The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at the Brickyard is set for Sunday with the running of the Big Machine Vodka 400. And, as has been the case over the last several weeks, there are some predictable names at the top of the favorite list. Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, and Martin Truex Jr are the “Big Three” favorites coming out of Vegas.
The race, formally known as the Brickyard 400, is now the final race of the regular season due to a schedule change that moved it from the heat of the summer to the beginning of fall. It’s the final chance for a driver not already locked into the playoffs to work their way in via a checkered flag.
Kyle Busch is favored due to his run at the track over the last several trips. In the last three races, the driver for the No. 18 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing has won two of them. Harvick’s last win at the track came back in 2003 when he was still driving a Chevrolet. He’s since moved over to Stewart – Haas Racing and is behind the wheel of a Ford.
Here’s a look at the top-ten favored drivers heading into the race on Sunday.
Martin Truex Jr.
The notable driver not listed in the top ten – and not locked into the playoffs with a win, is Multi-Cup Series Champion Jimmie Johnson. As of now, Johnson is riding the bubble for the final 16th playoff spot. A bad run could cause him to miss the playoff and a chance for winning the eighth Championship.
Last 15 Brickyard Winners – Minus Kahne
Here are the last fifteen drivers to win the Brickyard for those who factor in defending race winners in your trends. But, there’s a huge question mark on the winners list with Kasey Kahne.
2003: Tony Stewart 2004: Jimmie Johnson 2005: Tony Stewart 2006: Jimmie Johnson 2007: Tony Stewart 2008: Jimmie Johnson 2009: Jimmie Johnson 2010: Jamie McMurray 2011: Paul Menard 2012: Jimmie Johnson 2013: Ryan Newman 2014: Jeff Gordon 2015: Kyle Busch 2016: Kyle Busch 2017: Kasey Kahne
I’m a big believer in trends – especially when it comes to winners at certain tracks – and defending winners on the same track. Kasey Kahne won the Brickyard last year in 2017 but he will not be defending his checkered flag this weekend. Last weekend the driver for Leavine family Racing suffered “extreme heat exhaustion after finishing 24th in last Sunday’s event at Darlington” according to a released statement.
Kahne was treated by a physician and then during a follow-up visit, the driver was advised to stay out of the car. The team indicated that it was “recommended he sit out this weekend’s race pending further evaluations” with no timeframe given for his return to the No. 95 Chevrolet.
According to the statement, Regan Smith will replace Kahne for the Big Machine 400 this weekend with no word given on if he will replace Kahne during additional races. Kahne announced earlier in the season that he was retiring from full-time cup racing following the 2018 season.
What About Furniture Row?
I’ve been asked by several people if the news that Furniture Row racing shuttering following the 2018 season would have an impact on the team, driver and their odds at winning. I think it will, eventually as the schedule works through the playoffs and Championship race in Miami. It depends on how well Truex runs every weekend. Does the team rally around “one last Championship” as a theme? Or, do things begin to go south as employees begin to drip away as they search for other jobs?
We’ll probably know the answer to this better following the first round of the playoffs. If Truex and his No. 78 Toyota can keep making it to the next round – they will probably be high on the favorites list. If the team fades in performance – then his +numbers from oddsmakers will begin to work their way further down the favored list.
Down the List Picks – Menard & Earnhardt
One driver that should be in fantasy line-ups is probably Paul Menard. He has one win at the track which came in 2011. Now he’s in a Ford for Wood Brother’s Racing. Last year Menard placed 16th at Indy with a 10th place finish the prior year. He’s also one of the drivers that can brag that his finishing position is better than his starting position! Over eleven Cup Series starts at the track, Menard has averaged a 22.3 starting spot and an 18.6 average finish. He’s never suffered a DNF at Indy.
Several drivers are entered in the race on Sunday as they continue their limited 2018 schedules including Jeffrey Earnhardt. He returns the wheel of the No. 96 iK9/Xtreme Concepts Toyota for Gaunt Brothers Racing. Of the back-of-the-field cars, Earnhardt may be an interesting driver to watch. Despite a few spins at Darlington last week, he’s managed several good runs this season despite running with lower-funded teams.
NASCAR Weekend Viewing Guide:
The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series is off this weekend. Both the NASCAR Xfinity Series and the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series are at the Brickyard – Indianapolis Motor Speedway
SATURDAY, Sept. 8
• 10:30-11:20 a.m.: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series first practice, NBCSN/NBC Sports App • 11:45 a.m.: NASCAR Xfinity Series qualifying, NBCSN/NBC Sports App • 1:30-2:20 p.m.: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series final practice, NBCSN/NBC Sports App • 3 p.m.: NASCAR Xfinity Series Lilly Diabetes 250 (100 laps, 250 miles), NBCSN/NBC Sports App • 6:15 p.m.: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Busch Pole Qualifying, NBCSN/NBC Sports App
SUNDAY, Sept. 9
• 2 p.m.: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard (160 laps, 400 miles), NBCSN/NBC Sports App