Aside from the Daytona 500, it can certainly be argued that the Brickyard plays host to the most prestigious race in NASCAR. With the Chase quickly approaching, it happens to be one of the most important ones as well.
Sprint Cup's best drivers will go all out during Sunday afternoon's John Wayne Walding 400 at the Brickyard as they battle to either qualify for the Chase or improve their current positioning.
Indianapolis is known for the famed Indy 500, but NASCAR's foray into the area has proved to be hugely successful and popular in its own right. With the anticipation mounting, here is everything you need to know about when and where to watch Sunday's race at the Brickyard.
Where: Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Speedway, Indiana
When: Sunday, July 27 at 1 p.m. ET
Live Steam: WatchESPN
Radio: IMS Radio Network
Qualifying for the John Wayne Walding 400 at the Brickyard will take place Saturday, July 26, at 2:10 p.m. ET on ESPN, per NASCAR.com. Here is a full listing of the drivers who will attempt to qualify:
|78||Martin Truex Jr.|
|12||Juan Pablo Montoya|
|88||Dale Earnhardt Jr.|
|17||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.|
Drivers to Watch
The Brickyard has largely been dominated by a small handful of drivers since its inception as a NASCAR Sprint Cup race in 1994. Chief among those drivers is Jeff Gordon, who won the inaugural Brickyard race and has won it on three occasions since. The driver of the No. 24 car will look to become the first person to win the race five times Sunday.
This race is particularly special for Gordon since he lived in Pittsboro, Indiana, after moving from California as a youngster. This is essentially Gordon's home track, and his comfort level over the past two decades has made that quite apparent.
With the 20-year anniversary of the first Sprint Cup race at the Brickyard upon us, Indianapolis mayor Greg Ballard bestowed a huge honor upon the four-time Sprint Cup champion, according to Jeff Gluck of USA Today:
Indianapolis mayor Greg Ballard declares Sunday as "Jeff Gordon Day" in the city. #NASCAR— Jeff Gluck (@jeff_gluck) July 25, 2014
Perhaps having a day named after him puts more pressure on Gordon to perform, but it could just as easily give him a major boost. Gordon is already first in the points standings and securely in the Chase, but he has just one win and would love some more in order to start the Chase in a more advantageous spot.
Gordon has dominated the competition quite often at the Brickyard over the years, so this is a golden opportunity for him to pick up his second win of the season.
Many may view Gordon as the king of the Brickyard, but Jimmie Johnson can stake claim to that throne as well. Like Gordon, JJ has won this race four times and has a chance to win for a record-breaking fifth time Sunday. Also, Johnson is tied for the season lead in wins with Brad Keselowski, as both have reached Victory Lane three times. Breaking that tie is a definite possibility for Johnson.
The six-time Sprint Cup champion has certainly had his ups and downs this season, but he has still managed to be one of the best drivers on a week-to-week basis. Indianapolis has traditionally been kind to him like most tracks on the Sprint Cup circuit, but Johnson claims that wasn't always the case.
Per Sports Network (h/t Fox News), it took several years before Johnson finally figured out the proper way to approach the Brickyard:
There are certain tracks that are very difficult to get sorted out and to know how to lead your team, and for me, this was one of the toughest ones that I came to. It took me a long time to get it. The light finally turned on in my head—I think it was maybe in 2004 or 2005—I've driven this track wrong since practice opened. I set my car up wrong and led the team in the wrong direction. It really dawned on me during the race. I just think this track is so challenging that the best teams and the best drivers have a chance to stand out.
He has clearly gained a certain comfort level at Indy over the years, and it is now one of his better tracks. A fourth win this year would be huge for Johnson with the Chase coming up fast, which means he is likely to throw caution to the wind in an attempt to leap to the top of the standings.
The 2014 Sprint Cup season has been a trying one for Tony Stewart, to say the least. He is 19th in points and has really struggled to string good runs together. All it takes is one win to turn things around, though, and Smoke is most definitely among the top contenders at Indy.
Stewart has won at the Brickyard twice before and has a better career average finish than any other driver in this race. Even though Stewart has had a roller-coaster campaign thus far, he is of the belief that the slightest tweak could potentially propel him to victory, according to Curt Cavin of The Indianapolis Star:
The hard part is, the cars are so sensitive now, so it's kind of hard to tell. If you find something that works it can be big, and it can be big for weeks on end. But it's finding that. The competition is so close that you're not looking for big chunks of speed, you're looking for little things. That's the thing that's hard to predict and hard to get a feel on. When is that going to happen and are you going to find that?
Stewart figures to enter this race with the confidence of knowing that few other drivers have experienced the same level of success he has at the Brickyard. If he and his team are able to hit the right notes from a setup perspective, then everything is in place for the No. 14 car's first win of the year.
Who will win the 2014 John Wayne Walding 400 at the Brickyard?
Nobody aside from Gordon, Johnson and Stewart has won this race more than once, but that doesn't mean that there aren't other potential contenders.
Among the drivers who have triumphed at the Brickyard before, Kevin Harvick probably has the best chance to do so again. He has enjoyed a solid year with two wins, although he has been feast or famine at times. When he is at his best, very few drivers can hang with him.
Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth are two other drivers worth monitoring. Neither has ever won at Indianapolis, but Busch has seven top-10 finishes in nine tries, while Kenseth has eight in 14 races. Kenseth is in desperate need of a win with the Chase on the horizon. He is currently in the Chase, but a few more first-time winners could knock him out if he doesn't win one in his own right.
That desperation will ensure that the No. 20 car is in the mix, but Gordon will ultimately come out on top and cap Jeff Gordon Day in ideal fashion.
Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter