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I was lying in bed when I began dreaming about playing Final Jeopardy as I wrestled to figure out who I think is going to win Sunday's Brickyard 400.
Alex Trebek: "The category for our final question tonight is Indy Trivia. 'He was the runner-up in the last Sprint Cup Series race, has kissed the bricks twice and finished fifth a year ago.'"
They cue the music, and I'm jumping up and down like a fifth grader who was asked to spell "cat" on a spelling test. Then the final "dunt, dunt, dunt," and I blurt out, "Alex, who is Tony Stewart?"
"That's right! Tell him what he's won, Johnny!"
"A new car!"
The confetti was falling from the ceiling and I had just eased my way behind the wheel when I was hit in the shoulder. I thought my wife was muscling in on my prize. It turns out she just wanted me to stop snoring.
But when you look at the NASCAR stats at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Tony Stewart (21.4) jumps off the page. He is the 12th most valuable driver now on the ESPN Stock Car Challenge, making the Indiana native even more attractive for the 18th annual Brickyard 400.
This is a race, by the way, that is a little more predictable than some others at this time of year when a lot of teams locked into the Chase are experimenting. This race is so big and pays so well, no one is fooling around when they show up. They've got the latest and greatest cars, chassis setups and engines because the Brickyard 400 is all about winning.
It might, however, be hard to figure in the late upheavals along pit road. No fewer than three crew chiefs have been dismissed during the down time between New Hampshire and this race. Juan Pablo Montoya (20.2), Jeff Burton (16.4) and AJ Allmendinger (20.0) all will have new men on top of their war wagons.
Montoya has been the car to beat the past two years, having led the most laps in both races. However, the Colombian driver gave away the win in 2009 by speeding on pit road, and last year the wrong pit road strategy led to Montoya trying too hard to get back up through the field and crashing. Between that and Montoya doing the Goodyear tire test for Indy, that had me thinking he was going to be a force again. Now, with a new crew chief, I'm not so sure. Burton has been an almost automatic top-10 at Indy lately, but bring in a guy who's never been a crew chief and you have to wonder. Allmendinger also is a dark horse top-10 contender. All three of these guys have attractive values with a lot of potential upside, but all three are bigger question marks going in than they were just two weeks ago.
You shouldn't have any doubts, though, about Jimmie Johnson (23.6) and Kevin Harvick (22.9) having solid afternoons. If you have Johnson, he'll be a keeper, but he'll probably be too expensive to buy at this juncture of the second segment. That's one of the reasons I like Jeff Gordon (21.8) so much this weekend, because he's a "hold or buy" prospect.
Greg Biffle (20.7) is one of those guys who has struggled lately, but he's put up some big numbers at Indy and he's dropped down to a price that might be hard to pass up. The same could be said of teammate David Ragan (19.0), who seems to be a new man these days. True, he hasn't done much at the Brickyard, but his UPS Ford team is starting to find some consistency and the Georgia driver has climbed to 13th in the Sprint Cup standings.
Another guy I like a bunch for the way he's been running lately and the numbers he's put up at Indy is Joey Logano (18.6). For a low price, he could put up some really high numbers. Some other bargain basement priced drivers who might put up some serious numbers include Brad Keselowski (17.7) and Brian Vickers (16.3).
That brings us to the question of what to do with the race's defending winner, Jamie McMurray (16.1). He's been top-10 in two of the past three at Indy, but he's been almost total junk in the past nine races this season. McMurray's confidence certainly seems down, but maybe a stroll down Gasoline Alley will put a season of frustration behind him when the green flag falls Sunday. When you think about it, McMurray might be the hardest driver to get a finger on, but many will find his price just too hard to walk away from.
Remember to join us Sunday at 9:30 a.m. ET for our Indianapolis race-day chat, in which you'll receive the inside information we get from the crew chiefs just hours before the race.
AJ Allmendinger has four finishes of 13th or better in four of the past five races.
Kurt Busch's worst finish in the past eight races is 14th, having recorded six top-10s and an average finish of 7.5.
Kyle Busch finished 36th at New Hampshire but was top-5 in four of the previous five races (and finished 11th in the other).
Carl Edwards has three top-5s in the past five races.
Jeff Gordon has five top-10s in the past seven outings, with an average finish of 7.2.
In the past three races, Denny Hamlin has averaged a ninth-place finish.
Jimmie Johnson has been top-10 in five of the past seven starts.
Kasey Kahne has been top-10 in two of past three races with an average finish of 7.6.
Matt Kenseth has six top-10s in his past nine races, including a win and two runner-ups.
Brad Keselowski has been top-15 in three of the past four races.
Joey Logano has three finishes of sixth or better in the past four races, with an average finish of just less than seven.
Ryan Newman has two straight top-5s and is coming off a Loudon win. He's also been top-10 in four of the past six races.
David Ragan has two top-10s and three top-15s in his past three races with an average finish of 7.6.
A runner-up at New Hampshire, Tony Stewart has averaged a finish of 8.3 over the past three races.
