Since its addition to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule in 1994, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has welcomed the “best of the best” to its iconic Victory Lane.
Sunday’s Crown Royal Presents the Samuel Deeds 400 at the Brickyard Powered by BigMachineRecords.com (1 p.m. ET, ESPN, Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio, SiriusXM Satellite Radio) is a classic in every sense of the word.
The track’s list of winners is proof enough.
Fifteen of 19 winners are NASCAR Sprint Cup champions. One, Dale Earnhardt, is a NASCAR Hall of Famer. Another, Dale Jarrett, is due for induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame next January.
Defending winner Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart are likely candidates for enshrinement in their first years of eligibility. The three have won a combined 10 Brickyard races. Four-time winners Johnson and Gordon are one victory apiece shy of Michael Schumacher’s all-time IMS record.
Eight times the winner of the Brickyard event has gone on to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup title. Johnson, the current points leader and a four-time winner in 2012, has accomplished the feat three times.
Johnson did it first in 2006 – his first of five consecutive championship seasons that effectively defined the Californian as one of any sport’s all-time greats. In February of 2006, Johnson captured the first of two Daytona 500 victories. In August, he won his first of four Brickyard 400s.
Incredibly, in 2013, he’s on his way to doing the same exact thing.
This season, Johnson has already won his second Daytona 500 and followed it up with his fourth NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race victory (he also won the annual non-points event in 2006). Next Step: Sunday’s Brickyard 400.
His Driver Rating of 106.3 is a series best over the past eight races. Yet the No. 48 Chevrolet team’s overall average finish is 16.8. Four victories are offset by four finishes outside the top 20, three of them 36th or worse.
Only one other member of the current top 10 in the standings, Kevin Harvick, has been able to conquer Indianapolis. Teammate Paul Menard won the race in 2011 making Richard Childress the only owner to win at the Brickyard with three different drivers.
This season’s second four-time winner, Matt Kenseth, has finished second on two occasions among five top fives and seven top 10s.
Kenseth is among favorites after moving to Joe Gibbs Racing, a three-time Indianapolis winning team. The flip side? All of Gibbs’ victories came in General Motors products. Toyota continues to pursue its first Brickyard victory.
JGR’s Kyle Busch finished second to Johnson in last year’s event.
Best Indianapolis finishes by the remaining members of the current top 10 are: Clint Bowyer (fourth, two times); Carl Edwards (second); Dale Earnhardt Jr. (fourth); Greg Biffle (third, twice, including 2012); Brad Keselowski (ninth, 2011-12) and Kasey Kahne (second).
It can be argued that the introduction of the Gen-6 car could render recent manufacturer statistics moot. Chevrolet, however, has won the last 10 Indianapolis events and 14 overall. A Ford hasn’t won at the track since 1999, with Jarrett behind the wheel of a Robert Yates entry.
One might predict the Gen-6 car will topple Casey Mears’ qualifying record of 186.293 mph. One-lap records have been set nine times in 2013.