Commentary

Big names seek elusive win at Indy

Updated: July 25, 2009, 2:41 PM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

Four of the best drivers in NASCAR history have won the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard: Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson.

Three others who won a Cup title have gone to Victory Lane at Indianapolis: Bill Elliott, Bobby Labonte and Dale Jarrett twice.

But some of the biggest names in Cup today still long for that first victory at Indy. That list also includes a couple of team owners who haven't won a NASCAR event on the historic 2.5-mile rectangle.

[+] EnlargeJeff Gordon
AP Photo/Tom StricklandJeff Gordon, who won the inaugural Brickyard race in 1994, became NASCAR's only four-time winner at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2004.

Here's my list of the Unlucky Eight, some of NASCAR's finest who haven't found a way to win in the sport's second-biggest event:

1. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: He's not the best driver to go winless at Indy, but he's certainly the biggest name without a victory at the Brickyard.

This race is Earnhardt's opportunity to salvage something meaningful out of a miserable season. A victory would mark one more accomplishment where he could stand with his legendary father. Dale Sr. won at Indy in 1995.

Earnhardt Jr. made a stop at Indy two weeks ago before the Chicago race and talked about what it would mean to win the Allstate 400.

"It's really hard to put it into words what it would feel like," he said. "This is one of the most prestigious races in our series. I think about all the drivers that were here, drivers like [Mario] Andretti and [A.J.] Foyt and the guys even before them."

Earnhardt knows his history when it comes to Indy.

"I think about this track and how it survived the war, closed down and opened back up and everything that it's been through," he said. "And I remember when we first brought stock cars here.

"It was a realization for a lot of people, including myself, being an aspiring driver at the time, that I may have a chance one day to race at Indianapolis."

Earnhardt can take comfort in knowing he is driving for an organization that has won more Cup races at Indy than any other NASCAR team. Hendrick Motorsports has six victories: four by Gordon and two by Johnson, including last year.

"It's an honor to run here," Earnhardt said. "And to win at this racetrack, regardless of the series, I think is great for any driver's r#&233;sumé, not only in North America but the world. This place is second to none when it comes to history, and when you think about motorsports, you think about Indy."

2. Mark Martin: The wily old workhorse is enjoying the best season of his career at age 50, so why not become the first man to win at the Brickyard in his fifth decade on the planet?

Martin and Jeff Burton are the only drivers who have competed in all 15 Allstate 400s without winning. Martin finished second in 1999. Burton was fifth that year while both men were driving for Jack Roush.

Martin is coming off a win at Chicagoland Speedway in the previous Cup event, which was a series-best fourth of the season. He tested at Indy earlier and was thrilled with how well the No. 5 Chevy ran.

"Oh, yeah, it was obscene how fast it was," Martin said on "NASCAR Now." "We have every expectation of going there and battling our teammates to win the thing. It would really mean a lot to me to see all the guys on the 5 team kissing the bricks."

[+] EnlargeDale Earnhardt
AP PhotoDale Earnhardt won the second Brickyard race in 1995, but a victory at the famed speedway has eluded his son Dale Earnhardt Jr.

3. Jack Roush: Indy and Chicagoland Speedway are the only tracks on the Cup schedule where Roush hasn't gone to Victory Lane.

A win this weekend would be a huge boost to Roush Fenway Racing and Ford, which hasn't won a race since February.

A Roush driver has finished second four times: Martin in 1999, Carl Edwards last year and Matt Kenseth in 2003 and 2006.

4. Carl Edwards: He's one of the victims of the Roush jinx at Indy. The theme is the same: close but no victory.

Edwards finished second last year in the infamous tire debacle. He was ninth at Indy in 2006 and never has finished worse than 18th in four Indy starts.

"This is the most renowned speedway in the world," Edwards told ESPN in a TV interview. "I don't think there's a more important track than Indianapolis."

Edwards made his first trip to the Brickyard long before he became a Cup driver. He was working for Ken Schrader's Cup team.

"Well, I didn't really work there," Edwards said. "They let me hang out for a couple summers in high school when they would test at Indy. I polished the wheels on the truck and they let me put fuel in the car when it came in during a test.

"I just dreamed of being able to race there. One yellow shirt [security] official let me walk out on the straightway. Man, I couldn't have been happier."

Happy is not the way Edwards feels while trying to make fast laps on the 2.5-mile rectangle.

"It's such a prestigious track, but man it is hard to get around that place," Edwards said. "It's hard to pass and it's a real precision racetrack, so to get around it you've got to really thread the needle through the turns.

"Entering Turn 1 and Turn 3, you go in at such a high speed [about 205 mph] that you kind of hold your breath. Everyone respects those 90-degree corners."

5. Kyle Busch: Oh, what a scene it would be if the man so many fans love to hate were to win at the Brickyard.

It could happen. Busch has three top-10s in four Indy starts. His worst finish was 15th last year after making the move to Joe Gibbs Racing.

But JGR won two of the previous four Allstate 400s when Tony Stewart was driving the No. 20 car. Maybe that's better news for Joey Logano than Busch since Logano took over for Stewart.

Busch needs a good run this weekend to get out of the danger zone in the race for the Chase. He's 10th in the standings, but only 13 points ahead of Greg Biffle in 13th.

6. Kurt Busch: Indy is one of only four tracks -- including Kansas, Charlotte and Texas -- where neither of the Busch brothers has gone to Victory Lane in a Cup race.

Kurt and Matt Kenseth are the only former Cup champions racing full time who have not won at Indy.

Kurt also has raced for the two best team owners to go winless in the Allstate 400: Jack Roush and Roger Penske.

7. Roger Penske: He has a record 15 victories in the Indy 500 as a team owner, but he's 0-for-15 in Cup.

Rusty Wallace was a runner-up three times at Indy (1995, 2000 and 2002) while driving for Penske.

Kurt Busch probably is the only Penske driver with a shot at winning this time. But Penske does have Sam Hornish Jr., one of the two drivers in the field who have won the Indy 500. The other is Juan Pablo Montoya.

8. Matt Kenseth: He finished second twice at the Brickyard, but he's hoping for a little historical help this time.

Kenseth could become the third driver to win the Allstate 400 and the Daytona 500 in the same season. Jarrett did it in 1996 and Johnson got the prestigious double in 2006.

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. His book, "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Blount can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter