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NSCS Preview - Home-State Stars Among The Favorites

Friday, Jul 22 1421
Indianapolis Motor Speedway is embarking on it's 23rd year as a stop for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. The 2.5-mile rectangular-shaped track located at 16th and Georgetown is made up of asphalt, except for the start/finish line which is made of bricks. The banking in the four turns is 9.2 degrees while there is none in the straightaways.

41 entries are on the roster for the 23rd Annual Crown Royal presents the Combat Wound Coalition 400 at the Brickyard. One will be eliminated after tomorrow's three-round, multi-car qualifying session for race no. 20 on the Cup tour. 160 laps are scheduled to be ran over 400 miles.

Leading 19 of 164 laps, Kyle Busch won the 'Brickyard' a year ago enroute to his first Sprint Cup championship. His current record on the 'yard of bricks' includes the victory a year ago along with four top fives, nine top 10's and an average finish of 9.7. Busch also holds the third-best driver rating of 101.5 as well as the fourth-best average running position at 11.7. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver will have Skittles as a sponsor on the No. 18 Toyota this weekend.

With already three wins on the board this season, Busch is currently ranked second in the Chase standings with 556 points. He trails the No. 2 Team Penske Ford driver Brad Keselowski who has earned four trips to Victory Lane and sits atop the playoff standings with 622 points.

Tony Stewart will be making his final start on the track, who's address is Speedway, Ind. this Sunday. The driver of the No. 14 Mobil 1/Chevy Summer Sell Down Chevrolet has won this race twice before. Stewart's Indianapolis record also consists of 11 top 10's and a 9.6 average finish.

The Columbus, Ind. native already has already won a race this season at Sonoma almost a month ago. He is looking to pick up his third career win at Indianapolis, which would also be his second victory this season if he got the job done. "It’s a big deal to us to win here (at Indianapolis)," Stewart said in a media advance. "This is an event that I definitely circle on the schedule and emotionally have a lot invested in it. To us, it’s definitely not just another stop that’s on the calendar and on the schedule. You don’t just pull in and say, ‘we’re going to go in, try to win the race and then pull out of here.’ When you’re here, you’re amped up because you’re at Indianapolis."

Going into this weekend, there is one story line that is truly overshadowing all story lines. While Dale Earnhardt Jr. is still sidelined with concussion-like symptoms, Jeff Gordon has returned to the seat for this event as well as next weekend's at Pocono.

Gordon has been seen in the television booth, analyzing races for NASCAR on FOX. Because the network ended their broadcasting stint nearly a month ago after the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma, the former No. 24 driver was available.

Gordon was on vacation when he started receiving texts from Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick. “If I could scroll through my phone, and look at the texts I have gotten from Rick that said ‘Call me’, I can tell you that you sit down when you call him in those instances," Gordon said in a press conference earlier this morning.

Gordon went on to explain how he was asked to fill in for the No. 88 Chevrolet team. "I was in the South of France at that time. I think it was the second day of our vacation. Ingrid and I had planned a vacation to go over there. I get that text, and I looked at her and said ‘Oh boy, here we go’. I had no idea. When Rick said to me ‘Are you coming to Indianapolis?’ I said ‘Yes I am. I am coming on Saturday’. He said ‘Well, you better bring your uniform’. I asked what he was talking about and he started to tell me about what was going on. I thought he was messing with me. I knew he was messing with me. I knew right away the seriousness after that, and that he wasn’t joking. That it was serious. Honestly I didn’t have to think twice about it. When Rick calls, he has that confidence in me, and asked me to step-up and do something for the organization – whether it was driver, or other responsibilities. The way he has been there for me. The way this team and organization has been there for me over the years, I didn’t anticipate this. This is certainly the last thing that was going to happen. But I knew it was Indianapolis. I didn’t think about it. I felt like if there was one place that I was capable of doing it, it would be here.“

Gordon has already gone through preparation in getting ready to pinch hit for Earnhardt Jr. "I got back from France on Tuesday. I landed in New York; Mr. Hendrick was kind enough to have a plane there waiting for me to bring me to Charlotte," Gordon explained. " I landed in Charlotte, drove straight to the shop and spent the evening with the team. They had already put the seat in and the steering wheel and had been working with the No. 24 team that had access to everything the seat and the liner. Luckily, we have archived and kept a lot of these things. Really, this is basically my seat from Homestead, probably my steering wheel as well. So, I spent the evening and it was really close, there were just a couple of little minor tweaks. I came back the next morning to the shop and started that process. I had to get a physical. I had to do all the NASCAR requirements. I have an owner credential I don’t have a driver credential, so had to go through that process and spent the whole day there with Greg Ives (No. 88 crew chief)."

After not being on the track since November of 2015, there are a few things that the former Indianapolis winner is going to have to get used to, one being pit road. "The biggest thing is going to the No. 88 stall, not the No. 24 stall," Gordon laughed. "For 23 years I went to that No. 24 stall. We have already talked about the processes of assuring that doesn’t happen.”

Another Indiana racer hailing from South Bend, Ryan Newman is one to look out for this weeked. The Richard Childress Racing No. 31 Grainger Chevrolet kissed the bricks in 2013. Kissing the bricks is a tradition that got started by Dale Jarrett after he won the 1996 Brickyard 400. Since then, NASCAR and Indycar victors on the famed speedway have followed suit. Newman came home 11th a year ago. His current-season statistics include one top-five finish along with seven top 10's.

"It’s just a great opportunity," Newman said in an earlier media availability." I look forward to being back home again in Indiana and having an opportunity to race for that Brickyard trophy and kiss those bricks. We will see how strong we are.”

Qualifying for the 23rd Annual Crown Royal presents the Combat Wound Coalition 400 will kick off at 1:45 PM ET tomorrow afternoon. Race coverage begins on Sunday at 2:30 PM ET. Watch on NBCSN and listen on the IMS Radio Network and Sirius XM Channel 90.
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Katie Williams

Coming off the ranch, I didn’t have a motorsports background but my passion was and still is very strong. My first taste of NASCAR came at the age of seven while waiting for music videos to come on the old TNN network. As I grew up, I pursued other interest but eventually rediscovered cars going left when I found the SPEED channel during the 2011-2012 offseason.

I didn’t decide I wanted to pursue a career in NASCAR until the summer of 2012. I’m not a wrench head or strong enough for a pit crew so media was the next best thing. At the beginning of 2013, I started going to races and making connections within the sport. I also studied Motorsports Management at Sports Management Worldwide. Although I love what happens on the track, I’ve always been interested in what goes on behind the scenes and I’ve gotten to know many people throughout the radio, TV and digital media world.

While I’m a long time writer, 2015 was my first year actually covering the sport with . I also became a media correspondent for Raceline. I’ve been able to help the TV show gain recognition on social media. My current goal is to acquire more experience in covering NASCAR and move up the media ladder. Outside of motorsports, I have been an equine-sports statistician for 16 years.

I currently reside in Gillette, WY where I’m still involved with horses. I enjoy riding them, rodeo, swimming, traveling and meeting people.

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