Combat Wounded Coalition 400 Preview: Motor Racing's Field of Dreams

Combat Wounded Coalition 400 Preview: Motor Racing's Field of Dreams

This article is part of our Weekly Preview series.

After leaving the Magic Mile, we come to a place where real magic happens. This week the Sprint Cup Series comes back to the historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Combat Wounded Coalition 400. The Brickyard will host this prestigious stock car racing event on motor racing's most identifiable and iconic track. IMS is a rectangular oval with very flat banking all the way around. The straights are completely flat, and the four corners have banking that varies from 9 to 12 degrees. The track is very temperature sensitive, so constant adjustments to the race car are a must in order to keep up with the changing handling conditions throughout the event. Over the last few seasons Goodyear has been able to develop a great tire for stock cars at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, so we expect solid racing and for tire wear not to be an issue this Sunday afternoon. The long green flag runs that are commonplace at Indy could bring the fuel-mileage factor into the strategy for this 400-mile event, so we'll need to keep that detail in the back of our minds when making our driver list this week. The rectangular oval has played host to 22 Sprint Cup Series events, so we have some very extensive data on how the drivers perform at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway is perhaps the most unique track that the series visits each year. No other track on the circuit has enough comparable characteristics to draw even a modest

After leaving the Magic Mile, we come to a place where real magic happens. This week the Sprint Cup Series comes back to the historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Combat Wounded Coalition 400. The Brickyard will host this prestigious stock car racing event on motor racing's most identifiable and iconic track. IMS is a rectangular oval with very flat banking all the way around. The straights are completely flat, and the four corners have banking that varies from 9 to 12 degrees. The track is very temperature sensitive, so constant adjustments to the race car are a must in order to keep up with the changing handling conditions throughout the event. Over the last few seasons Goodyear has been able to develop a great tire for stock cars at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, so we expect solid racing and for tire wear not to be an issue this Sunday afternoon. The long green flag runs that are commonplace at Indy could bring the fuel-mileage factor into the strategy for this 400-mile event, so we'll need to keep that detail in the back of our minds when making our driver list this week. The rectangular oval has played host to 22 Sprint Cup Series events, so we have some very extensive data on how the drivers perform at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway is perhaps the most unique track that the series visits each year. No other track on the circuit has enough comparable characteristics to draw even a modest comparison. The racing we just experienced at the flat one-mile oval of New Hampshire Motor Speedway is probably the most recent and closest set of data to consider. Those drivers that dominated at Loudon are likely to keep the momentum rolling this weekend at Indianapolis. Let's take a quick look at the loop stats for the last 11 NASCAR races at Indy. Since the Sprint Cup Series only races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway once a season, this span will cover the last 11 years and should give us a good statistical tool to evaluate the drivers for this weekend's Crown Royal Combat Wounded Coalition 400. Indy's results are really our best information to evaluate driver performance, so this chart will have some added emphasis in our prognostications this week. You'll notice that Jimmie Johnson leads the list across various categories, and that dominance has led to victories in the past. However, younger drivers are closing the gap quickly and have made Johnson less of a threat to roll into victory lane. The following table has the loop stats from the last 11 years or 11 races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

DRIVERAVG FINISHQUALITY PASSESFASTEST LAPSLAPS LEDLAPS IN TOP 15RATING
Jimmie Johnson13.92761803021,284106.5
Kyle Larson8.07335310103.6
Kyle Busch9.7348100611,339101.5
Tony Stewart9.63531041211,211101.2
Kasey Kahne15.33191041581,28497.4
Matt Kenseth12.132823291,36997.0
Kevin Harvick11.6292581301,22096.6
Denny Hamlin14.3261557598591.3
Greg Biffle13.622660531,09590.3
Joey Logano13.4173184963688.7
Brad Keselowski 13.3151396150187.3
Carl Edwards13.4298542697886.9
Clint Bowyer12.822112693785.2
Dale Earnhardt Jr.19.5262464886182.1
Ryan Newman15.9176284572079.0
Jamie McMurray16.5199152668378.3
Martin Truex Jr.19.32133373476.0
Kurt Busch20.520811075975.5
Ryan Blaney12.021005274.2
A.J. Allmendinger18.71113429172.1

