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Friday, July 26, 2013
NASCAR: Live from Indianapolis

ESPN.com

Get ready for a packed weekend

INDIANAPOLIS -- It's a beautiful day at the Brickyard to kick off the NASCAR weekend. David Newton and I will be updating the live blog all day with odds and ends on what's happening.

First, the weather is darn near perfect today, unusually cool for midsummer in Indy. It was 66 degrees at 9 a.m. with a forecast high today of 80 under blue skies.

There is a chance of rain tomorrow, but Sunday is expected to be even cooler than today, with an afternoon high of 73, about 20 degrees cooler than some of the previous Brickyard 400s.

Today's schedule includes two Nationwide Series practices and one Cup practice. Both qualifying sessions are Saturday. The Nationwide race starts at 4:30 pm ET, after Cup qualifying Saturday.

-- Terry Blount

Montoya sets pace in practice

Juan Pablo Montoya had the fastest lap in Cup practice Friday at 185.410 mph. The top five cars were Chevys. Kurt Busch, Austin Dillon and Paul Menard were 2-3-4, respectively, with Richard Childress Racing engines. Kasey Kahne was fifth.

Joey Logano was sixth with the best lap in a Ford at 183.337 mph. The fastest Toyota was Martin Truex Jr. in eighth at 182.567 mph.

There are 45 cars vying for the 43 spots. The two slowest Friday were Joe Nemechek and David Gilliland. Both those drivers should be OK by qualifying rules, but three drivers who need to qualify well are Scott Speed, Mike Bliss and Michael McDowell.

-- Terry Blount

Nineteen Brickyards and counting ...

Four drivers competing this weekend have raced in all 19 of the previous Brickyard 400s -- Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin, Bobby Labonte and Jeff Burton.

Gordon has four victories here and Labonte won it in 2000, the year he won the championship. Martin and Burton have not won here, but Martin finished second twice (1998 and 2009).

Burton won't count this among his better tracks. He has only one top-5 (fifth in 1999) and only five top-10s at Indy. He has finished 25th or worse in seven Brickyard 400s, including 32nd last year and 35th in 2011.

-- Terry Blount

***

#DaleJr said no cause for concern because haven't announced new sponsor. Has no doubt they will fill out the rest of season. #nascar

— David Newton (@DNewtonespn) July 26, 2013

***

Earnhardt still looking for sponsors

There were rumors circulating that Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Hendrick Mortorsports would announce a new sponsor this weekend to complete the available 2013 races on his No. 88 Chevy, but Earnhardt said they still have some things to work out.

"It's important to try to fill out what we need, and we will," Earnhardt said Friday. "I don't have any doubt that we'll get that done. We almost have to look forward beyond [2013] and put a long-term deal together that matches what we want.

"But anybody who has any sense of how the corporate world works knows it's too late into the year to put together a deal for the rest of the season that's going to turn into a multiyear deal. That doesn't mean we can't do some creative stuff with some partners that we already have."

-- Terry Blount

Bowyer not planning for Shepherd-like longevity

Clint Bowyer was asked whether he plans to race at 71, as Morgan Shepherd is doing.

"If I make it to 71, I'm going to be pumped," Bowyer said Friday. "I've got to get there first, let alone start a race. I doubt I'll be able to do that. I would definitely say [Shepherd] is going to be the oldest guy ever to start a race in the history of NASCAR."

Shepherd, who hopes to qualify for the Nationwide race this weekend, became the oldest Cup starter in history two weeks ago when he raced at New Hampshire. He finished 41st.

-- Terry Blount

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First Cup practice: 42, 78, 33, 27, 5, 22, 29, 56, 20, 88, 18, 2, 48, 15, 21, 55, 39, 31, 40, 1, 24. #NASCAR

— David Newton (@DNewtonespn) July 26, 2013

***

Earnhardt describes driving at Indy

OK, gearheads, this item is for you. Dale Earnhardt Jr. breaks down what it's like to drive on the 2.5-mile rectangle at Indy.

"The shape of the track is unique compared to anything else we race on," Earnhardt said Friday. "It's a real technical track. If you are just looking at the race track, you would assume that all the corners look relatively similar. The car must go through each corner pretty much the same, and what you might be fighting in one corner you would probably assume you would fight in all of them.

"But as odd as it is, all the corners are extremely different from each other. Turn 1 is really tight and a shorter radius corner. And Turn 4 is the larger corner. The car certainly doesn't drive the same through them."

Earnhardt said drivers and crew chiefs have to compromise on adjustments at each end of the track.

"You adjust on the car to improve on something at one end of the track," Earnhardt said. "But you can ruin something at the other end of the track and make problems for yourself. That makes it a bit of a challenge, a good challenge, trying to get a car that goes fast and a car that doesn't have trouble at one end of the track."

-- Terry Blount

Larson, Vickers lead Nationwide practices

Kyle Larson had the fastest lap in the first Nationwide practice session, and Brian Vickers turned the best lap in the final Nationwide practice. Vickers' speed of 177.294 mph was the best lap of the two sessions. Larson was eighth in the final practice.

