Everyone Wants a Kiss at the Brickyard

There are a lot of things in life that people want. A good job, a happy family, a roof over their head, to name a few. However, in the world of racing, there are few, if any, things that a driver wants more than an opportunity to kiss the yard of bricks at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway start/finish line. This Sunday, 40 of the world’s best drivers will get that opportunity.

“Crown Royal Presents the Combat Wounded Coalition 400 at the Brickyard” is the official name for this weekend’s race, but for the sake of this article, and the namesake of one of the most famous races in all of motorsports, I’ll be calling it the “Brickyard 400.”

NBCSN will televise the race, with pre-race coverage beginning at 2:30 p.m. ET and the green flag scheduled to fly just past 3:15 p.m. ET. The 400-lap race around the 2.5-mile flat track, located in Indianapolis, will consist of 160 laps. Kyle Busch is the defending winner of this race, which came in the midst of his famed summer stretch last year as he returned from his injury.

If there was a weekend to have storylines, this would be the weekend. First, we will start off with what everybody’s talking about: Jeff Gordon coming out of retirement to drive the No. 88 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports in Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s absence due to concussion-like symptoms. He will also drive next weekend at Pocono Raceway.

“I didn’t think twice about it,” Gordon said in a press conference held at IMS Friday morning. The five-time Brickyard 400 champion added all that Rick Hendrick has done for him in his career made this an easy decision, and that he would do anything in his power to help out the man in charge at HMS.

Earnhardt Jr. recently tweeted that he is feeling better and is making progress.

Tony Stewart, who has solidified his place in the top 30 in the points standings (currently sits 28th) after winning at Sonoma and finishing second last weekend at New Hampshire, is a native of Indiana (as is Gordon), and will be making his final pilgrimage to Indianapolis driving a Sprint Cup car, as 2016 is his final Sprint Cup season.

“I have no doubt it will be the most emotional [of his starts this season],” said Stewart. “It’s hard not to think you’d be emotional when it’s home. It’s your home track, your home race. My family comes. My friends come. It would be impossible to think it’s not going to be an emotional weekend.”

Chase Elliott, Ryan Newman, Austin Dillon, Jamie McMurray and Earnhardt Jr. currently sit 12th-16th in the standings, and look to have solid runs to not lose any more ground in the standings. Earnhardt Jr.’s chances of qualifying for the playoffs, when and if he returns, lie on him grabbing a win before the regular season concludes at Richmond International Raceway in seven weeks on September 10.

On the other hand, Trevor Bayne, Ryan Blaney, Kasey Kahne, Kyle Larson and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. are just on the outside looking in. A win would wash their problems away, but a couple of solid top ten runs would help their chances dramatically as well.

As questioned earlier this week on the Victory Lane podcast, do I think Gordon will finish writing the fairytale? Will Smoke rise once again? Will Danica Patrick shock the world? The answer, I think to all of these, is no. Will Kevin Harvick’s pit crew anger him once again? Probably so, yes. But who is going to win the 2016 Brickyard 400?

Martin Truex Jr. is. I think he finally gets rid of his demons from the past few weeks and wins this Sunday afternoon. He won’t dominate as he did in the Coca-Cola 600, but I think he grabs the checkered flag. I also think that when he and his team are kissing the bricks – he pops the question to his longtime girlfriend Sherry Pollex, and she replies with an emphatic yes.

Now, that would not only be one of the most popular wins in NASCAR history, but one of the most popular engagements in the world of motorsports as well. Make sure to tune into the second biggest race of the season (Sunday, 3:15 p.m. ET, NBCSN). The XFINITY Series is also on track for the Lilly Diabetes 250 (which is a part of the Dash 4 Cash). Some notable drivers competing include Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick. Enjoy the Brickyard, everybody!