The Brickyard 400 is a relatively cut-and-dry race, as many of the same faces finish up front year after year at this track. With that being said, the addition of the Stages will definitely play into the race this weekend, since teams can make a pit stop under green here without losing a lap. If you remember back to the Pocono race last month, you can expect a very similar event to unravel here at Indianapolis on Sunday. Track position is king at this 2.5-mile race track and those that qualified up front have the best chance of staying up there.
My team points last week (Loudon): 224
Overall team percentile: 88th
Total team points for the season: 5,277
Yahoo! A Group Pick and Final Rankings for Indy
There was one surprise in qualifying on Saturday, and it wasn’t that Kyle Busch won the pole–considering he did the same thing here last season. No, it was the fact that Kyle Busch got faster in the final round of qualifying, and was a full mile-per-hour faster than 2nd-fastest Kevin Harvick. Now, if Rowdy’s car is that much better than everyone else on Sunday, we’re going to see an even more similar race to Pocono, as really the only time Busch will relinquish the need is due to strategy calls with the Stages. Still, Kyle is the favorite going into Sunday, and has the best car. He’s going for his third Brickyard win in a row and has a really good chance at accomplishing that.
Harvick, on the other hand, is a close second. The #4 Ford was solid in both practice sessions on Saturday and ranked 2nd-fastest in Happy Hour with the 3rd-best ten-lap average. Happy has finished 6th, 3rd, and 8th in the last three Brickyard races. Another driver to keep an eye on on Sunday is Jimmie Johnson, who had a great qualifying effort of 4th. He’s a four-time winner here at Indianapolis and had the best ten-lap average during Happy Hour. EDIT: Johnson will start from the rear on Sunday due to a rear gear change. He should still be a top 10 car.
The Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas of Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth are both poised for good runs this weekend as well. Hamlin qualified up in 5th for Sunday’s race while Kenseth will start from back in 14th. With that being said, Kenseth is used to coming through the field here at Indy, so that’s not a huge deal. Hamlin is on a three-race streak of top 5 finishes here while Kenseth hasn’t finished worse than 7th at this track since 2012.
As far as the Penske teammates of Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski, they both have top 10 potential going into Sunday, but it’s hard to predict how the race is going to play out for them. Logano still needs a win to fully secure his spot in the playoffs, and Keselowski hasn’t finished better than 9th at Indianapolis in seven career starts. It’s hard to confidently start either Logano or Kez over most of the A Group starters.
My Starter: Kyle Busch over Martin Truex, Jr.
Final A Group Rankings: (1) Kyle Busch, (2) Kevin Harvick, (3) Denny Hamlin, (4) Martin Truex, Jr. (5) Matt Kenseth, (6) Jimmie Johnson, (7) Joey Logano, (8) Brad Keselowski, (9) Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Yahoo! B Group Picks and Final Rankings for Indy
Despite running a terrible lap in qualifying, Kyle Larson is still the best B Group option this weekend and should get a solid top 10 finish on Sunday. He’s never finished worse than 9th in three career Cup starts here at Indianapolis, and he’s definitely used to coming through the field. Like I said earlier this week, though, I’m not going to start him unless he can dominate this race, and that’s not going to happen. Larson’s start are much more valuable at other tracks.
Larson’s teammate, Jamie McMurray, is a previous Brickyard 400 winner and had a great qualifying effort this weekend (3rd). Jamie hasn’t had a top 10 finish here since the 2011 season but that should change this weekend. The #1 Chevrolet has been very fast since unloading this weekend. Another driver with a good qualifying effort on Saturday was Ryan Newman, who has finished 12th or better in five of the last six Brickyard races. Expect the #31 team to get back on their top 15 grind after bad finishes at Kentucky and Loudon.
Ryan Blaney won the race at Pocono earlier this year, and that track is the most similar on the circuit to Indianapolis. The #21 Ford was 3rd-fastest in Happy Hour on Saturday and wound up qualifying 10th. A top 10 finish is well within reach for this #21 team. Kurt Busch is another driver that had a solid run at Pocono last month (he finished 4th) but looks to have a solid race car this weekend. The only bad thing about Busch is that he has just one top 10 in his last six starts here. With that being said, the #41 team is running really well right now, and Kurt will roll off the grid from 12th on Sunday.
Keep an eye on Clint Bowyer this weekend. That #14 team has frequently over-performed as of late, and he’s been one of the most consistent drivers here at Indianapolis Motor Speedway; Bowyer has just three top 10 finishes here in eleven career starts but his overall average finish is 13.5. That’s consistency if I’ve ever seen it.
As far as start save options go, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. is your best bet. The #17 Ford is consistently finishing inside the top 15 on a weekly basis, and Stenhouse came home 12th here last season. It’s hard to imagine Ricky cracking the top 10 here on Sunday but crazier things have happened. Another start save option is Paul Menard, who has a knack for qualifying poorly but finishing well here at The Brickyard. Menard has finished 14th or better in six of his last seven starts here at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and for what it’s worth, he almost won the Xfinity race here on Saturday.
My Starters: Kurt Busch and Ryan Blaney over Kyle Larson and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.
Final B Group Rankings: (1) Kyle Larson, (2) Jamie McMurray, (3) Ryan Blaney, (4) Kurt Busch, (5) Chase Elliott, (6) Ryan Newman, (7) Clint Bowyer, (8) Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., (9) Austin Dillon, (10) Paul Menard, (11) Kasey Kahne, (12) Trevor Bayne, (13) Chris Buescher, (14) A.J. Allmendinger, (15) Aric Almirola, (16) Danica Patrick
Yahoo! C Group Pick and Final Rankings for Indy
If you’re having to pick between Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez this weekend, it really just comes down to how much you want to gamble. Jones had a better qualifying effort this weekend (9th to 15th) and also had one of the best performances at Pocono earlier this year, leading 20 laps and finishing 3rd. Additionally, the #77 Toyota was the fastest car in Happy Hour on Saturday and was 14th-best in Practice #1. On the other hand, Daniel Suarez has really been at his best on the flat tracks this year, and he finished 7th and 3rd in two Xfinity starts here, while Jones hasn’t finished better than 22nd. The rest of the C Group is pretty much the same as it is any other week. If you’re going for maximum points, Jones or Suarez are the ones that are going to help you accomplish that.
My Starter: Erik Jones over Daniel Suarez
Final C Group Rankings: (1) Erik Jones, (2) Daniel Suarez, (3) Ty Dillon, (4) Michael McDowell, (5) Matt DiBenedetto, (6) David Ragan, (7) Landon Cassill, (8) Cole Whitt, the rest