Commentary

Handicapping the Brickyard field

Updated: July 24, 2009, 3:13 PM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

What are the odds?

Can your favorite driver win the prestigious Allstate 400 at the Brickyard and kiss the bricks on the hallowed grounds of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway?

I'll give you my opinion of the chances for the good ones, the bad ones and every driver in between.

When 160 laps and 640 turns are completed at the Brickyard, the man standing in Victory Lane usually is one of the biggest names in NASCAR.

Usually, but not always. The event has given fans a few surprises since its inception in 1994. The biggest shocker probably was the 1997 victory by Ricky Rudd, the only single-car owner/driver to win the race.

Rudd played the fuel-strategy game to perfection to finish on top. Sunday is the 16th running of the event. This year could produce another owner/driver winner, but a Tony Stewart victory wouldn't shock anyone.

Bill Elliott's win in 2002 was a bit unexpected, even though he won a week earlier at Pocono, the track with the most similarities to Indy. But Elliott wouldn't have ranked as one of the favorites.

Kevin Harvick's victory one year later was his only win of the season. Ryan Newman, who won eight times that season, finished 11th after starting on the front row with Harvick.

So here goes. My odds won't jibe in lockstep with the Las Vegas betting line. Hey, what do they know?

Favorites

[+] EnlargeJimmie Johnson
AP Photo/Darron CummingsJimmie Johnson celebrated his second Brickyard victory in three years in 2008.
• Jimmie Johnson -- 9 to 5. He's won two of the past three Allstate 400s, although some might say you can throw out last year's results. Johnson prevailed in a series of 12-lap sprints of Tiregate, one of the most embarrassing moments in NASCAR history.

• Tony Stewart -- 2 to 1. No one other than Johnson or Stewart has gone to Victory Lane at Indy in the past four Allstate 400s. Stewart, the home-state hero, won in 2005 and 2007 driving for Joe Gibbs Racing.

Now he comes to Indy as the owner of Stewart-Haas Racing and the surprising Sprint Cup points leader. He's racing in equipment from Hendrick Motorsports, an organization that has six victories at the Brickyard.

• Jeff Gordon -- 3 to 1. He's the only NASCAR driver with four victories at Indy. A victory Sunday would tie Gordon with Formula One great Michael Schumacher's Indy record of five wins.

• Mark Martin -- 4 to 1. He's one of only two drivers who have competed in every Allstate 400 without winning one. But Martin has the best chance of his career to get it done. He's the season leader with four victories, including the race two weeks ago at Chicagoland Speedway.

Maybes

• Carl Edwards -- 10 to 1. He finished second last year, but Edwards has a few things going against him. He's racing for an organization -- Roush Fenway Racing -- that never has won at Indy.

Edwards also is winless this season, and a Ford driver hasn't won since February. But Edwards is due and so is Roush.

• Kasey Kahne -- 12 to 1. He won last month in the road course race at Sonoma. Why does that matter? Indy is often called a roval -- half road course, half oval -- because of its four tight turns. Kahne was second at Indy in 2005 and finished seventh last year.

• Ryan Newman -- 14 to 1. Newman has raced under the radar most of the season because his boss (Stewart) has garnered most of the attention. But Newman ranks seventh in the standings and has a car capable of finishing on top.

• Kyle Busch -- 15 to 1. Things haven't gone swimmingly for young Kyle of late, but never count him out. The big stage is where he excels. Busch has posted top-10s in three of his four Indy starts.

• Kurt Busch -- 16 to 1. He would love to be the first man to give team owner Roger Penske a NASCAR victory at Indy. Penske wouldn't have a problem finding Victory Lane. He's been there 15 times in the Indy 500.

• Denny Hamlin -- 17 to 1. Hamlin finished third last year at Indy. He's been hot lately. Hamlin has four top-5s in the past five races.

• Juan Pablo Montoya -- 18 to 1. He has a legitimate shot at becoming the first man to win both the Indy 500 and the Allstate 400.

Montoya is enjoying his best Cup season, finishing in the top 10 in five of the past six races. Montoya was involved in an accident at Indy last year, but he finished second in his first Cup start at the Brickyard in 2007.

Stranger things have happened

Kenseth
Kenseth

• Matt Kenseth -- 20 to 1. What started as perfection in 2009 with back-to-back victories has changed to a struggle just to make the Chase. But Kenseth can go 2-for-2 in the big ones if he wins Sunday. Kenseth can become the third driver to win the Daytona 500 and the Allstate 400 in the same season, joining Dale Jarrett (1996) and Johnson (2006).

