By Steve Mickey
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will be making its annual visit to Indianapolis Motor Speedway this weekend for the running of the Crown Royal 400. Even though the series only makes one stop each season at the giant 2 ½ -mile oval, the race is definitely one of the crown jewel events on the entire schedule.
NASCAR held a tire test at Indy in June of 1992 with all of the biggest names at that time in the sport showing up to turn some laps at the historic venue. The sanctioning body had not announced that it would be adding Indy to the schedule but the media and every fan of the sport knew that the “boys” wouldn’t be turning practice laps if the plan was not to come back at a later date for a sanctioned race.
That date was in July of 1994 and long before the field ever took the green flag to start the race, the event was being hailed as one of the most historic moments in the history of the sport. Indy was always the sole property of the open wheel cars with its Memorial Day tradition of the Indianapolis 500, but when it finally opened its doors to stock cars, the reception was unbelievable.
In the field that day for the inaugural Brickyard 400 was Jeff Gordon who was from nearby Pittsboro, Indiana. Gordon had grown up dreaming of one day racing at the speedway and as it turned out he made the most of his first race there as he became the first ever NASCAR driver to take a checkered flag at the track.
This weekend when Gordon returns to the speedway it will be for the last time as he will be retiring at the end of the season. A win would not only be special because it is his last race at his home state track but would also put him in the Chase.
Gordon and the rest of the Cup drivers will immediately realize when they arrive at the track that this weekend’s racing will not be like any of the previous races. NASCAR will be introducing a new rules package and a new qualifying format.
Unlike the new rules package that was used a couple of weeks ago at Kentucky, this rules package will produce a higher level of drag on the cars that NASCAR hopes will allow the cars to “pack up” easier to allow for more passing. Fans will immediately see one difference in the cars as they will be competing with a nine-inch spoiler. It could be that we may once again see the old slingshot passes that Richard Petty made famous back in the day at Daytona.
Instead of all the cars being on the track for qualifying at the same time, Indy’s qualifying will consist of two rounds with cars taking one timed lap in each round. Each driver will be released to go on the track in a predetermined time interval set by NASCAR so no drafting can take place. The qualifying order for the first round will be determined by a random draw.
The 12 fastest drivers from the first round will advance to the second round after a ten-minute break that will allows pit crews to only adjust grille tape and use a cool-down unit on the car’s motor. The final round order will be determined by the slowest-fastest speeds from the first round. Positions 1-12 will be set by the speeds from the second round with positions 13-43 being set by the speeds from the first qualifying order.
PIT NOTES: Kyle Busch’s win on Sunday at New Hampshire continued to fuel his attempt to be in the top-30 by the end of the regular season. He is now 33rd in the point standings, 58 points out of the magical 30th spot. He has gained 70 points on 30th in the last two weeks and now needs around a 19th place average finish to make the top 30 in the seven remaining races.
Event: Crown Royal Presents the Jeff Kyle 400
Track: Indianapolis Motor Speedway (2.5 mile oval, 9o of banking in the turns)
Date: July 26, 3:30 p.m.
Radio: indycarradio.com, Sirius XM Satellite NASCAR Radio 90
Defending Champion: Jeff Gordon