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Indianapolis Motor Speedway shares some NASCAR history

Indianapolis Motor Speedway is celebrating its 100th birthday this year, and although known more for its open wheel tradition, the track has seen its share of NASCAR history.
Stock car racing became a fixture at Indianapolis in 1994, with the advent of the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard. But NASCAR references and competitive crossover are found throughout Indianapolis’ long history. NASCAR founder Bill France was a pit crew member for driver Joel Thorne during the 1938 and 1939 Indianapolis 500. Thorne finished seventh and ninth respectively.
The car that Mauri Rose drove in his 1941 Indianapolis 500 victory proved quite versatile. The grandfather of outgoing Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Joie Chitwood III drove the same car in the 1946 Indianapolis 500. Buck Baker later drove the car to the NASCAR Speedway division title in1952. It remained in Charlotte, N.C., until Bob Harkey arranged for its return to Indianapolis. Today, the car is on display at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame.

Red Byron, the first NASCAR Strictly Stock division champion in 1949, practiced but didn’t qualify for the 1947 and 1948 Indianapolis 500. Red Vogt, one of stock car racing’s earliest and most sought after mechanics, helped Byron prepare for his Indy 500 attempts.
NASCAR driver and team owner Junior Johnson drove part of the rookie driver’s test for the 1963 Indianapolis 500; Johnson was teammate to fellow rookie Bobby Unser. Curtis Turner also tried to qualify in 1963 in a car prepared by legendary mechanic Smokey Yunick.
The Wood Brothers, one of NASCAR’s oldest and most accomplished teams, pitted the car of 1965 Indy 500 winner Jim Clark and his teammate Bobby Johns, who finished seventh.
Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison, and Donnie Allison all competed in the Memorial Day Classic. Yarborough started the 1966, ’67,’71 and ’72 races. Bobby Allison started the 1973 and ’75 races. Donnie Allison, who drove in the 500 twice, in 1970 and ’71, had the best record of the three. He finished fourth in the 1970 Indianapolis 500, a performance that earned him the rookie of the year award.
Current Sprint Cup Drivers with Indianapolis 500 experience include current points leader Tony Stewart, 2000 winner Juan Pablo Montoya, and the 2006 winner Sam Hornish Jr., John Andretti and Robby Gordon.
Want a hot tip on this year’s Sprint Cup Champion? You could do lot worse than to pick Jimmie Johnson, the winner of last Sunday’s Allstate 400 at the Brickyard. The eventual series champion has won the race seven times in its fifteen year history. That suggests Indianapolis as a serious signpost enroute to the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Jeff Gordon won at Indianapolis in his title years 1998 and 2001, while teammate Jimmie Johnson won in his championship years 2006 and 2008.
“I think the momentum is really going to be key just prior to the Chase,” Gordon said during last week’s media teleconference. “Whoever can get that momentum and go into the Chase and even start the Chase with that strong momentum and continue it on, that, I believe, is what’s going to separate the team, or the top teams that are going to vie for the championship.”
Three drivers have won at Indy and gone on to win this championship that season on one occasion, Dale Jarrett in 1999, Bobby Labonte in 2000, and Tony Stewart in 2005.
Last Sunday’s race was a personal milestone for Kasey Kahne; the 2004 Raybestos Rookie of the Year marked his 200th Sprint Cup race.
“It doesn’t seem like that long ago that I was racing spring cars in Washington State,” Kahne said. “I feel pretty fortunate to be able to do what I do for a living. I’ve celebrated a lot of great moments in racing and I hope to celebrate more.”
Three-time and reigning Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson marked his 275th career Cup start last Sunday.
Next up, the Sprint Cup circus returns to Pocono Raceway Sunday for the Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500. Carl Edwards is the defending race winner. Bill Elliott leads all drivers with five wins at Pocono. He and Ken Schrader lead all drivers with five poles each at the tough Pennsylvania triangle.
—Pete Barber

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