legendary NASCAR driver and team owner Junior Johnson drove part of the rookie driver’s test for the 1963 Indianapolis 500, as a teammate to then-fellow rookie Bobby Unser.
- Curtis Turner attempted to qualify for the 1963 Indianapolis 500 in a car prepared by another famous mechanic, Smokey Yunick.
- The Wood Brothers, one of NASCAR’s oldest and most accomplished teams, pitted the car for 1965 Indianapolis 500 winner Jim Clark and his teammate Bobby Johns, who finished seventh.
- NASCAR legends Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison and Donnie Allison all boast Indianapolis 500 history. Yarborough started the 1966, ‘67, ‘71 and ‘72 races. Bobby Allison started the ‘73 and ‘75 races. Donnie Allison (’70 and ’71) was the highest finisher of the three, finishing fourth in the 1970 Indianapolis 500 and earning rookie of the year honors.
- Current NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers with Indianapolis 500 experience include Tony Stewart, 2000 winner Juan Pablo Montoya (No. 42 Target Chevrolet), John Andretti (No. 34 Taco Bell Chevrolet) and Robby Gordon (No. 7 John Manville Toyota).
- The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ first test at Indianapolis was June 22-23, 1992. Nine drivers participated – Rusty Wallace, Dale Earnhardt, Ricky Rudd, Mark Martin (No. 5 CARQUEST/ Kellogg’s Chevrolet), Bill Elliott (No. 21 Motorcraft Ford), Darrell Waltrip, Ernie Irvan, Davey Allison and Kyle Petty. Elliott had the top speed (168.767 mph).
Drivers, Officials Expect Tires To Be A Non-Issue
NASCAR and Goodyear officials believe extensive tire tests have resolved wear problems that cropped up in last year’s Allstate 400 at The Brickyard.
Thirty teams logged more than 13,000 miles at the 2.5-mile track during seven tests since last summer’s event. The final session concluded a month ago, on Tuesday, June 16.
“I'm very confident in the tires,” said Jeff Gordon, a four-time winner at Indianapolis, during Tuesday’s NASCAR Teleconference. “I did the last test there and was very pleased.”
Attention to detail and unique outside resources aided both Goodyear’s and teams’ efforts, said NASCAR Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton.
“The last two tests, Goodyear really honed in on different constructions, different tire compounds and things that would add life to the tire but also add a lot of grip,” Pemberton said. “It’s tough to get both and I think they’ve done a great job in doing just that. It’s amazing to see what’s been accomplished in the last 10 months or so.
“There will be a lot of good information that comes out of these tests that we will be able to take to other race tracks, such as different compounds and constructions. Things that will help the grip and help make the racing better all the way around.”
“I think there was a lot to it because it seemed like a pretty tough process,” said Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Budweiser Dodge), who finished seventh in last year’s Allstate 400 at The Brickyard. “I must have tested six or seven times there since last year’s race. The teams have put a ton of time testing up there and I feel like the tire is as good as anything that I’ve been on up there.
“So, it’s gonna be an awesome race.”
Two-time Indianapolis winner Tony Stewart is similarly confident.
“I think they’ve come back with a combination that not only is durable, but also made it where it should be better racing at that time, too,” Stewart said.
His view was enhanced by a trip to Goodyear’s Akron, Ohio headquarters, where he learned about the race tire assembly process.
“It’s a process that makes you shake your head because you just don’t realize what goes into making a tire,” Stewart said. “And the good thing is it’s not done by a machine, it’s done by a physical person that actually puts that tire together.
“There’s a lot of machines that assist in that process, but some of the key components are still done by a Goodyear engineer that sits there and makes sure it’s as perfect as it can be.”
Loop Data: All Or Nothing The Statistical Trend For Johnson At Indianapolis
Since the inception of Loop Data in 2005, it’s been all or nothing for Jimmie Johnson at Indianapolis Motor Speedway – literally.
In the last four Allstate 400 at The Brickyard events, Johnson has either kissed – as in “The Bricks” – or crashed.
In 2005, Johnson finished 38th, posting a Driver Rating of 58.8, an Average Running Position of 23.0 and ran only 46 of the 160 Laps in the Top 15.
A year later, he captured only the second Daytona 500-Allstate 400 sweep en route to his first series championship. In that race, he had a Driver Rating of 124.3 and an Average Running Position of 7.7.
But then in 2007, Johnson suffered another DNF (accident). For the most part, his statistics were even worse than 2005: an Average Running Position of 30.1, a Driver Rating of 66.1 and a Laps in the Top 15 number of just 38.
Finally, last season, he dominated once again. In his second career Indianapolis win, Johnson scored a near-perfect Driver Rating of 147.3 (a perfect rating is 150.0), an Average Running Position of 2.5, 36 Fastest Laps Run and ran all 160 Laps in the Top 15.
