INDIANAPOLIS, IN - JULY 31: Paul Menard, driver of the #27 NIBCO/Menards Chevrolet, poses as he kisses the bricks after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 31, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images for NASCAR)
The legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway plays host to Sunday's Brickyard 400. The event's first 18 winners read like a who's who of stock car racing.
Compared to the 54-year history of the Daytona 500, the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway is still a very young event. Compared to the 102-year Indianapolis 500, the 160-lapper is just a baby.
Still, since its inaugural event in 1994, the race has been stock car racing's second-biggest race, behind only Daytona. Some drivers and fans even argue that the 400 is bigger, given the history of the Speedway and the fact that Daytona is more a crapshoot because of the drafting nature of the race than the 400, where a fast, good-handling race car is a must in order to have a shot at the checkered flag.
Indeed, there are no fluke victories in the 400. With all due respect to, for instance, 1990 Daytona 500 champion Derrike Cope and his car owner Bob Whitcomb, they aren't exactly NASCAR Hall of Famers. To the contrary, the Brickyard 400 champion list reads like a who's who.
Dale Earnhardt, who won the race in 1995, is already enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Four-time winner Jeff Gordon (who won the '94 inaugural), three-time victor Jimmie Johnson, two-time champ Tony Stewart, and 2002 winner Bill Elliott are all destined for a first-ballot induction. Dale Jarrett's two Brickyard 400s are highlights on his Hall-worthy resume, and Bobby Labonte, Ricky Rudd, and Kevin Harvick are other Brickyard winners who'll eventually head to Charlotte.
The other two winners, Jamie McMurray and defending champ Paul Menard, might not be legends in their own right, but their owners certainly are. Menard drives for Richard Childress, while McMurray's 2010 victory is one of five wins at the speedway for Chip Ganassi (a four-time Indy 500 winner as an owner).
Almost as impressive as the list of those who have won the 400 its that of those who haven't. Jack Roush and his stable of drivers is without an Indianapolis triumph, while Roger Penske - a 15-time winner of the Indianapolis 500 - has still yet to taste stock car glory at the Speedway. Penske's toils coincide with those of newly-elected Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace, who finished second three times but never quite broke through.
For Mark Martin, the big one has always been just out of reach. Seemingly the eternal bridesmaid, second-place finishes in 1998 and 2009 go along well with his five runner-up finishes in the championship standings and a best finish of second in the Daytona 500 (2007). He'll be in the field Sunday and should he take the checkered flag for car owner Michael Waltrip, it would no doubt be one of the most popular NASCAR wins ever.