The NASCAR season always begins with its biggest race. The Daytona 500 kicks the year off in style and sets the pace for the next several months. Near the midpoint, the series holds two pivotal races: one features a return to Daytona for the Fourth of July classic while the other heads to a track that is perhaps the soul of auto racing. Indianapolis Motor Speedway is where legends have been born since 1909.
NASCAR has been adding their host of heroes since 1994 when Jeff Gordon won the inaugural Brickyard 400. Since then the list of winners has read like a modern day who’s who of stock car racing with Bill Elliott, Dale Earnhardt Sr., Ricky Rudd, Dale Jarrett, Bobby Labonte, Tony Stewart, and Jimmie Johnson adding their names to the list. In recent years, the track had become a little more egalitarian and Kevin Harvick, Jamie McMurray, Paul Menard, and Ryan Newman round out the list of winners. The only driver in that list who could truly be labeled a dark horse was Menard, who won in 2011 on a fuel mileage gamble. Indy is a big stage for big names and it will give the top-10 finishers momentum heading into the final six races before the Chase for the Championship begins.
10 best drivers at Indy
Over the past three races, these drivers have the best average finish.
1. Jeff Gordon
Last three average finish at Indy: 4.67
Career avg. finish at Indy: 8.8 in 20 starts
Gordon dominated the early years of Indy. He won the inaugural race in 1994, grabbed the pole for the next two runnings in 1995/1996 and swept the top five from 1997 through 1999. His fourth and latest victory came in 2004 but he has not shown signs of letting up. Four of his last seven Indy attempts ended in top-five finishes and all but one of those races netted a top-10. He will be fantasy gold this week.
2. Tony Stewart (tied)
Last three average finish at Indy: 6.67
Career avg. finish at Indy: 7.9 in 15 starts
Stewart is far enough down the points that his most likely path to the Chase will come via winning one of the next seven races. Indy may well provide him with his best opportunity since a career average finish of 7.9 in 15 starts marks this as his best track. Smoke has never failed to finish a race at Indy; in fact, he has never failed to finish on the lead lap and that translated into two wins, seven top-fives, and 11 top-10s. Fans should not worry too much if he fails to win this week because Watkins Glen International is just around the corner and he has an identical career average finish of 7.9 there.
2. Ryan Newman (tied)
Last three average finish at Indy: 6.67
Career avg. finish at Indy: 17.7 in 13 starts
Newman’s victory in last year’s edition of this race could be described both as a surprise and an expected outcome depending on one’s perspective. He won the pole for the Crown Royal 400 and showed signs of strength in practice—but he had done that on several occasions only to falter in race trim. Newman qualified on the first eight rows in his first eight attempts only to fade in all but one of those events to finish outside the top 10. He should be strong again this year. In addition to his 2013 victory he scored a top-10 in 2012 and should be able to extend his streak.
4. Kyle Busch (tied)
Last three average finish at Indy: 7.33
Career avg. finish at Indy: 11.6 in 9 starts
One thing is almost certain where Busch is concerned: where he starts will not be indicative of where he will finish. In nine previous attempts on this track he started among the top 10 only once. He has finished among the top 10 in all but two of his efforts. He is so predictable, in fact, that he has failed to finish better than he started on this track only one time in his career and that came in 2009 after he sustained crash damage.
4. Jimmie Johnson (tied)
Last three average finish at Indy: 7.33
Career avg. finish at Indy: 15.6 in 12 starts
Johnson has a career average finish of better than 10th on 11 of NASCAR’s 23 active tracks. Notably Indy is not among them. Accidents, blown engines, and missed setups have taken their toll through the years, but fantasy NASCAR is a game concerned with what a driver has done lately. Johnson won the 2012 Crown Royal 400 and finished second in last year’s edition of this race and. With Hendrick Motorsports horsepower under the hood, he should be a good bet to finish among the top five again this week.
6. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Last three average finish at Indy: 8.67
Career avg. finish at Indy: 19.3 in 14 starts
Like his teammate Johnson, Indy has not always been one of Earnhardt’s better tracks. Until 2012 he had only two top-10s to his credit there and they came in isolated events. Not only had Junior been unable to back up one top-10 with another, but he posted back-to-back top-15s only once during his career in 2000/2001. He finally found the handle on this course in 2012 and finished fourth. He backed that up with a sixth last year and finally seems to have some momentum.
