Podium Preview: Brickyard 400

By all means, it's lights out and away we go in today's Brickyard 400! (Photo Credit: Stephen Conley/TPF)

By all means, it’s lights out and away we go in today’s Brickyard 400! (Photo Credit: Stephen Conley/TPF)

All things considered, today’s Brickyard 400 remains one of NASCAR’s crown jewel events. Sure, it may not produce Talladega-like lead changes. Yes, it lacks the side-by-side action seen at Bristol Motor Speedway.

However, Round 16 of the season takes place at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Certainly, Roger Penske’s marveled venue remains one of the most revered motorsports facilities and tracks in the world.

In the past 26 years, a “Who’s Who” of NASCAR icons raised their arms in victory after at least 400 miles. From Jeff Gordon to Kevin Harvick, Indianapolis favors the bold and relentless.

Each week, The Podium Finish’s panelists, Ashley HobbsChrissi LuttrellCody ShoppeIsabelle Beecy, Kobe LambethMatteo MarcheschiSean Folsom, Terra Jones, and yours truly will share their thoughts on the latest happenings in NASCAR.

First, we discuss about Kyle Busch’s slow start and those sweating it out for a Playoffs spot!

Podium Preview: Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis
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Question 1
Can Kyle Busch shake off his slow start? (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Can Kyle Busch shake off his slow start? (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

While Kyle Busch and the No. 18 team have yet to win this season, when will the defending Cup champs return to winning form?

Sisoler : The answer is Allen Iverson’s least favorite word: practice. Kyle Busch’s team has struggled when they can’t get the car set up prior to race day with at least one practice session. The proof is last week at Pocono. In that Sunday’s race, prior to getting spun by/spinning off Ryan Blaney’s bumper, the No. 18 Camry was proving to be a much more capable car than on Saturday, because it had made it the whole previous race and allowed the team to get it set up for Sunday.

Kyle is a capable driver, and eventually he and Adam Stevens will break through, and, my guess is, will join Kevin Harvick and fellow JGR driver Denny Hamlin as this year’s Big Three.

Lambeth :  I think Kyle Busch will return to his usual winning ways soon in the NASCAR Cup Series. With 2020 being such a strange year, maybe we should not be surprised that we made it to the month of July without the No. 18 Toyota Camry finding victory lane. However, Rowdy and crew chief Adam Stevens should earn a Cup win as soon as this weekend in Indianapolis.

Jones : He’s found victory lane at least once at each of the upcoming tracks in July. So, I have no doubt they’ll get there sooner rather than later, especially now that the schedule has shaken out to normal after the long, unexpected COVID break. And once he’s won, watch out! He will likely be unstoppable after that. 

Hobbs :  Short answer – when they get actual practice. While we can say the first Pocono race was “practice” for the 18 team, it was a race. It is clear some teams have figured out the “show up and race” deal, but most need that extra seat time. I know I cannot wait until NASCAR lets teams practice and quality again, and I know Kyle Busch cannot wait either.

Tiongson :  Kyle Busch and Adam Stevens will find the right combination soon. In fact, we saw this team struggle during the Playoffs and parts of the regular season in 2019. All things considered, Busch and Stevens realize that they cannot be spending six months in a leaky boat.

We’ve seen Busch storm his way to consecutive Brickyard 400 wins (2015-’16) and they’re going to return to victory circle soon. If they don’t find the checkered flag at Indy, look for them to find their winning form in any of these July races at Kentucky, Texas, or Kansas. By all means, this team proves far more dangerous when they’ve yet to visit Victory Lane.

Question 2
All things considered, who's sweating it out for the NASCAR Playoffs battle? (Photo Credit: Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

All things considered, who’s sweating it out for the NASCAR Playoffs battle? (Photo Credit: Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

As we head towards the summer stretch of the NASCAR Cup Series season, which drivers and teams are sweating it out for their Playoff hopes?

Marcheschi : Richard Childress Racing, with Austin Dillon and Tyler Reddick, have been incredibly strong this year. Unfortunately, they haven’t gotten the finishes they have deserved, and it shows in the points: Dillon and Reddick are 17th and 18th in points, the first two drivers outside the playoffs.

Reddick had winning speed at Homestead and has shown his chops all season. Dillon has a couple wins under his belt, and has had top ten speed in several races this season. If they make the playoffs, though, it could be at the expense of William Byron or Erik Jones, who sit 15th and 16th on the playoff grid. Both have had their share of bad luck this season, and another bad race could knock them out of the playoffs. That’s a lot of pressure on those two young guns.

Shoppe : Obviously, the drivers on the playoff bubble are the most worried as well as those slipping farther from that top-16. With the recent news that Jimmie Johnson testing positive for COVID-19 and will set out an undetermined amount of races, Johnson will be one driver who will have work to do to get the 48 team back into the playoff picture for their final season together! Of course, the health of him and his family is the priority at the moment. But to answer the question, he’s someone to watch moving forward! 

