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Getting to Victory Lane
1. Jamie McMurray became just the third driver to win the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 in the same year. McMurray held an Average Running Position of third, tied for the best of the race, and was one of only three drivers to spend all 160 laps of the race running in the Top 15. Coming into this weekend, McMurray had only one Top 10 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway since 2005. In Yahoo! Sports Fantasy Auto Racing, he ranked ninth in ownership (26.07 percent) among the B-List drivers. Savvy owners that monitored Friday's second practice noticed the two Earnhardt-Ganassi cars at the top of the speed chart and had the opportunity to get McMurray active before the Saturday deadline. Most tracks hold the first round of practices and qualifying on the same day, so this sneak peak is not always available but is a great tool when it is. Strong qualifying runs have sparked McMurray to two straight Top Fives. Two weeks ago, he won the pole at Chicagoland Speedway and finished fifth. McMurray started fourth for his historic
win at IMS.
2. Kevin Harvick finished as the runner-up for the third time this season. Over the last seven races, Harvick has picked up five of his nine Top Fives this season. During that span, Harvick has held an ARP of ninth or better four times. At IMS, he started ninth and held ARP of sixth. He continues to build on his lead atop the point standings but will continue to press for wins before that advantage is erased when the Chase for the Championship seeding is completed.
3. Greg Biffle matched a season-high with a third-place result, his first Top Five since March. He started seventh at IMS and matched McMurray with an ARP of third in addition to leading the second-most laps, 38. Biffle also spent 100 percent of laps in the Top 15. After a span of six races in which Biffle failed to start better than 16th, he has now qualified in the Top 10 in four of the last five races. In addition to the new Ford FR9 engine, the suggestions coming from Richard Petty Motorsports are starting to show dividends at Roush Fenway Racing.
4. Clint Bowyer has finished fourth in two straight races and is beginning to get a firmer grasp one of the final Chase spots. At IMS, Bowyer started sixth and held the second-best ARP of the race, fifth. He did not lead a lap but spent all of them running in the Top 15. If not for late wrecks at Infineon Raceway and Daytona International Speedway, Bowyer would likely own a streak of five Top 10s right now. He's been running very consistently but has found late-race troubles on occasions as well.
From the spotter's tower
For the second straight year at Indianapolis, Juan Pablo Montoya had the best car in the field and led the most laps but took himself out of contention. After pacing the top speeds in the first two practices, Montoya won the pole before leading a race-high 86 laps on race day. On Lap 138, Montoya had a two second lead erased due to a debris caution. After taking four tires on the final pit stop, his team restarted seventh. Even though the field in front of him was on two tires, Montoya's car did not drive as well without the clean air. Instead of taking home a likely Top 10, Montoya pressed the issue and slammed into the wall during Lap 146 to end the day with his third DNF due to crash in four races.
Mark Martin had easily his best run in weeks. He started third and finished 11th but held his second-best ARP of the season, sixth, and held his second-highest percentage of laps running in the Top 15, 98.8. Over the last several weeks, there has been a lot of speculation over Martin's future with Hendrick Motorsports. Runs like this may keep him in the No. 5 for at least one more season.
On the very first lap of the race, David Reutimann, Sam Hornish Jr., Reed Sorenson and Elliott Sadler caught the worst of a wreck in Turn Two. This dashed the hopes for these four drives before they were able to complete a single lap. In particular, Reutimann needed a strong run to keep his bleak Chase hopes alive. Hornish was third in C-List ownership (30.87) thanks in part to his open-wheel victory at Indianapolis. Flat tracks have been Hornish's most successful venues in NASCAR but he didn't have a chance to prove anything on Sunday.
The starting grid
The bottom three drivers in ownership on the A-List in Yahoo! Sports Fantasy Auto Racing finished in reserve order as the Top Three in performance: Biffle (5.26), Carl Edwards (5.68) and Martin (8.63). Meanwhile, three of Top Four in ownership finished in the bottom four of performance: Jimmie Johnson (42.68), Montoya (17.94) and Jeff Gordon (38.55).
The strong outings from the Roush Fenway drivers were most impressive and are starting to provide a lot of value for owners.
Johnson started on the outside pole but struggled with a loose race car all day long, adding to his feast or famine resume at IMS.
Gordon had a decent Top 15 run going before cutting down a tire late in the race.
Most of the popular B-List drivers held serve, but Joey Logano (20.82) provided a good value. He started from the rear of the field after an engine change and slowly worked his way up through the field to finish ninth. His ARP of 18th and 30.6 percent of laps running in the Top 15 were both easily the worst among those that finished in the Top 10. In the last six races, Logano has picked up three of his eight Top 10s this season but also has three finishes of 19th or worse.
On the C-List, part-timer Bill Elliott (3.93) finished 18th, third in performance. Elliott has three dates remaining on his schedule: Michigan International Speedway, Atlanta Motor Speedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway. With the C-List being so shallow, those that have burned through the top performers should consider Elliott as a change of pace.
Tony Stewart held an ARP of 12th and recorded 70.0 percent of his laps in the Top 15, by far the worst in the Top Five. Over the last nine races, Stewart has seven Top 10s and four Top Fives. He hasn't been dominating but Smoke has been getting it done by methodically working through the field.
Denny Hamlin finished 15th with an ARP of 26th and spent only eight laps in the Top 15. Hamlin had to pit numerous times early due to overheating issues and quickly went a lap down. With only one Top 10 finish in the last five races, Hamlin's five wins this season feel like they happened long ago. Expect Hamlin to turn things around as early as this week with the return trip to Pocono where he's won the last two races.
A.J. Allmendinger started and finished 16th but held an ARP of 27th. Like Hamlin, Allmendinger had similar overheating issues. After avoiding the early wreck, grass from the infield collected on the grill and had to be removed during an unscheduled pit stop. Later on, Allmendinger would again loose time in the pits with a lug nut issue. Allmendinger has three Top 10s this season, including one at Pocono.
Ryan Newman started fifth but an early fender rub caused two rear tires to go down before the issue was fixed and he went down two laps. Newman came back to finish 17th with an ARP of 29th. Losing great starting position is par for the course at IMS for Newman. In 10 career starts, Newman has an average start of 6.1 but an average finish of 21.0. Over the last two races of the season, Newman has only spent a total of 10 laps running in the Top 15.
Martin Truex, Jr. was the fastest in the Happy Hour practice but finished 26th with an ARP of 11th and 75.0 percent of laps running in the Top 15. With 42 laps remaining, Truex lost time in the pits with a jack problem. On the restart, he dropped to 22nd after contact with another car caused front-end damage. Truex would pit to make repairs but then developed a loose wheel with only five laps remaining.
Around the corner
From one flat, 2.5-mile track to another, the Cup series will move from the rectangle at Indy to the triangle at Pocono.
*All stats up-to-date as of 7/26.
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