7. Paul Menard
Last three average finish at Indy: 9.00
Career avg. finish at Indy: 21.9 in 8 starts
Menard’s victory in the 2011 Brickyard 400 could be described as surprising. Before that happened, he had only one top-15 on this track to his credit and an average finish of 26th. His single strong run came in 2010, however, when he crossed under the checkers 14th. The team came back with a good baseline setup and ran strong the following year. Ultimately it was a fuel mileage gamble that put him in Victory Lane, but he would have scored a top-10 without the strategy call. Since then, he has swept the top 15 in his last two starts.
8. Kasey Kahne
Last three average finish at Indy: 11.00
Career avg. finish at Indy: 14.2 in 10 starts
Kahne’s first four top-10s at Indy came in pairs. He doubled-down in 2004/2005 with a fourth and second respectively, and finished with seventh-place finishes in 2008/2009. If the pattern holds, he is due another strong finish on the heels of a third last year. Even if he misses the top 10 it probably will not be by much. His worst result in the past six Indy races was an 18th. The remainder were top-15s.
9. Greg Biffle
Last three average finish at Indy: 11.33
Career avg. finish at Indy: 13.2 in 11 starts
Biffle is a cautionary tale as to how much emphasis should be placed on statistics. He entered last year’s Crown Royal 400 with a five-race streak of top-10s, but qualified only 27th, never really found the handle, lost a lap, and finished 24th. This year the team does not seem to have very much momentum and they have been lacking horsepower on many of the unrestricted speedways. Biffle represents a risk for fantasy players and should probably be avoided.
10. Brad Keselowski
Last three average finish at Indy: 13.00
Career avg. finish at Indy: 14.5 in 4 starts
For all of his strength on other tracks, Keselowski has never shone very brightly at Indy. He secures a spot among the 10 best drivers in the past three years because of back-to-back ninth-place finishes in 2011/2012, but that is his high water mark to date. After winning the last two unrestricted races at Kentucky and New Hampshire, however, it is almost a certainty that he will have a new career-best when the checkers wave over this week’s Crown Royal 400.
Others of Note
12. Kevin Harvick
Last three average finish at Indy: 14.33
Career avg. finish at Indy: 10.9 in 13 starts
At the beginning of his career, qualification seemed to be of great importance to Harvick at Indy. He finished 11th after starting 11th in his first attempt in 2001, climbed only two spots to finish fifth in 2002, and won from the pole in 2003. Recently he has been much more likely to improve substantially in race trim and he has finished better than he started in his last five attempts. Fantasy owners should not be overly concerned if he qualifies poorly, but they may be disappointed to note that he has not finished among the top 10 on this track since 2010.
14. Matt Kenseth
Last three average finish at Indy: 15.00
Career avg. finish at Indy: 15.1 in 14 starts
Kenseth’s spot in the Chase is relatively safe. Either five first time winners for the season need to emerge from the next seven races, or he needs to be pushed well down the standings and lose up to 94 points. However, that is not truly the concern of either this driver or fantasy owners. Kenseth needs to win a race before the Chase begins because he was so strong last year and cannot afford to lose this much momentum. Indy could be the site of his return to Victory Lane because he has two top-fives there in the past three races.
15. Clint Bowyer
Last three average finish at Indy: 16.00
Career avg. finish at Indy: 13.3 in 8 starts
The good news is that Bowyer has been running on the lead lap in all eight races that he started. The bad news is that he has managed to convert only two of those efforts into top-10 finishes. When Bowyer is at the top of his game he can be incredibly strong and he has fourth-place finishes in 2006 and 2010 to prove as much. Even when he misses, he has never finished outside of the top 20, so he could be a great value in games where he is priced right or if he fits the final niche on a fantasy player’s roster.
16. Denny Hamlin
Last three average finish at Indy: 16.00
Career avg. finish at Indy: 16.9 in 8 starts
Hamlin has shown promise on a couple of occasions at Indy, but he has not always lived up to his potential. He finished third in 2008 to score his only top-five, but that race was marred by tire failure and could be described as one of survival. He won the pole in 2012 and then slipped to sixth in the final running order, which is one of only three top-10s at Indy. While three of Hamlin’s best four tracks are minimally banked, Indy ranks only 14th on that chart and there are simply better places to take a gamble on him.
17. Aric Almirola
Last two average finish at Indy: 18.00
Career avg. finish at Indy: 18.0 in 2 starts
There is not a lot to go on for Almirola at Indy. He has only two races under his belt and neither of them ended in a top-15 finish. They were consistent, however; he finished 19th in 2012 and was 17th last year, so if the progression continues he should finally break that barrier. Some of the focus for the organization is bound to shift to making teammate Marcos Ambrose stronger so he can also qualify for the Chase and that could hurt Almirola’s chances this week.
