The off week was what the drivers and teams needed. Now that itís over, itís time to, as Larry McReynolds likes to say: ďReach up there and pull those belts tight one more time!Ē We will see who has what it takes to stay focused from here on out and plow ahead and win the championship.
Next up is arguably the second-biggest race on the NASCAR schedule behind the Daytona 500, the Samuel Deeds 400 at the Brickyard. This is the 20th anniversary of the inaugural Brickyard 400, won by Jeff Gordon. The cream rises to the top at Indianapolis and there are few surprise winners here.
Fun Fact: Eight times among five drivers has the driver who won the Brickyard 400 gone on to win the championship in the same year, and three drivers have won the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400 in the same year.
Last Yearís winner: Jimmie Johnson
Most wins among active drivers: Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson (4)
Prediction: Is there really any other choice? Jimmie Johnson has owned the Brickyard since 2006, winning four times. To be the best, youíve got to beat the best, and Johnson has proven to be the best here in recent years. In last yearís win, he made it clear early on that everyone else would be racing for second because he was ďin his own countryĒ according to Kyle Busch. The car that Johnson used to win last yearís Brickyard 400 is the same one that he dominated and won the June Pocono race with. If his crew brings that same car back to Indy, the competition better look out. The only thing that will keep Johnson and co. out of Victory Lane is themselves, which they have managed to do a few times this year. With the chance to make more history here this weekend, I think the 48 crew will step it up and the driver will be flawless en route to a fifth win at Indianapolis.
If Johnson does win, it will be the fourth time that a driver that won the Daytona 500 also won the Brickyard 400 in the same year and Johnson would be the only repeat driver to accomplish that feat. The year that Johnson did win Daytona and Indianapolis in the same year, he went on to win the championship and started one of the most amazing runs in NASCAR history by winning five consecutive titles. Could history repeat itself if Johnson wins on Sunday? Could we see him become the only repeat driver to win the Daytona 500, the Brickyard 400 and the championship in the same year and win another five straight championships, like he did from 2006-2010? It seems unlikely, but thatís what most people said about Johnson in 2010 when he was going for five straight; that it was unlikely that he would do it and he proved the doubters wrong.
Most fans wonít want to see Johnson win another title much less five straight again, but you will have to admit that if he does, history is being made and it isnít often that sports fans are witness to historic events and moments that will most likely never been seen again. So if Johnson does win on Sunday, embrace the moment because itís hard to win any race in NASCAR today, much less either of the two biggest races of the year and Johnson will have won both of them in the same year for the second time in his career. If Johnson does win, the word that will be coming to my mind is amazing.