When I was a crew chief and even today as a broadcaster, running the Crown Royal 400 at Indianapolis is measuring stick of who is the strongest. It also shows me what teams or organizations still have a lot of work to do.
Everybody takes the best, latest and greatest of everything they have available to the Brickyard. I’m talking the best engines, cars, chassis, aero package and anything else that might give you an edge over the competition.
The Brickyard 400 is one of those events that literally all the stars have to line up perfectly if you are going to win and kiss the bricks afterward. There’s the aero and mechanical grip. You need all the horsepower the engine guys can give you.
Your pit crew has to be flawless. Your driver has to be the same. Your crew chief has to come up with the perfect strategy. It literally takes the whole package to win there.
I’m anxious to see how this aero package works there. We do have a little bit of history with it when we ran Pocono back in June. Remember, the rules package from a year ago at the Brickyard 400 is day and night’s difference to what they will run on Sunday.
I’m also excited to see if this promotes a little better racing at Indy. I say that because sometimes it is a stretch to get a good race there.
I remember back in the mid-90’s when we first started going there. We had "aero push" in 1995. I was crew chief for Dale Jarrett. We were running third, a straightaway behind Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Rusty Wallace with only 20 laps to go.
We were able to catch them in eight laps. I turned to car owner Robert Yates and told him with a big grin on my face, "This is going to be like taking candy from a baby."
Boy, was I wrong. Sure we could catch them, which we did. But, then we were locked down and couldn’t pass them, so we finished third that day.
The other thing that is interesting about Indy is several times in our history of running there, whoever won the race went on to win the championship that year.
With that said, Indy is also known for giving us surprise winners too.
Go back to Ricky Rudd winning at the Brickyard as an owner-driver. We had Jamie McMurray in 2010. A year later it was Paul Menard surprising everyone with a win. Then, there was Ryan Newman in 2013.
So over our history of running at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it has given us a mixture of the expected and unexpected
Obviously, the biggest storyline of the weekend is the return of Jeff Gordon to NASCAR Sprint Cup racing.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been ruled out for Indy and next week at Pocono, so our FOX NASCAR buddy is dusting off his helmet and uniform to pinch-hit for Hendrick Motorsports.
How amazing would it be if Jeff won his sixth Brickyard 400?
He’s still very current. He just stepped out of a winning race car and competed in the Chase for the Sprint Cup in 2015, so having a champion of his caliber to fill in for two weeks is something very special.