By Jerry Bonkowski and Bob Moore
48 JIMMIE JOHNSON, Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: Jimmie Johnson is in first place for the 14th straight week after Daytona. He leads second-ranked Clint Bowyer by 56 points and third-ranked Carl Edwards by 73 points.
INDIANAPOLIS RECORD: 11 career starts, 4 wins, 4 top-5s, 5 top-10s, 1 poles. Best career finish: First in 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2012. Finished first in this race last year and was 19th in the 2011 race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Defending winner Johnson is seeking to become the first five-time winner of the Brickyard 400 this Sunday. Here's his thoughts: "It took me quite a while to figure out the track. But I feel that tracks that are unique and quirky, one-of-a-kind tracks, I seem to adapt well to them. Those are tracks like Martinsville, Dover, Darlington, and the Brickyard. There isn't a track out there like those. In my opinion, once you figure out how to drive those quirky tracks, you've got something that doesn't change. It always takes that line and that rhythm to get it right; and when I show up at the race track, I stay very focused on that particular driving style. We adjust the car to it, and it pays off. So for me, it's just finding that line; and then once I've got it, I seem to own it. At the Brickyard, I found it on my own. I found it through a lot of frustrating test sessions, races, a few crashed cars, and then it finally clicked. I don't remember the exact moment. I do at Martinsville, but I don't at Indy. It was just one weekend we came back and the light went off in my mind and I'm like, that's how! And then we won. That was our first win!"
LOOKING BACK: Johnson didn't dominate like he did the week before at Daytona, but still had a strong run at New Hampshire. Even though he didn't lead any laps, he finished sixth. Here's his thoughts on the race: "We had a great race car. Once you get to the top 10, that's a different game trying to pass cars and work your way to the front there. Really, the lane that you were in on a restart had a huge impact on how many cars you could pass. A few times I was on the outside and made my way to third and then a few times on the inside and I slipped back. All in all a great day for the Lowe's team and just very proud of the effort these guys put in week in and week out. We are all going to enjoy this off week and then come back and get ready to go to Indy."
ETC.: Even though he has four wins at there, Johnson has completed just 89.2 percent (1,571) of the 1,761 total laps contested in 11 career starts at Indianapolis. His average start is 13.5 and average finish is 16.8. He has three DNFs there.
15 CLINT BOWYER, Toyota
Team: Michael Waltrip Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Clint Bowyer remained in second place for the second consecutive week after New Hampshire. However, he dropped from 49 points to 56 points behind series leader Jimmie Johnson, and leads third-ranked Carl Edwards by 17 points.
INDIANAPOLIS RECORD: 7 career starts, 0 wins, 2 top-fives, 2 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Fourth in 2006 and 2010. Was 15 in this race last year and finished 13th in the 2011 race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Bowyer left New Hampshire still looking for his first win in 2013. He heads to Indianapolis where he's had mixed success, more bad than good. Still, a winless Bowyer is a dangerous Bowyer, and he could pull off a huge upset with a win at Indy. Here's his thoughts on how this season has gone: "I'm a calculator in terms of managing risk versus reward. Yes, second in points puts us in a position where we could take a shot and more importantly being 116 points in front of 11th place helps a lot. We'll see. We are not locked in. You look at what the No. 5 car did from Dover over a stretch of a couple weeks and he lost almost 70 points in about three weeks, so I definitely want to watch that something like that doesn't happen. Come mid-August around Bristol, Atlanta and Richmond I think we have as good of a shot as anyone to win. If we keep on the pace that we're on now and we can lock in around Bristol that would be super exciting for us - then we can go for some wins. I think it's all risk versus reward. It's easy to sit back and second guess, but you have to make the Chase in this series and we have to do what we can to do that first."
LOOKING BACK: After a third-place finish at Kentucky and fourth-place showing at Daytona, Bowyer dropped to a 13th place but still respectable finish at New Hampshire. But it was still a great day for the Michael Waltrip Racing team as Brian Vickers, driving a part-time schedule for the team in 2013 (while also racing full-time on the Nationwide Series for Joe Gibbs Racing), won his first race in 75 starts at Loudon. Said Vickers after the win, "Man, I just thank God for the chance and the opportunity to come back and this team and Rodney (Childers, crew
chief), and just everyone believing in me and giving me a second chance."
ETC.: Bowyer has completed an outstanding 100 percent (1,120) of the 1,120 total laps contested in seven career starts at Indianapolis. His average start is 20.4 and average finish is 12.3. He has zero DNFs there.
