It’s been since August 8, 2004. The journey to return back to Victory Lane at the most famous track in motorsports history has finally concluded for one Indiana man.
20 years ago, Jeff Gordon took his rainbow-soaked No. 24 Chevrolet to the winner’s circle at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for NASCAR’s inaugural race at the speedway. On Sunday afternoon, Gordon drove his No. 24 Chevrolet back to Victory Lane at the yard of bricks for the fifth time in the 21st running of the Brickyard 400.
Scoring his 90th career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory, Gordon tied Formula 1 driver, Michael Schumacher, for the most wins at Indianapolis with five triumphs. His last Brickyard 400 victory came in 2004 where he dominated the race – holding off Dale Jarrett to get his fourth win at the track.
“This team came prepared. That was an awesome Axalta Chevy SS, and we had so much support. With five (laps) to go I was trying to look up in the grandstands, but it is the biggest race in my opinion. I know the Daytona 500 is a big race, but to me personally, this race means so much because of the fans. Because of the history of this track, but I couldn't help it,” he said on his historic victory.
Although he did not lead the most laps, the 42-year-old arguably had the fastest car throughout the 400-mile event. In the 21st running of this event, Gordon had to pass his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne, for on a late-race restart after the caution came out for Ryan Truex – who was off the pace on the apron of the race track. During the restart, Gordon passed Kahne on the high line, and set sail after that.
“I’m not very good on restarts and wasn’t very good today. I finally made the restart of my life today when it counted most. I knew we had a great race car. We just needed to get out front. Kasey (Kahne) kind of hung back and I kind of got a little ahead of him and I had to back up and was able to stay on his quarter panel and once we got down into (Turns) 1 and 2, I could hear him get loose. I was kind of glad he took the inside because I really wanted the outside,” Gordon said after the race.
Kahne dropped to the fifth position after getting passed by the three Joe Gibbs Racing cars, and then Joey Logano took a top-five away from the man that led a race-high 70 laps.
“I think we finished where we deserved to finish, we just need more speed in our car.” A GOOD RUN. “That’s about what we ran all day is where we finished. The guys did a good job. We got this thing better from the way we unloaded. We weren’t very good to start off this weekend, but every time we went out for practice or went on the race track we got a little bit better – through practice, through qualifying and even the race,” Logano said.
Kyle Busch used pit strategy to his advantage to come home in the second position, yet slipped over two seconds behind Gordon after the restart. This was Busch’s second runner-up finish at Indianapolis in two of the last three races at the 2.5-mile circuit. Throughout the day, he was racing outside of the top-10, but came on strong as his team took advantage of the multiple green-flag pit stops which took place in the first half of the race.
Busch was followed by his JGR teammates, Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth – providing a solid day for the Toyota organization. However, since Toyota entered the Sprint Cup Series in 2007, they have yet to record a victory at Indianapolis.
During the race, there was talk of rain in the area. Following the competition caution on Lap 20, multiple drivers were reporting rain in certain areas on the track. However, after a few minutes of drizzling on the speedway, the rain diffused and the drivers were able to focus on the racing. But because of the speculation that rain was surrounding the track, there were several different strategies on the day – providing an added level of excitement for a race that many presumed would be the polar opposite.
Entering the Brickyard 400, pole sitter Kevin Harvick was labeled as the favorite to win the event. Moreover, after starting out the race with the lead, he was passed by Gordon after the two roared by the start/finish line to begin the second lap of the day. Harvick led 12 laps in Sunday’s spectacle, and sits 12th in points after finishing in the eighth position at Indianapolis.
Here are some notables from the Brickyard 400:
- Austin Dillon earned his third top-10 finish of 2014. This is Dillon’s first career top-10 at a non-restrictor plate track in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition. He currently holds the final spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup as he sits 14th in points.
- Jimmie Johnson came home in the 14th spot after coming off of back-to-back 42nd-place finishes.
- Carl Edwards finished 15th in the Brickyard 400. Edwards and Roush Fenway Racing owner Jack Roush announced on Sunday morning that they will be parting ways at the conclusion of the season.
