It’s one of the most famous venues in all of sports. Win at this track and you’ve become a part of racing immortality. And you get a smooch on the most famous yard of bricks in the world. Indianapolis Motor Speedway will host the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series this weekend for the Brickyard 400, a race that has lost some of its luster in the past few years, but will always carry an incredible amount of magnitude along with it. Because it’s the Brickyard.
WHAT: Brantley Gilbert Big Machine Brickyard 400. Stages of 50, 50 and 60 laps
WHEN: Sunday, July 23, 2017. Green flag scheduled to fly at 3:30 p.m. ET
WHERE: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, 2.5-mile rectangular shaped oval in Speedway, Ind.
FAVORITES: Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch (3-1) and Kyle Larson (5-1)
LAST YEAR’S WINNER
Kyle Busch dominated this race one year ago. He led 149 laps from the pole, setting a new Indianapolis Motor Speedway record, and survived overtime en route to his fourth win of the season. He also won the XFINITY race the day before, leading every lap but one.
Kyle Busch also won the pole for Sunday’s 400-mile event from IMS. His lap of 187.301 mph (48.051 seconds) was good enough for him to net his second straight Brickyard 400 pole, his fourth Coors Light Pole of the season and the 23rd of his Cup career.
Kevin Harvick, Jamie McMurray, Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin round out the top five qualifiers. But Johnson will have to start from the rear due to changing a rear gear after his qualifying run. That means Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano, Ryan Newman, Erik Jones, Ryan Blaney and Brad Keselowski will round out the top 10 starters.
Some other notable starters include Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 13th, Matt Kenseth in 14th, Chase Elliott in 16th, Clint Bowyer in 18th, Kyle Larson in 25th and AJ Allmendinger in 39th.
ROWDY LOOKING TO THREE-PEAT
He won it in 2015, he won it in 2016, and he wants to win it in 2017 more than ever.
Kyle Busch is the favorite to win this weekend for a reason: he loves the Brickyard. Rowdy has finished inside the top two in four of his last five MENCS events from IMS. But get this: it’s been an entire year since he visited victory lane in the No. 18 Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Well, kind of. He did win the All-Star Race earlier this season, but that was a non-points paying event, meaning it doesn’t count towards qualifying for the playoffs. JGR’s performance tapered off a tad in the second half of last season and bled over into the first half of 2017. But after Denny Hamlin’s win last weekend, JGR seems to be back on track. If Busch and his team can finally finish off the deal in some of these races, they’ll be in the championship four no problem.
SECOND MEANS NOTHING
Ricky Bobby’s words reign true in the real world of NASCAR. “If you ain’t first, you’re last.”
Kyle Larson has finished in second-place seven times this season. Convert half of those into victories and he might be leading the standings over Martin Truex Jr. Tell that to Kevin Harvick in 2015, when he finished in second pretty much every week, it felt like.
The same can be told to Joey Logano, Erik Jones and everyone else below the cut line for the playoffs as of now. Personally, I don’t think Logano will make the playoffs. As long as Matt Kenseth scores top-15 finishes, he’s going to be in. Logano and Team Penske as a whole have lacked speed throughout the summer months since the No. 22’s encumbered win at Richmond. And if he doesn’t find the winner’s circle soon, he’ll be watching the playoffs from the outside.
The same can be said for the biggest name in the sport: Dale Earnhardt Jr. Most think his chance to win has passed as Daytona was a few weeks ago. But we’ve seen crazier things happen in NAS
CAR, and at Indianapolis. Remember Paul Menard in 2011, stretching his fuel to victory? Heck, William Byron is young and really good, and he won the NXS race on Saturday.
But Earnhardt Jr. needs to win to get in. Is there pressure on him? Maybe. But he’s out of the headlines this week. His wife is in them due to her tweet saying she’d prefer if Dale didn’t run “The Clash” next season and his replacement for next season was announced. Alex Bowman to the No. 88: confirmed. Now, we sit back and wait to see what other Silly Season dominoes fall.
CHANGE ON THE WAY?
I’m not going to sugarcoat it: NASCAR racing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway isn’t great.
But it showed some signs of getting better this weekend. The XFINITY Series debuted a new package—and it worked. The package featured special air ducts in the front of the car and a taller rear spoiler. The new aerodynamics allowed cars to draft along the straightaways, suck up much faster (like at Daytona and Talladega) and it produced a pretty good show.
In all fairness, all there was to go was up. Like I said, the racing at IMS has been dreadful. But it begs the question: is change on the way? Could the new rules package be on the way to the MENCS next season at Indianapolis? Or could the NXS leave IMS and head back somewhere where seemingly everyone wants them to go: Lucas Oil Raceway Park? Probably not, but man would that be fun. Some good, old fashioned short track racing right down the road.
Another question that’s been raised this week is the possibility of a Cup or XFINITY race being run on dirt. The Camping World Truck
Series had their annual visit to Eldora Speedway this weekend where Matt Crafton emerged victorious. The race was plagued by caution flags, but was pretty damn entertaining, if I do say so myself. I know a Cup event on dirt would be such a big deal, and it’s not easy to make it happen. But NASCAR hasn’t been slow to react to fan’s desires and change things up. So never say never.
As stated this week on Victory Lane, I don’t see any way that Kyle Busch doesn’t make it three in a row and kiss the bricks again. Well, I see a lot of ways, actually. His car isn’t the fastest, he has another speeding penalty, he blows an engine, I can go on and on. For every way to win a race, there are hundreds of ways to lose one. With that being said, I think Rowdy gits ‘er done.