Recent history has shown us that Chevrolet had a complete stranglehold on this historic venue. Until Kyle Busch's win in a Toyota last July, the previous 12 victories at Indy had gone to Chevrolet drivers of various camps. Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart alone have won six of those 12 victories at IMS. While neither Stewart or Johnson are in a good place right now, certainly other Chevrolet drivers could assert themselves this Sunday afternoon at the Brickyard. Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch have been gaining ground fast on the top drivers in the series at this rectangular oval. Busch finished a strong eighth-place in last season's 400-mile battle at Indy, and Harvick led 75 laps and finished a brilliant third-place in that same event. Both should be seen as possible homerun candidates for the Combat Wounded Coalition 400.

Even though Chevy drivers dominated this track for more than a decade, we still can't overlook the top contenders from Ford and Toyota. Busch's win for Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota last season served notice that a potential changing of the guard was taking place. With the resurgence of Brad Keselowski at Daytona, Kentucky and New Hampshire, we can't overlook Ford's opportunity to upstage everyone this weekend. Drivers like Busch, Joey Logano, Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin and Keselowski are more than capable of pulling the upset in this Sunday's Combat Wounded Coalition 400. As for Toyota, their chances of winning will primarily fall on Busch and Hamlin. The two stars are racing the most consistently in that manufacturer's camp and both will be looking forward to an opportunity to kiss the bricks at Indianapolis. We'll take a look at the top contenders and the streaking drivers in the Sprint Cup Series, along with historical data in order to give you the drivers you need this weekend to dominate the Brickyard and your fantasy racing league.

The Contenders - Drivers in the hunt for the win

Kyle Busch –
The Joe Gibbs Racing star rides a strong six-race Indianapolis Top-10 streak into this weekend's Combat Wounded Coalition 400. That includes his first-career win at the oval last season and a pair of runner-up finishes dating back to 2012. The Brickyard has held a lot of success for him over the years. Nine Top 10s in 11 total starts just speaks to his excellence at this historic track. Coming off the dominant victory at New Hampshire, we wouldn't rule anything out for Busch. He has really been the driver to beat at Indianapolis the past four seasons despite only claiming his first-career victory at the track in 2015.

Brad Keselowski –
With Keselowski's big performance and wins at Daytona and Kentucky, the Penske Racing became the first driver in the field to clinch a Chase for the Cup berth. In addition to that, his chances to win at new speedways seems very possible given his recent Daytona, Loudon and Kentucky outings. The driver of the No. 2 Ford has only six-career starts at Indianapolis. Those have yielded three Top-10 finishes but 61 laps led. Coming off the big New Hampshire performance we expect the veteran driver to show up with a fast car this weekend at the Brickyard and to post a career-best performance, possibly a race-winning performance.

Kevin Harvick –
Another great veteran driver to rely on this weekend would be Stewart Haas Racing star Harvick. The No. 4 Chevy team is a weekly contender to win as he showed at Loudon this past week, but he needs his pit crew to step it up in order to make it happen. Indianapolis has been a very good track for Harvick, with one victory, five Top 5s and nine Top 10s in 15-career starts. Harvick has led close to 200-career laps at Indianapolis Motor Speedway so he knows all too well what it takes to get to the front and stay there at this rectangular oval. Harvick's series-leading three runner-up finishes this year shows that he's a top contender to win each weekend of the season.

Denny Hamlin –
Hamlin has a series of ups-and-downs in his resume at the Brickyard, but he's come on very strong the last four seasons. After recording only two Top-10 finishes in his first six starts at Indianapolis, the driver of the No. 11 Toyota has collected two Top-5 and three Top-10 finishes in his last four starts at the rectangular oval. Over that four-race span Hamlin has led a noteworthy 49 laps. That shows that he's not just riding in line, but getting to the front and leading laps. Flat tracks have always played to Hamlin's strength as his dominance at Martinsville Speedway has shown over his career. IMS seems to be coming to him in recent outings, and that same dominance could materialize this weekend.

