The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series makes one annual stop at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a track at which drivers and their crews want to win.
The track itself is known as the brickyard because of its very first layout, when the entire two and a half mile track was covered in bricks. Today, the track is paved with asphalt, but the start finish line is still a road of bricks.
While the track has been raced on since 1911, NASCAR stock cars have only raced there since 1994. That year, Jeff Gordon raced his Chevrolet to victory, starting a string of good finishes for General Motors at the track.
General Motors cars, (Chevrolet and Pontiac) lead the entire circuit in wins at the Brickyard, with 13 wins (12 from Cheverolet and one from Pontiac.) For the past seven years a Chevrolet has been to victory lane.
In addition to the first win, Gordon also holds the track record for most poles (3) and most wins (4) at the Brickyard.
Pole winners have not visited victory lane very often. Out of the 17 races that have been held at the track, only two drivers—Kevin Harvick (2003) and Jimmie Johnson (2008)—have captured a victory starting from the pole position.
While the track is known for being one of the fastest in the IZOD Indy Car Series, the heavier stock cars move slower therefore eliminate a lot of the passing zones at the track.
“No secret over the years how tough it is to pass at [Indianapolis Motor Speedway]. The groove there is so narrow and requires a lot of driving precision,” Brad Keselowski, driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge said.
Because of the precision required to drive, and pass at Indianapolis, the average starting position for the winner is 9.4.
Starting position number three has produced more winners than any other position in the history of the race with three winners.
Only two other starting positions have manufactured multiple wins. Positions number one and four have each had two winners. Ten other starting positions have seen just one winner.
The furthest back that a driver has won the Brickyard 400 from was 27th back in 2001 when Jeff Gordon won.
While it is clear that General Motors has dominated the Brickyard, other manufactures have also won there as well. Fords have three victories at the historic track, however the last time Ford visited victory lane was in 1999, with Dale Jarrett at the wheel.
Dodge and Toyota have not been racing at Indianapolis as long as the Fords or Chevrolets, and the stats show that. Dodge has only one victory which came in 2002 with Bill Elliott piloting. Toyota is winless at the track with their best finish coming in 2008 with Denny Hamlin coming home in third.
Speaking of 2008, that race (known as the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard) holds several records in the rather brief history of the race.
At the 2008 race, the NASCAR Car of Tomorrow premiered at the track. Due to the track pattern, coupled with the heavier car and a tire that didn’t rubberize the track, the tires used only lasted about ten laps before they would either wear down too much to race on or explode.
Drivers and crews found this sad fact out during practice, and NASCAR realized they had a problem too. Before the start of the green flag, NASCAR announced that they would throw a caution (known as a competition caution) 10 laps into the race, to check the tire wear.
As expected, the tires were still wearing down at an alarming rate, so NASCAR officials were forced to continually throw competitions cautions until the tire wear improved or the end of the race, whichever came first.
Sadly for NASCAR, Goodyear, fans and drivers, the tire wear never improved and NASCAR had to throw a caution roughly every 10 laps. A track record of 52 laps were completed under caution.
This situation lead to a few other records being set. Due to pit strategy, there were 26 lead changes during the race the most for NASCAR at the track. Second, at the end of the race, 41 cars were still running when the checkered flag flew. Third is the number of cars that finished on the lead lap. With very few green flag laps and many cautions allowing several drivers to get their laps back, 36 drivers were able to finish on the lead lap.
While the Brickyard 400 is one of the most coveted places to win on the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit, it’s also one of the hardest to pass for the win.
If a driver wants to capture the checkered flag and kiss the bricks at Indianapolis, they will need to have a strong car and a top starting position.
Stats from this article come from the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup media guide.
Quotes come from Brad Keselowski’s Twitter page: twitter.com/keselowski.