Jimmie Johnson has won three of the last six Brickyard 400s.
By Chris Symeon, Motorsports Editor
After taking its final break of the season, the Sprint Cup Series resumes its schedule this weekend with the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The Nationwide Series will also be at Indy. Formula is in Budapest for the Hungarian Grand Prix.
Sprint Cup Series
Indianapolis Motor Speedway - Indianapolis, Indiana
This year's Brickyard 400 marks the 20th anniversary of NASCAR's premier series competing at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Hendrick Motorsports drivers Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson have four wins each in the Brickyard 400, and another victory at Indy for either one of them would place him in a tie with Formula One legend Michael Schumacher for most wins here. Schumacher won the United States Grand Prix at this track five times.
A.J. Foyt, Rick Mears and Al Unser have won the Indianapolis 500 four times each.
The 400-mile race at Indianapolis is arguably the second most prestigious race on the Sprint Cup Series schedule -- the Daytona 500 being the first.
Johnson, the six-time and defending series champion, has won three of the last six Brickyard 400s. He finished second to Ryan Newman in last year's race, despite leading the most laps with 73.
Prior to his first Brickyard 400 win eight years ago, Johnson had struggled at Indianapolis, posting DNFs in two of his first four races here.
"There are certain tracks that are very difficult to get sorted out and to know how to lead your team, and for me, this was one of the toughest ones that I came to," Johnson said of Indy. "It took me a long time to get it. The light finally turned on in my head - I think it was maybe in 2004 or 2005 - I've driven this track wrong since practice opened. I set my car up wrong and led the team in the wrong direction. It really dawned on me during the race.
"I just think this track is so challenging that the best teams and the best drivers have a chance to stand out."
Johnson is the only driver who has won the Daytona 500, the Brickyard 400 and the Cup Series championship in the same season, doing so in 2006.
Two other drivers have won the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400 in the same year: Dale Jarrett (1996) and Jamie McMurray (2010).
If Johnson wins Sunday's Brickyard 400, then Indianapolis would be the fifth track on the current Sprint Cup schedule where he holds the record for most all-time victories in the series. He holds the track record at California (Fontana), Charlotte, Dover and Las Vegas. Johnson and Carl Edwards are tied for most wins at Texas with three each.
"There are tracks that your natural driving tendencies suit, and [Indianapolis] just isn't one of them for me," Johnson said. "So I really have to change my game coming here. I've been able to identify with it, and I think that's half of the battle is to just understand that don't do what you think you need to do, try to think in the opposite manner to find speed."
Gordon heads to Indianapolis atop the point standings. He holds a 12-point lead over second-place and Hendrick teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. Brad Keselowski moved up to third in the standings (-36) after winning the July 13 race at New Hampshire.
Gordon, who grew up in nearby Pittsboro, Indiana, won the inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994. The four-time series champion also scored victories at this track in 1998, 2001 and '04. His three poles, 11 top-five finishes and 16 top-10s here is tops among all drivers.
"I think there's always a huge amount of effort that is put into this race," Gordon said. "That first year in 1994 we knew something special was happening here, and all the teams and drivers made the extra effort to prepare for this race. It paid off for us then, and I think every year, certainly at Hendrick Motorsports, we look at this as a very unique and special event and one that we want to win. We put that extra effort into it."
For 20 years, Gordon has held the record as the youngest driver to win a NASCAR race at Indianapolis. His 1994 win here occurred two days after his 23rd birthday.
"I feel like every year we come that we have a shot at winning," he said. "This weekend, there's no doubt I feel like this is the best chance that we've had at winning this race legitimately with the speed of the car as we've had in a very long time.
"It's obvious that there are some competitors out there that are going to be tough, including our teammates, but I think the preparation that we've put into this race and what we've been working on since the break [this past week] are things that we're really excited about for this weekend."
Right now, Earnhardt and Keselowski are the only drivers who have clinched a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, assuming they attempt to qualify for each of the remaining seven races in the regular season.
At Indianapolis, Gordon, Johnson, Edwards, Kyle Busch and Joey Logano can lock down a position in the playoffs by winning the race or clinching a top-30 spot in points.
Forty-six teams are on the entry list for the Brickyard 400. Juan Pablo Montoya is scheduled to make his second Sprint Cup start of the season, driving the No. 12 Ford for Team Penske. Montoya, the 2000 Indianapolis 500 winner, 1999 CART champion and seven-time grand prix winner in Formula One, is a full-time competitor in the IndyCar Series this year.
Lilly Diabetes 250
Indianapolis Motor Speedway - Indianapolis, Indiana
Round three in the four-race Nationwide Series "Dash 4 Cash" bonus program takes place this weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Richard Childress Racing driver Brian Scott won the second round of the Dash 4 Cash with a sixth-place finish in last Saturday's race at Chicagoland. Scott collected a $100,000 bonus from series title sponsor Nationwide Insurance and qualified for the cash award at Indianapolis.
Rookie Chase Elliott, who won at Chicagoland, Trevor Bayne, the second-place finisher, and rookie Ty Dillon, placing fifth, are also eligible for the bonus in Saturday's 250-mile race here.
