The MENCS drivers will have one more chance to qualify for the playoffs if they are not already locked in. The drivers who already have their spot will be trying to collect playoff points and move further into the top 10. Each spot in the top 10 regular season standings is worth points. These bonus points could be the difference between moving on in the playoffs and being eliminated. It should be fun to see the drivers battle it out at the Brickyard. The Big Machine Vodka Brickyard 400 can be seen Sunday at 2 p.m. ET on NBC.
Tires will not be as important as it was last week at Darlington. Goodyear brought a new tire to the track this week. It is the same tire compound which was run in the two races at Pocono this season. Each will receive 3 sets of tires for practice and 1 set for qualifying. They can take one of their sets from either practice or qualifying and use it as a spare set for the race.
The cars will have the 550 HP engines with the 2” splitter, 8” spoiler and aero ducts. This race should be similar to what we saw at Pocono. There will be a lot of drafting but not a lot of passing. I am using the stats from the two races at the Tricky Triangle for my picks this week.
NASCAR will inspect the cars before qualifying so we do not need to worry about any drivers losing their starting position and going to the back Sunday night.
Chase Elliott: Indianapolis ranks as the worst track for Elliott. His average finishing position at the track is 21.75. He ranks 9th in races with the 550 HP aero package this year and he finished 4th and 38th in the two races at Pocono. Elliott made some long runs and said, “I can get in pretty deep but it gets squirly on the exit.”
Jimmie Johnson: Johnson needs a win or a terrific points race Sunday. He is 18 points behind the cutoff line. Johnson only ranks 17th in races with the 550 HP aero package this season. His average finishing position in those races is 16.1. Johnson only has 1 top-10 finish at the Brickyard since 2014. Johnson got loose in practice and came really close to hitting the wall. He said the car has not front grip. The team trimmed out the car with their qualifying setup and Johnson went to the top of the speed chart. Jeff Gordon is in the garage working with the No. 48 team. That has to help.
Alex Bowman: Indianapolis ranks as the worst track for Bowman. He has competed 3 times at the track and Bowman finished 33rd, 43rd and 40th. Not good. He did not have much luck at Pocono either this year. Bowman finished 20th and 12th in the 2 races. Bowman said, “I am fighting tight as expected. Especially off of one. It is edgy everywhere but turn one is the where it is too tight.”
William Byron: Byron should be the best driver for Hendrick Motorsports this week. He won the Xfinity Series race at Indianapolis last year by out-running Kyle Busch and Joey Logano. He also finished 4th and 9th at Pocono this year. Byron ranks 13th in races where the 550 HP aero package was used this season. Byron made a long run and said, “Not bad. The front left is hitting the track on entry and exit. That is the only complaint.”
Kyle Larson: Larson is on a hot streak right now. He finished 2nd, 6th, 3rd, 8th and 5th in the last 5 races. That includes a top-5 finish in the Pocono race in late July. Larson ranks 8th in races where the 550 HP aero package was used this year. He has finished 3 of 5 races at Indianapolis in the top 10. Larson liked his car. He said, “It is pretty good. It starts off tight but loosens up through the run. I feel it has good speed though.”
Kurt Busch: Busch has been the most consistent driver for Chevy this year. He ranks 8th in races where the 550 HP aero package has been used and he has a 11th place average finishing position in those race. Busch finished 6th at the Brickyard last year. Busch liked his car. He said, “It was a little darty on the entry to 3 but it could have just been me. I like the consistency though. Each lap feels pretty fast.”
Kevin Harvick: Harvick has not won at Indianapolis since 2003 but he has not finished outside the top 8 at the track since 2013. Harvick ranks 2nd in races where the 550 HP aero package has been used this season and his average finishing position is 9.1 in those races. Spotter Tim Fedewa told Harvick, “You are the fastest on the track. No one can hug the line as close as you are doing.”
