I don’t normally put a lot of stock into the notion that statistics can accurately foretell who will win a race. There are far too many variables in a sport where luck, the actions of another driver and even Mother Nature can conjure up the unlikeliest of winners. But some statistics are difficult to ignore.
There have been 20 NASCAR Sprint Cup races at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway and 15 of those events were won by drivers who were past, future or reigning Cup champions.
Jeff Gordon won the inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994 and captured his first Sprint Cup championship the next year. He followed that victory up with three more in 1998, 2001 and 2004 to go along with three more championships in 1997, 1998 and 2001.
Gordon likes his chances of putting another win in the books this Sunday.
“This weekend there’s no doubt I feel like this is the best chance that we’ve had at winning this race legitimately with the speed of the car as we’ve had in a very, very long time,” he said when he spoke with the media Friday.
“It’s obvious that there’s some competitors out there that are going to be tough, including our teammates,” he continued. “But I think the preparation that we’ve put into it and what we’ve been working on since, you know, the break, and I mean leading into that really are things that we’re really, really excited about seeing what we have here today and during practice and this weekend. But yeah, this is definitely, from an overall strength of the team and speed of the car, this is by far the best chance we’ve had at winning in a long time.”
Dale Earnhardt won the 1995 Brickyard 400 in 1995 famously saying that he was the first man to win it, an obvious reference to “Wonder Boy” Gordon’s win in the first race. The Intimidator was already a seven-time champ but this would prove to be his only win at Indianapolis.
In addition to Gordon, today’s active full-time Cup drivers with multiple wins includes Tony Stewart with two (2005, 2007) and Jimmie Johnson with four victories in 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2012. All three of these drivers have won multiple championships. If you take those impressive statistics I mentioned into account, this could be Stewart’s best chance to snag the win that has eluded him all season.
In a teleconference last week, Stewart was asked his thoughts on the upcoming race.
“If you can’t win the Daytona 500, this is the perfect second to get your first win for the year,” he responded. “So we were one of the teams that did the Goodyear test a couple weeks ago, and we felt like our car was pretty quick. So I was pretty excited about that. It’s just a matter of going back and trying to keep that speed in the car.”
You also have to consider those champions who have yet to win the Brickyard 400 like Matt Kenseth who sits in fourth position in the standings but has no wins this season. Then there’s Brad Keselowski who has been on a tear lately with three number one finishes. Kurt Busch, 2004 champ, has one win this year but is 25th in the points standings. Another victory could give him some breathing room.
Just to make things more interesting, here’s another statistic to bear in mind. The last 11 consecutive Sprint Cup races at Indianapolis have been won by Chevrolet, eight of those going to Hendrick Motorsports drivers.
Whether you put your trust in statistics or Lady Luck, one thing is certain. The Brickyard 400 is one of the toughest races on the schedule and requires the same tenacity and skill that exemplifies a Sprint Cup Champion.