Marcos Ambrose has just two top-10 finishes in his past seven races, in which his average finish is 19.1.
After winning the Daytona 500, Trevor Bayne's best finish is 16th and his average finish is 27.4.
In the past nine races, Greg Biffle has a single top-10 and three top-15s.
Clint Bowyer has two top-10s in his past eight races and an average finish over that span of 18.6.
Jeff Burton has yet to finish in the top 10 in the first 19 races this season. His average finish is 20.8.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s 15th-place finish at New Hampshire was his best in the past five races, in which he's averaged a finish of 25.2.
In the past five races, Kevin Harvick has two top-10s but three finishes of 14th or worse.
Bobby Labonte's seventh-place finish at New Hampshire was his first top-10 since the season-opening Daytona 500.
Mark Martin has just a single top-10 in the past eight races and an average finish of 22.2.
Jamie McMurray hasn't scored a top-10 in the past nine races, and his average finish is an ugly 26.8.
After finishing eighth at the Daytona summer race, Paul Menard has finished 24th at both Kentucky and New Hampshire.
Juan Pablo Montoya has only two top-10s in his past 13 races, with an average finish a tick over 20.
David Reutimann has one top-10 in his past nine outings and just two over the first 19 races.
Regan Smith has only a single top-15 in his past nine races, in which his average finish has been 23.1.
Brian Vickers has just one top-10 in his past eight attempts.
Third a year ago, Greg Biffle has three straight top-10 finishes.
Clint Bowyer was fourth a year ago and has an average finish of 11.6 in five races.
Jeff Burton has been top-10 in three of the past four races.
Kyle Busch has four top-10s and five top-15s in six races.
Carl Edwards has been top-15 in five of six races, with three top-10s, a runner-up in 2008 and an average finish of 10.5. He finished seventh a year ago.
Jeff Gordon has won the Brickyard 400 three times and has been top-10 in three of the past four races.
Second a year ago, Kevin Harvick was the 2003 Brickyard 400 winner. He has seven top-10s in 10 starts and an average finish of 9.9.
Jimmie Johnson finished 22nd a year ago, but in the four prior races, he had three victories.
Kasey Kahne has two seventh-place finishes and a 13th in the past three races for an average finish of nine.
Matt Kenseth has been top-10 in six of the past nine, including a runner-up in 2006.
Joey Logano has finished 12th and ninth in his first two Indy attempts.
In his past six races, Mark Martin has four top-10s and two 11th-place finishes.
A winner a year ago, Jamie McMurray has been top-10 in two of the past three starts.
Tony Stewart has six top-10s in the past seven races, including a fifth-place run a year ago and wins in 2005 and 2007. In 12 starts, his average finish is just over eight.
Brian Vickers didn't get to race the Brickyard in 2010 but finished fifth in 2009 and was third in 2005.
AJ Allmendinger has one top-10 in three tries at Indy with an average finish of 15.3.
Marcos Ambrose's three Indy finishes are 22nd, 22nd and 21st.
Kurt Busch has one top-10 in the past six races. In 10 starts, his average finish is 18.1.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. has just two top-10s in 12 starts and an average finish of 22.2.
Denny Hamlin has two top-10s in five tries with an average finish of 18.1.
Brad Keselowski finished 19th last year in his first Brickyard attempt.
After winning the Brickyard 400 in 2000, Bobby Labonte has not finished in the top 10 since then.
Finishing 14th a year ago was Paul Menard's best effort in four races, in which his average finish is 26.0.
A runner-up in 2007, Juan Pablo Montoya has led the most laps in the past two races but finished 11th and 32nd.
Ryan Newman has a single top-10 in 10 starts with an average finish of 21.0.
In four Indy starts, David Ragan has one top-15 finish and an average finish of 18.5.
David Reutimann has been top-10 once in four attempts with an average finish of 26.0.
Martin Truex Jr. hasn't scored a top-10 in six tries, with an average finish of 23.3.
We're now eight races into the second segment of the Stock Car Challenge, and we have a tie atop the standings. Going into New Hampshire, Brownie 31956 and ejcakes86 were tied for second just two points out of first, but with each scoring 174 points, they are the new No. 1s with a grand total of 1,406 points, which is a weekly average of just more than 175. Scoring a whopping 194, cscott399 vaulted into third, just eight points back. Several players are tied for fourth with 1,390 points, led by valcancrook, brian23arm, Roach2929, jet89cook, justinfaltermeier, DPierrot and jnelson1118.
Meanwhile, just 12 points separate the top 5 in the overall standings after 19 races. Continuing to lead the way is sagekane, who scored 176 points at Loudon and leads new No. 2 man Scottie Ellison by a single point 3,119-3,118. Only four out of second place is Travis Anderson648 after a sporty 189-point effort at Loudon. Following a 159-point effort, THERMINATOR fell from second to fourth with a total of 3,113. With the same score, valcancrook fell two spots as well, going from third to fifth with a total of 3,107.
The Guru scored 142 at New Hampshire. The median score was 140 and the high score was 208.