Season winds down through Brickyard

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 8, 2005

Many people say that the annual race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway is approaching the importance and the prestige of the Daytona 500. Many of the current drivers on the NASCAR circuit carry that same opinion and the Brickyard trophy is the prize that every driver longs for.

Beyond the prestige and glory that the race this week offers, however, it also offers a chance for several big-name drivers to get back into the fray to be eligible to compete for the championship.

This is the 21st race of the season and only six remain before the field is set for the final 10 of the year.

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Only 136 points separate Jeremy Mayfield in eighth place and Jeff Gordon in 15th. The first seven in the points standings should feel fairly comfortable to become eligible for the championship. These last six races will be real fun to watch and nothing will be settled until that Saturday night in Richmond.

Jimmie Johnson carries the points lead into this race while his teammate and partial team owner, Jeff Gordon, wallows in 15th position, 141 points out of 10th place. There has been speculation that Johnson could be asked to ease up a little to allow Gordon the chance to make the chase. Take one for the team; get the superstar into the chase.

That suggestion, if anyone in the Hendrick organization is even remotely considering it, is unbelievably stupid and unfair. Johnson has performed on a championship level the entire season, Gordon has not. Johnson has a chance to have a five point lead over the second position going into the chase, Gordon does not.

Sure, Gordon is one of the most watched and biggest superstars on the track, but he needs to succeed or fail in these last six races on his own.

No real news came out of the off-week concerning driver movement. The number two team still does not have a driver for 2006, Michael Waltrip still does not have a team for 2006, and DEI still doesn’t know if the number 15 will be on the track in 2006.

Richie Gilmore, the VP at DEI, has said that if NAPA decides to come back as the sponsor of the no. 15, he has a driver lined up, a driver that &uot;is prominent on another race team that has been on our wish list for some time.&uot;

See if you can figure that one out.

There have also been whispers that Waltrip is working with Toyota to become their flagship driver in 2007. Even though nothing firm has been announced in relation to Toyota, speculation is that they will have a car ready for the 2007 season.

Don’t be surprised if the team that Waltrip drives for in 2006 is in the final year of their manufacturers’ contract.

The race today at Indy should be a very entertaining and competitive race. Over 350,000 spectators will be in attendance at the historic Brickyard, braving the heat, and my pick to win the race is Tony Stewart.

As an Indiana native, Stewart has a ninth place average finish in six career races here. Also look for Johnson’s points lead to shrink after Stewart visits victory lane.

Race coverage begins at 2 p.m. and the green flag will drop at 2:40, all on NBC.

Jeff Findley is the publisher of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald in Ahoskie, N.C. His racing column regularly appears in newspapers across the southeast. He can be reached by e-mail at jeff.