Brickyard Viewer's Guide

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Steve Byrnes

Steve Byrnes is a host and reporter for NASCAR on FOX. A broadcast veteran, he has covered racing for more than 20 years. Follow him on Twitter.

If the Daytona 500 is NASCAR's Super Bowl, the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard is everything but the Super Bowl. It has a big event feel, and drivers must rise to the occasion to win. It demands greatness, superior strategy and incredible luck. Built in 1909, Indy wasn't meant for 3500-pound stock cars. When you stand on the track, the law of physics won't seem to allow the cars to turn with only nine degrees of banking. Somehow, those guys make it work as they race for a piece of the $9.5 million purse.

Who to Watch

  • Jeff Gordon: Having a great year with four wins, Gordon has four Brickyard wins. He grew up in Indiana and understands the enormity of the event. He's always done well in big-money events whether it's a Winston Million bonus or a championship chase. He has the confidence to pull off a fifth win.
  • Tony Stewart: Some people are saying, "Stewart's doing well in points, but he's only won one race." The truth is the No. 20 team has been very close to winning races, and he can go back-to-back with wins at Chicagoland and Indy. He's an Indiana guy, and this race means a lot to him. After winning the Brickyard two years ago, he doesn't have the pressure or burden of having to win at Indy. He can race as hard as he wants, which makes Stewart a favorite.
  • Jimmie Johnson: Developing a reputation as a money racer who wins big events, Johnson won here last year and became the sixth winner in 13 Brickyard 400 races to go on and win the championship in the same season.
  • Kevin Harvick: Since winning the Daytona 500 and the Nextel All-Star Challenge earlier this year, Harvick has been a little bit under the radar, but he won this race four years ago.
  • Penske Racing South: I agree with Larry McReynolds. Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch could surprise.
  • What to Watch

  • Big boy racing: Goodyear has a different tire combination than they've run before at Indianapolis so teams will have to adjust, but everybody is in the same boat. It's big boy racing. The big boys are going to figure out how to adapt, and that's why an analytical driver like Gordon is so good because he figures out a way to win. Winning at Daytona is predicated on getting yourself in position to win at the end, but the Brickyard is different. It requires the best out of drivers and teams the entire weekend.
  • Drivers are leaders: When No. 48 crew chief Chad Knaus was suspended before last year's Daytona 500, and Jimmie Johnson came back to win the race and said that he learned about himself. He became more proactive and asserted himself, going on to win the championship. When the six-race suspensions were first announced for infractions at Sonoma, things were going so well between Steve Letarte and Gordon and Knaus and Johnson that I feared it might disrupt them, but it hasn't. That just shows how deep those organizations are. As badly as Knaus and Letarte want to be here, Gordon and Johnson can help carry their teams on their shoulders. They are leaders and champions, and they've won here before.
  • Pit pressure: The pressure of trying to win this event makes racers drive harder, but the crews are focused on getting across pit road and changing tires quicker. It's not as if the crews have been dogging it in the previous 19 races, but the pace picks up at the Brickyard. That's why we've seen some pretty close calls on pit road.
  • Speed Mail Steve

    Pit Perspective

    The Dale Earnhardt Inc.-Ginn Racing merger probably won't change anything during the race, but it affects people off the track, some positively and some negatively. Sterling Marlin, Joe Nemechek and — to a lesser extent — Regan Smith are looking for work. Bobby Ginn had nothing but good intentions when he put together a three-car operation with a developmental deal. It just seemed like they were on top of the world, but a sponsorship deal didn't come to fruition. It's a great situation for DEI. They gain a lot of resources that they didn't have in their shop, and they gain Mark Martin. But overall, it's going to have a big impact on an awful lot of people in the garage area.

    Finish Line

    While this race pays a lot of money, say that you've won at the Brickyard is priceless. Winning any Nextel Cup races is a tremendous achievement, but the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has been part of the American sports geography for nearly 100 years. Victory Lane is pretty rare air. The points count the same as they will next week, but this isn't just another race. This is the Brickyard 400. Some guys will set this trophy right next to a Daytona 500 trophy. As Dale Earnhardt Jr. said on Friday, Indy isn't a place where you get a fluke win. It requires excellence in all phases of the game.

    NASCAR on FOX and SPEED host and reporter Steve Byrnes has covered racing for more than 20 years.

    Tagged: Kurt Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ryan Newman, Jimmie Johnson, Sterling Marlin, Mark Martin, Joe Nemechek, Regan Smith

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