There are 44 Nationwide cars here this weekend, so four drivers will fail to qualify Saturday. The four slowest in the final practice were Joey Gase, David Green, Carl Long and Morgan Shepherd.

-- Terry Blount

Keselowski makes his star turn

Brad Keselowski is the newest star of the "This is SportsCenter" commercials, in a spot that started running this week to promote the Brickyard 400. He shares the limelight with Western Kentucky University mascot Big Red.

In the 30-second commercial, the burly Hilltopper is spotted in the parking lot of ESPN's headquarters in Bristol, Conn., relentlessly trying to get a ride home in Keselowski's race car instead of anchor Kevin Negandhi's minivan.

Big Red finds the traditional way NASCAR drivers enter their cars to be a bit of a challenge.

Keselowski said appearing on a "SportsCenter" commercial was on his bucket list.

"I've been a fan of these commercials since I was a kid, never thinking that I would be able to do my own one day," he said. "Every athlete wants their own 'SportsCenter' commercial. It gives you a sense that you have finally arrived because they are a big deal.

"The bar has been set high, so there is a little pressure when doing one. This spot is really funny. I hope fans get a kick out of it."

So what is Brad's favorite "SportsCenter" commercial?

"I love the one about whether Brett Favre is coming back or not," Keselowski said. "It has the UMass Minuteman putting two lanterns in the window to mean he is coming back, playing off the Paul Revere story."

-- Terry Blount

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.@RCR31JeffBurton is looking to take home another @IMS win for @RCRracing! #ReadyFor4 -KC pic.twitter.com/48s8IyHTDa

— Miss Sprint Cup (@MissSprintCup) July 26, 2013

***

Great Clips re-ups with Kahne, Hendrick

Great Clips has signed a new three-year deal to continue as a sponsor on the No. 5 Chevrolet driven by Kasey Kahne, Hendrick Motorsports announced Friday. Great Clips will be the primary sponsor for 10 events each year, starting next season, and an associate sponsor in the other Cup events.

Great Clips is featured on Kahne's car this weekend, the second of three scheduled primary races for the company in 2013.

"Kasey has become a special member of our family over the years," said Terri Miller, vice president of marketing and communications for Great Clips, in a news release. "He has brought great value to our brand and helped our system grow."

-- Terry Blount

Eldora big fun for Ty Dillon

Big brother Austin Dillon received most of the attention as the winner of the inaugural truck race on dirt Wednesday night at Eldora, but younger brother Ty Dillon was thrilled just to be a part of the historic night.

"It was definitely an experience I'll never forget," Ty said. "It was awesome being able to race the trucks on dirt. Two worlds collided and it was a lot of fun. I'm so glad NASCAR was able to put this show on for all the fans at Eldora."

Ty finished 16th and now ranks fourth in the Camping World Truck Series standings, 56 points behind leader Matt Crafton.

Eldora was the first CWTS race of the season for Austin, the 2011 CWTS champion who is a regular in the Nationwide Series this season.

"I'm really happy for Austin," Ty said. "I'm glad we could experience this together. I wish I could have taken home the trophy, but we were in the wrong place at the wrong time. We were turning faster times than the leader before we got caught up in a wreck."

-- Terry Blount

Drive for a Brickyard five

A victory Sunday by Jeff Gordon would make him the second driver to win five times at the Brickyard, joining Formula One racer Michael Schumacher. But Gordon doesn't rank it with the Indy legends.

"I will always be a purist here," Gordon said. "The Indy 500 is different from any other race here. The history of it speaks for itself. When the Brickyard 400 goes over 100 races here, maybe then you can stack it up against the Indy 500.

"Certainly I would like to be a five-time winner here, but it doesn't compare to Rick Mears and A.J. Foyt and Al Unser [the four-time Indy 500 winners]. That should always be held to a different standard."

Gordon was asked if he would enjoy having a night race at Indy.

"I think it would be awesome for the Brickyard 400, but not for the Indy 500," he said. "The Indy 500 is all about tradition. This race is about breaking tradition, so I think it would be great for this race. I've not seen a [NASCAR] night race that isn't a win-win."

Gordon will have to settle for a day race Sunday, but he's confident of his chances.

"I think our team is ready to step it up and get another win here," he said.

-- Terry Blount

Stewart looking for more Brickyard success

Tony Stewart has won two Brickyard 400s, but both victories came while driving for Joe Gibbs Racing. He hasn't won it since becoming a team owner in 2009.

"If I died tomorrow, I would die a happy man because of those two wins here," Stewart said. "But it would be that much more special to win it as a team owner too. It's been so much fun working with this group of guys."

Stewart was asked how he would feel if Ryan Newman or Danica Patrick, his drivers at Stewart-Haas Racing, won this event.

"I would have the same feeling of gratification," Stewart said. "It would mean just as much to be the winning car owner for Ryan or Danica as it would to win it as a driver and owner."

-- Terry Blount