Following a sweep of both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup races at New Hampshire, Brad Keselowski paces the Chase standings heading into Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
With one of the most famous races on tap at the Brickyard, the hunt for the top of the Chase Grid continues. Though Keselowski has never won at the track, the man just behind him on the grid is tied for the lead among active drivers.
Jimmie Johnson is clearly the man to watch with three wins in the last six events at the track. As for teammate Jeff Gordon, he hasn't won since 2004 but has put together multiple strong races in recent years.
Then there are drivers without a victory this year looking to notch their first at the Brickyard. Racers such as Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth have a combined 13 top-five results and will be looking to steal a checkered flag on Sunday.
Before the Sprint Cup drivers take to the course at Indy, here's a look at the latest news and drivers to watch ahead of the Crown Royal Presents The John Wayne Walding 400 at the Brickyard.
The Brickyard 400 Information
Site: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Indianapolis, Indiana
Date: Sunday, July 27
Start Time: 1 p.m. ET
Live Stream: WatchESPN
|2014 Sprint Cup Chase Grid|
|Pos.||Driver||Points||Wins||Top 5||Top 10|
|3||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||658||2||9||13|
Latest Team News
There is no bigger team news in NASCAR than the Race Team Alliance currently forming to change the culture of the sport.
The RTA—as it's called around the sport—is hoping to make drastic improvements to issues taking place on and off the track. Simple things like cooling boxes being used during qualifying to actual problems during races will likely be addressed by the alliance moving forward.
NASCAR CEO Brian France spoke about his thoughts on the formation of the RTA earlier this week, per David Caraviello of NASCAR.com:
The last thing we would want to do is not talk to everybody so we can understand where the truth lies, or the best that we can tell. So that's why one voice -- it's just a bad idea. ...
In every decision that we've ever made that's important, the more input, the more people we’ve heard from, the better the result. And so that will never change in the business model of NASCAR, because the ideas come from all over the place, and that's the strength that we have.
Rob Kauffman, co-owner of Michael Waltrip Racing, is chairman of the RTA. He is partnered with Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Richard Childress Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports, Roush Fenway Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing and Team Penske.
Though other smaller teams aren't involved in the RTA, their voices will likely be heard more than before. One of those organizations is Wood Brothers Racing, who will be losing Trevor Bayne at the end of the year.
Bayne is moving on to Roush Fenway, likely driving alongside both Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Greg Biffle. The 23-year-old shared his thoughts on what he plans to do with the new team, via Brad Norman of NASCAR.com:
I think I'm taking (more ownership) not only of this team, but I think at Roush Fenway in general. We're here to stay for a while, and this team needs leadership. Whether that's me or not, I don't know, but we all have to step up in our positions and try to be leaders. As a driver I'm trying to do that, and I know Chad is trying to do that as a crew chief.
While much of that was in reference to the Nationwide car he drives for RFR, it also rings true at the Sprint Cup level. The writing on the wall says Carl Edwards is out after this year, so without Stenhouse or Biffle in the Chase standings, Bayne will need to step up next season.
Drivers to Watch
After a stretch of success, J.J. is having a string of poor finishes over the last two races.
Finishing 42nd at both Daytona and New Hampshire, Johnson still sits at second on the Chase Grid thanks to his three victories. Caraviello notes why setbacks like the last two weeks can hurt more this season during the Chase:
Johnson has achieved so much in his career that any kind of setback can seem outsized by comparison, and that may certainly be the case here. But in a revamped Chase which now features an elimination format -- and will definitely include a run at a record-tying seventh title -- any kind of failure can loom large.
Luckily, Johnson now returns to a track where he's had unmatched success over the last eight years.
Mr. Six-Time knows his way around the Brickyard, securing four wins over that span. Though he's also offset those victories with two finishes outside of the top 20, Johnson narrowly missed out on a fifth checkered flag last season.
When looking for a man to win the race, look no further than Johnson. While that goes for just about any track, his career victories at Indy make him a surefire contender throughout the afternoon.
Throughout his career, Stewart has amassed victories in myriad racing disciplines, including collecting three Sprint Cup points championships.
But one track is held to the highest standard for one of the best in the sport, and that track is the Brickyard. Stewart has already kissed the bricks twice but still wants more, via NASCAR on ESPN:
Stewart is a former IndyCar, Camping World Truck Series, sprint car and Nationwide driver. But even with his wealth of experience, he has been unable to take a checkered flag this season.
The Brickyard 400 will also be the close of a busy week for Stewart, who owns Eldora Speedway where the truck series will race on Wednesday night on Fox Sports 1 at 9 p.m. ET. Stewart tweeted about the dirt track earlier this week:
With a full slate, including a sprint car race he won last Friday, Stewart is on a high heading into the race he wants to win badly. If he can pull that off, he'd also essentially secure a spot in the Chase—a trifecta for the three-time champion.
This could have easily been a spot for Gordon, Ryan Newman, Keselowski or Dale Earnhardt Jr., but it goes to Kenseth for one reason—he's hungry.
A seven-time winner in 2013 during his first year with Joe Gibbs Racing, Kenseth hasn't taken a checkered flag yet. He currently has five top-five and 10 top-10 results, but wins mean more this season.
While Kenseth sits fourth in the traditional points standings, he's 12th on the Chase Grid. If five more drivers win in the last seven events, Kenseth might be pushed completely out of NASCAR's playoffs.
The JGR driver might not have a victory during his career at Indy, but neither did Newman last year. Equipped with six top-five finishes—including last season—Kenseth might kiss the bricks for the first time on Sunday afternoon.
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