This will be the first time we have raced at Indianapolis with the new car and tire combination. As you may recall, last year’s race turned into a debacle as tire issues prevented less than 10 laps of racing before problems arose. So not only did we have a poor race, but teams weren’t able to learn much about the new car at the track. But following extensive testing by Goodyear since that fiasco, we have a new and improved tire combination that we hope will allow us to go there and concentrate on racing and not trying to survive like last year.
On the plus side, the teams have a lot of time under their belt with this car now. So I think everyone goes there with some confidence as opposed to last year when teams were still trying to wrap their arms around this race car.
Same but different
While on paper there are three 2.5-mile tracks on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule — Daytona International Speedway, Pocono Raceway and Indianapolis Motor Speedway — they are not all the same. Indianapolis and Pocono have some similarities, but the only resemblance shared by Daytona and Indy is that they’re both the same length and they’re both asphalt tracks. That’s it.
The banking in the turns at Indianapolis is only nine degrees, which is only about a fourth of the banking we have at Daytona.
The one thing that makes Indy unique is even though it is considered an oval, it really is a rectangular-shaped track. At most tracks we go to, you have the entrance, middle and exit off the corners. At Indy it’s all doubled. You have four entrances of the corner. You have four middles of the corner and four exits. So it’s almost double the challenge these teams are used to. If there are two turns you really want to get off of there with a lot of throttle, it is Turns 2 and 4. You need all that speed built up because it’s what carries you down both those 3000-foot straightaways.
Trust me though, to win Sunday you have to nail the entrance, middle and exit of all four of the corners. You can’t just get a little bit of it right, you have to get it all right. It is just an extremely challenging racetrack because it’s almost where the law of physics takes over. With an open-wheel car, they will go 220 mph where as we will see Cup cars at Indy go anywhere from 180 to 200. You have to remember that the open-wheel cars are a ton lighter and have a ton more downforce than our stock cars.
This weekend, I don’t think you will see the track change that much over the course of the day. If you are good when the race starts, there’s a pretty good chance you will just have to fine tune on it all day.
Tony Stewart is the guy to beat this weekend. He loves Indianapolis Motor Speedway. We tell you that every year. He won the race in June at Pocono, which is similar to Indy with those big long straightaways. So he is my odds-on favorite. I also can see his teammate Ryan Newman doing well this weekend. He has run well at Indy in the past.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway has never been very good for Roush Fenway Racing. It is only one of two tracks that they have never won at — the other being Chicagoland Speedway where we were two weeks ago. So I am just not sure about the Ford camp this weekend.
One guy I am going to keep my eye on is Kasey Kahne. He has run well in the past at Indianapolis with two top fives and an additional top 10 in five starts. The other positive for Kasey is it looks like that team is starting to get its act together. He’s not the only driver from the Dodge camp to watch — keep your eye on Kurt Busch too.
The sleeper in this whole equation could be Juan Pablo Montoya. He had a good car last year but was a victim of the tire deal. He finished second there the year before last. Obviously, we know he loves the place because he has won there in open wheel. Additionally, his team seems to be much better this year.
You can count on at least three of the four Hendrick cars being good there. Jimmie Johnson has won two of the last four races there. Mark Martin brings a lot of momentum into Indy and so I look for him to be good this weekend. Then you have Jeff Gordon, who has won there four times.
But going back to Stewart, if you believe in patterns and trends, then this is his year. In the last four races at Indy the winners have been Tony, Jimmie, Tony and Jimmie. So I guess that means you should put some money on that No. 14 car, huh?
FOX race analyst Larry McReynolds has more than 25 years of NASCAR experience as a mechanic, crew chief and broadcaster. He and his fellow Crew Chief Club members take you behind the wall at www.crewchiefclub.com.
“How to Become a Winning Crew Chief” is on bookstore shelves, or you may order your own autographed copy from www.DWStore.com.