- A.J. Allmendinger finished 17th on Sunday. Allmendinger struggled with the handling on his No. 47 Chevrolet. He started the race in the 36th position, and steadily worked his way through the field. With his top-20 finish, Allmendinger gained three spots in the standings and sits 23rd in points.
- Juan Pablo Montoya earned a 23rd-place finish in his return to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in a stock car. Montoya won at Pocono Raceway a few weeks ago in the Verizon IndyCar Series while driving for Team Penske. This was his second of a pair of scheduled starts at NASCAR’s top-tier division for the 2014 season. He currently sits fifth in the IndyCar Series standings.
- Danica Patrick was racing inside of the top-15 when she broke the right rear axle on her No. 10 Chevrolet. Patrick finished in the 42nd position after bringing her car into Gasoline Alley following a burst of smoke billowing out from her car on pit road.
- Trevor Bayne finished 43rd for the first time in his young career. During the same announcement about Edwards departing RFR, Roush stated his faith in Bayne piloting the No. 6 Ford on a full-time basis in 2015 with funding from Advocare – his sponsor in the Nationwide Series.
Kevin Harvick is quite happy once again. The 25-time winner in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series shattered Ryan Newman’s track record at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway by setting a time of 47.647 seconds to win his 10th career pole.
By setting the quickest time, Harvick has broken the 14th track record this year in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in what will be the 20th event of the season. This will be the second time in 14 starts at the yard of bricks in which the California-native will lead the field to the green flag. In 2003, he won the pole for the Brickyard 400, and also won the race after pacing the field for 33 laps.
“After the first lap I was probably more nervous than I have been in a while for qualifying. I wasn’t really expecting to have the car run that fast. From there they are all looking at you ‘alright if you screw this up it’s on you buddy’. It’s great to have fast cars they do a great job preparing the cars and just being able to come to the race track and know the cars are going to be fast takes a huge burden off of everybody’s shoulders just to get the balance right," Harvick said.
Jeff Gordon, the inaugural winner of the Brickyard 400 in 1994, will start in the runner-up position after coming up .178 seconds off of Harvick’s time in the final round of qualifying. Gordon was the second quickest car in each of the three rounds behind the No. 4 Chevrolet, and will start on the front row for the fourth time in 20 starts at Indianapolis. Along with Gordon, Bobby Labonte will be the only other driver to have raced in each of the 20 races at Indianapolis.
"To have that off of a day and be back this close, I got a little bit tight off to Turn 4 or we would have been a little bit closer to Kevin, but I’m still really proud of this effort. Qualifying second, qualifying is so huge here. To be on that front row and 20 years after that first Brickyard 400 I get excited about that," Gordon said.
Last year’s winner of the Brickyard 400, Ryan Newman, will start this year’s edition of the race from the fourth position. Juan Pablo Montoya makes his return to Indianapolis after racing at Michigan earlier in the season for Team Penske. After struggling with the handling of his No. 12 Ford during the first practice session of the weekend, Montoya will start from the eighth position.
Missing the race were Brett Moffitt, David Stremme and Matt Crafton. Labonte made the race on having the past champion’s provisional, albeit the No. 37 Chevrolet owned by Tommy Baldwin had no previous attempts entering this weekend’s event. Crafton was attempting to start his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race after winning the 2013 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series title. Moffitt was attempting to make his third career start in NASCAR’s top-tier division after signing a contract with Michael Waltrip Racing.
His career has been spectacular. It’s highlighted with 21 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series wins, and a pair of NASCAR championships in each of the sport’s top-two divisions.
After ending his consecutive starts streak last season that last since 1993, Bobby Labonte’s career is slowly winding down. Last year, Labonte ended his stint with JTG Daugherty Racing. Since then, he has raced just twice this season – both events being restrictor plate races at Daytona. However, the 50-year-old is not calling it quits just yet.
Tommy Baldwin Racing gave Labonte a call – asking for him to drive a third car for them at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in this weekend’s event. TBR usually races two Chevrolet’s on a weekly basis with Michael Annett and Reed Sorenson behind the wheel. But this weekend will be different as they will have a veteran behind the wheel.
