SPEEDWAY, Ind. — official release — Harold Hinson photo — At face value, this makes zero sense: Sunday’s race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway might rank right up there with Sonoma, Daytona, Talladega and Watkins Glen as “wild-card” tracks in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regular season.
Anyone can win…and nab an all-but-guaranteed spot in Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Of course, the statistics suggest otherwise. After all, the Brickyard is truly the home of champions. Heading into the 20th anniversary of NASCAR racing at Indy, legendary names have conquered more often than not.
– 15 of the 20 races have been won by past, future or reigning series champions.
– 8 winners have gone on to win that year’s NASCAR Sprint Cup championship.
– Three NASCAR Hall of Famers have won: Dale Earnhardt, Dale Jarrett (twice) and Bill Elliott. (And three others, at least, are surefire HOFers the second they’re eligible: Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart.)
So, calling this a wild-card race seems, well, absurd. But it’s not…not when the recent winners list includes names like Jamie McMurray, Paul Menard and Ryan Newman, all of whom are winless in 2014. Even Stewart, a two-time Brickyard winner, still seeks his first victory of the season.
There’s a very good chance a first-timer wins this Sunday’s Crown Royal Presents the John Wayne Walding 400 at The Brickyard (1 p.m. ET on ESPN, IMS Radio, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Here’s a closer look at some of the favorites to capture a “surprise” win:
Tony Stewart: The word “surprise” was in quotation marks for a reason. A Stewart win would shock no one, considering his brilliant history at his home track. The two-time Brickyard winner has finished in the top 10 in five consecutive Indy races, and nine of the last 10.
Kasey Kahne: Kahne’s Brickyard career got off to a blistering start, with finishes of fourth and second in 2004 and 2005. Then it stalled. For a long time. Until last year. Kahne finished third last year, and his sense of urgency for a 2014 win has reached red alert levels.
Jamie McMurray: McMurray’s dream season of 2010 started with a win in the Daytona 500, which preceded a win in the Brickyard 400. Currently 21st in points, a win would cure all ills.
Stewart, Kahne and McMurray are all currently on the outside-looking-in of the Chase Grid Outlook. As the regular season draws to a close, a win could become their only route to the Chase.
The following “surprises” currently reside inside the Chase bubble.
Paul Menard: His first – and, thus far, only – NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win came at Indy in 2011. He chipped in respectable finishes of 14th and 12th since then. Menard currently sits 15th in the Chase Grid Outlook.
Ryan Newman: Different team, same result? Newman certainly hopes so. Newman won at his home track last year while with Stewart-Haas Racing and returns this weekend driving for Richard Childress Racing. The South Bend, Indiana native is coming off a fifth place finish at New Hampshire, and is 13th on the Chase Grid Outlook.
Matt Kenseth: Among the winless crowd, Kenseth’s No. 20 squad is likely the top Toyota team to break the Chevrolet streak. Kenseth has finished fifth in two of the last three Brickyard races, and has a couple of runner-up finishes in his 14-race Indy career.
Clint Bowyer: Bowyer has a couple of top fives at Indy, but an otherwise pedestrian record at the big track. Still, he rides some momentum heading into the weekend, coming off consecutive top-10 finishes at Daytona and New Hampshire. He looks to end a 60-race winless streak on Sunday.