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Indianapolis winner: The thoroughbreds of NASCAR

Judging the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s degree of difficulty requires only a reading of past winners of the Crown Royal Presents The Curtiss Shaver 400 at the Brickyard. 

Fourteen of 18 races were won by past or future NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champions. Fitting, perhaps, that drivers with a combined 11 championships – Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt–won the Speedway’s first two races.  Earnhardt was enshrined with the first class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
  Gordon, whose 85 victories rank highest among active drivers and third all-time, surely will follow along with several additional Brickyard winners. 

Winning at Indianapolis doesn’t guarantee a NASCAR Sprint Cup championship. But it certainly doesn’t hurt. In eight seasons, most recently Jimmie Johnson in 2009, the Indianapolis winner claimed that season’s title. 

Johnson also accomplished the “double” in 2006 and 2008. Others who doubled are Gordon (1998, 2001), Dale Jarrett (1999), Bobby Labonte (2000) and Tony Stewart (2005).

Gordon finished second in last year’s race, less than a second behind upset winner Paul Menard, who was in a fuel-saving mode but had enough in the tank to reach the checkered flag.
“Growing up here and going to the track numerous times as a kid, there is just something special about each trip here,” said Gordon, born in California but an Indiana resident during late childhood and teen years racing open wheel cars. 

“The four corners look the same but each is unique with different transitions and bumps.

“As a driver, factoring that in with a few little dips, the way the wind is blowing, the radius and everything else can give you an advantage. But the car has to be good, as well. We’ve had the best car or one of the best cars in each of the races we’ve won here.”

“It’s been a pretty cool race track … [because] of all the history and everything that’s been built around the race track and the 100 years it’s been going,” said Kyle Busch, who finished 10th a year ago.

Carl Edwards also cited the track’s history and traditions in making the race special. “If you watch the past winners and seeing Paul [Menard] and Jamie [McMurray] and the emotion of that win and how important it was to their teams, I think the guys that haven’t won it dream of being standing there on those bricks,” he said. “It would be very cool.”

Jeff Gordon, a four-time series champion and four-time winner at the Brickyard, is rapidly running out of time if he hopes to become a five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion.  

Gordon, who grew up in Pittsboro, Ind., seems to have finally gotten on track.  All those 20-something and 30-something finishes have morphed into top 10s.   Four of Gordon’s last five races have been top 10s. Likewise, four of Gordon’s last five finishes at Indianapolis Motor Speedway have been top-10 finishes, including last year’s runner-up finish to Paul Menard.  Gordon’s last Indy win came in 2004, although he’s enjoyed recent success at the historic venue.  

For Gordon, entry into the top 10 is a mathematical pipe dream. Though not officially eliminated from top-10 consideration, his best route into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup is the Wild Card. After race No. 26 at Richmond, the top 10 drivers make the 12-driver Chase. 

Spots 11 and 12 go to those drivers outside the top 10 with the most wins, provided they’re in the top 20. Gordon, currently in 15th, is well within the Wild Card discussion. After all, Brad Keselowski was 23rd after 19 races last year, and wound up in the No. 1 Wild Card spot.

Last Sunday’s “Crown Royal Curtiss Shaver 400”  was all about Jimmie Johnson.  The No. 48 Chevrolet was fast from the time it unloaded from its hauler at the speedway.  Johnson ran up front and in the lead most of the afternoon.  Sunday’s win was Johnson’s fourth win at the brickyard, tying him with his teammate and mentor Jeff Gordon with four wins apiece.  Dale Earnhardt, who finished fourth, moved into the points lead dropping Matt Kenseth to second place.  Greg Biffle is third, and Jimmie Johnson fourth.

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