There's Something Magical About O'Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis
There are certain tracks on the NASCAR circuit that are special to fans and drivers. For instance, Daytona Beach, Florida; Bristol, Tennessee; Darlington, South Carolina; and then there's Indianapolis, Indiana.
Everyone is aware of NASCAR invading the Brickyard in the mid-'90s and how soon it became of one the biggest races on the calender along-side the Daytona 500.
However, across town from the Brickyard there is another track in Indianapolis that is making itself prestigious.
The O'Reilly Raceway Park was supposed to be a 2.5 mile, 15-turn road course when in 1958 Tom Binford, Frank Dickie, Roger Ward, Howard Freger and many others set out on the development.
In 1960 the NHRA helped assist in building a quarter-mile drag strip and in 1961 they ran their first event. Soon ORP was the site of the NHRA's biggest event. The entire facility would be bought by the NHRA in 1979.
Also in 1961 across the street at the oval, which was then dirt, their first race was run and won by A.J. Foyt.
From there the facility came to host not only drag racing but Sprint cars, Sports cars and in 1982 the NASCAR Nationwide Series rolled in and the magic began.
The Nationwide Series was born in 1982 as a stepping stone to the Sprint Cup Series, the minor league so to speak. As the number two series many great champions and racers have used it to propel their careers.
Since the very beginning ORP has been on the schedule, the inaugural winner was Morgan Shepherd who has a total of three ORP wins, and many great races and even some surprise winners have emerged. Think Butch Miller the 1986 winner who went on to finish fifty-second in points that year.
In the Cup Series there are certain races that if you can run well it will propel you toward a successful year and even a championship.
ORP has done that in the Nationwide Series.
From 1982 to 1994 there were thirteen races run and three of the race winners went on to win the championship in the same year. Larry Pearson started it off in 1987, then Bobby Labonte and Joe Nemecheck followed suit in 1991 and 1992 respectively.
However, starting in 1995 a new and better trend started to emerge for the Nationwide and now newly formed Truck Series.
The Truck Series has completed fourteen races from their inception in 1995 to 2008 and four of the those winners have pulled off the double beginning with Mike Skinner in 1995, Jack Sprague in 2001 and most recently Ron Hornaday last season and Johnny Benson this year.
The most telling statistic is that the drivers who won the race at ORP but not the championship still finished in the top ten in points at seasons end. There were three 2nd place finishes, a third place, a fifth, and sixth place, and couple of eighth places and the lowest being a ninth and 10th place.
Yes, this is a special race. Which brings us back to the Nationwide Series and the amazing figures they have been putting up.
In 14 races from 1995 to 2008 more than half of those winners, eight, have used their win at ORP toward winning a championship. Randy LaJoie in both 1996 and 1997, Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 1998, Kevin Harvick, Greg Biffle, and Brian Vickers in 2001, 2002, and 2003 respectively. And lastly Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick again in 2005 and 2006.
Good things come in pairs.
The other six winners, which are only four drivers—Jason Keller, Ron Hornaday, Kyle Busch, and Jason Leffler—have led a combine total of 381 out of 1,000 laps.
This track has also produced five first time winners in the Nationwide Series but none in the Truck Series.
Every race is important, every race rewards a trophy, every race rewards a check and every race rewards points. But it appears only one race rewards something special.
The Sprint Cup Series used to spend months and tons of money preparing for the Daytona 500 because of how important a race it is. Everyone wants to win that race.
Maybe it's time the Nationwide Series teams spend more effort on O'Reilly Raceway Park at Indianaplis, treating it like their Daytona 500.
The history of O'Reilly Raceway Park comes from ORP.com and statistics come from NASCAR.com and Foxsports.com
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