18. Carl Edwards
Last three average finish at Indy: 18.67
Career avg. finish at Indy: 13.2 in 9 starts
At the beginning of his career, Edwards alternated one Indy top-10 with a finish outside that range. This kept him from being a great value on this track but it kept his fans happy—on occasion at least. That pattern was broken in 2011 and he has not scored a top-10 since. Another trend that ended that year was only of Edwards finishing better than he qualified. After six straight races in which he improved, Edwards slipped from 10th to 14th in 2011 and he has fallen back during every Brickyard 400 since.
21. Joey Logano
Last three average finish at Indy: 22.00
Career avg. finish at Indy: 17.4 in 5 starts
Logano’s career at Indy is similar to his teammate Keselowski. He has not been overly strong on this track with a career best of eighth, but Penske Racing seems to be renewed this year. Both drivers were stout in the most recent unrestricted oval races and should carry that momentum forward into this weekend. Logano should contend for a top-five, but in games that limit a player’s allocations he is a risky proposition due to his Indy record.
23. Kurt Busch
Last three average finish at Indy: 23.67
Career avg. finish at Indy: 19.4 in 14 starts
Busch has been coming to Indy since 2001 and 14 starts should have been enough time for a driver of his caliber to earn more than a single top-five. Worse still, that fifth-place finish came all the way back in his inaugural attempt and he has scored less than a handful of top-10s in the intervening years. Stewart-Haas Racing is strong enough to overcome Busch’s record at Indy, but then again so were Roush Racing and Penske Racing South when he drove for them.
Not ranked. Kyle Larson
Career avg. finish at Indy: NA
Larson will make his first attempt at Indy this week, so there are no records to research. However, there is a reason to be hopeful since the former driver for this team Juan Pablo Montoya finished second in his inaugural attempt. Larson has the skill to better that effort by one position this week and Indy has become a place with surprising winners in the past few years.
Most caution flags: 13, 2004 Brickyard 400
Fewest caution flags: 1, 1995 Brickyard 400
Average number of caution flags per race: 6.3
Final Caution, last five races:
July 2013: Lap 115 of 160 – Timmy Hill (#32) slowed on track
July 2012: Lap 134 of 160 – 4-car accident in turn one: Matt Kenseth (#17), Joey Logano (#20), Trevor Bayne (#21), Bobby Labonte (#47)
July 2011: Lap 121 of 126 – 2-car accident in turn three: David Ragan (#6), Landon Cassill (#51)
July 2010: Lap 147 of 160 – 2-car accident in turn four: Juan Pablo Montoya (#42), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (#88)
July 2009: Lap 129 of 160 – Oil on track
Most caution laps: 52, 2008 Allstate 400 at the Brickyard (tire fiasco)
Fewest caution laps: 4, 1995 Brickyard 400
Average number of caution laps per race: 26.5
Leading the way
Most leaders: 16, 2008 Allstate 400 at the Brickyard (tire fiasco)
Fewest leaders: 5, 2000 Brickyard 400
Average number of leaders: 9.9
Most lead changes: 26, 2008 Allstate 400 at the Brickyard (tire fiasco)
Fewest lead changes: 9 three times, 2009 Allstate 400 at the Brickyard, 2004 Brickyard 400, 2000 Brickyard 400
Average number of lead changes: 16.2
Last five winners at Indy (starting position):
July 2013: Ryan Newman (1)
July 2012: Jimmie Johnson (6)
July 2011: Paul Menard (15)
July 2010: Jamie McMurray (4)
July 2009: Jimmie Johnson (16)
Worst starting position for race winner: 27th, Jeff Gordon August 2001
A race at Indy has been won by the pole sitter 3 times and from the front row 4 times in 20 races.
Active winners at Indy:
Jeff Gordon (4)
Jimmie Johnson (4)
Tony Stewart (2)
Kevin Harvick (1)
Bobby Labonte (1)
Jamie McMurray (1)
Paul Menard (1)
Ryan Newman (1)
First time winners at Indy:
Paul Menard: 2011 Brickyard 400
Running at the End
The following drivers have been running at the end of every Indy race they started:
Tony Stewart (15)
Kevin Harvick (13)
Greg Biffle (11)
Jamie McMurray (11)
Casey Mears (10)
Kyle Busch (9)
Carl Edwards (9)
Clint Bowyer (8)
Denny Hamlin (8)
Paul Menard (7)
David Ragan (7)
Marcos Ambrose (6)
David Gilliland (6)
AJ Allmendinger (5)
Joey Logano (5)
David Stremme (5)
Brad Keselowski (4)
Trevor Bayne (3)
Aric Almirola (2)
Austin Dillon (1)
Danica Patrick (1)
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (1)