Solid Plays - Drivers who are near locks for the top 10 with an outside shot at winning

Joey Logano –
Logano appears to be getting back into top form. After rebounding from his Kentucky DNF and finishing a strong third at Loudon this past week, things look very good heading to the Brickyard. Based on historical numbers, the No. 22 team has this track dialed-in. In his last four starts at Indianapolis Motor Speedway he has three Top-10 finishes. That includes 28 laps led and an impressive runner-up finish in this event last year, and 10 laps led and strong fifth-place finish two seasons ago. The No. 22 Ford was powerfully fast at New Hampshire last weekend, which sets up pretty well for Indianapolis. Logano could roll a lucky number Sunday afternoon.

Matt Kenseth –
The No. 20 Toyota team has been getting better of late. Kenseth rides a two-race Top-10 streak into the Brickyard this Sunday afternoon that includes his win at New Hampshire this past weekend. The Joe Gibbs Racing star has piled up some pretty good numbers over his career at Indy. He rides a three-race Brickyard Top-10 streak into Sunday's race. At some point, JGR and this team are going to bring a car strong enough to win here. It may not happen this weekend, but he won't be far off the winner's heels judging by recent history. Toyota hasn't had much success as a whole at Indianapolis, but that seems to be changing with Kyle Busch's victory here last season. Certainly another Top-10 finish to go with his prior 10 here is in the offing.

Jeff Gordon –
With the concussion symptoms putting Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the sidelines again this week, the door gets thrown open to Gordon to step out of retirement, if for only one race. Gordon's a five-time winner of this event, including this event two years ago, and he's led well over 500 laps at Indy for his career. Gordon's historic resume at the Brickyard is proof of his high level of performance at this track. His 17 Top-10 finishes here lead all drivers by a wide margin. While there might be a tad of rust since Gordon hasn't been in the seat of a Sprint Cup car since last November, but that should fade away quickly as he attacks one of his favorite ovals.

Jimmie Johnson –
Johnson's bad luck of late is somewhat troubling coming to Indianapolis, but the No. 48 team's excellence here is too good to ignore. The six-time champion has won four of the last 10 events at the historic speedway, and that puts him second to Jeff Gordon for the all-time lead at Indy. The No. 48 team showed some signs of life at New Hampshire this past week with the pole position for that event. It shows that Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus are getting things figured out and turned around. While the Hendrick Motorsports star won't be a major threat to win this Sunday afternoon, he will be a good bet to crack the Top 10 in the Combat Wounded Coalition 400.

Sleepers - Drivers with good history at Indianapolis who can provide a solid finish

Tony Stewart –
Stewart's two wins and seven Top 5s at Indy make him one of the top drivers in the field this weekend. The fact that the owner/driver of the No. 14 Chevrolet has been one of the hottest drivers in the series the last month is the larger point. Smoke has one victory and four Top 10s in the last five events leading up to Brickyard weekend. That includes his brilliant runner-up finish at the flat oval in Loudon this past week. He and crew chief Mike Bugarewicz seem to be finally figuring things out and developing some chemistry. This is a great sign coming to Indianapolis this week. A surging Stewart racing at one of his favorite ovals is a great combination.

Kurt Busch –
The Indianapolis resume has been a mixed bag for the driver of the No. 41 Chevrolet. Busch's five Top-10 finishes in 15 starts wouldn't normally inspire much confidence entering this weekend. However, it's been the body of work this season that makes this Stewart Haas Racing driver a steady play at the Brickyard. He has three Top 10s in the last five events and he finished a steady eighth-place in this event one year ago. In the end analysis most fantasy racing players won't pick on Busch this weekend because of his spotty history at this track, but his current level of performance and last start at the Brickyard warrant a fantasy start this weekend.

Ryan Newman –
The 2013 winner of the Brickyard returns for another shot at kissing the bricks. Newman is coming off a steady seventh-place finish at Loudon and looking for more in the Combat Wounded Coalition 400. That bodes well coming to yet another flat track this Sunday afternoon. Outside of the lone victory, Newman's resume at IMS isn't very impressive, but it's what he's done here of late that makes him fantasy racing worthy. With seventh-, first- and a pair of 11th-place finishes at Indy the last four seasons, the veteran driver's performance here is swinging in the right direction. Newman should be a steady performer with a lot of upside this 400-mile event at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Martin Truex Jr. –
Truex surprised us a good bit at New Hampshire this past week. That really hasn't been a track of much success for the driver of the No. 78 Chevrolet, but he led a whopping 123 laps before finishing 16th. Had the breaks and pit strategy gone his way, Truex could have been spectacular on one of his lesser ovals. We're willing to bet he could surprise again this weekend at Indianapolis. He only has two Top 10s in 11-career starts at the historic speedway, but the two Top-10 finishes have come in just his last four starts. In this event one year ago Truex finished an impressive and career-best fourth at the Brickyard.