• Greg Biffle -- 25 to 1. He's another driver operating under the Roush/Indy jinx. Biffle finished eighth last year, but he doesn't have a top-5 at Indy. He also hasn't posted a top-10 in the past four races, but Biff is highly motivated. He's the odd man out at the moment, only 10 points behind Kenseth for 12th.

• Marcos Ambrose -- 28 to 1. Ambrose is one of the biggest surprises this season, ranking 18th in his first full year in Cup. He finished 22nd last year at Indy in his second Cup start.

• Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- 30 to 1. NASCAR officials would be a lot happier if this was 3 to 1, but look how much more drama is involved this way. Indy is not one of Junior's better tracks. His best finish was sixth in 2006.

• Brian Vickers -- 35 to 1. He's a talented young driver who just can't seem to get over the hump with the Red Bull team. Vickers is close to taking the next step in contender status. A win at Indy would be just the boost he and Red Bull need.

• Jeff Burton -- 40 to 1. He hasn't won this season and he's driving for a Richard Childress Racing team that can't get out of its own way in 2009.

• Kevin Harvick -- 45 to 1. Same problem as Burton, but Harvick at least knows what it feels like to win at Indy. Not likely to feel it this time.

• Clint Bowyer -- 50 to 1. But we'll cut you a deal and give you this whole RCR trio at 46 to 1.

Long shots

• Joey Logano -- 60 to 1. No rookie has won the Allstate 400. Gordon won the inaugural Indy race in his second Cup season.

• Martin Truex Jr. -- 70 to 1. Maybe next year at Michael Waltrip Racing, but not this year as a lame duck at Earnhardt Ganassi Racing. Montoya is the only EGR driver who might make that happen.

• David Reutimann -- 75 to 1. If it rains, he's your man. Reutimann got Cup win No. 1 this year in a rain-shortened victory at the Coca-Cola 600.

• Elliott Sadler -- 80 to 1. Sadler gets the new Dodge engine this weekend. That's bound to help, but it will take more than a shiny new motor to get this team to Victory Lane.

Too far-fetched to believe

Labonte
Labonte
• Bobby Labonte -- 85 to 1. He won this race nine years ago. Might as well be a thousand years ago.

• Reed Sorenson -- 88 to 1. Started first and finished fifth last year at Indy. Can he do that well again? Probably not.

• Sam Hornish Jr. -- 90 to 1. One of two drivers in the field who have won here in the Indy 500. But this ain't the Indy 500 and Hornish isn't going to Victory Lane in the No. 77 Dodge.

• A.J. Allmendinger -- 95 to 1. He definitely has the right name for the place.

I don't think so

• Jamie McMurray -- 100 to 1. What happened to this guy? Only a few years ago he was one of the rising stars on NASCAR, seemingly destined for great things. Now he's an afterthought trying to keep his job.

• David Ragan -- 101 to 1. The other Roush Fenway driver (along with McMurray) who has no chance of winning.

• Casey Mears -- 125 to 1. To see a Mears go to Victory Lane again at Indy would be cool, but Casey is not his Uncle Rick and this isn't Indy car racing. Mears has been a major disappointment in his first year at RCR, but is it Casey or is it an organization on the slide?

• Robby Gordon -- 150 to 1. He's made more laps on this track than most drivers. Gordon has done the Indy 500/Coca Cola 600 double and he's had three top-5s in the Indy 500, but he doesn't have the team, car or ability to win this race.

• Michael Waltrip -- 175 to 1. Michael Waltrip Racing is vastly improved this season. But Mikey is done, ready to skip into semiretirement.

• John Andretti -- 200 to 1. The first man to do the double has one of the most famous names at the Brickyard. But the 40-year jinx of winless racing at Indy will continue for this family.

No chance in you know where

• David Stremme -- 300 to 1. Well, he is from Indiana.

• Paul Menard -- 350 to 1. His dad ran his share of Indy 500s as a team owner. But Dad's Indy experience won't help Paul in this one.

• Scott Speed -- 400 to 1. Might as well be Speed Racer while we're in fantasy land.

• Bill Elliott -- 500 to 1. Hard to believe he won here seven years ago. That was a different team and a much different situation for Awesome Bill.

• Terry Labonte -- 600 to 1. He has a free pass into the field as the most recent past Cup champion without a guaranteed spot. But he would need a golden pass from Zeus himself to win Sunday.

Just making laps

• The qualifiers -- 1000 to 1 for the whole lot. Eleven drivers are vying for seven available spots on the starting grid. They can make the race and get a sweet paycheck. More power to them. But they can't win.

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