RotoWire Partners

Samuel Deeds 400 Preview: Motor Racing's Field of Dreams

Mark Taylor

Taylor is RotoWire's senior NASCAR writer. A four-time FSWA award winner, Taylor was named the 2016 Racing Writer of the Year. He is also a military historian, specifically the World War II U.S. Navy in the Pacific.

After a week off the Sprint Cup Series heads to historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway for this weekend's Samuel Deeds 400. The Brickyard will play host to 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 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 to keep up with the changing handling conditions throughout the event. Goodyear has been able to develop a great tire for stock cars at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the last few seasons, so expect solid racing and for tire wear not to be an issue Sunday afternoon. The long green flag runs that are commonplace at Indy could bring the fuel-mileage factor into the strategy this weekend, so we'll need to keep that detail in the back of our minds when making our driver list this week. Despite the fact that we'll be racing with the new Gen-6 car for the first time at Indianapolis, the setup for this race seems pretty predictable. The rectangular oval has hosted 19 Sprint Cup Series events to this point, so we have some very longstanding data on how the drivers perform at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The rectangular oval at Indianapolis is perhaps the most unique track that the series visits each year. No other track on the circuit has enough comparable characteristics to draw a reasonable comparison. Before last week's off-date, 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 eight NASCAR races at Indy. Since the Sprint Cup Series only races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway once a season, this span will cover the last eight years and should give us a good statistical tool to evaluate the drivers for this weekend's Crown Royal Samuel Deeds 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 from a driver rating standpoint, and he's just recently taken that position atop the list. Tony Stewart leads from an average finish standpoint, and for years has been a top performer at the historic speedway. Both drivers are performing well right now and come to the Brickyard with very high expectations. The following table has the loop stats from the last eight years or eight races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Jimmie Johnson15.3176144229897106.3
Tony Stewart7.123892121877102.8
Mark Martin7.622038241,067102.5
Jeff Gordon8.92409844961101.8
Greg Biffle11.820558531,02798.6
Kyle Busch11.8219394290996.6
Juan Pablo Montoya22.211610520261895.9
Matt Kenseth14.6194162994394.7
Kasey Kahne16.9210588892694.0
Kevin Harvick12.3190284185091.9
Denny Hamlin16.7166405365289.9
Jeff Burton18.8147379770587.9
Clint Bowyer12.315412269486.7
Brad Keselowski 12.348293919684.7
Carl Edwards13.320042558382.7
A.J. Allmendinger17.0831426080.7
Dale Earnhardt Jr.22.3174244860180.2
Jamie McMurray16.3120142147379.4
Aric Almirola19.020004673.7
Joey Logano19.8830021073.7

Recent history has shown us that Chevrolet has a complete stranglehold on this historic venue. The last 10 victories at Indy have gone to Chevrolet drivers of various camps. Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart alone have won six of those 10 victories at IMS. These dominant drivers are set up to be the focus of attention again this weekend. With Stewart starting to find his stride right now and Johnson beginning to rediscover his race-winning groove, the duo should step up their games to mount a challenge for the win at Indianapolis. Last year's 400-mile race at motor racing's "Field of Dreams" saw the No. 48 team and driver Johnson take control late and hold off Kyle Busch and Greg Biffle to win his third Brickyard trophy in the last five years. Considering the current momentum of the five-time champion, we could easily see Johnson extend his streak of dominance at the rectangular oval. With the resurgence of Brad Keselowski at New Hampshire, we can't overlook Ford's opportunity to upstage Chevy this weekend. Drivers like Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards and Keselowski are more than capable of pulling the upset in this Sunday's Samuel Deeds 400. As for Toyota, their chances of winning a first Brickyard 400 trophy will primarily fall on Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth. The two stars are racing the most consistently in that manufacturer's camp and both will be looking forward to their first chance to kiss the bricks at Indianapolis. We'll take a look at the Johnson/Stewart combo 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

Tony Stewart -
Stewart's two wins and six Top-5s at Indy make him the class of the field this weekend. The fact that the owner/driver of the No. 14 Chevrolet already has one win to this point in the season is just further evidence that Smoke is in race winning form this year. Considering that Stewart had a victory snatched away from him by an empty gas tank at New Hampshire in our most recent race illustrates that he's capable of being in contention at the end of any race right now. Stewart is one of only three multi-race winners at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and that fact puts him in some pretty select company.

Jimmie Johnson -
Johnson's luck at Indianapolis really turned in the past few seasons. The bad luck has evaporated and now the wins are pouring in. The five-time champion has won four of the last seven events at the historic speedway, and that ties him with teammate Jeff Gordon for the all-time lead at Indy. The No. 48 team is sitting on four wins to this point in the season, so the Hendrick Motorsports star has great potential to kiss the bricks this Sunday afternoon at Indianapolis. Given that Johnson won this event one year ago in one of his most dominant Brickyard performances ever, he's got a lot of reputation on the line in defending this event crown.

