Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard Preview

Weather permitting, the regular season concludes this weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. 10 drivers are locked into the playoffs with at least 1 victory, 6 are in on the points standings, and the rest are looking to one last chance for luck to strike. In fact, an unlikely winner is really the only threat to shake up playoff participants as we currently know them.

INDIANAPOLIS MOTOR SPEEDWAY

Automobiles have been racing at Indianapolis since 1909. The first races were a multi-day event. On the first day, a driver and his mechanic were killed after their car flipped and crashed into a fence post. Rather than cancel the remaining events, they pressed on, and day #2 went on without incident. On day #3, two spectators and another mechanic perished after Charlie Merz’s car mowed down five fence posts and toppled dozens of spectators. Yet, they persisted. Day #3 ultimately lasted 10 more laps, finally being suspended after Bruce Keen struck a pothole and crashed into a bridge support. Those who lived through the weekend were given engraved certificates instead of trophies. It was a different time indeed.

NASCAR has only been racing at The Brickyard since 1994. Until then, the Indianapolis 500 was the only sanctioned race occurring at the track since 1919. The 2.5 mile track is geometrically symmetrical, and consists of two 5/8 mile straightaways, four isolated 1/4 mile turns, and two 1/8 mile straights connecting turn 1 to 2, and turn 3 to 4. The turns are essentially flat with only 9.2 degrees of banking, so former dirt trackers have a noteworthy experiential advantage, but the straightaways require plenty of horsepower too.

PIT STALL PICKS: THE DOWNFORCE, THE DRAFT, & THE DRAG

This section is less about prognostication, and more about highlighting drivers catching my eye at a given moment. We all play in different formats and have different strategies, but hopefully this adds some value to your results. Harvick, Truex, and Kyle Busch have been purposely omitted because they are obvious options each week. Good luck!

THE DOWNFORCE (start ’em)

Joey Logano – Joey has five consecutive top-ten finishes to his credit at Indy and a career top-ten percentage of 67%. While he has yet to win here, he finished 2nd in 2015 and 4th last year. With two consecutive top-fives at Bristol and Darlington, this team may be peaking at the right time heading into the playoffs.

Kyle Larson – Kyle is a former dirt tracker and a noteworthy performer at flat tracks. Prior to finishing 28th last year due to an accident, Kyle had 100% of his three finishes in the top-ten. I really feel like he squandered two chances to win at Bristol and Darlington, but it would surprise me if we do not see him competing for his first victory of the season again this weekend.

Denny Hamlin– Hamlin made the best of a car that lost its magic as day turned to night at Darlington, and wound up clinging to a 10th place finish by night’s end. Historically, Denny has been a coin flip to finish in the top-ten at Indianapolis, including 3 of the last 4 races. I don’t think this team is showing the speed and consistency required to win, but another top-ten is certainly feasible.

Jimmie Johnson – I’ve never said “Jimmie Johnson” and “going out on a limb” in the same sentence more than I have this year, but here we go again. Jimmie leads all active drivers with 4 victories at Indianapolis, so those bricks at the start/finish line have been smooched by plenty of members from the Lowe’s team. I will say this: the #48 is very hit or miss here, either exceptional or forgettable. 6 of his last 10 races have been top-threes, including the 4 aforementioned wins. However, the other 4 races have been in the 14th-27th range.

Brad Keselowski – Brad is not the type of driver to sit on success and be content. I think this team feels validated after the win at Darlington, and will be running hard to build more playoff points. Brad is a past champion and thinks of himself as equal company among Harvick, Busch, and Truex, and I feel he’s on a mission to prove it. Keselowski finished runner-up in this race last year and has something to prove.

THE DRAFT (dark horse)

Ryan Newman – Newman was running very well at Darlington until Clint Bowyer rear ended him like a Randy Johnson pitch on that seagull. His only shot at the playoffs is to win this race, and you know what? He won’t, but he might come close. Ryan is an Indiana native, so pride is always on the line when the series visits his home track. He finished 3rd last year and I think he’s running well enough lately to deliver a solid performance. Ryan has kissed the bricks once before in 2013.

THE DRAG (use caution)

Chase Elliott – 18th. 15th. 39th (engine). Live to see another day. Or, start him because I’ve learned I’m not very good at fading big names in this space.

AVERAGE FINISH POSITION @ INDIANAPOLIS (last 5 track events)

4.6, #6 Matt Kenseth
5.2, #22 Joey Logano
7.0, #19 Daniel Suarez (1 race)
8.4, #4 Kevin Harvick
9.4, #11 Denny Hamlin

AVERAGE LOOP RATING @ INDIANAPOLIS (last 5 track events)

123.4, #18 Kyle Busch
107.8 #4 Kevin Harvick
107.2, #6 Matt Kenseth
105.2, #22 Joey Logano
99.3, #48 Jimmie Johnson

2018 PTS MOMENTUM (last 5 overall races this season)

43.6, #4 Kevin Harvick
43.4, #9 Chase Elliott
38.8, #18 Kyle Busch
37.8, #41 Kurt Busch
35.6, #20 Erik Jones

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