News From Terre Haute, Indiana

July 24, 2010

Brickyard 400 is anybody's race

Usuals (Johnson, Gordon and Stewart) likely to run up front

Tom Reck
Tribune-Star Correspondent

INDIANAPOLIS — Any race driver will tell you it is special to win any race, any time, on any track.

Winning today’s Brickyard 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway would be “extra special” for some of the drivers.

ESPN will carry the race that is scheduled to begin at 1:20 p.m.

Jimmie Johnson has won the last two races and would join the list of four-time race winners at Indianapolis. He would be the first of them to win three races in a row on the oval layout at IMS.

Two of the four-time winners at Indy are Jeff Gordon, the only driver to win the Brickyard 400 times, and Rick Mears, who won the Indianapolis 500 four times.

Johnson says Mears was one of his idols as a kid growing up in Southern California.

He started 16th in winning the race a year ago and says he hopes to take advantage of starting second today.

“Where we’re starting we have the luxury of good air. Hopefully, we can lead in the best situation. The first goal is to not screw up and be mired in traffic and we need to have clean pit stops, no mistakes on the track,” he said.

“So the goal is to not screw up … and stay up there in the top two and ideally leading the race. Especially from the last pit stop on to the finish,” said the three-time champ.

Juan Pablo Montoya is on the pole and would be the first driver to win the Indianapolis 500 and Brickyard 400. He dominated the 2009 race until being hit with a penalty and finishing 11th.

“I want to win. We’ve got to see what happens. If somebody has a better car and they have a better pit stop or pass us, they deserve to win. It’s freakin’ 400 miles; it’s not like it is a three-lap shootout,” said Montoya about the race.

Odds are heavier against them but either Jacques Villeneuve or Sam Hornish Jr. also would be the first drivers to win the Indianapolis 500 and Brickyard 400. Villeneuve is competing in his first stock car race at Indianapolis after earlier driving in the IndyCar and Formula One events at IMS.

“It’s very pleasing, very special [to be in the race] especially since we didn’t get a lot of laps. It is the first time the team has come here and a new car. And I have not been in a Cup car in over two years,” said Villeneuve.

Car owner Chip Ganassi would make history if Montoya or Jamie McMurray wins since McMurray earlier won the Daytona 500 and Dario Franchitti, one of his IndyCar Series drivers, won the Indianapolis 500.

He would be the first car owner to have his drivers win all three races and the first to have drivers win the Brickyard 400 and Indianapolis 500.

“It’s a pretty special thing to come back here each year … this is where racing started and where … my career got jump-started. We’ll see what happens tomorrow. It is a long day and we have a lot of things to do yet. This is just one step in a long flight of steep stairs for the weekend,” said Ganassi.

McMurray is starting a career-best fourth in the race and would join Johnson as the winner of the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 in the same year.

“It would be great to win both races. We’ve got really good cars here. We just have to have a mistake-free day on the driver and pit crew. I led this race with 16 laps to go and dominated this race in 2003 and finished third. It’s about not making any mistakes,” he said.

Jeff Gordon would be the first to win the Brickyard 400 four times and join Michael Schumacher as a five-time winner at the track. He will start eighth.

He is second in the Sprint Cup point totals and earlier this week said it would be “huge” in his bid to win the Cup title and snap a 48-race streak without winning.

“We’re still learning the spoiler a little bit. You should see great racing,” he said.

Kevin Harvick would become a two-time winner of the race. He is the leader in the Cup point totals and winning would be a boost in his bid to win the Cup championship.

He was asked about the keys to winning the race. “Finishing first, going faster than everybody else,” he said with a smile.

“You have to have your car handling good but track position is very important because it is hard to pass. You just have to have a fast car, that is pretty much what is boils down to here,” said Harvick.

And finally it would be extra special since eight of the last 12 Brickyard 400 winners have gone on to win Cup titles. And nine of the top 12 finishers in last year’s race made The Chase.