NASCAR came to Indianapolis 24 years ago for the inaugural Brickyard 400. It was an iconic event that a young Jeff Gordon won on a hot, early August Saturday.
Indianapolis and NASCAR have put on 24 races at the famous 2.5-mile track, but no race before this one has been as important. Sunday’s Brickyard 400 is the final race before the playoffs start for NASCAR, and only 16 drivers will be eligible to compete for the championship. So in addition to winning one of the biggest NASCAR races of the year, drivers also want to put themselves into the playoffs or gather as many points as possible before the playoffs start.
Wrestlemania III was conducted in the Pontiac Silverdome outside of Detroit in March of 1987 in front of a reported 93,173 people. The tagline for the event was Bigger, Better, Badder. While Hulk Hogan will not be body-slamming Andre the Giant on Sunday in Indianapolis, the description Bigger, Better, Badder could be used.
Bigger describes the 2.5-mile, rectangular oval, which is second only to the 2.66-mile oval of Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. Indy is tied with Daytona and Pocono at 2.5 miles, and the speeds at Indy are fast entering turns one and three. Last year, Kyle Busch put his car on the pole at a speed of 187.301 mph.
Better describes the intense playoff atmosphere that will be at Indianapolis in 2018. Thankfully, Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing, has locked himself into the playoffs via his win on Aug. 18 at Bristol Motor Speedway. But Busch would love to score another win, especially at Indy, to improve his position in the playoffs. For those drivers hovering around 16th, it will be a battle to get into the playoffs.
Badder describes Indianapolis in general. They’ve been racing cars there since 1909, and many of the great drivers in history have competed at the grand old racetrack. Busch is one of the few who has driven in both the Indianapolis 500 and the Brickyard 400.
In 2014 Busch stepped out from his stock-car norms and into the world of IndyCar, competing in the 98th Indianapolis 500 for Andretti Autosport. The first-time IndyCar driver looked like a veteran on the historic track, starting 12th and finishing sixth to claim rookie-of-the-year honors. To add another degree of difficulty to the day, Busch did what only three other drivers had done before – perform The Double by racing in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway that evening.
More than 10 years before doing The Double, Busch secured a championship at Indianapolis. It was 2003 and Busch was selected to compete in the 12-driver International Race of Champions (IROC) for the first time in his career. IROC ran for 30 years and pitted race-winning and championship-winning drivers from all different motorsport disciplines in the same racecars to determine a best-of-the-best victor in a four-race series that began in February at Daytona and culminated in August at Indianapolis. Busch finished second at Daytona and then won the series’ next race at Talladega. He went on to finish third in July at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois, and arrived at Indianapolis locked in a title battle with eventual five-time IROC champion Mark Martin. Busch finished fourth in the IROC finale while Martin finished fifth, giving Busch an 11-point edge over Martin and the IROC championship.
Busch is looking for his first ever win at Indianapolis, and he hopes it will be Bigger, Better, Badder than any victory he has ever had.
KURT BUSCH, Driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What do you think about Indianapolis being the cutoff race for the NASCAR playoffs?
“I was a little bummed out that Indianapolis got moved into the playoff cutoff race. It’s such a marquee event that it can stand alone by itself, and it didn’t need any kind of extra push in my mind to be a cutoff race or any extra part of the tough part of our season. From here on out these are all big marquee races – these final 12. I was maybe hoping or wishing that Talladega was going to be the cutoff race. That way it wasn’t part of the playoffs, and maybe move Indianapolis into the playoffs, but lots of things can happen. We saw a crazy race a couple years back with so many restarts at the end and people staying out on old tires, people coming in on fresh tires, and Indy is a tough place to pass, but at the end everybody is in aggressive mode, moving people, shoving people out of the way, so you just don’t know how many yellows are going to be at the end or if it’s going to be a long green run. Indy is definitely a tough challenge to have as a cutoff race, but, again, it’s such a marquee event that you kind of want it to stand alone.”
You’ve had success at Indianapolis, but not in NASCAR. What makes the track so difficult?
“Indianapolis has been tough on me over the years. I don’t know what it is about it. The diamond-cut surface, the way that the asphalt is very fresh when we first get there and then how it glazes over and gets slick at the end – I’ve struggled with that over the years. Just got to pace ourselves and find the right combination on our Haas Automation/Monster Energy Ford that will give us the grip once the track gets rubbered in.”
What makes Indy such an iconic venue?
“Indy is Indy. It’s the coolest racetrack that we get to race on, other than Daytona. The history, the prestige, the value of Indianapolis – it is defined by the number of decades they have produced races there and the atmosphere. It’s very electric at Indianapolis. For me to actually get to run the Indy 500 in the month of May is a little different than when we race there in September because of the fact it is their backyard, it is their stage. Those Indiana natives love their track. What makes Indy special is the people.”
You competed in the Indianapolis 500 once. Any chance you’ll do it again?
“Possibly. I really enjoyed my time there. It was a great challenge personally, and just the overall experience of going 230 mph in an open cockpit car was fun. The fun meter was pegged. The achievement of finishing sixth overall was exciting. But then there’s that 1,100 miles. I didn’t quite finish the Coke 600 that night due to an engine failure. That’s what would draw me back in – to try to get all 1,100 miles in.”
How hard is it to drive a stock car at Indianapolis?
“You’re asking the wrong guy about driving a stock car at Indy. I’ve struggled. I finished fifth my first time there, and I’ve never been able to back that up. Then I go there for the first time in an Indy car and I finish sixth. I’m not really sure. The stock cars are tough in traffic. They always end up on the tight side. And you have to find that right restart lineup lane. Usually, the cars that win there, they’re the dominant type. They lead laps. They’re up front all day. I haven’t quite found that right combination yet, but another Brickyard 400 means another opportunity.”