NASCAR Makes Annual Trip to Indy For Crown Royal 400 at The Brickyard

2012 NASCAR Crown Royal 400 at the Brickyard
Indianapolis Motor Speedway – Indianapolis, Indiana
2.5 mile oval – 9 degree banking turns (160 laps)
Sunday, July 29, 2012, 1:00 pm Eastern, TV: ESPN
Defending Champion: Paul Menard
All odds Courtesy of Bookmaker

Denny Hamlin is one of the favorites to win the Crown Royal 400 at the Brickyard.

With only 7 races left before the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup, time is running out for drivers trying to get into the field. The top ten drivers in the standings make the Chase automatically, and there are two wild card spots that are determined by race wins.

NASCAR makes its annual trip to historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Although NASCAR has only been racing at Indy since 1994, the annual race at the Brickyard has become arguably the second most prestigious event on the circuit other than the Daytona 500.

Denny Hamlin won the pole for Sunday’s race, and Carl Edwards completes the from row. Here is rest of the starting grid.  Here is a look at the favorites with odds courtesy of Bookmaker.

Jimmie Johnson – (5/1)

Johnson is 4th in the Race for the Chase standings, 51 points behind leader Matt Kenseth. In 19 races, Johnson has 14 top 10’s including 9 top 5’s and wins at Darlington and Dover. Two weeks ago at New Hampshire, he had some bad luck. With under 50 laps remaining, he made a green flag pit stop. Just as he came back on the track, there was a caution because a car was leaking fluid. Johnson lost a lot of track position and was never able to get back in contention. He did grab a seventh place finish though. For this week’s race, Johnson qualified 6th. In 10 career Indy starts, he has 3 wins and a top 10. He won at the Brickyard in 3 of 4 years from 2006 to 2009. It seems to be all or nothing at Indy for Johnson. Other than the 3 times he won, and a top ten in his 2002 debut at the track, he has never finished higher than 18th in his other 6 starts at the track. Johnson has finished the last two years 19th in 2011 and 22nd in 2010. Johnson has the talent to win any race he enters, but he is too inconsistent at this track for me to pick him in this race.

Denny Hamlin – (6/1)

Hamlin is 5th in points, 79 behind the leader. He has 10 top 10’s including 9 top 5’s and wins at Phoenix and Kansas. Two weeks ago at New Hampshire, he led the race late. Hamlin appeared dominant as he led the vast majority of the laps. However, a miscommunication on a late pit stop dropped him down to 14th. Hamlin wanted only 2 tires, but was unclear in communications with pit crew chief Darien Grubb. Grubb gave him 4 instead of 2. Hamlin ended up second but couldn’t catch race winner Kasey Kahne. Hamlin won the pole at Indy. He has never won at the Brickyard in 6 career starts, but does have  a third  place in 2008 and a top 10 in 2006. Hamlin finished 27th here last year. He could break through for his first Indy win, but he has struggled here in last 4 races at the track.

Kyle Busch – (6/1)

Busch is 13th in points, 162 behind Kenseth. He currently holds the second wild card spot for the chase though. The younger Busch brother has 8 top 10’s including 5 top 5’s and a win at Richmond. In the last 7 races, Busch has only one  top 10 at Kentucky, but hasn’t finished higher than 16th in any other race in that stretch. At New Hampshire, Busch made a green flag pit stop at the same time as Jimmie Johnson, and was caught up in the same caution. Busch ended up 16th. Kyle qualified 7th at Indy. In seven career Brickyard starts, Busch has never won but does have 5 top 10’s including one top 5 in 2007. He came in 10th last year. Busch has had a run of bad luck lately, but I can’t take him to win because of his struggles in the last 7 races.

Carl Edwards – (6/1)

Edwards is currently 11th in the Chase Standings, 140 behind Kenseth. He is currently on the outside looking in to get into the Chase as he is 46 points behind Brad Keselowski for 10th. However, Edwards could position himself for a wild card spot if he wins one or more of the last 7 races before the Chase begins. Edwards has 9 top 10’s including 2 top 5’s this season. He finished 6th at Daytona earlier this month, his only top 10 in the last races. Edwards finished 18th at New Hampshire, last time out. Edwards will start second at Indianapolis. In 7 career Indy starts, Edwards has never won here, but does have 3 top ten including a runner up in 2008. He came in 14th here last year, and has never finished lower than 18th at the Brickyard. I don’t see Edwards winning this race, but he could grab a top 10.

