Brickyard 400 Preview
July 19, 2016
By Micah Roberts
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There no need to hype this week's Brickyard 400 because the most storied track in the history of motorsports sells itself. There has been 107 years of racing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway's flat 2.5-mile layout and even though this is only the 23rd year NASCAR has been part of the tradition, every driver and crew member treat the track with immense respect and reverence.
“It’s the Brickyard," said Indiana native Ryan Newman who won the 2013 race. "It’s the history of motorsports in America. It’s that yard of bricks. It’s a special place when you think about everyone who’s been there associated with F1, IndyCars, motorcycles and NASCAR. It’s unique because of the four corners, the long straightaways and the flatness. To me, it’s just unique in so many ways. It’s a fun place to drive and yet, it’s quite a challenge at the same time.”
The Daytona 500 is cool and speedweeks certainly is a thrilling two weeks because we're so starved for NASCAR racing, but as a fan the Brickyard has a completely different feel to it, almost cathedral-like. It gives me the same type of feeling like when walking into Wrigley Field or Fenway Park where you just feel the history and ghosts of the past. I absolutely love it.
Now, in regards to the type of racing it produces, it's definitely not my favorite. But handicapping the race has been somewhat simple over the years outside of a four-year stretch where Jamie McMurray (2010), Paul Menard (2011) and Newman won. Usually, I could simply rely on the best of the best to shine. Former Sprint Cup have dominated the Brickyard over the years.
To get started in the handicapping process this week, you need to take a look at a few things before looking at what drivers are currently running well in the series. While current form is important, you have to take notice of what type of tracks the series has been running on lately: a flat 1-mile New Hampshire, a 1.5-mile Kentucky with moderate banking, a 2.5-mile high-banked superspeedway at Daytona with restrictor-plates, a road course at Sonoma and a wide, moderately banked 2-miles at Michigan.
None of the results from those recent races will be of much use this week. However, the race held prior to those on June 6 at Pocono Raceway's 2.5-mile triangular layout can help get the process started.
The long straights at Pocono and the flat turn three are great measuring tools for the Brickyard. In that race, Chase Elliott led a race-high 51 laps and settled for fourth while Kurt Busch led the final 32 laps for the win. Four of the top-six finishers were Chevrolets, including three from the Hendrick Motorsports stable which surprisingly didn't include Jimmie Johnson, who finished 35th after being involved in a late accident.
The correlation of that Pocono race fits right in line with what we've seen in past Brickyard history with both Chevrolet and Hendrick. Chevrolet has won 16 of the 22 races, including 12 straight until Kyle Busch snapped the streak last year giving Toyota its first win there. Hendrick has won nine times with five coming from Jeff Gordon and four by Johnson.
Editor's Note: Dale Earnhardt Jr. will miss two more races as he recovers from concussion-like symptoms and retired NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon will replace him at Indianapolis and Pocono.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished second at Pocono which is a good sign for the car this week, but his status is still unknown after missing Sunday's New Hampshire race due to concussion-like symptoms. If he is unable to race this week, Jeff Gordon will come out of retirement to drive the No. 88. Gordon driving again would certainly be a thrill to watch, but it's hard to believe that Junior would miss another race just because he's barely within the cut-off point within the top-16 in points to make the Chase.
Whatever scenario plays out, the Las Vegas sports books will have a dilemma on the their hands for this weekend on what to do with the 'Field' bet.
Last week at New Hampshire, the 'Field' was 500/1 prior to the concussion announcement. Earnhardt was 20/1 to win.
When Alex Bowman was announced as the replacement driver the 'Field' bet was dropped to 50/1 at the Westgate SuperBook, and Bowman ran in the top-10 for most of the race until a tire failed him late.
With Gordon's history and love for the Brickyard, a place he dreamed of racing at as a young kid racing in Indiana, coupled with a strong No. 88 he's has to be considered one of the favorites to win despite not racing since November. Keep your eye on that unfolding story before wagering.
The other piece of handicapping data you need to tackle before wagering is look at what happened with the organizational testing at Indy last week during a two day session. One driver from each of the teams participated and shared information gained with all their teammates.
Chevrolet was fastest in each of the days with Kyle Larson fastest on the first day and Johnson was fastest on the second day with Kevin Harvick right behind them on each day. Martin Truex Jr. was the fastest Toyota just ahead of Matt Kenseth.
Of course, it's just testing, the times were un-official and the drivers were in race conditions, but there's a lot of supporting reasons coming in to suggest the winning betting move this week is to side with one of the Chevy's. And it would have to take something substantial to sway you off any of the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas because they've won nine of the 19 races this season, including last week at New Hampshire after a five-race drought.
A Ford hasn't won at the Brickyard since Dale Jarrett won for the second time there in 1999, but Brad Keselowski should be given some serious consideration just because he's won a series-high four races this season. He had his two race win streak snapped last week, but on a similar note of using Pocono as a tool, consider that he finished third there in June.
Johnson has won two races on the season, but the last one came in March at Fontana. His history at Indy has been all or nothing: four wins along with six finishes of 18th or worse. He's finished 14th and 15th the past two years there. He's not exactly rolling well now, or lately at the Brickyard, but he does have that fast test session, I know he loves the track and all his teammates excelled at Pocono.
Let's go with JJ and also take a long shot look at Larson who has finished seventh and eighth in his two career Indy starts.
Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #48 Jimmie Johnson (8/1)
2) #2 Brad Keselowski (7/1)
3) #42 Kyle Larson (30/1)
4) #18 Kyle Busch (6/1)
5) #4 Kevin Harvick (6/1)