Who knows if there’s an “odd year jinx” in the works, but Johnson’s Loop Data statistics at Indianapolis rank among the best in the series.
In his last four roller-coaster years there, Johnson has a Driver Rating of 99.1 (fourth-best), an Average Running Position of 15.8 (15th), 56 Fastest Laps Run (second) 164 Green Flag Passes (ninth), an average Green Flag Speed of 169.710 mph (third) and 85 Quality Passes (passes of cars in the top 15 under green), which is ninth-most.
Though not nearly as pronounced, a similar trend has developed for Carl Edwards (No. 99 AFLAC Ford). Edwards, who ran runner-up to Johnson in last season’s race, has a race-by-race Driver Rating log that looks like this: 69.6 in 2005, 107.9 in 2006, 67.1 in 2007 and 121.9 in 2008.
Edwards’ Indy stats aren’t among the best in the series, but many still rank in the top 10.
Over the last four seasons, Edwards has a Driver Rating of 91.6 (11th), an Average Running Position of 14.3 (10th) and 39 Fastest Laps Run (third).
Back To Business: Race To the Chase Update
Sunday’s Allstate 400 at The Brickyard is the fourth event in the Race to the Chase, the 10-race stretch that ends with the cutoff for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup – race No.26 of the season, Sept. 12 at Richmond International Raceway.
Following that event, the top 12 drivers will compete for the NASCAR Sprint Cup title during the season’s final 10 races.
This Sunday at Indianapolis represents a call to action for some drivers.
Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon, one-two, respectively, in the standings, need wins to improve their Chase seeding.
If the Chase began now, Mark Martin, currently 11th, would be the top seed thanks to his series-high four wins. (Quick recap: Chase drivers’ point totals are reset to 5,000 with 10 points added for each win during the season’s first 26 events).
Martin would be followed by three-time 2009 winner Kyle Busch (No. 18 Snickers Toyota), currently 10th in the standings.
Stewart, a two-time winner in ‘09, would be third, followed by Jimmie Johnson in fourth and Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Ford) in fifth, both also two-time winners in ‘09. Johnson is third in the current standings; Kenseth is 12th.
Gordon, with one ‘09 win, would be sixth.
Sliding down, 13th-place Greg Biffle (No. 16 3M/Pistonz Ear Plugs Ford), trails Kenseth, his Roush Fenway Racing teammate, by 10 points.
Fourteenth-place David Reutimann (No. 00 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota) trails Biffle by 66 points and 12th place by 76.
Further back, 15th-place Clint Bowyer (No. 33 Cheerios/Hamburger Helper Chevrolet) trails 12th place by 126 points.
Indiana Natives In The NSCS Garage
Drivers: Ryan Newman (South Bend) – No. 39; Tony Stewart (Columbus) – No. 14 and David Stremme (South Bend) – No. 12 Penske Dodge.
Mechanics: Brad Tunny (Holton) – No. 82 Red Bull Toyota; Will Smith (Seymour) – No. 16; Shane Church (Columbus) – No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet and Joshua Tucker (Fort Wayne) – No. 26 Crown Royal Ford.
Pit-Crew Members: Shawn Soules (Terre Haute) – No. 55 NAPA Toyota catch can man; Andy Rueger (Seymour) – No. 39 catch can man; Todd Zeigler (Indianapolis) – No. 16 front tire changer and Eric Wakeland (Plymouth) – No. 00 rear tire carrier.
Spotters: Jeff Dickerson (Indianapolis) – No. 18 spotter and Greg Newman (South Bend) – No. 39 spotter.
Other Team Members: Chris Heroy (Angola) – No. 5 engineer; Joe Smith (Seymour) – No. 16 tires specialist; Aaron Powell (Merriville) – No. 16 pit support and Ashley Miller (Indianapolis) – No. 82 media relations.
Milestones At Indianapolis: Kasey Kahne, the 2004 Raybestos Rookie of the Year in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, will make his 200th career start in Sunday’s Allstate 400 at The Brickyard.
“It doesn’t seem like that long ago that I was racing sprint cars in Washington (state),” Kahne said. “I feel pretty fortunate to be able to do what I do for a living. I’ve celebrated a lot of great moments in racing and I hope to celebrate more.”
Three-time and reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson will make his 275th start Sunday.
“Double-Duty” Drivers: This race weekend is action-packed for four NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers – Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards, David Reutiman and Kyle Busch.
All four will participate in Saturday night’s NASCAR Nationwide Series event at O’Reilly Raceway Park, a .686-mile track just a short drive from Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Significant Sweep: In addition to his weekend double-header, Matt Kenseth will attempt something only two NASCAR Sprint Cup peers have accomplished – winning two of the sport’s crown jewels, the Daytona 500 and the Allstate 400 at The Brickyard – in the same season.