“The big thing for Tommy (Baldwin) is - he's wanting to start a third team. Anytime you start a team or you want to accelerate your program, as you're moving forward, hopefully moving up, you put people in positions that they might not have been in before,” Labonte said on a NASCAR teleconference Wednesday afternoon. “It's just building his operation up. Anyway, I'm trying to help him out, get to that point. Hopefully he can get to that point one day with a third team like he wants to get to. If it works out for him, I wish him all the luck.”
As he will be helping Baldwin, Labonte will also be getting to experience the yard of bricks for possibly the final team in his career. Along with four-time champion, Jeff Gordon, Labonte is the only other driver to race in every single race at the Brickyard.
In order for Labonte’s No. 37 Accell Construction car to race on Sunday, he will need to qualify inside of the top-36 as the car has no previous attempts this season. There is no word on who the team is looking at to fill the seat for the third car next year, but Labonte might just get a call from Baldwin again this year – putting him in the seat a few more times.
Previously, Circle Sport Racing team owner, Joe Falk, stated that he was open to putting Labonte back into the seat of the No. 33 Chevrolet several more times this year if sponsorship is found.
The highly anticipated summer spectacle at the Daytona International Speedway is set to get under way on Saturday evening. After a wild Daytona 500, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns to its most famed track. This isn’t just any regular track, however, it is a place where you need more luck than usual to come out as the winner.
At Kentucky – an event which saw a season-low 2.3 rating for NASCAR’s highest-tier division, only 42 cars showed up for the first short field since 2001. But at Daytona, the paycheck is a lot higher for underdog teams as they attempt to make a name for themselves. Teams either love or hate Daytona, and this could be a weekend in which an underdog locks their way into the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup.
With that being said – here is our statistical analysis for the Coke-Zero 400:
- Jamie McMurray: It has been hit or miss for McMurray at Daytona. In 23 starts, he has just five top-10s at the 2.5-mile track. However, he has a pair of wins (2007 and 2010), and he has led 22 laps at Daytona since 2011. He enters this weekend 21st in points, but Daytona could be the wildcard he has been looking for to enter the Chase.
- Brad Keselowski: Coming off of a dominating victory at the Kentucky Speedway, Keselowski has all but solidified a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. He has finished eighth or better at Daytona in three of the past four races, but he has finished worse than 20th in six races at the track with an average finish of 20.2 in 10 starts.
- Austin Dillon: Dillon won the pole for the Daytona 500 in February as he was making his second Sprint Cup Series start at the famed track. He earned a top-10 that day, and he has been running strong as of late. He enters this weekend 17th in points, but he will need to make sure to stay out of trouble to have a chance at the victory.
- Kevin Harvick: Harvick has eight top-10s this year, but he has consistently been the fastest car at each race this season. He hasn’t won at Daytona since his victory in the July race back in 2010. Over the past five races at Daytona, Harvick has just two top-10s. Entering this weekend, his average finish in 2014 is 15.4 after recording two DNFs.
- Kasey Kahne: Kahne enters Daytona at the perfect time after recording three straight top-10 finishes. However, his success has been subpar at Daytona over the past three events – finishing 31st or worse in each of them. But Kahne has had some success at Daytona – including a runner-up finish in this race during the 2010 season. In 21 Daytona starts, Kahne has seven top-10s and an average finish of 19.5.
- Michael Annett: Annett finished a season-best 16th at Talladega, but he was involved in a wreck at Lap 161 during his first Daytona 500. Last year, Annett was seriously injured in Nationwide Series competition at Daytona – forcing him to miss more than two months while racing for Richard Petty Motorsports. In 10 Nationwide Series races at Daytona, Annett has two top-10s with an average finish of 21st.
- Marcos Ambrose: Ambrose is coming off of two solid finishes. Moreover, he has just one top-10 at Daytona in 11 starts. He finished inside of the top-20 in both restrictor plate races this year, but was not a contender for the win. Entering Daytona, he is 20th in points and is still looking for his first win on an oval track.
- Danica Patrick: A lot of eyes will be on the No. 10 Chevrolet this weekend. She has a pair of top-15 finishes at Daytona in four starts. However, she has begun to turn the corner this season with five finishes inside of the top-20 this year.
