With a 12-year run of NASCAR Sprint Cup victories — from 2003, when Kevin Harvick won from the pole, to 2014, when Jeff Gordon won for the fifth-time — and 16 wins out of 22 races there all time, Chevrolet clearly has been dominant at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. However, Toyota won there for the first time last season with Las Vegan Kyle Busch, and the Camry has won nine of 19 Sprint Cup races this season.
Which is the most relevant trend for Sunday’s 23rd running of the Brickyard 400, this year known as the Combat Wounded Coalition 400 at the Brickyard?
During Friday’s first 85-minute practice session, the guys in bow ties laid down seven of the fastest nine laps with four-time Brickyard winner Jimmie Johnson being almost 4 mph faster (184.185 mph) than the third-fastest. In the final session, Kyle Busch’s Toyota paced the way (184.619), but nine of the next 12 fastest speeds were Chevrolet. Denny Hamlin’s Toyota got set-up for race simulations and ran a session high 57 laps. He only had the 17th fastest lap going against teams who were also working on faster qualifying set-ups, but he ended up with the best 10-consecutive lap average.
Toyota also flexed its muscles during Saturday’s qualifying with Kyle Busch (6-1 odds to win race) taking the pole (184.634) and his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Carl Edwards (8-1) second and Hamlin (18-1) fourth.
LEGENDS RACING — Indiana native Tony Stewart (25-1) qualified third in his 18th and final start at his home track. The two-time Brickyard winner practiced well on Friday and has a little more zip in his step since winning at Sonoma in late June. Gordon (20-1) won the inaugural race in 1994 and is the only driver to start all 23 events. He’s come out of retirement to drive Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s (concussion) Chevrolet, of which he is part owner. He qualified 21st and practiced so-so. Either one of these NASCAR legends winning would be the NASCAR story of the year, and also pay decent at the sports books.
LOOK TO POCONO — A trend that can be followed to help pick the winner is reviewing what happened at Pocono Raceway’s 2.5-mile tricky triangle. Because Indy has a flat 2.5-mile layout with both tracks featuring the longest straightaways, there has always been a strong correlation between them. The tight Turn 3 at Pocono can also be referenced for balance setups this week by teams. Prior to last fall, Chevrolet had won six straight at Pocono. Matt Kenseth won one week after teammate Kyle won at Indy. Kurt Busch (12-1) would win for Chevrolet at Pocono in June. In fact, four of the top-six finishers at Pocono were Chevrolets, three of them driven by a Hendrick Motorsports driver and, surprisingly, one of them wasn’t Johnson.
CHEVROLET OR TOYOTA? — Looking at all the data, Chevrolet gets the slight edge this week based simply on more of them being fast. There’s also Poocno and it’s also smart to look at times from a test session last week at the Brickyard where a representative for each car owner turned laps for two days. Chevrolet had the fastest times led by Johnson (8-1), Harvick (6-1) and Kyle Larson (18-1). Martin Truex Jr. (7-1) and Kenseth (10-1) led Toyota behind them on the unofficial charts.
GOOD LONG SHOTS — Larson at 18-1 is down from his usual 30-1 because of the strong test. He might present the best value among drivers not considered elite to bet on this week. In addition to the fast testing, where it was reported he had the unofficial fastest lap on the first day, he’s also averaged an eighth-place finish in two Indy starts. He had the third-fastest lap in final practice and starts 10th. Hamlin probably offers the best value among all drivers at 18-1. He loves flat tracks and was fifth last year and third in 2014. With a win he’d be the third driver to capture the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 in the same season.
BEST SUPER LARGE LONGSHOT? — How about Greg Biffle at 100-1 odds to win his first Brickyard 400? How about car owner Jack Roush to win his first, too. It’s the only track to elude his multicar team since he’s been in NASCAR. Biffle is currently on a run of setting three straight season-best finishes. He was eighth at Daytona, sixth at Kentucky and fifth at New Hampshire last week. In 13 career Indy starts, he’s averaged a 13.6 finish and has been third twice. He was 15th fastest in final practice and starts 19th. Ford last won at the Brickyard in 1999 when Dale Jarrett won for the second time.
CHASE HOPEFULS — Jamie McMurray (100-1), Paul Menard (80-1) and Ryan Newman (80-1) are all winless this season and hope to grab one of the five remaining Chase spots by winning one of the next seven races. All three won at Indianapolis at big prices over a four-year stretch from 2010-13. All three still drive a Chevrolet. The best candidate to win among them is Newman, who hasn’t won anywhere since his 2013 Brickyard victory. However, he was fourth-fastest in the final practice which makes him a decent play at 45-1 odds or higher.
Micah Roberts, a former sports book director, has been been setting NASCAR lines in Las Vegas since 1995. Follow @MicahRoberts7 on Twitter.