Here are five drivers to watch as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard.
The NASCAR Cup Series is headed to Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the final regular season NASCAR race. Which means this is the last opportunity for a driver outside the top-16 in points make the NASCAR playoffs.
Three of the five drivers from the last edition of who to watch finished inside the top-10 at Bristol Motor Speedway. Now the focus shifts to Indianapolis, which plays host to the final regular season race for the first time.
Will one of the drivers currently outside the NASCAR playoffs win and earn their spot this weekend? Will Martin Truex Jr, Kyle Busch or Kevin Harvick add to the playoff points total one last time? Can a current playoff driver without a win, such as Kyle Larson or Jimmie Johnson, finally find victory lane?
Here are five drivers to keep any eye on this weekend to see how they perform at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Kyle Busch should have more than two wins at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In 2014, Busch finished second and then scored back-to-back wins the last two seasons.
Last year, it looked as though Busch was going to win his third straight at Indy. That was until him and Martin Truex Jr. tangled on a restart.
In the last three races at Indy, Busch has led 255 laps. That’s 168 laps more than the next closest driver, Harvick. That’s also eight laps more than the scheduled distance of 160 laps at Indy.
Busch also has a chance secure the regular season championship and 15 more playoff points if he can stay ahead of Kevin Harvick.
Ryan Newman isn’t locked into the NASCAR playoffs. That’s a surprise. If Newman missed the playoffs, this would be just the second time in the last six seasons. It would also be a bold prediction I made earlier this season.
But let’s take a look at Newman’s chances at one of his better tracks, Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Newman won here in 2013 and has three finishes of 11th or better in his last four starts at Indy.
He has a flair for the dramatic and reached the Championship 4 in 2014, the first year of the NASCAR playoffs. Newman went on to finish second at Homestead to Kevin Harvick, coming up just one spot short of shocking the Cup Series.
Will Newman try to shock the Cup Series again? We’ll find out after 400 miles at Indy.
Joey Logano’s worst finish in the last four races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway is seventh. His best during that timeframe was second-place finish in 2015.
Logano’s led 44 laps during that stretch, and until last year, had led six or more laps in his previous three starts. He’s only one of three drivers to finish inside the top-10 in all four races.
Logano is the only driver from Team Penske to find victory lane this season. A win at Indy could help get the momentum going as the NASCAR playoffs begin.
Despite already being locked in, Kevin Harvick has a vested interest in the final regular season race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
If Harvick finishes ahead of Kyle Busch in the final standings, he will earn an additional 15 playoff points.
Harvick has an average finish of 5.8 in the last four races at Indy. During that stretch of races Harvick has finished inside the top-10 in all four, joining Logano and Matt Kenseth as the only three drivers.
One more driver besides Ryan Newman who could potential surprise with a win to make the NASCAR playoffs would be Daniel Suarez.
Suarez is in search of his first career NASCAR Cup Series win. He finished seventh in last year’s race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a race which turned out to be a race for survival.
Suarez is coming off his career best second place finish at Pocono Raceway, a track with similar characteristics to Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
It would be an unbelievable story for Suarez and NASCAR if he could win his first race and make the NASCAR playoffs in the last race of the regular season.
Follow Matt on Twitter @mattlovisa.