- Denny Hamlin: Hamlin won one of the Budweiser Duel’s this year and he also won the Sprint Unlimited. Finishing runner-up in the Daytona 500 – Hamlin is bound to have success this weekend as he looks to capture his first victory at Daytona during a points paying event. In 17 starts at Daytona, he has just three top-10s with an average finish of 20.4. However, he won at Talladega a few months ago, and he sits 17th in points even after missing the race at the Auto Club Speedway.
- Casey Mears: Mears has had success at Daytona in the past – including back-to-back top-10 finishes at the track. Mears is 24th in points for Germain Racing, and they have finished inside of the top-20 in each of the past two events. In 20 starts at Daytona, he has four top-10s, and he will be a factor on Saturday evening.
- Tony Stewart: Stewart’s No. 14 team has been inconsistent this year – producing an average finish of 17.1. However, he has run stronger than that as of late – including at Pocono where he was on pace to contend for the win until a pit road speeding penalty derailed his efforts. Stewart has won the July race at Daytona on four different occasions with the last coming in 2012. He is still looking for his first win of 2014, and this might be the weekend he does just that. In 31 Daytona starts, Stewart has 14 top-10s with an average finish of approximately 17th.
- Clint Bowyer: Bowyer hasn’t had the season he expected after re-signing with Michael Waltrip Racing. Entering Daytona, he has a pair of top-fives and six top-10s as the No. 15 team sits 14th in points. Bowyer has never won at Daytona, but has had success at its sister track – the Talladega Superspeedway. In 17 starts at Daytona, he has seven top-10s, and he has led 19 or more laps in four events at the 2.5-mile track.
- Greg Biffle: Like Bowyer, Biffle is also winless entering the third restrictor plate race of the year. However, he finished in the runner-up spot at Talladega, and he recorded his seventh career top-10 at Daytona in February. In 23 starts at Daytona, Biffle has an average finish of 19.2, and has three top-10s in the last five races at the track.
- Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: This could be an opportunity race for Stenhouse as he has struggled on the intermediate tracks this year. Entering Daytona 27th in points with an average finish of 24.1, he needs a good run to get back into contention to make the Chase. In four career starts at Daytona, he has never finished worse than 20th, and he has improved his finishing position in each race he has run at the track.
- Kyle Busch: Busch is running the Nationwide Series race on Friday evening as well as the Cup Series race. However, he has just one win at Daytona in the Nationwide Series as well as one in the Sprint Cup Series. In 19 Cup Series starts at Daytona, Busch has six top-10s, but none have come since 2011. After a runner-up finish at Kentucky, he enters Daytona 10th in points.
- Matt Kenseth: Kenseth has been the victim of the runner-up curse this year. The two-time Daytona 500 is looking to capture his first July victory at the speedway as he will make his 30th career start at Daytona. Kenseth has 14 top-10s at Daytona along with six top-fives – leading 50 or more laps in three of the past five races at the track. He enters this race fifth in points as the No. 20 has still not secured a spot in the Chase.
- Trevor Bayne: Running his partial schedule for the Wood Brothers, this will be the final time Bayne races the No. 21 car at Daytona. Bayne, the 2011 Daytona 500 winner, is looking for his first top-10 at the track since that victory.
- Joey Logano: Logano has two wins entering Daytona, so he can go for broke this weekend. With nine top-10s this season, he enters this weekend seventh in points. In 11 career starts at Daytona, he has three top-10s with an average finish of 20th.
- Alex Bowman: Bowman finished inside of the top-25 in his Cup Series debut at Daytona in February. His best finish this year is 22nd at Fontana.
- Jeff Gordon: Gordon is the point’s leader entering Daytona, and he has 13 top-10s this season with an average finish of 8.5. In 43 starts at Daytona, Gordon has six wins with 20 top-10s. He has also led 621 laps after completing more than 94 percent of all laps run at the speedway.
- Cole Whitt: After swapping teams before Richmond, Whitt has settled in as the leader at BK Racing. Whitt ran well during both restrictor plate races this year, and should be able to lock up his third top-25 finish this year if he can avoid wrecks.