Kenseth, the reigning Daytona 500 champion, has four top fives and five top 10s in nine career starts at Indianapolis. He’s finished second twice (2003 and ‘06).
Dale Jarrett (1996) and Jimmie Johnson (2006) are the other drivers to win both the Daytona 500 and the Allstate 400 at The Brickyard in the same season.
Indianapolis 500 Connection: Two NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers seek a sweep of another type this weekend at Indianapolis.
The pair of Indianapolis 500 champions, Juan Pablo Montoya and Sam Hornish Jr. (No. 77 Mobil 1 Dodge), doubtless would like to add an Allstate 400 at The Brickyard title to their resumes.
Montoya, who won the 2000 Indianapolis 500, started and finished second in the 2007 Allstate 400 at The Brickyard. He finished 39th last year. Hornish, the 2006 Indianapolis 500 champion, finished 21st last year in his only Allstate 400 at The Brickyard appearance.
Montoya also seeks to improve his Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup status. He’s currently ninth in the standings (the top 12 drivers qualify after race No. 26 ) and hopes to participate in his first Chase this fall.
Off Track News This Week:
Special Events Abound: Indianapolis race weekend teems with activities and opportunities.
Among them is Thursday’s 7th Annual Women In The Winner’s Circle Awards Ceremony at the IMS Plaza Pavilion. The program runs from 1:30-3 p.m., with interviews scheduled from 3-3:30 p.m. ESPN’s Jamie Little and racing great Lyn St. James will co-host.
Also Thursday, the Transporter Parade is scheduled from 6-8:30 p.m. It begins in Greenwood, Ind., at I-65 exit No. 99, traveling north on I-65 to I-70 west, exiting Holt Road to 10th Street, then staging on Main Street in Speedway, Ind.
On Friday at 10:30 a.m., defending Allstate 400 at The Brickyard champion Jimmie Johnson will receive his commemorative ring from outgoing track president Joe Chitwood at the Brickyard Crossing Pavilion. He’ll also participate in a Jimmie Johnson Foundation announcement.
On Friday at 11:30 a.m., ESPN/ABC will host a press conference at the track’s Economaki Press Conference room. Sunday’s Allstate 400 at The Brickyard marks the start of ESPN’s 17 weeks of NASCAR Sprint Cup coverage. ESPN will televise the next six events, followed by ABC.
Also Friday, at noon, Juan Pablo Montoya will participate in a press conference at the Yard of Bricks on Pit Lane.
On Saturday, the Blood Drive at The Brickyard is scheduled from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m., in the east parking lot of the IMS Hall of Fame Museum. It’s a joint effort of the NASCAR Foundation and the Jimmie Johnson Foundation, and part of the NASCAR Foundation’s national, annual blood drive.
Hear This: The rock group Saving Abel (Virgin Records) will be in concert from 11 a.m. until noon Sunday at the Coke Zero Stage, near the Pagoda tower. Indiana-based country music artist Casey Jamerson will sing the national anthem.
See This: Former University of North Carolina standout and new Indiana Pacers draft pick Tyler Hansbrough will serve as grand marshal. Kristen Santos will use American Sign Language to sign the national anthem.
Up Next: Pocono Raceway
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns next week to Pocono Raceway for the Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500, the second of two 2009 events there.
The Sunday, Aug. 2 event will be televised by ESPN. The pre-race show starts at 1 p.m. ET with the race starting at approximately 2 p.m.
Carl Edwards is the defending race champion. Jimmie Johnson is the defending pole winner. Bill Elliott leads all drivers with five wins at Pocono. He and Ken Schrader each lead all drivers with five poles each there.
Next Race: Allstate 400 at The Brickyard
The Date: Sunday, July 26
The Track: Indianapolis Motor Speedway; 2.5-mile oval
The Time: 2 p.m. ET
The Distance: 160 laps/400 miles
TV: ESPN, 1 p.m. ET
Radio: IMS Radio and Sirius Satellite
2008 Polesitter: Jimmie Johnson
2008 Winner: Jimmie Johnson
Schedule: Friday—Practice, 2-3 p.m.; 3:30-4:30 p.m. Saturday—Qualifying, 10:10 a.m.; Practice, 2-3 p.m. and 3:30-4:40 p.m.
2009 Top 12 Drivers
1 Tony Stewart 2,884
2 Jeff Gordon 2,709
3 Jimmie Johnson 2,672
4 Kurt Busch 2,526
5 Denny Hamlin 2,457
6 Carl Edwards 2,438
7 Ryan Newman 2,385
8 Kasey Kahne 2,336
9 Juan Pablo Montoya 2,321
10 Kyle Busch 2,298
11 Mark Martin 2,296
12 Matt Kenseth 2,295