NASCAR’s top racing series returns to the track this weekend after a one-week hiatus. This weekend’s Sprint Cup event isn’t just any race, though, and the venue isn’t just any track. It’s legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway, host on Sunday to one of NASCAR’s most popular and prized racing events, the Brickyard 400.
This is the 14th year for the Cup race at Indianapolis. The first Brickyard 400 was held in 1994, and at the time it was the first motor sports event other than the Indianapolis 500 to be held at the Speedway since 1916. A crowd of 250,000 attended NASCAR’s first race at the famed Brickyard, then a record attendance for a NASCAR event. Four-time Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon took the checkered flag in the inaugural race at the Brickyard.
Gordon has won this race four times, the most of any driver, and has led the most laps (440) in his 13 starts at the Indianapolis Speedway, more than double that of his closest challenger, two-time winner Tony Stewart (217). Jimmie Johnson, Gordon’s teammate at Hendrick Motorsports and five-time defending Sprint Cup champion, is a three-time winner of this event. Dale Jarrett has won twice.
The Brickyard 400 takes its name from the historic nickname given to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway after the track surface was paved in brick in 1909. A one-yard wide strip of brick still extends across the track at the start/finish line as a symbolic gesture in recognition of the famous track’s origins.
Not only is the Indianapolis race one of the most well-attended and popular races on the NASCAR schedule, it also offers the second best purse of all of the Sprint Cup races, topped only by the Daytona 500.
Joplin, Mo., native Jamie McMurray, in the No. 1 car of Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing, captured last year’s Brickyard 400. McMurray also won the Daytona 500 to open the season a year ago. McMurray is winless so far this season and only has two top-ten finishes in 19 starts in the Sprint Cup Series and has finished out of the top ten in his last nine races.
McMurray told reporters this week that he is hopeful things could finally go right this weekend for him and the No. 1 car. He bases that optimism on the fact that he has three other top-ten finishes at Indianapolis. Plus, his Earnhardt-Ganassi teammate Juan Pablo Montoya also has a good history at Indianapolis.
Montoya won the Indy 500 in 2000 for Chip Ganassi IndyCar team and was in strong position at the end to win three of the last four Sprint Cup races at the Brickyard. He finished second to Johnson in 2007. Montoya holds the distinction of being the only drive to win all three of the major racing events held at Indianapolis: the Indy 500 (IndyCar), the then Allstate 400 (NASCAR) and the former U.S. Grand Prix (Formula One).
“To me, Indy is one of those tracks that if you like the track, it tends that the same guys always run well there,” McMurray said.
Other drivers who have run well at Indianapolis historically include Mark Martin, who has finished 11th or better in his past six races at the Brickyard and has started third or better in the past three. Roush-Fenway Racing’s Greg Biffle has started in 12th position or better in his past five races at Indianapolis.
Gives you the feeling that Sunday’s Brickyard 400 could be anyone’s race.