- Paul Menard: Menard enters Daytona with nine top-10s this year as he is 11th in points. He has three top-10s at Daytona in 14 starts. In February, Menard led 29 laps as he was one of the strongest cars in the field.
- Joe Nemechek: Nemechek is attempting to make RAB Racing’s Sprint Cup Series debut this weekend. They attempted to make the Daytona 500 a few years ago with Kenny Wallace, but the team had mechanical issues during the Duel race.
- Ryan Newman: Newman ran his best race of the season at Kentucky last weekend. Entering Daytona, he has six top-10s this season with an average finish of 13.9. In 25 Daytona starts, Newman has one win (2008 Daytona 500) along with six top-10s.
- Terry Labonte: Labonte is making his last Sprint Cup Series start at the Daytona International Speedway. This will be his 889th Cup Series race and he will be making his 63rd career start at Daytona.
- Bobby Labonte: He has not raced since the Daytona 500 this year after recording a 15th-place finish. This will be his 44th career start and he is still searching for win No. 1 at Daytona.
- David Ragan: This will be Front Row Motorsports first of two chances to win a race after getting wrecked out of both plate races this year. Ragan won at Talladega in the past along with a Daytona win in 2011. In 15 Daytona starts, he has four top-10s with an average finish slightly worse than 20th.
- Reed Sorenson: Sorenson has three top-10s in 10 starts at Daytona. This is going to be an opportunity race for this team as well. Entering Daytona, he is 33rd in points with an average finish of 31.5.
- David Gilliland: Gilliland, like his teammate, wrecked at both plate races this year. However, he recorded a pole in his first Daytona start and has a pair of top-10s at the track in 12 starts.
- Landon Cassill: Cassill has had career-best runs at both plate races so far this season with 12th and 11th-place finishes, respectively. In five Cup Series starts at Daytona, Cassill has an average finish better than 25th.
- Kyle Larson: Larson has seven top-10s entering Daytona this weekend as he is 12th in points. However, after finishing outside of the top-30 during the Daytona, he ran inside of the top-10 at Talladega. He has an average finish of 16.2 this year.
- Aric Almirola: Almirola has had some bad luck at Daytona in the past as he has never recorded a top-10 finish at the track in six starts. He has three top-10s this season, but currently sits 23rd in points after being involved in three wrecks this year which forced him to park early.
- A.J. Allmendinger: Allmendinger earned a top-five finish at Talladega and is looking for his fourth top-10 this year. In 10 starts at Daytona, he has just two top-10s, but he’s led 16 laps at the track. Allmendinger enters Daytona 22nd in points.
- Jimmie Johnson: After a slow start to the year, Johnson has won three of the last six races. He sits second in points with 12 top-10s and an average finish of 10.6. He swept the Daytona races last season, but finished fifth in this year’s Daytona 500. In 25 Daytona starts, Johnson has 12 top-10s with three wins (two Daytona 500 victories).
- Justin Allgaier: Allgaier is making his second start at Daytona in the Cup Series, and he has been running well as of late for HScott Motorsports. This could be the team’s best race of the year as they look for their first top-10.
- Brian Vickers: Vickers finished inside of the top-five at Talladega, but struggled in the Daytona 500. The team has struggled over the past five races – finishing 14th or worse in each event. Entering Daytona, he has five top-10s this season as he is 19th in points. In 15 starts at Daytona, Vickers has three top-10s, but has never recorded a top-five finish.
- Michael Waltrip: Waltrip only runs the restrictor plate races at this stage in his career. In 52 Daytona starts, he has 15 top-10s along with three wins (two Daytona 500 victories).
- Martin Truex Jr.: Truex Jr. blew an engine 30 laps into the Daytona 500, but the team’s momentum has slowly been coming back. Entering Daytona, they have three top-10s and sit 25th in points. However, in 18 starts at Daytona, Truex has just one top-10 finish as his average finish is 23.7 with four DNFs.
- Ryan Truex: He missed the Daytona 500, but ran well at Talladega until getting caught up in a wreck. Truex has DNQed three times this season, and he is 37th in points.
- Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Going for the ‘Daytona Double’ this weekend, Earnhardt Jr. is looking for his third victory of 2014. This is his first multi-win season in a decade, and he is tied with Johnson for the second spot in the standings. Entering Daytona, he has 12 top-10s with nine top-fives. In 29 starts at Daytona, he has three wins with 17 top-10s – putting up an average finish of 13.4 for one of the best restrictor plate drivers in the sport.
- Michael McDowell: McDowell struggled during his Duel event at Daytona – missing the Daytona 500 in his first attempt of 20 scheduled events this year. He is coming off of a season-best 24th-place finish at Sonoma. In seven starts at Daytona, McDowell has one top-10 finish, but he has only been running at the finish in three of those events.
- Josh Wise: Wise has missed just one race this year (Phoenix) while driving for Phil Parsons Racing. They made a lot of noise at Bristol, and that created buzz around the internet world with their widely known Dogecoin community backing them. In four races at Daytona, Wise has a best finish of 24th.
- Carl Edwards: Edwards has two wins this season for Roush Fenway Racing – the only wins for the company. Entering Daytona, he has eight top-10s and sits sixth in points. In 19 starts at Daytona, Edwards has a best finish of second (twice), and has eight top-10s with an average finish of 18.1.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is ready to tackle the “Tricky Triangle.” After arriving mid-week at the Pocono Raceway, the field has been set for the 33rd annual Pocono 400.
Denny Hamlin broke Joey Logano’s track record which was set in 2012 by flying around the Pocono Raceway at a blistering 181.415 mph. Hamlin is searching for his first top-10 at a track 1.5 miles long or larger. Even though he has a win at Talladega this year, Hamlin has struggled on the larger circuits, and is looking for some form of consistency after winning his second pole award of the year. Hamlin has won four previous races at Pocono, including his first pair of victories in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series back in 2006 where he won from the pole in both events.
Jimmie Johnson is coming off of back-to-back wins at Charlotte and Dover – both of which he dominated. After winning the Pocono 400 in 2013, Johnson has set his sights high for Sunday’s event. However, Johnson will have to come from mid-pack to contend for the win as he will be starting 20th in the No. 48 Chevrolet. Johnson was eighth in the second practice session of the weekend and recorded the third fastest time during Happy Hour. Could Johnson win his fourth Pocono race this weekend?
Jeff Gordon comes into Pocono as the all-time wins leader at the track. Gordon was runner-up to his teammate, Kasey Kahne, in last year’s August Pocono event. However, Gordon is coming off a disastrous race at Dover where he was contending for a top-five position, but fell back approximately 10 spots within the final handful of laps.
Speaking of Kahne – he has been struggling with the handling of the No. 5 Chevrolet this weekend. He was 17th in the second practice and 14th in final practice. Although it is not horrific, compared to his Hendrick Motorsports teammates, he is struggling.
Brian Vickers has been fast all weekend. The No. 55 Toyota led the first practice session of the weekend, and was fastest in the first round of qualifying before falling to ninth in the final session. Vickers has not raced at Pocono since 2011 – making this race his first at the track since it was repaved. Entering Pocono, Vickers is 13th in the points standings in his return to full-time racing at NASCAR’s highest level.
Kevin Harvick was quickest in both of Saturday’s practice sessions, but his No. 4 team had to change their transmission. Harvick will not have to go to the rear of the field as NASCAR enables teams to change transmissions. Dale Earnhardt Jr. also had to have a transmission swapped before Happy Hour in the No. 88 Chevrolet. Aric Almirola also had a transmission issue after initially believing the engine had gone out on the No. 43 Ford. NASCAR enables teams to change transmissions at Pocono as well as the pair of road courses.
Mike Bliss is on standby for David Ragan whose wife is pregnant. Alex Kennedy spun out during practice on Saturday, but did not hit anything.
The Pocono Raceway also opened up the apron by the apex in Turn 2 - the tunnel turn. Though not many drivers have attempted to drive down on the apron, Landon Cassill showed Speedway Digest what it would be like to drive into that area during a pace car ride on Sunday morning. The Chevrolet pace car immediately shot up the track and was extremely loose, and that was after going 115-130 mph. Cassill believes late in the race, someone might try to go down there, but he doesn't see many drivers taking that risk considering it is so rough on that part of the track.