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Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014

Indy: A test for true champions

Sunday, July 26, 2009

INDIANAPOLIS -- For many NASCAR traditionalists, it seems to be cool to disrespect the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and its annual stock car race.

You hear that the track's too flat, too narrow and that there should be more than one groove for a good stock car race.

People say the racing at Indy is great if you like watching guys get in a straight line and drive around in circles.

I'll be the first to admit the racing here isn't typical stock car action. You don't have the pure speed of Daytona or Talladega. You don't have the "anything can happen" aspect of short tracks like Bristol or Richmond.

It's also not a 1.5-mile "cookie-cutter" oval that seems to be 75 percent of the circuit these days.

What you do have, though, is a race that, over the last 16 years, has taken the 43 starters of each race and said, "Give me your best shot." And that's exactly what it's taken to win here: the best.

The list of men who've won this race is pretty impressive: Jeff Gordon (four times), Jimmie Johnson (three times), Dale Jarrett (twice), Tony Stewart (twice), Dale Earnhardt, Ricky Rudd, Bobby Labonte, Bill Elliott and Kevin Harvick.

That's a combined 19 Winston/Nextel/Sprint Cup championships and 367 total wins on the circuit. Of these nine men, only Rudd and Harvick never won a series championship, and Harvick still has good years ahead of him.

Further proof that there are no flukes here can be found in what the men who've won this race have gone on to do for the season. Seven of the first 15 winners won the Cup that year. That's a correlation of 47 percent, which is mind-blowing.

The average points finish of drivers who win this race is 4.25. Only Rudd in 1997 and Elliott in 2002 even finished outside the top eight.

But we can throw around numbers all we want. The proof is in what we see on the track. The common criticism is that you can't pass at IMS. The truth is, a driver has to be very, very good to pass at the Speedway.

Some important factors include starting position, pit stops, restarts and, yes, a bit of luck. Don't champions do all those things well?

Unless something changes seriously at this track, the continuing legacy of the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard will be that it's the race of champions. No one just slides into a win here.

The driver and team at the absolute top of their game wins this race.

So should any of us have been surprised when Johnson crossed the Yard of Bricks ahead of his 42 competitors? The 48 team has won three straight championships, a feat that takes the same traits it takes to win at this track: you have to have it all together all the time.

Stewart is still the points leader right now, and he should remain the favorite to win the Cup.

However, after a win here, don't bet against Johnston to be the first driver to win four straight Sprint Cups. Two of his three previous championships came in the years he won the Brickyard.



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