Brickyard 400 Preview
July 18, 2017
By Micah Roberts
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It took 19 races this season for Joe Gibbs Racing to finally get a win with Denny Hamlin taking the checkers last week at New Hampshire and it's quite possible they're about to go on a major run in the second-half of the season after finally getting their new Camry design figured out. Next up for them to conquer is the auto racing cathedral at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a place they've won at the past two years behind Kyle Busch.
“I think the biggest thing about the Brickyard is the prestige, the track’s history and quality of racing – all the historic finishes it’s had over the years, whether it has been IndyCar or NASCAR," Busch said earlier this week.
"To me, it’s a special place to go to because of its heritage of being Indianapolis. Every guy in NASCAR and, especially every guy in IndyCar, they want to win there. Getting our Skittles Camry to victory lane there three years in a row would be special for a lot of reasons.”
Three Brickyard 400 wins in a row would be the first time ever at Indy. It hasn't even been done in the Indy 500 which has had five times more starts in its history there than NASCAR. Busch's wins the past two seasons on the famed bricks also gave Toyota its first wins there as well.
What has me liking Busch more this week besides what he's done so well there the past two seasons on the flat-2.5 mile layout is what he did at Pocono Raceway last month.
The reason Pocono is used as a comparison because it's the only track somewhat similar to Indy. Pocono only has three turns and each of them have varied banking, but its long straightaway is similar to the frontstretch and backstretch of Indy. The tight Turn 3 at Pocono is also similar to all four of the turns at Indy so crew chiefs can get a nice feel how the car balance should be based on what they saw last month.
In that Pocono race, Ryan Blaney ended up winning his first career race and he did it by an amazing restart with 10 laps to go. Those would be the only 10 laps he'd lead all day and he'd hold off a tenacious Kevin Harvick for the win. Kyle Busch would lead 100 of the 160 laps that day and was leading with 10 laps to go, but was a sitting duck with older tires.
Another angle to consider Busch over some of the upstarts like Ryan Larson, Martin Truex Jr. and Blaney is that this has been a race won mostly by champions. In 23 Brickyard 400's, 19 of them have been won by former Cup champions. And nine times the winner of the Brickyard 400 won the championship in the same year. Busch was the last to do it in 2015.
That's a pretty slanted angle. Jeff Gordon is the only driver to have raced in all 23 Brickyard 400's, but he's fully retired now and holds many of the tracks records, including five wins. He won the inaugural race in 1994 which kind catapulted Gordon and NASCAR to a new level.
“It’s going to be interesting," Busch said. "I look forward to Indianapolis every year now. We’ve certainly picked up on something the last couple of years that has made us really good there and we’ve been fast over the years, but it’s just the last two years have been really good for us. I certainly hope we can take the same powerful equipment and car and everything and have a good shot at being able to win that race."
Another champ, seven-timer Jimmie Johnson is second behind Gordon with four Brickyard wins, the last coming in 2012. Hendrick Motorsports has won there a record nine times. Chase Elliott, whose father Bill won there in 2002, is driving the No. 24 now and this could be a good spot for him to break through for his first win.
A driver to take a look at who may fetch more than 50/1 odds is Kurt Busch who finished fourth at Pocono. Should he win, he be the fourth driver to win the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 in the same season.
Kyle Larson is going to be tough as ever and even before busting loose as an elite driver this season he was loving Indy. his seventh-place average finish is the best among all drivers. He finished seventh as a rookie in 2014, ninth in 2015 and fifth last season.
Matt Kenseth has always loved Indy. He's been runner-up three times, including last season. He's been seventh or better in the past four seasons with Joe Gibbs.
Denny Hamlin loves flat tracks and they don't much flatter than Indy. He was fourth last season and has finished in the top-five the past three seasons there. Two wins in a row for Hamlin?
How about two straight years of Joe Gibbs cars finishing 1-2 in the Brickyard 400?
Top-5 Finish Prediction
1) #18 Kyle Busch (6/1)
2) #11 Denny Hamlin (10/1)
3) #78 Martin Truex Jr. (6/1)
4) #48 Jimmie Johnson (10/1)
5) #42 Kyle Larson (7/1)