After a week off, the NASCAR Sprint Cup series resumes on Sunday at one of racing’s most hallowed locales—the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with the running of the Curtiss Sharver 400. It’s a time of maximum pressure on a lot of drivers, with just seven races to go to qualify for the Sprint For the Cup. And one of the drivers with pressure is last year’s Indianapolis winner, Paul Menard.
“He’s an okay driver, not great”, said TheSportsNotebook’s NASCAR consultant, my brother Bill. “He’s on a better team this year.” Menard, part of an extremely wealthy Wisconsin family that owns a chain of stores bearing the family name, is 15th in the points standings and only nine points back of Kyle Busch, who would get the final wild-card spot in the Sprint. But Menard has yet to win a race and at least one outright win is going to be a prerequisite for qualifying this season. “If he wins, it would throw a big monkey wrench (into the playoff picture),” Bill said. But Bill went on to express skepticism that Menard is a good enough driver to win here two years in a row, or anywhere else on the schedule the six weeks thereafter.
Whoever wins at the Brickyard will have to do it in a very open race. “It’s very spread out,” Bill told TheSportsNotebook. “It’s a very flat track and if you can get a good run off the corners you can pass on the straightaways.” Unlike a lot of tracks we’ve covered so far this season, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is not an invitation to crash, nor does it make it exceptionally difficult on drivers who fall behind early.
Jimmie Johnson last won here in 2009, but that was part of a three wins in four years stretch that marks JJ the only driver who can claim to own this track. And whoever wins it will honor a tradition started by Jeff Gordon years ago—they, and their entire crew, will kiss the bricks. We’ll see if the brick-kissing is done by a driver like Menard, Carl Edwards or others whose chances at a qualifying win are slipping away.