Greg Biffle – (7/1)

Biffle is third in points, 40 behind Kenseth. In 19 races, he has 11 top 10’s including 8 top 5’s and a win at Texas. He came in 9th at New Hampshire 2 weeks ago. Biffle qualified 5th at Indy. In 9 career Brickyard starts, Biffle has 5 top 10’s including 2 top 5’s but no wins. He has 4 straight top 10’s at the track, including a 7th last year. Biffle is my pick to break through for his first IMS win.

Matt Kenseth – (9/1)

Kenseth leads the Chase standings by 16 points over Dale Earnhardt, Jr. In 19 races, he has 13 top 10’s including 9 top 5’s and a win in the Daytona 500. He hasn’t finished lower than 22nd in any race, and came in 13th at New Hampshire. Kenseth qualified 10th at Indianapolis. In 12 career Indy starts, he has never won, but does have 7 top 10’s including 5 top 5’s. He came in 5th last year at the Brickyard. Another win or two would be nice for Kenseth, as seeding in the chase is determined by number of race wins. Tony Stewart and Brad Keselowski each have three wins, and several drivers in the chase have 2 wins. Kenseth would be seeded below all of them if the Chase started today, which would be a shame considering how well he has run this season.

Tony Stewart – (10/1)

Stewart is 7th in points, 89 behind Kenseth. He has 9 top 10’s including 8 top 5’s and wins at Las Vegas, California, and Daytona. He came in 12th at New Hampshire two weeks ago. He would vault into the #1 seed if the Chase started today based on his three wins. Stewart qualified 28th at the Brickyard. In 13 career Indy starts, Stewart has 9 top 10’s, including 6 top 5’s and 2 wins. He has top 10 finishes in 7 of his last 8 starts at the track, including a 6th place last year. I can see another top ten barring accident or engine problems.

Jeff Gordon – (10/1)

Gordon is 17th in points, a whopping 183 behind Kenseth, and 91 behind Keselowski for 10th. Gordon needs to win and in a hurry if he wants to grab one of the two wildcards. He does have 7 top tens, including 2 top 5’s this season. Gordon hasn’t finished lower than 12th in the last 5 races, including 4 fifth and sixth place finishes (two each). Gordon finished 6th at New Hampshire. He is doing better recently, but he put himself in a hole early in the season with some poor finishes, and has yet to dig himself out.  Realistically, his best shot is one of the two wild cards, but he is mathematically alive for 10th. Either way he needs to win and win now, as it might take at least 2 wins to grab a wild card. He qualified 9th at Indianapolis. Gordon loves the Brickyard with 14 top tens in 18 Indy starts with 10 top 5’s and 4 wins. He hasn’t won at the track since 2004 but was the runner up last year. As much as I am rooting for Gordon to win, I just don’t think it is his year. Gordon’s “Lost Year” continues.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – (10/1)

Earnhardt is second points, 16 behind Kenseth. Earnhardt has 14 top tens, including 8 top 5’s and a win at Michigan. Like Kenseth, he looks to be safely in the Chase, but needs to win another race or two for seeding purposes. Earnhardt came in 4th at New Hampshire, and hasn’t finished lower than 23rd in any race. Earnhardt qualified 20th at the Brickyard. Dale Jr. has only 2 top 10’s in 12 career Indy starts. He hasn’t finished higher than 12th in his last 5 Indy starts, including a 16th place last year. Earnhardt has had a wonderful season so far, but this is not his track. I would be surprised if he contended this week.

Kasey Kahne – (11/1)

Kahne is 12th in points, 160 behind. However, he does hold the first wild card spot right now, thanks to his second win of the season at New Hampshire. Kahne also has a win at Charlotte, and has 10 top 10’s including 5 top 5’s. In addition to his New Hampshire win, he has three straight top 10’s  with a runner up at Kentucky. Kahne qualified 15th at Indy. In 8 career Brickyard starts, Kahne has 4 top 10’s including 2 top 5’s, but no wins. He came in 18th last year at the track.

Other top contenders include Joey Logano (15/1), Keselowski (18/1), Kevin Harvick (20/1), Martin Truex, Jr. and Juan Pablo Montoya (both35/1), Ryan Newman and Clint Bowyer (both 40/1), and the field is 15/1.

It should be an exciting race at one of the greatest venues in sports.

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