The highest finisher of the four eligible drivers at Indianapolis will win the money and qualify for the final Dash 4 Cash round of the season on Aug. 2 at Iowa.
This will be the third time Nationwide competes at this historic 2.5-mile racetrack. Brad Keselowski won the inaugural race here in 2012.
One year ago, Scott nearly pulled off a huge victory at Indy. Kyle Busch started on the pole and put on a dominating performance, leading 92 of 100 laps, but had a hard-fought battle with Scott in the closing laps. Busch lost the top spot after a restart with six laps remaining when he and fellow Sprint Cup Series competitor Joey Logano made slight contact and nearly wrecked on the backstretch while battling for position. That allowed third-place runner Scott to slip past them and take the lead.
Scott was attempting to win a Nationwide race for the first time in his career, but Busch spoiled Scott's opportunity when he came roaring back and passed him for the lead with less than three laps to go. Busch beat him to the finish line by 2.1 seconds.
"Indianapolis is a great racetrack," Scott said. "Still one of my favorite memories is taking the lead with six laps to go, battling and almost winning last year. Unfortunately, the 54 [Busch] got back by us and we finished second. It was exciting, and I feel like that is a place normally owned by Cup regulars who come down to race in the Nationwide Series. If anyone can beat them, I think our team can. Our team is strong, and we'll keep plugging away till we get that victory."
Elliott has yet to compete in a Nationwide race at Indianapolis. All three of his Nationwide victories this year have occurred at tracks where he ran for the first time -- Texas, Darlington and Chicagoland.
"Just the word 'Indianapolis' is enough in itself," Elliott said. "It's such a prestigious place with years of racing memories. It is great to see the Nationwide Series share the weekend with the Cup guys now, and it's one date I've been looking forward to all season long."
With the win at Chicagoland, Elliott reclaimed the top spot in the Nationwide point standings. Elliott holds a seven-point lead over second-place and JRM teammate Regan Smith. Elliott Sadler is eight points behind.
"Each of us on the [No. 9 JR Motorsports] team has a very important role each week, and going into Chicago, I felt if we all completed our tasks to the best of our abilities we could have a good night," Elliott added. "I was very proud of our effort there, and hopefully we can keep it going. It feels good to be back in the points lead."
Bayne and Dillon have one Nationwide start each at Indianapolis. Dillon finished third in the 2012 race, and Bayne placed 16th in last year's event.
Forty-two teams are on the entry list for the Lilly Diabetes 250. Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth, Kyle Larson, Paul Menard, David Ragan, Josh Wise, Busch and Logano are those Sprint Cup regulars scheduled to compete in this race.
Hungarian Grand Prix
Hungaroring - Budapest, Hungary
Formula One is on track for the second weekend in a row with the Hungarian Grand Prix.
Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg added to his lead in the F1 world championship point standings with a victory last Sunday in Germany. Rosberg, a German, won on his home soil for the first time with a superb performance, starting on the pole and leading all 67 laps at Hockenheim.
Rosberg will attempt to win his fifth grand prix of the season in Hungary, but his teammate, Lewis Hamilton, has been very impressive at the Hungaroring circuit over the years. Hamilton has won this race four times, including victories the past two years. He is presently tied with Michael Schumacher for most wins in Hungary.
"The Hungarian Grand Prix is always a special one for me, with four pole positions and four wins from my seven races there so far, including my first victory for Mercedes last season," Hamilton said. "I don't really have any secrets there. I've just been very fortunate over the years, and it's a circuit I really enjoy. It's one where you can really attack, which works for an attacking driver like myself, so perhaps it suits my driving style a little bit more than some others."
The 70-lap Hungarian GP is scheduled for Sunday.
On Friday, Hamilton led the way in both practice sessions at this 2.722-mile (4.381 kilometer), 14-turn circuit. Hamilton's quickest lap in the first practice was clocked in 1 minute, 25.814 seconds. His best lap in the second session was completed in 1:24.482. Rosberg was second fastest in P1 and P2.
"We struggled with poor grip on track today," Hamilton said. "I don't know if that's down to the tires or the track itself, but it was quite bad throughout both [practice] sessions. It's going to be important to get a good grid position tomorrow [Saturday's qualifying], as it will be difficult to follow cars on this track. It's always tough to overtake here.
"We have some work to do overnight to ensure we get the best setup for the weekend, as we're not fully comfortable with the car just yet, but our race pace looked okay. We'll have to look through the data to really know where we stand."
Rosberg's best finish in eight Hungarian GP starts is fourth, which came in 2009. He placed 19th in last year's race here.
"It was an amazing feeling to take a home victory for myself and Mercedes-Benz at Hockenheim," Rosberg said. "It's been a very special time for me. Now we're in Hungary, which is always a really fun weekend in a lot of different ways."
After winning the July 6 British Grand Prix, Hamilton moved to within four points of Rosberg, but Hamilton's third-place finish in Germany put him 14 points behind.
"This championship is proving a big challenge for me, but that's how I love it, and I wouldn't have it any other way," Hamilton said.
After Hungary, F1 takes a three-week "summer vacation" before it resumes its season on Aug. 24 with the Belgian Grand Prix.