INDIANAPOLIS – All the preliminary action is done here in Indianapolis. It’s time to race Sunday’s 26th annual Brickyard 400 (2 p.m. ET/NBC/IMS Radio Network/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). The 26th and final race of the regular season punches a lot of weight. See, 14 of the 16 playoff spots are taken. We have two spots still available and four likely drivers to take them.
Currently, Clint Bowyer (+8) is in while Daniel Suarez (+0) and Ryan Newman (-0) are tied for the final spot. Jimmie Johnson (-18) is the only other driver who can make it in on points.
But, what happens if someone behind them wins? It would leave one final spot to those four drivers?
Paul Menard could very well be the guy to steal a win here. He was quickest in final practice on Saturday and qualified his No. 21 Ford on the front row. Bowyer and Johnson will start third and fifth respectively themselves.
That’s three drivers in the top five that are wildcard drivers.
Suarez, will roll off 20th while Newman starts 22nd.
Stage points are also going to be key for the bubble four as they can’t afford to leave them on the table. Bowyer and Johnson are right there in prime position. Suarez and Newman need some help to get there.
Which that leads me to a big topic this weekend – strategy.
Indy is a place where you can pit and likely not lose a lap. So, with most of the drivers not needing stage points, they can pit towards the end of the two stages and position themselves with clean air for the start of the next respective stage. It makes since for those with legit race winning aspirations.
But, for those needing stage points to make the playoffs, they can’t look ahead for a race win. They need to take the points as they come.
The pit window is 37-39 laps and the stages are 50 laps in length. That means you can use pit strategy and pit twice in the first stage and once in the final few laps of the second stage.
That gets you three pit stops and in clean air up front for the final push for the win over the final 60 laps (150 miles) of the race.
Also, on your stops, the strategy then comes, do you go with four tires or two. Depending on who you talk to, they’re saying the tire wear is minimal on their runs. That’s par for the course this season anyways. With so much downforce and less off the throttle time, the tires are lasting longer.
Someone could short pit on Laps 118-120 and take two tires and hope the end of the race goes caution free to steal a win. Menard, Chris Buescher, Matt DiBenedetto, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Michael McDowell, David Ragan, Austin Dillon, Daniel Hemric and a few others should try this. They have nothing to lose but everything to gain.
The next big question is, what kind of racing will we see? Most fans think that with this new package, that we will see a better race as a result. I say, proceed with caution.
Yes, the XFINITY Series race the last few years has been vastly better than the Brickyard 400, but this isn’t exactly the same package that the Indiana 250 races with. Plus, the cars are going upwards of 20 mph quicker than the XFINITY cars around here.
On top of all of that, the lap times aren’t all that much different this year compared to the past. No, the cars aren’t screaming down the straightaways at speeds in excess of 200 mph here anymore, but the corner speeds are in turn higher.
The past years, the drivers had to lift in all four corners. They’d slow down and scrub off speed as well. This year, they don’t have to lift all that much in the first or third corners and can likely run flat out in the second and fourth turns. That means everyone is running the same speed and at full song heading down the straights. With dirty air in wake, how do you pass the car in front?
That’s why this race will be more about strategy than on track passing again.