Clint Bowyer: Bowyer needs as many points as possible Sunday. He is currently 8 points above the cut line for the final playoff position. Bowyer has the 2nd best Driver Ranking at Indianapolis so this could be a good week for him. He finished 5th and 11th in the 2 races at Pocono. Bowyer was complaining that the splitter was dragging through the corner. He said, “Did we start with low air-pressure because the first couple of laps the splitter is digging into the track? It gets better but it screws up the beginning of the run.” The team tells him, “Yes… we will raise it up on the next run.”
Daniel Suarez: Suarez currently sits on the cutline for the playoffs. He is tied with Ryan Newman. He needs points and Indianapolis is an easy track to use pit strategy and fuel strategy to steal Stage points. Suarez only ranks 16th in races where the 550 HP aero package has been used but he does have an 11.1 average finishing position.
Aric Almirola: Almirola is in a slump right now. He has a 26.3 average finishing position since the start of August. Almirola was able to finish 10th and 12th in the 2 races at Pocono but he has NEVER finished in the top 10 at Indianapolis. Almirola did not like his car in first practice. He said, “Center – Off is way too tight. I cannot get back to the throttle until I complete the corner.”
Brad Keselowski: Keselowski won the race at Indianapolis last year and finished 2nd at the track in 2017. He has to be the favorite to win this week. Keselowski ranks 6th in races where the 550 HP aero package has been used and that includes 2 wins (Atlanta and Kansas). Keselowski said, “It drives a lot better in clean air then it does in traffic. I am bouncing around when I get in traffic so we can either fix it or make sure I am in the lead all day.” Paul Wolfe told him to bring it in and they will put some more handling into the car.
Joey Logano: Logano needs to turn his season around before the playoffs begin. He has not finished in the top 10 since the race at New Hampshire on July 21st. Logano does rank 3rd in races where the 550 HP aero package has been used and he finished 5 of the last 6 races at the Brickyard in the top 8 so there is hope for him this week. The No. 22 was the test car for Team Penske this week. Logano made three runs in the first practice with different setups. They then chose the best for final practice.
Ryan Blaney: Blaney has not been very good at the Brickyard in his career. He has a 20.5 average finishing position in his 4 races at the track. He did finish 11th though last year. Blaney ranks 10th in races where the 550 HP aero package has been used. His average finishing position in those races is 16.6. Blaney liked the speed of the car down the front and back stretches but said it needed to run the line (bottom of the track) a little better.
Paul Menard: Indianapolis ranks as the best track for Menard. He went to Victory Lane and kissed the bricks in 2011. Menard will have some momentum after his 9th place finish at Darlington last week. Menard finished 18th in both races at Pocono this year but he usually runs better at Indianapolis than he does at the Tricky Triangle. Menard switched to the setup of the No. 22 car for final practice. He went out and posted the 8th fastest lap on his first run.
Kyle Busch: All the stats point to Busch winning the race Sunday. Busch ranks No. 1 in races where the 550 HP aero package has been used this season, he has the best Driver Rating at Indianapolis (113.4) and he won at Pocono earlier this season. Busch has won 2 of the last 4 Brickyard 400s. Busch was quiet on the radio which usually means he was happy with the car. He did say, “We need to have a happy-medium between handling and speed. I would rather give up a few qualifying spots so it is drivable in the race.” Adam Stevens said, “I’ll try to get you both.
Erik Jones: Jones will have a lot of momentum after his win last week at Darlington. He finished 2nd at Indianapolis last year so he has the talent to run up front at this track. Jones finished 2nd and 3rd in the 2 races at Pocono this year so he has been the best driver on the large flat tracks. Jones said, “It gets lazy on entry. I get to the brakes and it just does not want to turn as fast as I need it too. Not bad on center and a little tight on exit.” The team said they had a plan to fix it.
