NASCAR: Brickyard & Chicagoland

Jimmy Johnson's burnout on the Yard of Bricks, July 29, 2012-- Photo by: Chris Jones
Jimmy Johnson’s burnout on the Yard of Bricks, July 29, 2012
— Photo by: Chris Jones

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers will scatter to the four winds this week and enjoy their last break until the 2013 season concludes Nov. 17 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

There will be no vacation, however, for their teams as they prepare for one of the summer’s signature races, the Crown Royal Presents the Samuel Deeds 400 at the Brickyard Powered by The 400-mile event marks the 20th season the NASCAR Sprint Cup has competed at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

It likewise signals the beginning of ESPN/ABC television coverage of the season’s remaining 17 races including the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™. IMS Radio and SiriusXM Radio also will air the Indianapolis event with live broadcasts beginning at 1 p.m. EDT.

Five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion and current points leader Jimmie Johnson is the defending Brickyard 400 winner. Johnson and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon are the co-record holders at Indianapolis with four victories apiece.

With the battle for Chase eligibility at a boil, the Indianapolis race can be seen as pivotal. Five champions – Johnson, Gordon, Tony Stewart, Bobby Labonte and Dale Jarrett – have won at the Brickyard in at least one of their championship seasons. NASCAR Sprint Cup champions, including NASCAR Hall of Fame member Dale Earnhardt and 2014 inductee Jarrett, have won 15 of 19 races at Indy.

Eight among the current top 10 vying for a post-season berth have yet to win at Indianapolis – Johnson and Kevin Harvick being the exceptions. New Hampshire continued the parade of top 10 “comers and goers” as reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski and Kasey Kahne replaced Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart.

The current difference between making the Chase on points or as a Wild Card – or missing the postseason altogether – remains minimal. Tenth-place Kasey Kahne, holder of a provisional Wild Card and 20th-place Paul Menard – the final Wild Card eligible driver – is a slim, 36 points.

A year ago, the gap between 10th and 11th was 46 points after 19 races.

The NASCAR Nationwide Series receives no off week as teams travel to Chicagoland Speedway for the first of two 2013 visits to the 1.5-mile track in Joliet, Ill. Elliott Sadler, currently fifth to points leader Regan Smith, is the defending race winner.

Chicagoland’s STP 300 (3 p.m. EDT, ESPN, MRN Radio, SIRIUSXM Radio) is the third leg of the Nationwide Dash 4 Cash which rewards the highest of four series points-eligible qualifiers with a $100,000 bonus. This week’s eligible drivers are New Hampshire bonus winner Austin Dillon, Brian Vickers, Brian Scott and Michael Annett.

The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series is just a week a week away from its debut at Eldora Speedway, a .5-mile clay oval in New Weston, Ohio. The 1-800CARCASH presented by CNBC Prime the Profit Mudsummer Classic marks NASCAR’s first national series race on a dirt surface since 1970.

Some of the nation’s top dirt track specialists – i.e., “ringers” – are expected to challenge series points-eligible drivers for victory in the 150-lap event.

Break Time For Sprint Cup As Brickyard Challenge Looms
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, which began the second half of the season last weekend in New Hampshire, takes its final break of the season this week as teams prepare for the 20th visit to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday, July 28. Jimmie Johnson is the defending winner of the 400-mile race. Johnson’s fourth victory tied Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon for the most wins at the 2.5-mile Brickyard. ESPN/ABC will carry all of the 17 remaining races including the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™.

Post-Season Berth Remains In Reach Of Many
The point spread tells the tale as the battle for a berth in NASCAR’s post season heads into the final seven races. Tenth and 14th places are separated by seven points. Twentieth-place Paul Menard – the last driver currently eligible for a Chase Wild Card – is just 36 markers behind 10th-ranked Kasey Kahne. A year ago, 11th-place Carl Edwards, who didn’t qualify for the post season, was 46 points out of the top 10 after 19 races and the difference between 10th and 20th was a whopping 127 points.

‘Comers’ And ‘Goers’ Continue On Weekly Basis
A year ago, nine of the top 10-ranked drivers after summer’s New Hampshire race qualified for the Chase. Don’t bet on that happening in 2013 – especially with 13 points the difference between ninth and 13th. This week’s “comers” were reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski – 13th to ninth – and Kasey Kahne – 11th to 10th. The “goers” were Kurt Busch – ninth to 14th – and Tony Stewart – 10th to 13th. Sixteen of this week’s top 20 drivers have spent at least one week ranked among the top 10.

Current Top 10 Drivers Hogging Sprint Cup Victory List
With top-10 ranked drivers accounting for 15 of the season’s 19 victories, the Chase Wild Card picture remains cloudy to say the least. Sonoma winner Martin Truex Jr. (11th) holds the first Wild Card while Tony Stewart (13th), the Kentucky winner, holds the second “free pass.” No other competitors ranked 11th through 20th – the criteria for qualifying as a Wild Card – have a victory. Talladega winner David Regan is 28th while New Hampshire winner Brian Vickers is ineligible as a NASCAR Nationwide Series points eligible competitor.

Burton, Quiet For Four Seasons, Tosses Helmet In Chase Ring
Jeff Burton hasn’t qualified for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™ since 2008. Burton won twice and finished sixth in his third consecutive top-10 championship run with Richard Childress Racing. The Virginia veteran, ranked 17th in the standings, remains something of a dark horse contender but looked like the Burton of yesteryear as he finished a strong third in Sunday’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The 46-year-old competitor is just 25 points out of a top-10 ranking.

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