Long before a Sprint Cup car ever turned a lap at the fabled Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the thought was that the giant track was “off-limits” to stock cars and would always be hallowed ground for the open wheel cars. That line of thinking began to change in the early 1990’s when the popularity of what was once considered the sole property of the Southeastern states began to take on more of a national audience.
The Sprint Cup Series was becoming the darling of corporate America as some of the largest corporations were lining up to get their name across the hood of a car or become the title sponsor of a race. The sport was no longer used as filler for sports pages and television, it was demanding its own headlines and the TV networks began to take notice and started dedicating shows entirely to the sport.
All of this new wave of popularity made the thought of one day racing at Indy more than just a dream. The sport was packing the stands at every stop on the schedule and every lap was being carried live on one of the networks as the number of fans seemed to grow with every race.
NASCAR and Indy got together in 1993 and had what turned out to be the most anticipated tire test in the history of the sport at the track. Fans knew that there would be no need for a tire test unless there was talk of the track finally opening its doors to stock cars.
That test led to the first-ever Sprint Cup race at the track in 1994 when the largest crowd to ever witness a green flag wave saw Jeff Gordon make history by being the first-ever stock car driver to make a trip to one of the most famous victory lanes in all of motor sports. Since that first race, the track continues to host the most attended event and the second-highest paying race in the sport behind the Daytona 500.
The track over the years since the first race seems to favors those drivers that are of championship caliber. The race has been good to the highly successful drivers in the sport as 15 of the 20 winners of the race also have won a Sprint Cup title in their career. It is also the track that a win can propel a driver to a title as eight winners have gone on to win that year’s title. Jimmie Johnson has accomplished the feat three times with Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Bobby Labonte and Dale Jarrett also turning an Indy win into a series crown.
Winning at Indy is considered in the sport as one of the “crown jewels” in the sport and this year the win may be even more important for a driver than in years past. A first-time winner this season not only wins one of the biggest races on the schedule, he or she also punches a ticket to the Chase. Combine the history of Brickyard winners with what is at stake this season and the race could become a pivotal point of the season for one lucky driver.
The manufacturers also have a lot at stake at Indy this weekend as the race could extend a couple of very important streaks. Chevrolet has dominated the Brickyard as it has won the last 11 races, but Ford will also enter the race with a streak of its own. For the first time since the 2001 season, Ford has won four consecutive races, giving it eight on the year. That is the most since winning 11 races in 2008. Of course, Toyota would like to put an end to both streaks, but the manufacturer has struggled all season and has posted only two wins.
PIT NOTES: Jimmie Johnson has posted back-to-back DNF’s for the first time since 2007. Early crashes at New Hampshire and Daytona limited the six- time champion to only completing 31 laps in the two races.
Event: Crown Royal Presents the John Wayne Walding 400
Track: Indianapolis Motor Speedway (2.5-mile quad-oval, 9 degrees of banking in the turns)
Date: July 27, 1 p.m.
Defending Champion: Ryan Newman