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Race Day: Time For Sprint Cup To Hit The Bricks

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, July 25 2010

The start of the Brickyard 400 is one of the prettiest sights in NASCAR. (File photo courtesy of NASCAR)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Indianapolis – The specter of what happened a week ago at a small, out of the way race track which was hosting a race in NASCAR’s second tier series has been hanging over one of NASCAR’s showcase events this weekend.

It’s the specter of “Gateway”.

When Sprint Cup drivers at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, site of today’s Brickyard 400, have been asked about Gateway this week, they know exactly what the people posing those questions are referring to.

At Gateway International Raceway in Madison, Ill. last Saturday night, drivers Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski put the topic of aggressive driving front and center. Their bumping and wrecking has renewed discussions about how aggressive is too aggressive and what exactly the phrase “Have at it boys” means.

Here is what a select group of drivers had to say about the topics:

Jeff Burton, No. 31 Richard Childress Racing: “You have to be more aggressive today to to run up front than you did ten years ago. There’s no question. Ten years ago, 15, 16 years ago, people rode for a period of the race. There is no riding anymore. The only person that’s riding is if a guy has an incredibly fast car and he’s able to pace himself.  But honestly, there is no saving the car anymore. There’s none of that. It’s just run as hard as you can every lap and pick up every spot you can every lap.”

Matt Kenseth, No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford: “I’m not gonna change the way I race because of what the rules are. Now there have been times where I’ve stepped over the edge and lost my mind and ran into somebody and got penalized for it, and knew I was probably going to get penalized for it, but whether there’s a penalty for something after the race or not, it’s not gonna change my code or my ethics, or how I’m gonna race somebody, or how I expect to be raced. I’m still gonna race the same, so that doesn’t really matter to me.”

Greg Biffle, No. 16 Roush Fenway Racing Ford: “As far as me personally, I think the line is in a perfect spot because we want to race hard and we want to push and shove a little bit and do what we need to do to put on a good show, and, when it gets down to it, race for a win.  We also know that they’re not gonna tolerate spinning a guy out on purpose.  They’ve kind of made that statement with what they did, so I think we all know where the line is at and I think we’re all happy with it, honestly.”

Fast facts

What: Brickyard 400

Where: Indianapolis

When: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN, noon ET

Radio: IMS/Sirius Satellite Ch. 128

Track layout: 2.5-mile oval

Banking in turns: 9 degrees

Grandstand seating: 250,000

Race distance: 160 laps/400 miles

Estimated pit window: 30-32 laps

Qualifying: Saturday, 10:10 a.m. ET

2009 winner: Jimmie Johnson

2009 polesitter: Mark Martin

Today’s polesitter: Juan Pablo Montoya

Tradition vs. quality

There is not doubt that Indianapolis Motor Speedway is the most well-known race track in the world. None.

There is, however, some doubt about its suitability for stock car racing. The Sprint Cup Series races at Indy have simply not produced many thrills.

As he planted his foot down on the accelerator of a new Corvette Grand Sport heading out of Turn Four at Indy, Jimmie Johnson started talking about Indy and racing Cup cars at the place.

“It is tough to pass here,” Johnson, a three-time Brickyard winner, said. “It was built in 19, what, 13, (1909, actually). Racing side by side, that’s just not there. If this track were built today, you’d hear a lot of complaints.”

I mentioned – jokingly – to Johnson as the Vette headed into Turn One, that I had noticed fluid pouring out of the brake calipers when the car was in the pits.

“Don’t matter,” he said. “We’re not going to use them anyway.”

Trivia time

Name the two drivers who have won the Brickyard 400 and not have not been Sprint Cup champions.

Looking back

Jeff Gordon on what winning the inaugural Brickyard race meant to him and his career:

“Yeah, it changed everything in a big way. You I had won at Charlotte, and that was huge. But winning here, you know, and then going to Disney and it being Indy and the first race here, my life changed quite a bit.

“I think from that point on my face definitely was more recognized, my name was more recognized outside of racing.  It kind of catapulted my career to get us in position to win the championship in ’95.  It gave me the confidence, gave our team the confidence that we needed.  And you know to follow that up with a championship in ’95 is good time for me.  We rode that wave for a long time and still today.”

Trivia answer

Ricky Rudd and Kevin Harvick are the only winners of the Brickyard not to have won Cup championships.

Up next

Next weekend, the Sprint Cup Series will be at Pocono Raceway for the Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500.

Denny Hamlin is the defending champion.

The Pocono race is No. 21 of the 36-race schedule.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, July 25 2010
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