When you look at NASCAR, I think places like Daytona, Indianapolis and Darlington are foundation tracks. In the case of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, that is the track that truly put open-wheel racing on the map.
I feel the same can be said about Daytona and Darlington from the stock car side.
Now someone might pop up and say I have overlooked Martinsville Speedway. The difference with Daytona and Darlington is they were home to our superspeedway races. Martinsville truly is historic and a wonderful place to race, but it’s a half-mile track and is just so reminiscent to every short track around the country that we’ve all been to coming up through the ranks.
Remember that Darlington was NASCAR's first superspeedway. We’d never seen something like that or shaped the way it was. After that, along came Daytona and it was just so massive. It was two-and-a-half miles around that joint plus it was fast, bad fast.
Anyone who gets the chance to race at Indianapolis feels they are special. Then if you win here – now that is an accomplishment. You’ve now ascended to the top of the mountain and joined a rare breed of race car driver. It truly is an elite fraternity.
It’s always great to win, no matter what track you are at. The competition is so fierce these days that a win a Dover is just like a win at Bristol which is just like a win at Kansas. That said, a win at Indianapolis, Daytona and Darlington does carry that little something extra.
Growing up one of my hero’s was A.J. Foyt. Race fans know about A.J. Foyt just like they know about Richard Petty. Those two iconic names are universal. They both transcend stock car and open-wheel lines. The same can be said for Mario Andretti and Cale Yarborough. Mario, like A.J., came over and drove stock cars. Cale drove open-wheel cars.
The Brickyard 400 is not just a normal race. In this Olympic year, you can liken running at Daytona or Indianapolis to being on an Olympic team. Everyone wants to be in the Olympics – everyone wants to race and win at Daytona and Indy but only an elite few ever accomplish it. These are really special events. These races just aren’t another weekend at a track.
I think all of us were winners when NASCAR and the owners of Indianapolis Motor Speedway got together all those years ago and said, “Let’s talk about stock cars at Indy.” Both sides had the vision to see what that could mean. It added a whole new chapter in the book of what Indianapolis brings to racing as a whole.
Indianapolis is a very tough racetrack. If you can go there with a race car that is not only aerodynamically fast but also with great handling and a killer motor, then you really can make a lot of noise. Now conventional wisdom will tell you to watch Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon this weekend.
Paul Menard and people like Juan Pablo Montoya are great reminders that there are others out there that can step up and surprise folks this weekend.
Sunday, you just might experience what we all did last year when it wasn’t predictable and someone totally unexpected stepped up and won the Brickyard 400.