Times sure do change in auto racing.
It wasn’t that long ago when the thought of NASCAR conducting events at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was about as far-fetched as Pat Buchanan and Al Franken becoming best pals.
But come Sunday at Indy, NASCAR holds its 19th event at the famed oval, as the Sprint Car Series returns to action with the Curtiss Shaver Brickyard 400. Live TV coverage will be provided by ESPN.
The Brickyard 400 quickly developed into one of the featured stops on the circuit, and the list of past winners reads like a who’s who of the sport. Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt, Dale Jarrett, Bobby Labonte, Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson...all past winners (many of those multiple times) at the Brickyard.
Johnson, however, has excelled more than others lately at the Brickyard, winning this event in three of the past six years, and enters as the solid betting favorite on Sunday.
Following is a quick look at some of the featured drivers in the race, along with their win odds.
Jimmie Johnson (13/2): As mentioned, Johnson has fared extremely well at Indy, winning this event three times since 2006. That’s with an asterisk, however, as Johnson has also finished well down the track in his other Brickyard starts; outside of his three wins, his only other top 10 finish in 10 tries was a ninth place in his rookie year of 2002. Currently fourth in the Sprint Cup standings on 656 points, Johnson has two wins in 19 starts this season, with his most-recent triumph four weeks ago at the Quaker State 400. He has finished seventh or better in seven of his last 10 races in 2012.
Tony Stewart (8/1): Two-time Brickyard winner Stewart last succeeded at Indy in 2007 but enters Sunday’s event in top form, with four top three finishes in his last six starts, most of those when starting much further back in the pack. In 13 career starts in this event, Stewart also has nine top 10 finishes as well as the top average finish in the last seven Brickyards, suggesting he’s very comfy at this oval. At seventh place in the current Sprint Car standings on 618 points, Stewart is well-positioned to make another move up the table this weekend.
Kasey Kahne (9/1): Kahne is the current “flavor” of Sprint Car, winning twice in the past two months on the circuit, including the most-recent race two weeks ago at the Lenox Industrial Tools 301 at New Hampshire. In eight previous starts at the Brickyard, Kahne has done as well as a second place in 2005. The Enumclaw, WA native has 11 top 10 finishes in his last 14 starts this season. Should be in the mix, although few pundits seem to be picking him to win. Currently 12th in Sprint Car standings.
Denny Hamlin (9/1): A pair of top three finishes in his last three starts, including runner-up behind Kahne at New Hampshire. Many have expected Hamlin, who has fared so well at Pocono, to also excel at the simialrly-designed Indy, but that hasn’t been the case as he has yet to visit victory lane at the Brickyard, where he has only two top 10's in six starts with an average finish of 18th place. We can say he’s overdue at Indy. Currently sitting fifth in Sprint Car standings with a pair of wins earlier this season at Phoenix International and the Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, KS.
Greg Biffle (9/1): Biffle is third in the current Sprint Car standings on 687 points but has only one win in 19 starts this season, that coming at Fort Worth in mid-April. Biffle has yet to win at the Brickyard but has been consistent, with five top 10 finishes in nine previous starts.
Matt Kenseth (12/1): The current Sprint Car points leader almost mirrors Biffle in so-so past performances at Indy, yet to visit victory lane and with an average finish of 14th in 12 previous starts. Indy has not been his preferred track, but Kenseth has been second on two past occasions in the Brickyard.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (10/1): Dale Jr. has had little luck at the Brickyard, yet to record a win in the race and an average finish outside the top 20. But in good form lately, with eight top 8 finishes in his last 10 starts, including wins at Charlotte and Michigan International, and second behind only Kenseth in current Sprint Car standings.
Kevin Harvick (14/1): Harvick could be worth a look at this price, as unlike some of the other drivers in this event, he seems to flourish at Indy. Past results in Speedway, IN include a win in 2003 and seven top 10 finishes in 11 career Brickyard starts. His battle with Tony Stewart in 2007 remains one for the ages as well. Sixth in current Sprint Car standings but looking for his first win of the season on Sunday.
Jeff Gordon (10/1): Though not in championship contention this season (currently 17th), Gordon can never be counted out at Indy with more wins (four), more poles (five), more top-fives (10), and more top 10's (14) than any NASCAR driver at the famed oval, where he won this inaugural event in 1994. Gordon has also led for 476 laps at Indy...249 more than the next-closest competition. Close behind winner Paul Menard last year when Gordon thought he had the best car, but ended up second-best in a fuel-conservation affair.
As always, stay tuned.