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Brickyard is a prelude to the championship

Jay Hart
Yahoo Sports

INDIANAPOLIS – Whoever takes the checkered flag in Sunday's Brickyard 400 will win the 2010 Sprint Cup championship. It's true almost all of the time.

Admittedly, stories about statistics are about as entertaining as analyzing the tire compound Goodyear brings to the race track, and many times are about as useful as one of those tires with a nail poking through it. But in this case, the numbers are impossible to ignore.

Eight of the last 12 Brickyard 400 winners have gone on to win that year's title.

Coincidence?

Can't be, not when three times in the last four years the drivers who finished 1-2 at Indianapolis wound up 1-2 in the final standings. And not when nine of the top 12 finishers at Indy go on to qualify for the Chase, which happened last season.

So if it's not a coincidence, then what is it that makes the Brickyard 400 such a great predictor?

"This is a textbook place," explained Ray Evernham, who was the crew chief for two of Jeff Gordon's four Brickyard wins. "Nothing funny happens here. You win on speed, ability and not making mistakes, and that's what wins championships. The same qualities that it takes to win championships are really what it takes to win here."

In other words, Indianapolis Motor Speedway is as straightforward a race track as there is. It's not a crapshoot like Daytona, it doesn't have trouble lurking around every corner like Bristol or Martinsville and it rewards those who have everything dialed in at once, which only the best teams do.

"You can build a good car and go to Bristol and not have a good finish," Evernham said. "You build a good motor [for Indy], you're going to have an advantage. You build a good body, you're going to have an advantage. Track position is so crucial, so if you have a good pit crew, you're going to have an advantage. Indy lets you take advantage of all the things you've worked hard on."

And it falls at a place on the schedule (just after the halfway point) when all the things teams have been working on start paying dividends. In his last three title runs, Jimmie Johnson's average finish prior to the Brickyard was 12.9. Including and after Indy, it's 8.3. Not surprisingly, Johnson has won the last two Brickyard 400s and three of the last four.

Evernham said that while he didn't prepare more for this race than any other, he did work harder building the bodies and the engines. NASCAR's newest resident genius inside the garage, Jimmie Johnson's crew chief Chad Knaus, said he doesn't do anything differently for this race.

"I just think the teams that communicate the best and are the most prepared are probably going to win this race more often than not," Knaus said. "If you hit your stride about this time of the year, you can usually carry your momentum through the rest of the season.

"So I think there's a little bit to be said about that, but we've won the championship and haven't won here."

True, but only once, and in the 2007 race Johnson, who started 19th, had worked his way into the top 10 when he was involved in an eight-car accident on Lap 47.

Only once in the race's 16-year history has the eventual champion finished outside the top 10 when completing all 160 laps – Johnson wrecked in 2007, Gordon wrecked in 1996 and Terry Labonte suffered an engine failure in 1997 – and in 2002 Tony Stewart came in 12th.

"I think the cream rises to the top," said Stewart, who won the Brickyard 400 for the first time in 2005, the year he won his second championship. "There’s no slouches that win at the Brickyard. It’s always the cream rises to the top for this event, and I think, like you guys already know, the history and the stats of it and that backs it up."