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Kissin' the Bricks

Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Jimmie Johnson kisses the bricks in 2008, one of three career wins in the Brickyard 400. Photo: Getty Images

The Indianapolis 500 is the most historic race in America, with this past May's race marking the 100th running of the event.

NASCAR's history at the track doesn't date back nearly as long.  It was only in 1994 that it began racing the Brickyard 400.  However, the prestige is still there.

INDYCAR or NASCAR.  The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is still the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Don't get me wrong.  I don't mean to discredit the Indy 500 in anyway.  Like the Daytona 500 is to NASCAR, that race is synonymous with the thread of INDYCAR's history and the Brickyard won't ever stack up.

However, despite the lack of pedigree at the track, the Brickyard 400 is still viewed as one of most significant races on the series and one of the biggest ones to win.  The cars race the same course, pit in the same stalls, and the drivers kiss the same brick finish line.

The importance can be seen in the list of winners over the races 17-year history: Dale Earnhardt (Sr.), Jeff Gordon (four times), Jimmie Johnson (three), Dale Jarrett (twice), Tony Stewart (twice), Bill Elliott, Ricky Rudd, Bobby Labonte and Kevin Harvick.  Rarely is there an unexpected winner, and while last year's winner, Jamie McMurray, was the only one that might qualify, it only enforced McMurray's status as the guy that emerges from the shadows to claim the biggest races.

As we look toward picking this week's best fantasy options, keep in mind that the big names tend to come up big in this race.  There's no goofy two-car draft that can keep a lot of drivers in contention and there are no restrictor plates to regulate the speed.  The open 2.5-mile nature of the track and the flatness of the turns requires equipment that will run the fastest and driver skills to get on the gas in the straights and control the car in the corner.

It's unlikely you'll be surprised by the winner, so make sure you pick wisely this week.

*In case you're new to this segment, check out my first fantasy post on how the system works.

Also, a brief apology for not getting one of these out for the LENOX Industrial Tools 301 here at NHMS.  My pick of Kyle Busch in the A-List would have been much more harmful than helpful anyway.

Strategy: As I just said, this is a good week to play the stars.  Historically, the best drivers and the best machines win here.  There's plenty of space to pass and, with the track as long as it is, the speed of pit stops and track position aren't as important as it is at most other tracks.  The cream should rise to the top.

A-List

Start

#14 Tony Stewart - Stewart has two wins and eight top-10s in 12 starts at Indianapolis.  His 109.3 driver rating and 8.3 average finish lead the field.  Despite his perceived struggles this year, he's finished the last three races in the top-12, so he's running well right now.

#24 Jeff Gordon - Gordon holds the all-time record with four wins at IMS and an incredible 13 top-10s in 17 starts.  Like Stewart, he's also been driving well recently with three top-10s in his last four races and an 11th in the fourth (at NHMS) when he appeared to have a great car but was set back by battery problems.

#48 Jimmie Johnson - He's won three of the last five Brickyard 400s and, since driver rating is based on the last six years, he has an impressive rating (second on the A-List behind Stewart).  However, he also has three DNFs to just four top-10s in his history at this track.  The stats support you starting him, but my gut instinct says otherwise.

Park

#22 Kurt Busch - Aside from the three listed above, there are several other drivers worth considering, Kurt Busch isn't one.  He's got the second lowest driver rating (71.0) among the current standings' top-12 and has just one top-five in ten starts.  There are simply too many good options to take any risks in the A-List.

B-List

Start

#4 Kasey Kahne - Kahne has four top-10s in seven starts at IMS and finished 13th last year.  His other two races finished in an accident, so, as long as he avoids a wreck, he's a pretty safe start.  Then again, after last week's absurd barrel roll in a Super Modified, avoiding wrecks doesn't seem to be a top priority.

#5 Mark Martin - Martin has six top-fives and 10 top-10s at Indianapolis and his driver rating of 105.3 is third-best in the series.  However, he only has two top-10s in his last 10 races this season (heck, his best finish in the other eight was 18th), but a few of the better B-List drivers noticeably struggle here, so he's in the mix.

#20 Joey Logano - Nap time's clearly over for this kid!  After sleep walking through the first half of the year, he now has three top-10s (two top-fives) in his last four starts.  His history is brief at Indy, but he finished ninth last year and 12th in 2009 rookie campaign.

#42 Juan Pablo Montoya - Montoya has been snake-bitten at this track.  His average running position is a fourth-best 11.5 and he poses a second-best 106.4 driver rating at IMS, yet his average finish is 21.0.  In 2009, he led 117 of the 160 laps, only to be penalized for speeding on pit road late in the race, which relegated him to an 11th-place finish.  It's worth noting that fantasy scoring only accounts for a driver's finish, but it's also worth noting that bad luck doesn't usually last forever.

Park

#39 Ryan Newman - In the opposite to my feelings on Jimmie Johnson, I have a hunch Newman will have a good race despite statistics saying otherwise.  He only has one top-10 in 10 starts and I only have three more allocations for him in the final 16 races, so now isn't the time for me to go out on a limb and waste a start, despite my hunch.

#88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. - Junior might have more top-10s than Newman; he has two in 11 starts.  He's also fallen from Cup contender to Chase hopeful with five straight poor races this year (his best finish was 15th here at NHMS).  There's nothing appealing about him this week at IMS.

C-List

Start

#6 David Ragan - He's definitely the best option, but when it comes to the C-List, just because he'll get the most points doesn't mean he's a logical start.  There will be a lot of weeks where he'll get the most points and there are many where he's likely to do a lot better than this week, where he's never finished in the top-10.

#47 Bobby Labonte - Goodness, it's a dismal week on the C-List!  All of the drivers you'd think of starting, excepting Labonte, are noticeably worse at IMS than their career average finish.  My advice is to accept the C-List is useless this week and that Labonte will inflict the least damage on your team's well being for the season.

Park

#71 Andy Lally - This isn't my advice, it's actually Tony Stewart's.  In an unprovoked environment after the LENOX Industrial Tools 301, Stewart offered a reason he was able to close noticeable ground on Newman at the end of the race: "The good thing is we still have guys like Andy Lally that don't see what's going on other than what he's doing.  It amazes me the guy has no concept of the race around him."  Ouch!  That was unnecessary, but needless to say, Stewart (and I) don't recommend Andy Lally in any race.

My preliminary roster

A - GORDON (8), Stewart (9)

B - LOGANO (6), MONTOYA (6), Allmendinger (8), Kahne (5)

C - LABONTE (7), Ragan (3)

*Number in parenthesis are allocations remaining.

-JS