Denny Hamlin: Hamlin has to be a favorite this week. He won the race at Pocono in late July, he has finished 5 of the last 6 races this season in the top 3, and he ranks 4th in races where the 550 HP aero package has been used this season. Hamlin said the car turns really good in the corners but was dragging the splitter on entry. They worked to raise it up. At the end of practice Hamlin slammed the wall hard. The car caught fire. The team will go to a backup car and Hamlin will start last and be scored from his qualifying position Sunday.
Martin Truex Jr.: Indianapolis ranks as the worst track for Truex and it is not even close. He finished 40th and 33rd in his last 2 Brickyard 400s. He ran well in the July race at Pocono (finished 3rd) but he had engine failure in the June race (finished 35th). Truex is a boom or bust pick this week. Truex was not very happy with his car. He said it was too tight all through the corner. Cole Pearn made a lot of changes between the two practice sessions and Truex said, “I am just not sure what I am supposed to feel here. It seems like we never get it dialed in the way we need to at this track.”
Matt DiBenedetto: Do not look at past results at Indianapolis when evaluating DiBenedetto this week. He is running very well right now. DiBenedetto has a 9.6 average finishing position in his last 6 races. DiBenedetto finished 17th in his 2 races at Pocono this season. He should be better than that Sunday. The No. 95 team had to serve a 15-minute penalty in practice. Matt-D said, “I am still sliding the corners really bad. It gets more severe the deeper we get into the run.
Daniel Hemric: Hemric will be making his first start in the MENCS at Brickyard. He has 2 races at the Brickyard on his Xfinity Series resume. Hemric finished 5th and 8th in those races. He also finished 7th and 13th in his 2 races at Pocono this season so Hemric could be a sneaky good sleeper pick this week. Hemric made some laps in qualifying trim and said, “The car will likely qualify well but it really does not like traffic.”
Austin Dillon: Dillon has not been very good in races where the 550 HP aero package has been used this season. He ranks 20th in those races and Dillon has a 21.5 average finishing position. Dillon finished 37th and 19th in the 2 races at Pocono this season so it is tough to trust the No. 3 car this week.
Ty Dillon: Dillon won the Xfinity Series race at Indianapolis in 2014 so this has to be one of his favorite tracks. He has 2 starts in the Cup Series at the Brickyard. Dillon finished 19th in 2017 and 21st last year. Dillon could be a good DFS pick if he qualifies deep in field. Dillon made some long runs and said, “That helped the entry but hurt the exit.” He was 20th fastest at the time.
Chris Buescher: Buescher is having a fantastic season. He has finished 14 races in a row in the top 18. That is awesome for a team with their funding. Buescher finished 14th and 16th in his 2 races at Pocono this season. He is a great value pick in DFS this week. Buescher said, “I am a little on the free side but I do not want any major changes. I like it more free than tight.”
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Indianapolis ranks as the worst track for Stenhouse. He has a 27.5 average finishing position in his 6 races at the Brickyard. Stenhouse finished 32nd and 21st in the 2 races at Pocono this season so he has not had much success on the large flat tracks in 2019.
Ryan Newman: Newman currently sits on the cutline for the playoffs and he is tied with Daniel Suarez. He needs points to qualify for the playoffs so I expect the No. 6 team to use fuel strategy to steal some Stage points Sunday. Indianapolis ranks as the best track for Newman. He has finished 7 of his last 8 races at the track in the top 12, including a trip to Victory Lane in 2013. The No. 6 team said they plan to trim out their car for qualifying so they can start up front Sunday. They need Stage points and they feel starting up front helps them accomplish that. He was not happy with the rear springs in the car. Said the back tires were sliding around. The team made some major adjustments.
Favorites to win Sunday: Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Kurt Busch, Kyle Larson and Kevin Harvick
Good Sleeper Picks: Erik Jones, Ryan Blaney, Clint Bowyer, William Byron, Jimmie Johnson, Paul Menard and Matt DiBenedetto
MENCS Final Practice Speeds
Final Practice 5-Lap Average Speed
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