For the 20th time, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will descend upon Indianapolis Motor Speedway this weekend, but the track isn’t the primary topic.
Maintaining and improving is the focus de jour for drivers and teams in the midst of one of the most hotly contested races to the Chase since the playoff’s inception. Two drivers — one particularly dominant at Indianapolis — look to maintain their sterling summer performance. Two drivers both on the Chase bubble — one terrific at Indianapolis, the other having produced at replacement level there for four races — need to ensure that the 2.5-mile track provides them with a finish that can help in realizing their wildest title fantasies.
While they aren’t discussed as a potential winner at Indianapolis, the driver and team that have been quietly lighting up the Cup Series since May look to continue their point-padding ways.
9.0 Clint Bowyer and the No. 15 Michael Waltrip Racing team have the best average finish (9.0) over the last 10 races.
Dating back to the Talladega race, two of Bowyer’s fellow MWR employees, Martin Truex Jr. and Brian Vickers, have scored victories; however, it is Bowyer and crew who have been the most electric performers out of the stable. Finishing in the top 15 in seven out of eight races — and on the lead lap for each one — Bowyer’s 5.0 finish deviation, which measures the consistency of a team’s finishes, indicates a level of steadiness that the team might wish to emulate in the Chase.
6.700 Jimmie Johnson, who scored three victories at Indianapolis in five CoT era races, leads the Cup Series in PEER (a measure of performance in equal equipment) at the facility with a 6.700 rating.
Johnson’s four victories in total list him among the Foyts, Schumachers and Gordons of the world as one of the storied track’s top conquerors. Amazingly, if he isn’t winning Indianapolis, he is suffering a day to forget. In his last nine Indy starts, he accumulated four wins and five finishes of 19th or worse. Saying he’s a win threat this weekend as long as nothing catastrophic happens might be the year’s biggest understatement. Because of the feast-or-famine results pattern from the No. 48 team, another driver holds the best average finish there across the CoT era races.
5.0 Greg Biffle’s fifth-place average finish in the last five races at Indianapolis is three positions better, on average, than any other driver.
Biffle? Who knew? The driver of Roush Fenway Racing’s No. 16 hasn’t scored a win at Indianapolis, but he has silently been the track’s most dependable finisher during the aforementioned time frame. He ranks second in PEER (5.450) thanks to finishes of eighth, fourth, third, seventh and third, which makes his 2.3 finish deviation there the most consistent among top performers.
1 and 2 The No. 24 team of Jeff Gordon ranked first and second in 2011 and 2012, respectively, in average green-flag speed at Indianapolis.
Perhaps the other four-time 400 winner isn’t done adding to his tally? In the last two events, it was clear that Gordon and crew chief Alan Gustafson carried serious speed. Unfortunately, neither outing translated to victory. He finished second to Paul Menard in 2011 and fifth last season. The biggest question surrounding Gordon, who is bouncing on the Chase bubble with seven races remaining in the regular season, is whether Gustafson’s speedy Indy setups can work with the Gen-6 car. Then, it becomes a matter of sealing the deal for his first victory there since 2004.
202 Juan Pablo Montoya led 202 laps across the five CoT era races at Indianapolis.
Montoya’s finishes are an item of concern, though. He crashed out of two races during that time frame, including the 2010 event in which he led 86 laps. His average finish through those five races was 26.2, with his best finish being an 11th-place score following a pit road speeding penalty in his 116 laps-led showing in 2009. Of note: the crew chief for his most dominant performances was Brian Pattie, who now sits on the pit box for the driver with the hottest hand in the Cup Series (Bowyer; see above). Since Pattie was fired from Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, Montoya hasn’t led a single lap and earned finishes of 28th and 21st in two races.
40th After a six-race string of finishes 11th or better, Joey Logano was saddled with consecutive finishes of 40th at Daytona and New Hampshire and now sits 18th in the Cup Series point standings.
Well, that escalated quickly. Logano rode a consistency wave all the way to 10th in the point standings just two races ago. What Logano, crew chief Todd Gordon and the Penske Racing No. 22 will need to accomplish this weekend in order to stop the bleeding will be foreign to Logano’s best Indianapolis efforts. Logano ranks 29th in PEER (0.313) at Indy. His best finish (ninth) came in Joe Gibbs Racing equipment in 2010’s race.
Logano might have his spirit lifted with a stellar Saturday performance, something that would be in accord with his current run through the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
5.3 Logano has averaged a finish of 5.3 in eight Nationwide Series races this season.
Last year, Logano finished seventh in the inaugural Nationwide race at Indianapolis, but the car he’ll be driving this weekend captured the victory with Brad Keselowski behind the wheel. To secure a win of his own, he’ll have to topple the Kyle Busch-JGR juggernaut, the team with the only average finish (4.9) better than Logano’s. A win can go a long way in the apparent redevelopment of the 23-year-old driver. The extra seat time on Indy’s hallowed grounds may ultimately do his Chase chances some good.
For PEER and other metrics with which you may be unfamiliar, I refer you to my glossary of terms on MotorsportsAnalytics.com.
David Smith is the founder of Motorsports Analytics LLC and the creator of NASCAR statistics for projections, analysis and scouting. Follow him on Twitter at@DavidSmithMA.
Photos byAction Sports, Inc.