Do Brickyard Wins Translate to NASCAR Sprint Cup Championships?

Rob TiongsonSenior Analyst IJuly 26, 2009

INDIANAPOLIS - JULY 25:  Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 DuPont Chevrolet talks with Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Allstate 400 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 25, 2009 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

If the Daytona 500 is the race where the winner is supposedly jinxed for the rest of the season, then a victory in the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard is the ticket to a championship.

It's one of those crazy superstitions in sports in the NASCAR world, believe it or not.

Fans once cringed if their driver graced the cover of EA Sports' previous NASCAR video game series, much in the same vein as NFL fans grimmaced when their star player was the cover athlete of the Madden NFL line.

These same fans who line up at the merchandise trailers and sit in those grandstand seats or reach vocal highs atop their RVs are probably the same ones who feel that their driver's season is made with a trophy at Indy.

Right?

Am I right, Bleacher Creatures?

While the storylines heading into Sunday's race will undoubedtly focus on the Goodyear tires, the Hendrick/Stewart-Haas drivers, and the Kurt Busch/Jimmie Johnson "rivalry," another angle that may warrant some attention is who will win the race.

I know what you're thinking:

Really Rob, are we that naive?

Seriously, that's like saying I watch an NFL game because I want to see my team win!

Sure, this may sound like the most obvious point regarding tomorrow's Allstate 400 at the Brickyard. After all, who does not talk about the winner in the days preceding the races on Saturday night or Sunday afternoon?

Consider this: Of the past 15 runnings of the 400-miler, the race winner has gone on to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship seven times.

Those are decent odds and a great barometer as to who wins the series title. Indianapolis may not be the most suitable track for the heavy stock car chassis, but the one who comes up on top often exemplifies skills that determine a NASCAR champion.

"The Title Streak," if you will, all started in 1998 when Jeff Gordon captured that year's crash-marred event. Not only did Gordon cash in one of the richest paydays in motorsports history of $637,625 (along with the Winston No Bull $5 million payout), but he dominated the Cup season en route to his third title.

Gordon's triumph on that August 1 race was the second of his four consecutive victories 11 summers ago. From there on out, the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet was racing in another zip code and dimension.

Dale Jarrett, whose car was the most dominant in the '98 running until he ran out of fuel, came back to the Speedway, Ind. facility with a vengeance.

Perhaps he was "fueled" by his gas mileage snafu, which costed him the race and any real shot to even challenge for the title that season.

Leading all but 43 circuits in the Aug. 9, 1999 race, the No. 88 Quality Care Service Ford, as they say in the racing industry, "ran on rails."

Jarrett would go on to win that race, one of four races stamped by the DJ Express.

"The Jarrett Juggernaut" would win his championship just before the season finale, much like Gordon did in the previous year.

Bobby Labonte didn't exactly set the world ablaze in 2000, but his consistency and victory at Indianapolis on Aug. 5 were but one of countless reasons why the Corpus Christi, Texan clinched his first championship.

Driving the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Pontiac (whose shade of green has still yet to be determined after all these years) for Joe Gibbs Racing, Labonte waged in a spirited late-race duel with Rusty Wallace.

Labonte would pass the hard-luck '89 Cup titlist with 15 laps remaining, driving to an easy 4.229 second victory over Wallace, Bill Elliott, Jerry Nadeau and then-teammate Stewart.

2001 saw more of the same with a Brickyard victory translating to a Cup title, where Gordon would drive a previously ill-handling beast to an improbable third Indy win over Sterling Marlin, Johnny Benson Jr., Wallace, and Kurt Busch.

From 2002 to 2004, "The Title Streak" came to a rather screeching halt with drivers who may or may not shock fans with their ability to come through in the big stage.

Although Elliott was hardly a title contender in '02, his win at Indianapolis was certainly one "for the ages."

"Awesome Bill from Dawsonville" would see his last checkered flags from 2001 (his first year with Evernham Motorsports) to '03, with the Brickyard win holding as much prestige as his two Daytona 500 victories.

Kevin Harvick was having a solid year in 2003 and his Brickyard 400 victory made his junior season in the "bigs" only sweeter. This race may have given this Bakersfield, Calif. native the confidence to win in NASCAR's crown jewel events.

"Four-Time" would live true to his moniker with a fourth Indy race success that nearly saw a fifth Cup title. Nevertheless, Gordon's five victories came at some of NASCAR's most challenging tracks.

Since the 2005 season, Indianapolis has been a "flat" shared by Stewart and Jimmie Johnson, who are arguably shaping up to be the favorites heading into Sunday's event.

The duo have "swapped" wins in the past four years, with Smoke "getting odd" and Johnson "getting even."

If history truly repeats itself, then it looks like a third hometown victory for "The Rushville Rocket." Even with stats aside, Stewart and Indianapolis go together like Chicken McNuggets and fries on an easy day.

Until Stewart finally captures a Daytona 500, he'll probably tell you that his 2005 victory at Indy was his proudest moment in his stellar racing career.

Coming so close to a win at his hometown track in the Indianapolis 500 (from 1996 to '98), Indiana's proud native son relished in his backyard win that contributed to his Cup trophy.

Smoke didn't get enough of his first Indy win, so he repeated his feat two years later and welcomed ESPN back in a rather infamous way.

Johnson's Brickyard triumphs seem to happen when tires are the main topic of discussion, but I'll "tread away" from such a monotonous topic.

Nevertheless, the epitome of Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus's abilities to overcome adversity have been greatly demonstrated in their two Indy wins.

With that said, keep an eye on the drivers involved in the storylines, as well as the dark horses on Sunday like Ryan Newman, Mark Martin, and Juan Pablo Montoya.

Newman is another Indiana native, hailing from South Bend. In the midst of his comeback season as a legit title contender, "Rocket Ryan" may be kissing the bricks and perhaps the Cup in November.

Martin seems to come up short on the luck department when it comes to the center stage of a "big" win and the title, but that's not to say that this Batesville, Ark. native is a driver that must be overlooked.

After all, at least in the preseason, nobody expected Martin to be leading the tour in victories.

As for JPM, as amazing his as victory at Infineon was in his rookie campaign, a triumph at the Brickyard (with the same team that powered him to a 2000 Indianapolis 500 victory) may be this Colombian's shining moment as an all-around racing superstar.

Whoever comes up on top at Indy may be the same driver hositing that lovely piece of hardware that results from a 36-race tour like a gritty game of "Capturing the Flag."