Folsom : I would have to say Kyle Busch is the one sweating it out! He is usually the one in the top 3 by now with 3 or more wins under him. With him not being able to do any practices he can’t get any pre-race setups in.   

Beecy :  I’d say Kyle Busch is likely one of the ones sweating it out. He doesn’t have any wins this season so far and sits in 14th. It would only take a couple of upset wins for him to be knocked out. I know it’s been a weird season for everyone, but normally he’d have at least one so far by the time July rolls around. 

All things considered, two laps around Indy for the Brickyard 400 proved quite exciting! Now, let’s review last weekend’s action at Pocono!
Kobe scores an exciting first win of 2020!

Kobe scores an exciting first win of 2020!

However, the machine continues its winning ways!

However, the machine continues its winning ways!

Stephen claimed yet another victory.

Stephen claimed yet another victory.

Ultimately, we're chasing that infernal machine.

Ultimately, we’re chasing that infernal machine.

Now, Ashley Hobbs provides numbers because she crunched them just for the Brickyard 400!
First, here's the team stats at Indianapolis.

First, here’s the team stats at Indianapolis.

Certainly, Chevrolet thrives at Indy.

Certainly, Chevrolet thrives at Indy.

Since 2004, the Brickyard 400 winner's average starting spot is 8.1, led an average of 58.9 laps, started within the top-five 43.75 percent of the time, and started within the top-10 62.5 percent of the time.

Since 2004, the Brickyard 400 winner’s average starting spot is 8.1, led an average of 58.9 laps, started within the top-five 43.75 percent of the time, and started within the top-10 62.5 percent of the time.

Remarkably, Joey Logano's quite strong at the Brickyard.

Remarkably, Joey Logano’s quite strong at the Brickyard.

Next, here's the trends for the 400 since 2010.

Next, here’s the trends for the 400 since 2010.

Next, here's the trends at Indy since 2015 with an interesting note about the final caution.

Next, here’s the trends at Indy since 2015 with an interesting note about the final caution.

One must wonder if the machine loves Kevin Harvick.

One must wonder if the machine loves Kevin Harvick.

Finally, here’s our picks for today’s Brickyard 400!
Here's five faces to consider!

Here’s five faces to consider!

Beecy :  This panelist chose Kevin Harvick.

Folsom :  With Kevin being hot so far this season, it would be hard not to pick him to win the Brickyard 400!

Shoppe :  This team has been as strong as anyone this season as usual. With that said, the Brickyard 400 is a race historically won by one of the best teams that year and will likely fight for the title. So hard to go against the 4.

Sisoler :  Hard to go against this season’s Big Two of Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin. Seeing as Harvick and Hamlin have been trading wins, and that Harvick won at Indy last season, I’m leaning towards the driver of the Busch Light Patriotic Ford Mustang to grab the W from the 11th starting spot on the grid come Sunday.

TPF Stats :  How can you ignore the best driver at Indy who happens to have the best finish this year too?

Jones :  Denny Hamlin is on fire this season. Coming off an impressive doubleheader weekend at Pocono, Hamlin will easily find victory lane this weekend.

Marcheschi :  Denny Hamlin has been in championship form this season. He’s the most recent winner in the Cup Series, and has four wins on the season. Pocono, where Hamlin won and finished second in the doubleheader, is awfully similar to Indy, and Hamlin has been especially strong on the bigger tracks this season, with all four of his victories coming at tracks of over a mile in length. Look for Hamlin to deliver a series-high fifth victory this season at Indy!

Hobbs :  This whole lack of qualifying is a big deal, especially at these larger tracks. Track position is key and Aric Almirola is starting near the front, and I think he’ll do quite well starting there. Plus, he’s got a nice hot streak going.

Lambeth :  While it is truly shocking that we have made it to Fourth of July weekend without a Kyle Busch Cup victory, I think that will change soon. The winless streak will end at Indy, with Rowdy winning his third Brickyard 400.

Tiongson :  If there’s anything about Joey Logano, he comes through on the big, crown jewel races. I’m excited to choose this driver for the big W on Sunday!

Race fans, thanks for joining us for our preview of the Brickyard 400!

We’re ready for some racing. How about you? What do you think are the biggest storylines heading into this Sunday’s race? Who is your favorite to win?  Tweet us now @ThePodiumFinish and tell us now!

Thanks as always to the TPF team for their amazing efforts this week!  Let’s stay connected as we focus on getting back together on the track soon!  Please stay safe and wear a mask if you must go out!

The opinions and thoughts expressed in Podium Preview are solely of the authors. They do not reflect any organizations affiliated with the participants and author outside of TPF. This weekly feature is strictly for entertainment purposes. Ultimately, they are not indicative of TPF, the organization, and its staff.

Rob Tiongson

30-something motorsports journalist who enjoys sports like baseball, basketball, football, soccer, track and field, and hockey. A Boston native turned Austinite, racing was the first sport that caught my eye. From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by me or by one of my talented columnists who absolutely have a passion for racing.

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. I enjoy editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography.

Graduated from Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication. Proud to be from Massachusetts, just as happy to be a Texan.

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