Matt Kenseth -
The No. 20 Toyota team has been strong of late, with Kenseth entering this event with four victories in 2013. He has been one of the more dominant drivers on the larger (horsepower) speedways. Kenseth will get arguably his best shot ever at kissing the bricks this Sunday afternoon at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. To this point in his career he's only cracked the Top 5 on five occasions at the historical oval. He's led only 39 laps and never really has been a contender to win here. That will all change this weekend. Not only will Kenseth have his best shot at winning this prestigious race, but he'll carry the hopes of Toyota high into IMS. This manufacturer has never tasted victory in the Brickyard 400, but Kenseth could erase that this Sunday afternoon.

Kyle Busch -
The Joe Gibbs Racing star will attempt to win his first Brickyard 400 this weekend. Busch enters the weekend seventh in the overall standings and with two victories already this season. The Brickyard has held a lot of success for him over the years. Six Top 10s in eight starts just speaks to his excellence at this historic track. The way this No. 18 team is performing at the moment, we wouldn't rule anything out for Busch. Even though he's only led 42 laps over those eight starts at IMS, he's at the front enough to give due consideration. This could be the weekend where Busch finally tastes Indianapolis glory.

Solid Plays - Drivers who are near locks for a Top 10 and have an outside shot at winning

Jeff Gordon -
Outside of Tony Stewart, Gordon has one of the longest and most impressive resumes of NASCAR racing Indianapolis. The Hendrick Motorsports veteran might be looking at his best chance to get back into victory lane at the Brickyard in a long time in this weekend's race. Gordon's a four-time winner of this event and he's led close to 500 laps at Indy for his career. His last win came here in 2004, but he's flirted with kissing the bricks more than once recently. Gordon's second- and fifth-place finishes each of the last two years at Indianapolis are proof of his high level of performance at this track. The driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet should be a steady Top-5 finisher at IMS.

Mark Martin -
2013 has proved to be a very fruitful season for the Michael Waltrip Racing No. 55 Toyota team. Fresh off Brian Vickers' victory at New Hampshire, the team welcomes back veteran Martin to fill the seat in the wake of that win. The veteran of 31 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series seasons has some truly impressive career numbers at the rectangular oval in Indiana. Martin has 19 career starts at IMS, so he's not short on experience at this facility. Martin boasts an impressive 58 percent Top 10 rate at Indy and recent finishes of second-, 11th-, eighth- and 11th-place in the last four seasons. The No. 55 Toyota team is a safe solid play this weekend.

Brad Keselowski -
With Keselowski's big pole position and fourth-place finish at New Hampshire, the Penske Racing star served notice that he will be a Chase participant later this season. Not only that, but his long dry spell in 2013 appears to be over. He snapped a five-race Top-10 drought with his performance at Loudon. The driver of the No. 2 Ford has only three career starts at Indianapolis. Those have yielded finishes of 19th- and a pair of ninth-place finishes the last two years. Coming off the big New Hampshire performance we expect the defending Sprint Cup champion to show up with a fast car this weekend at the Brickyard and to build on that short but successful resume at this historic track.

Kevin Harvick -
Another good, veteran driver to rely on this weekend would be Richard Childress Racing star Harvick. The No. 29 Chevy team is racing extremely well right now and Harvick rides a nine-race Top-10 streak into the weekend. Indianapolis has been a very good track for him, with one victory, four Top 5s and seven Top 10s in 12 career starts. Harvick has led close to 100 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. The venue and the current streak are good enough to give a hearty endorsement to this driver and team for Sunday afternoon's Samuel Deeds 400.

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

Kurt Busch -
At times this season it may seem as though we're cheerleading Busch by listing him in the sleepers list for tracks that he's not so notable. However, it's the current performance that this team is experiencing that forces us to buck historical trends for the veteran driver. Busch had about the best car on the track at New Hampshire two weeks ago when the Sprint Cup Series was last in action. He would have likely won the 301-mile affair at Loudon, but Busch was caught up in someone else's mistake. The No. 78 team should rise to the occasion once more and bring a fast car to Indianapolis. Busch has four career Top 10s at the track, most of which came earlier in his career at Roush Fenway Racing. He'll look like the driver of old once more at IMS.

Kasey Kahne -
The Hendrick Motorsports star has a mixed resume at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Kahne has 88 career laps led, two Top-5 and four Top-10 finishes in nine Brickyard 400 starts. When he's not hitting the big finishes and paydays in this prestigious race, he's had some pretty tough outcomes. We're reminding of Kahne's big crash in turn 2 and DNF here in 2007 when he was racing for owner Ray Evernham. However, most of Kahne's Indy heartbreak lies squarely in the distant past. Four of his last five trips to the historic oval have netted Top-15 finishes with two of those being Top-10 finishes. The driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet should be a big upside player in the Samuel Deeds 400.

Clint Bowyer -
Bowyer has been pretty consistent the last month of NASCAR racing, and that includes his series-leading three Top-5 finishes in the last four races. The Michael Waltrip Racing star has managed a very respectable 12.3 average finish at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in seven career starts. That includes two Top-10 finishes and no finishes outside the Top 20. The Brickyard has never reached out and bitten Bowyer so that's a measure of confidence you can bank on if you roll him in your fantasy lineups this weekend. Considering how well the No. 15 Toyota team has performed this season, we have high hopes for them at Indianapolis.

