Dustin Off the Next Race: Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis

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Dustin Off the Next Race:  Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis
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There is no place like the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It's a speedway that is unlike any other, not just in NASCAR, but in any form of racing.

When stock cars first came to this track in 1994, questions as to whether NASCAR belonged at the track began surfacing. Stock cars? At a track known for open-wheel racing?

Those questions aren't asked anymore as this race has become one of the crown jewels each year.

Another chapter at Indy will be written on Sunday as NASCAR continues its run through the summer. With seven races left until the Chase, drivers in the top-12 are looking to hold their spot. Those that are either on the edge of being in or out are even more anxious to get the green flag.

It all begins on Sunday with the Brickyard 400. It's time for me to dust off who I expect to be the major contenders for the 160-lap event.

 

FAVORITES

Jimmie Johnson

The No. 48 team has a chance to do something no other driver has ever even attempted at Indy. In 2008, Johnson survived the entire Goodyear catastrophe to get the victory. Last year, he was the lucky driver taking the win after travesty on pit road.

Now, Johnson has a chance to go for an incredible three consecutive victories at the 2.5-mile rectangle.

He must be aware that it's not all feasting at this track. Johnson does have three DNF's here, most recently in 2007 where his car caught fire coming into the fourth turn. If he can avoid that, there's no doubt his car will be tough.

Can he three-peat? It is a very likely possibility. The Lowe's Chevy will have a bulls-eye right on the hood on Sunday.

Juan Pablo Montoya

"I swear on my children and my wife, I was not speeding."

It was the quote of the race last year. One slight, one extremely slight mistake by Montoya cost him quite possibly the biggest win of his young career. Montoya finished 11th, but he felt as though he finished last.

That race is still on his mind, and this year he returns looking to get back the one win that got away. He's very capable of doing it. The highest he's finished here is second back in 2007, so he has been close to kissing the bricks.

It wouldn't surprise anyone if Montoya exorcised his demons and took the checkered flag this year.

Tony Stewart

Indiana born, Indiana proud. That is exactly what Stewart is, and when it comes to Indianapolis, he is the most driven to win.

While he missed getting a win in the Indianapolis 500, when he took that victory in the Brickyard 400 in 2005, it felt just as good. The fans just ate it up, as he just simply wouldn't go to victory lane right away. He wanted to soak it in, actually taking a Coca-Cola from a fan in the second turn and taking a drink. He then climbed the fence on the front straightaway, letting the fans see his joy.

He did the same thing in 2007, and the win felt just as good.

Who's to say he can't do it again? He may be winless this year, but if Smoke wants to get his first win of the year, there's no better place than his home track. Watch for the No. 14 Chevrolet to be up front rather quickly.

 

SLEEPERS

Jeff Gordon

At this point in the season, the streak that people continue to talk about is the No. 24 not getting into victory lane. Gordon has been so close on so many different occasions, it's almost a shame he hasn't seen victory.

He now comes to Indianapolis without a win, but does find himself sitting second in the points. After his third-place run at Chicago, the lead has been cut to 103 points between him and Kevin Harvick.

There is no doubt Gordon is good at Indy. He won the inaugural race, and then followed it up with three more wins in 1998, 2001, and 2004. There is no doubt that he can break the streak this weekend. Whether he will is yet to be seen.

One thing is for sure, the No. 24 won't shy away from going for it should the win be on the line.

Kevin Harvick

Speaking of the points leader, Harvick needs a strong rebound from his trouble at Chicagoland two weeks ago. The No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet was ill-handling all night long, eventually going behind the wall for repairs.

That rough night resulted in a 34th-place finish, and a cut points lead. Now, entering Indy, Harvick and his RCR team need to refocus and put that run behind them.

As a past winner, Harvick has run well here. His average finish is 10.8, and he won back in 2003.

He can get the job done, but he cannot afford another race like Chicago. Otherwise, that points lead will evaporate.

The run to the Chase truly begins this Sunday, but many drivers aren't worrying about points or finishes. At the end of the day, it will all be about kissing those dirty, worn out, gritty bricks at the start/finish line.

ESPN takes over coverage this week with NASCAR Countdown beginning at Noon ET, with the Brickyard 400 set to go green shortly after 1 p.m.

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