NASCAR Sprint Cup: 10 Lessons We Learned from the Brickyard 400
At the start of the Brickyard 400, NASCAR's elite drivers exit the fourth turn with hearts pounding as they speed through the crevice of fans, look toward the first turn that appears impossible with the sharp left turn, and they may not exhale until they reach the long backstretch.
The Brickyard 400 may not be the most exciting race during the season, but next to the Daytona 500, it is certainly the most prestigious.
NASCAR has been racing heavy stock cars at the Brickyard for 18 years now. The flat track built in 1909, was never meant to handle the bulky race machines, but rather open-wheel cars.
The original track was a mixture of crushed rock that was quickly repaved with more than three million bricks.
Today the history-rich track is paved, but the Yard of Bricks that remains at the start/finish line beckons each of the 43 drivers for the traditional kiss at the end of the race.
When the series comes to Indianapolis Motor Speedway, there is usually some unique factor that rears its head and could easily be a game-changer for those who are in critical need of a good finish or win.
The pressure to secure a place in the history books of the Brickyard is intense for the driver, crew chief, team, owner and sponsors.
It sometimes makes for wild calls by the team leader that may not be proven logical unless their driver takes the coveted checkered flag.
One thing you can count on besides one very happy winner is the lessons that will be learned during a NASCAR Sprint Cup race at the Brickyard.
Lets take a look at some of the lessons we learned at the 18th running of the Brickyard 400 presented by BigMachineRecords.com.
1. Paul Menard Is a Serious Racer
Many have thought Paul Menard was driving in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series because his dad's money brought strong sponsorship and he had just enough talent to drive in the top series.
Menard proved today that he is serious about racing when he won what he considered the most important race in the series, the Brickyard 400.
Richard Childress brought him into the fold at RCR as a fourth car this year with a great deal of confidence in his ability.
Menard, who was raised around Indianapolis Motor Speedway by a father who had sought a win there for 35 years, dedicated the emotional win to his dad.
The RCR driver is now a wild card contender with 14th place in the point standings and his first career Cup win.
2. The 2011 Season Is for First-Timers
Paul Menard's win at the Brickyard 400 puts him in the company of three other drivers who have won their first Cup race during the 2011 season.
Trevor Bayne won the Daytona 500, David Ragan won the CokeZero 400 at Daytona and Regan Smith won at Darlington.
3. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Continues Slide
Dale Earnhardt Jr. gave Junior Nation some moments to cheer when he led the field in the Brickyard 400, and even showed some aggressiveness early in the race when he bumped Joey Logano out of the way.
In the end, Junior finished 16th and slid yet one more slot in the point standings to 10th and extended his winless streak to 113.
Though his No. 88 Amp Energy/National Guard car showed some strength running in the top five, his team continues to unload cars that don't qualify well and really aren't good enough to contend for a win.
4. Jamie McMurray Finds a Little Luck
Jamie McMurray had a banner year in 2010 with his winning of the Daytona 500, Brickyard 400 and the fall race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
The 2011 season has been somewhat pathetic for him with engine failures, tire problems and more than his dose of bad luck.
McMurray drove his No. 1 Bass Pro Shops Impala to a fourth-place finish in the Brickyard 400 and though it is too late to make a difference, he moved up one slot from 29th to 28th in the point standings.
5. Four-Wide Isn't Good at Indy
It seemed like a good idea to go four-wide on the back stretch, but heading into to turn three it didn't seem to work out well.
Landon Cassill in the No. 51 went spinning, and several good cars, including Kasey Kahne, who had led 48 laps, plowed the strip of grass near the track.
Cars with sod covered noses and damaged splitters headed to the pits for clean-up and repairs, but some drivers were never able to get back in the game.
6. Penske Domination in IndyCars Didn't Work for Cup Drivers
Kurt Busch wanted to take his No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Dodge to Victory Lane for his boss Roger Penske, who has 15 IndyCar wins at the track, but never a Cup win.
Busch, who was third in points at the start of the race, looked to be a candidate to kiss the Yard of Bricks until the second lap of the race when he brushed the wall.
Busch's day didn't go all that well with his 21st-place finish and a drop to sixth in the point standings. His teammate, Brad Keselowski, was able to finish ninth, but he remains 21st in points and still unable to crack the all-important top 20.
7. Hometown Driver a Little Disappointed
Tony Stewart is an Indiana son who really wanted to win the Brickyard 400 just as he did two times before.
Stewart did drive his No. 14 Mobil 1/Office Depot Chevrolet to a sixth-place finish despite his pass-through penalty for hitting the commitment cone and a few other problems like a brush with Kyle Busch on pit road and fuel strategy.
Though the owner/driver didn't win, he did replace Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s ninth-place position in the point standings, which was a positive move from 11th.
Stewart had finished second to his teammate, Ryan Newman, at the previous race in New Hampshire and it looked as if they had turned the corner with performance.
There are six races to go, and Stewart is still likely to get at least one win this season and move up in the points.
8. Chevrolet Domination
The Ford FR-9 engine has shown some real strength this year, but only one Ford finished in the top six at the Brickyard 400, and that was Matt Kenseth, who finished fifth.
Chevrolets have won 13 of the 18 NASCAR Sprint Cup races at the Brickyard.
9. Tradition Never Gets Old
There is just nothing like the tradition of kissing the historic Yard of Bricks after a win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Dale Jarrett won the 1996 Brickyard race and his crew chief, Todd Parrott, suggested the team go over and kiss the bricks. A tradition was born that has been celebrated each year since then.
It may be a little dirty, but for the winning driver, team, team owner, family and special friends, there is just nothing quite as sweet as that post-race celebratory kiss.
10. Carl Edwards Maintains Silence
Carl Edwards remained a hot topic with his free agent status, but he continued to withhold any information about where he plans to drive after 2011.
It was thought by many that an announcement might be made at Indianapolis, but Ford is apparently throwing some incentives his way in hopes he will remain with Roush-Fenway Racing.
The media has been reporting that Edwards is likely to move to Joe Gibbs Racing and take over the wheel of the No. 20 Home Depot car.
Edwards continues to handle the negotiations pretty much on his own with the help of advisers, but he is determined to take his time and make the proper decision for himself and his family.
Should Edwards leave RFR, it will trigger a domino effect with the changes at both the operation he leaves and the one he goes to, including sponsor alignment at RFR and for Joey Logano at JGR.
Edwards remained at the top of the point standings despite his 14th-place finish in the Brickyard 400.