Jamie McMurray -
The 2010 winner of the Brickyard 400 is solidly in the sleepers list this week. While this season has been a campaign of ups-and-downs for the No. 1 Chevy team, there have been some bright spots along the way. McMurray has always been a top performer at the historic rectangular oval. The Earnhardt Ganassi racing veteran has good career numbers at this facility, and will likely field a fast car this Sunday afternoon at Indianapolis. McMurray's 50 percent career Top 10 rate at the Brickyard makes this one of his most successful venues on the circuit.

Martin Truex Jr. -
The Michael Waltrip Racing driver has been a great performer the last month of the season. He snapped a long winless slump with his victory at Sonoma, and he posted an impressive Top 10 at Kentucky recently. The disappointments of Daytona and Loudon have cooled the No. 56 team a bit, but the week off should help Truex to refocus on his pursuit of the Chase. Truex has not typically been a big time performer at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He sports only one Top-10 finish in eight career starts at the track, but it was his most recent effort that yielded that eighth-place finish at IMS. Flat ovals have traditionally be strong venues for Truex. We believe he'll rebound in the Samuel Deeds 400.

Paul Menard -
The 2011 Indianapolis winner returns to the scene of his big upset victory two years ago to take another go at kissing the bricks. Menard shocked the NASCAR world in that race when he out-dueled stars like Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart in the closing laps and won at the historic speedway where he'd never cracked the Top 10 before. Menard will be hard-pressed to equal that feat this weekend, but he should be able to maintain a high level of performance at Indianapolis. The RCR driver posted a steady 14th-place finish in his follow-up performance at IMS last season, so he should be a steady performer in the Samuel Deeds 400.

A.J. Allmendinger -
The journeyman driver will take the wheel of the No. 51 Chevrolet this week and make his fifth career start at the Brickyard. Allmendinger has one Top-10 and three Top-20 finishes in those four prior starts, so very respectable results come from his limited numbers. He recently raced in the prestigious Indy 500 this past May and had a near-brush with victory lane in that first start in an IRL car at the historic oval. Allmendinger led 23 laps during the middle-stages of the race, and only a broken seat harness prevented him from challenging for the win. He finished an impressive seventh in his first Indy 500 start. Allmendinger should be up to the task of a good run this Sunday afternoon.

Flops - Drivers to avoid at all costs

Denny Hamlin -
Hamlin has a series of ups-and-downs in his resume at the Brickyard. With only three Top-10 finishes in seven career starts, it might seem as if we should lay off the No. 11 Toyota team this weekend. What is most troubling is his recent level of performance. The Sprint Cup Series just left New Hampshire Motor Speedway, one of Hamlin's better venues. The Joe Gibbs Racing star had a shocking disappearance in a race he normally dominates. It's just one more bad performance in what has been a tumultuous year for the driver of the No. 11 Toyota. Hamlin brings a lot of upside, but he also brings a lot more risk to Indianapolis this weekend.

Ryan Newman -
The driver of the No. 39 Chevrolet has had some headwinds heading into the Crown Royal Samuel Deeds 400 this weekend. Newman wrecked and DNF'd in our last race at New Hampshire, and that spurred a battle of words between him and driver Kyle Busch. That was enough fodder to get the NASCAR press through the off-week and into Indianapolis week. That's not the impression one wants to carry into a big race. Newman's Indianapolis dossier shows only two career Top 10s in 12 starts at the rectangular oval. That works out to a sub-par 19.1 average finish for the Stewart Haas veteran at IMS. That makes it far from his best racing facility on the Sprint Cup circuit.

Joey Logano -
Logano appears to have derailed from his early-summer hot streak in each of the last two races. Consecutive 40th-place finishes at Daytona and Loudon ended what was a string of five Top-10 finishes in the prior six races. The Penske Racing driver will attempt to shake this slump at the Brickyard on Sunday afternoon. Based on historical numbers, it will be a difficult trick to pull for Logano. In four prior starts at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, he has only one Top-10 finish compared to two finishes outside the Top 20. Logano has never led a lap at IMS and he's only qualified inside the Top 10 on one occasion. The streak and the numbers suggest a Logano fantasy racing "pass" in the Samuel Deeds 400.

Juan Pablo Montoya -
The 2013 season has been a real puzzle for the Columbian racing star. Montoya is 23rd in the championship standings and is in serious jeopardy of missing the field for the Chase for the Cup. Considering the EGR star's background in open-wheel racing and experience at Indianapolis, it almost seems counterintuitive to put Montoya in the flops list this week. However, the driver of the No. 42 Chevy has some lopsided numbers at the famous speedway, at least racing in stock cars. Montoya sports only one Top-10 finish in six career starts at the Brickyard and that nets a lowly 22.2 average finish. That's not the fantasy racing help you're looking for this Sunday afternoon.