The Brickyard has hype on its side, that's for sure.
Yeah, I mean, it's pretty cool that NASCAR rides at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. This place has 100 years of history and means a lot to racing fans of all stripes. So I don't want to be cynical about Sunday's race, the winner of which will be thrilled to kiss that yard of bricks. But the race itself, I'm sorry to report, is likely to be a little bit boring.
Like Pocono Raceway, Indy lends itself to long green-flag runs and precious little passing. There haven't been many dramatic finishes at this place in Sprint Cup racing, and I don't expect this weekend's race to be any different. A few guys will separate themselves from the field and ride around struggling to change the running order. Eight of the 14 Cup winners at this track have started inside the top 10, and only three have started outside the top 20. Four out of the past six winners here have led the most laps. Whereas the Indy cars hardly ever fail to produce a thriller at this venue, the lumbering Cup cars hardly ever produce real racing memories.
But the race means a lot because folks say it does, which, frankly, is as good a reason as any. I'll certainly be watching. Crew chiefs have a daunting challenge, because this is a very aerosensitive track that nonetheless requires both huge horsepower to get down the massive straightaways and giant brake packages to get the lumbering Car of Tomorrow stopped going into the shallow-banked turns. As I just mentioned, the track that drives most similar to Indy is Pocono (in fact, Turn 2 at Pocono is modeled after the turns at Indy), so that'll be where we get our best data for Sunday's race.
"Given To Fly" (Featured elite drivers)
(Last Race: Matt Kenseth, 7th; Jimmie Johnson, 2nd)
Kasey Kahne had the day's dominant car at Pocono, so I'll give him the nod as my favorite fantasy driver for Sunday. In fact, Kahne was leading and had a horrible pit stop in that Pocono race in June, having to go all the way to the rear of the field, but still was able to pass every single car and go on to his second win of 2008. And while it was in the old car, Kahne also has a couple good results at IMS: he finished fourth here in '04 and second here in '05.
I'm also looking at Denny Hamlin. He's the most consistent Pocono driver currently on the Cup circuit, plus he had a top-5 run going in the Brickyard last season, when he stalled during a late pit stop and went a lap down. It's always scary picking Hamlin because his luck seems like it's about the worst in the sport, but every dog has his day, right?
"Rearview Mirror" (Midrange drivers of note)
(Last Race: Brian Vickers, 6th; David Ragan, 8th)
Brian Vickers is becoming a regular in this section of STBC, and why not? Vickers has seven straight finishes of 16th or better, and also finished second at Pocono in June (and was sixth at Chicagoland two weeks ago). Plus, even driving in Team Red Bull's erratic first season in '07, Vickers managed to qualify for the Brickyard and finished a respectable 21st. Given the strides that this Toyota team has made in '08, I'd expect him to improve significantly on Sunday.
I'll also go with Mark Martin, who is telling reporters he expects to win this weekend. While I think that's a bit ambitious (does Martin not say that most weekends?), Martin does have a top-10 finish in four of the past five Brickyards, and he posted a 10th-place finish at Pocono in June. I don't think DEI quite has the horses right now to win races, but Martin's steady hand should get him near contention.
"Not For You" (Beware of this driver)
(Last Race: Clint Bowyer, 22nd)
This section of STBC is devoted to finding the guys who, statistically speaking, don't excel on the present week's track and/or track style. I'm not definitively predicting a guy will stink at this week's race; rather, I'm saying there are more consistent fantasy options elsewhere. This week, I'm staying away from Greg Biffle. Biffle hasn't fared well the past couple seasons at Pocono, hasn't topped 15th place here in Indy in the past three years, and is driving best this year on the high-banked cookie-cutter tracks. IMS certainly isn't one of those. I'll invest my high fantasy dollars elsewhere this week.
"Nothing As It Seems" (Weekly sleepers)
(Last Race: Travis Kvapil, 41st; Paul Menard, 26th)
He has to qualify on time Friday, but if he does, I like AJ Allmendinger to potentially threaten the top 20 on Sunday. Allmendinger finished a surprising 12th at Pocono in the COT in June, and finished 13th in Chicagoland two weeks ago; those are the two best Sprint Cup finishes of his career. And because I like Toyota horsepower so much this season, I'll also look at David Reutimann. Using the same logic that led me to Allmendinger also highlights Reutimann: he finished 19th at Pocono, and finished 14th at Chicagoland, the best finish of his Sprint Cup career, as well.
Christopher Harris is a fantasy baseball, football and racing analyst for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writing Association award winner.
You can e-mail him here.