Byrnes: Brickyard 400 Viewers 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.

Although I don't think the Daytona 500 will ever be surpassed as NASCAR's marquee event, many drivers would put the Brickyard 400 right at the top of the list of races they want to win. To this day, some people still don't think stock cars belong at the Brickyard, but racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the first time in 1994 was a huge event for the sport's growth and for guys like Darrell Waltrip who dreamed of racing there. It's hard to really quantify how big the Brickyard 400 is. We've talked a lot this year about racing in key markets like Dallas/Fort Worth, Las Vegas and Fontana, but as far as motorsports go, Indy's tradition and its legacy is really second to none in this country. From that standpoint alone, it's a major event in NASCAR racing.

Who to Watch

  • Jeff Gordon: He has an average finish of 9.6, and he has six top-five finishes. That qualifies him as a favorite in my book.
  • Jimmie Johnson: This pick is on the strength of the 48 team's overall program. It has nothing to do with the Brickyard and everything to do with what they're doing as a race team. You could take that 48 team to the Nurburgring right now, and they would run well. I believe in momentum and they certainly have it.
  • Kevin Harvick: It's hard to ignore the defending champion of the race because momentum is important but so is confidence. He's still carrying his confidence from last year's win. Although many people in the sport say if you run well at Pocono, you'll run well at Indy, Harvick told us on Trackside last Friday night that it doesn't work that way for him.
  • Kurt Busch: He has two top-10 finishes and one top five in three starts. He didn't finish the 2002 when Jimmy Spencer got into the back of him. Busch has the ability to run well there, and he's proven that he likes that race track. The only race he didn't finish there was when Jimmy Spencer got into the back of him.
  • Bobby Labonte and Tony Stewart: When I look at the Joe Gibbs Racing team, I think Bobby Labonte will bounce back from Pocono. Labonte won the Brickyard 400 in 2000 when he went on to win the Cup championship. He hasn't run well in his last three races, but, like Harvick, he has confidence at the Brickyard. Stewart is a Hoosier, and if desire has anything to do with winning, you could see him in victory lane.
  • Mark Martin: The 6 team's finishes don't reflect how well they've run. As well as the 6 team ran last week, I wouldn't be surprised to see him win on Sunday. He's so hard on himself that when he confidently says he needs to win the Brickyard, it's a strong indication that he knows he's going to be good.
  • What to Watch

  • Super Bowl style pageantry: Kyle Petty compared the Brickyard 400 to the Super Bowl. Just like the Super Bowl isn't just a game, the Brickyard 400 isn't just a race. It's an event.
  • The Indianapolis 500 was a nationwide event and it was the biggest motorsports event in the country. People who didn't even like racing would watch the Indianapolis 500. I did as a kid. I knew Gordon Johncock, Al Unser and Roger Mears. I didn't follow racing, but I sure knew who all those guys were from watching the Indy 500.
  • See it in person: I remember going to a test with Darrell Waltrip at the Brickyard in 1995. The frontstretch is pretty magical. If you ever have the privilege to stand on Gasoline Alley, the tradition and magnitude of the place smack you in the face pretty hard. I'm not sure that TV does it justice. I watched the Indy 500 as a kid, but I had to stand on pit road with DW when there were no fans in the grandstands to really understand what the Brickyard really meant.
  • Pit Perspective

    Indy's long frontstretch which requires a lot of horsepower reminds me of Pocono, and it looks like the cars are going into a funnel in Turn 1 with stands on both sides. Then you wonder how they are ever going to turn left. An Indy car is going to turn left because they're not hard to turn, but with 3,400-pound stock cars running nose to tail — even during a test — you never think they're going to make it through OK.

    Finish Line

    I talked about confidence earlier, and a good feel for the track goes hand in hand with confidence. Again, it's a 3,400-pound car with lots of horsepower, and you have to get through the corners. You've got to keep up momentum. Although I didn't list him as one to watch, Rusty Wallace has a good feel for what that race car needs at the track. Some guys eventually get better when the light bulb goes on and they "get" a certain track. As the race goes on, Wallace knows what adjustments to make. He's not trying to figure out that car as the race goes on.
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    Victory Lane

    It's a bit of a sad commentary on the sport that Jimmie Johnson would even be considered for a fine, much less have to pay one. No disrespect to NASCAR president Mike Helton or what he said in the drivers meeting, but for years in this sport, competing sponsors have co-existed. Then drivers started knocking bottles off of their cars. Last Saturday on Pit Bull, Pepsi-sponsored Jeff Gordon said when he won the Coca-Cola 600, he called NASCAR and asked "What do you want me to do? You're putting us in this position." I understand the need to protect a sponsor's investment and maximize exposure. I also understand that companies get what they pay for in many cases, and there are companies who are better at marketing than others. But I think putting that competing-sponsor pressure on drivers is unfair.
    Tagged: Kyle Petty

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