Kyle Larson –
The Ganassi Racing driver had some tough luck at Loudon this past week, which denied him a Top-10 finish. Larson will look to hit the reset button in the Combat Wounded Coalition 400. He's had some pretty good success in just the handful of starts he's made here to this point in his career. Larson is a perfect two-for-two in starts and Top-10 finishes at the Brickyard. Those were seventh- and ninth-place finishes the last two seasons. The driver of the No. 42 Chevrolet has proven his skill and talent at this difficult oval. Normally, Indianapolis Motor Speedway proves to be difficult to master for young drivers, but Larson has totally bucked that stereotype.

Ryan Blaney –
The driver of the No. 21 Ford rides into Indianapolis looking to build more momentum. Blaney has a pair of Top-15 finishes in the last three races, and he's fresh off a good 11th-place effort at the flat oval in New Hampshire this past week. The young driver will be making his second-career start at Indianapolis Motor Speedway this weekend. In his debut at the historic oval last year, Blaney started 30th on the grid after a poor qualifying effort. However, he would look masterful racing through the field to finish 12th in his first start at the Brickyard. Blaney learned a lot about this tricky oval in that first effort, and we're sure he'll employ those tactics again in Sunday's Combat Wounded Coalition 400.

Slow Down - Drivers to avoid this week

Dale Earnhardt Jr. –
The bad news is that Earnhardt is still struggling with nausea and balance issues with his recent concussion symptoms. The good news is that the Hendrick Motorsports star had a test this past week and it came back very positive. Earnhardt had a result that matched his baseline test of several years ago, so there is no fear of damage to his brain. At this point, it's all about waiting out these pesky symptoms that are keeping him from racing. Earnhardt will take a seat on the sidelines again this week and allow Jeff Gordon to come out of retirement for a race and take the wheel of the No. 88 Chevrolet. Gordon will give the team a lot of bang for the buck at IMS, so keep Earnhardt benched for now.

Trevor Bayne –
It's really been a career-defining season for Bayne and his Roush Fenway Racing team. He has career-best marks of four Top-10 finishes and sitting 16th in the driver standings coming to the Brickyard. However, Bayne is coming off a disappointing 23rd-place finish at New Hampshire this past week. That is an ominous sign coming the larger, but still flat track at IMS. Bayne has crashed and DNF'd in his last two Brickyard starts. In five-career starts in this high-profile race, he has only one Top-20 finish and an average finish of 31.6. Bayne could improve his averages this week, but the odds are stacked against him. There are better fantasy racing plays than Bayne this week.

Danica Patrick –
With seven-career IndyCar starts here, one podium finish and a respectable 8.7 average finish in that racing series at Indianapolis, it's hard to believe that Patrick has struggled so much in stock cars at the rectangular oval. However, she has and to an extreme degree. The Stewart Haas Racing driver has finishes of 30th-, 42nd- and 27th-place in her three starts in NASCAR at the Brickyard. Staying on the lead lap and racing competitively have been big issues for the driver of the No. 10 Chevrolet. Patrick is fresh off a strong 14th-place finish at New Hampshire this past week, but we still believe this is a week to pass up the No. 10 SHR team.

Chase Elliott –
The rookie star-in-the-making has finally hit his first rough patch this season. Elliott is mired in a four-race Top-10 drought entering this weekend. Three of those four finishes have been outside the Top 30, including his disappointment at Loudon this past week. It may take some time for the driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet to figure out what's wrong and get his amazing season back on track. Elliott does have the benefit of starting this event one year ago, so this won't be his debut at Indianapolis. He finished 18th in that race, and that may be the high water mark for this Sunday afternoon.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Taylor
Taylor is RotoWire's senior NASCAR writer. A nine-time FSWA finalist, Taylor was named the Racing Writer of the Year in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2016 and 2017. He is also a military historian, focused specifically on World War II and the U.S. Navy's efforts in the Pacific.
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