99 CARL EDWARDS, Ford
Team: Roush Fenway Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: After spending the previous nine weeks in second place, Carl Edwards remained in third place for the second consecutive week after New Hampshire. He trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by 73 points, second-ranked Clint Bowyer by 17 points and leads fourth-ranked Kevin Harvick by one point.
INDIANAPOLIS RECORD: 8 career starts, 0 wins, 1 top-fives, 3 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Second in 2008. Was 29th in this race last year and finished 14th in the 2011 race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Edwards has ridden a roller coaster over the last eight races at Indianapolis, up and down, up and down. After finishing 14th and 29th in his last two starts there, he's due for a bounce back upward on Sunday. Here's his thoughts: "The Brickyard is a big race for our Fastenal team. The track is very unique and fast and has a lot of history. It's a race on the schedule that neither Jimmy nor I have won. Because it's near Fastenal's biggest distribution center, a win there would be huge. Our goal is to go there to win the pole and the race."
LOOKING BACK: After finishing a disappointing 29th at Daytona the week before, Edwards rebounded with an eighth-place finish at New Hampshire. Here's what he had to say about the track at Loudon: "Loudon has been hit or miss for us. It is fun to go there because the Red Sox and Fenway Sports Group are based up there. A win would (have been) huge. ... It is a deceivingly tough track."
ETC.: Edwards has completed a near-perfect 99.7 percent (1,276) of the 1,280 total laps contested in eight career starts at Indianapolis. His average start is 22.0 and average finish is 13.2. He has zero DNFs there.
29 KEVIN HARVICK, Chevrolet
Team: Richard Childress Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Kevin Harvick remained in fourth place for the fifth straight week after New Hampshire. He trails series leader Jimmie Johnson by 74 points, is one point behind third-ranked Carl Edwards and leads fifth-ranked Dale Earnhardt Jr. by 44 points.
INDIANAPOLIS RECORD: 12 career starts, 1 wins, 4 top-fives, 7 top-10s, 1 poles. Best career finish: First in 2003. Was 13th in this race last year and 11th in the 2011 race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: After finishing second at Indianapolis in 2010, Harvick has not had the results he'd like the last two races there. But given the season he's had thus far and the fact that this is his last season with Richard Childress Racing, expect Harvick to give everything he has to win at Indy on Sunday. Here's his thoughts: "It's quite the place to win at. I'm not sure exactly why we run so well at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but it's a good track to perform well at, and we've done so throughout the years. Hopefully we can do the same thing this time around because it's a fun race to win. We ran well at Pocono Raceway and Auto Club Speedway, so the longer tracks have been treating us pretty well this season. I just hope that continues so we can experience another Brickyard 400 win."
LOOKING BACK: Harvick had another strong run this past Sunday at New Hampshire, one of his favorite tracks on the Sprint Cup circuit, finishing seventh. Here's his thoughts on that race: "We struggled terribly today. We were able to make something out of it, but we've got a lot of work to do before we come back (for the fall Chase race)."
ETC.: Harvick has completed 99.4 percent (1,909) of the 1,921 total laps contested in 12 career starts at Indianapolis. His average start is 15.6 and average finish is 10.2. He has zero DNFs there.
88 DALE EARNHARDT JR., Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: Dale Earnhardt Jr. remained in fifth place for the second consecutive week after New Hampshire. He trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by 118 points, is 44 points behind fourth-ranked Kevin Harvick and leads sixth-ranked Kyle Busch by two points.
INDIANAPOLIS RECORD: 13 career starts, 0 wins, 1 top-fives, 3 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Fourth in 2012. Was a career-best fourth in this race last year and 16th in the 2011 race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Earnhardt has had very limited success at Indianapolis. He's still looking for his first win of the season, and a win at the Brickyard would likely rank right up there with his Daytona 500 win in 2004 as one of the biggest wins of his career. Here's his thoughts on Sunday's race: "I like coming to Indy and like the history of the racetrack. The history there is incredible. It's been able to survive a lot of things, and here we are racing on it today. It is just incredible. It is a challenging place. It is one groove and you kind of fight getting aero-tight behind people. You know when you show up for practice what you of need out of your car. We will work hard this weekend and see where we end up."
LOOKING BACK: Earnhardt had a marginal car and wound up with a marginal 14th place finish. He tried to challenge at times, but just didn't have a strong enough car to compete with the leaders.
ETC.: Earnhardt has completed just 92.5 percent (1,924) of the 2,081 total laps contested in 13 career starts at Indianapolis. His average start is 17.0, while his average finish is 20.3. He has three DNFs there.
18 KYLE BUSCH, Toyota
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing