Brickyard’s a big deal

Published 6:12 pm Saturday, July 24, 2010

After last week’s break in the racing action, a long stretch of racing is coming with races on 17 of the next 18 weekends. Now that the unofficial “summer break” is over, teams will begin really concentrating on making the chase, staying in the chase, or getting ready for next season.

With seven races remaining before the chase field is set, teams currently in the top 20 still have a legitimate chance of making it into the top 12 and earning an opportunity to compete for the championship.

But, drivers like Martin Truex, Joey Logano, and Jamie McMurray, all roughly 200 points from 12th position, must have solid finishes in the next six races. And they all will need a little bad luck to hit drivers in the 10th through 14th position.

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Kevin Harvick remains atop the standings, holding a 103-point lead of Jeff Gordon. Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, and Kurt Busch hold spots three through five. Drivers in the top seven or eight have pretty much occupied those spots, albeit in jumbled up fashion, all season and the rest of the top 12 has been a revolving door.

The Brickyard 400, a relative infant of 16 years old in terms of big NASCAR races, has become one of the “Big Three” races that is circled on calendars at the beginning of the year, along with the Daytona 500 and the Coke 600. This race is a big deal.

The two-and-a-half-mile track opened in 1909 and has a seating capacity of over a quarter million fans. The history at this track is unmatched by any other track in the world.

Clint Bowyer, driver of the No. 33 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet, said it best when asked about walking into the track, “I feel like I need to tuck my shirt in.” That is the type of respect this track demands.

If you remember, the first few times NASCAR visited Indianapolis, the races were held on Saturday, during the day. I can’t recall any other race held on a Saturday in the daylight, all Saturday races now are under the lights. This race is a big deal.

Such a big deal that much has been made of Chip Ganassi’s chance to win the “Triple Crown” in one season. Jamie McMurray won the Daytona 500, Dario Franchitti won the Indy 500, and if McMurray or Juan Montoya wins this weekend, Ganassi will become the first owner to not only win those three races in one year, but the only owner to win those three races period. This race is a big deal.

Only five active drivers have won NASCAR races at this track, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, and Bobby Labonte. Part-time racer Bill Elliot has also won here, as has Juan Montoya, but not in a stock car, but in an open-wheel car.

Jimmie Johnson has won this race two years running and is a heavy favorite to make it three. Johnson’s teammate, Jeff Gordon, will also be strong here and will be gunning for his fifth Indy win.

My pick to win Sunday is Tony Stewart.