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NASCAR At Indianapolis: Brickyard 400 Starting Grid And Stories To Watch

NASCAR's second-biggest race is less than an hour from taking the green flag. Georgia's own David Ragan has the pole for the today's Brickyard 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway - duplicating the feat of Peachtree City's Reed Sorenson, who started from the pole in 2007. Ragan, of Unadilla, toured the hallowed Speedway in 49.182 seconds. He'll share the front row with Kasey Kahne, while three-time Brickyard 400 winner Jimmie Johnson and Penske Racing teammates Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski round out the top-five. Seewhere your favorite driver starts, as well as his team's pit stall at Jayski.com.

Here are some stories to watch before the 18th-annual Brickyard 400.

Can Ragan give Georgia its second Brickyard crown? Bill Elliott added to his legend in 2002, taking one of Ray Evernham's Dodges to victory lane in a dominant performance. Ragan's pole gives him the opportunity to continue his recent upswing in the Sprint Cup standings - which included a win at Daytona earlier this month - and try to add to his status as Georgia's next great sporting hero.

Can Roger Penske finally take a win at Indy with the big cars? Roger Penske has dominated the Indianapolis 500 like no other car owner, winning the Greatest Spectacle in Racing 15 times with such racing luminaries as Mark Donohue, Rick Mears, and Emerson Fittipaldi. His success in IndyCar racing at the Speedway has never carried over to stock cars. Rusty Wallace did finish second on three occasions - to Dale Earnhardt in 1995, Bobby Labonte in 2000, and Elliott in 2002 - but could never take The Captain to victory. Busch and Keselowski have been plenty fast in recent weeks, which could offer them a chance to break Penske's winless streak.

Transplanted or Homegrown? Jeff Gordon was born in Vallejo, CA, but grew up in Pittsboro, IN. He claims Indiana as home, and was the darling of the Speedway when he won the inaugural event in 1994. He added wins in 1998, 2001, and 2004, giving him more Brickyard 400 wins than any other driver. Tony Stewart, meanwhile, grew up 40 miles down the road from Indianapolis, dreaming of winning there as a youth. He finally realized his dream in 2005, then added a second win in 2007. They are the only "Hoosiers" to win the 400, though South Bend's Ryan Newman could join them today.

Speaking of Newman, can he duplicate his owner's feat from 2007? Newman won the most recent Sprint Cup race at Loudon and seeks his first Brickyard triumph. Only two drivers - Gordon in 1998 and Stewart, Newman's team owner and teammate, in 2007 - have won the Brickyard after taking the checkered flag in the prior event. By the same token, they are the only two drivers to ever follow up a Brickyard win with a win the following week. Gordon pulled the feat in 1998 - as part of a four-in-a-row streak - and 2001, while Stewart did it in 2005.

Does the Cindarella trend continue? Three of NASCAR's biggest races this year - The Daytona 500, Southern 500, and Coke Zero 400 at Daytona - have featured first-tme winners. No driver has recorded his first win in the Brickyard 400, but drivers like Paul Menard and A.J. Allmendinger will be looking to end that mark with their first-career victories.

Does ESPN finally get it right? Since returning to the sport in 2007, ESPN's coverage has recieved mixed-to-negative reviews. The network has hopefully taken a step in the right direction, moving veteran announcer Allen Bestwick to the booth. Fans have long clamored for the popular Bestwick to become ESPN's play-by-play announcer, and while one move can't fix all of their issues, it is a good start. 

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.