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A brick in the wall for Busch?

Sprint Cup leader, who has won seven of 19 races this year, wants to build a legend's resume. A win at Indy would be a step in that direction.

July 27, 2008|Jim Peltz | Times Staff Writer

INDIANAPOLIS -- Kyle Busch puts his dream season up against Jeff Gordon's stellar Brickyard record and Jimmie Johnson's fast Chevrolet today at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Gordon, 36, is the only four-time winner of the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard, the first coming at the race's inaugural running in 1994.

Busch, who was 9 years old that day, is making only his fourth Indy appearance today. But Busch, now 23, is a favorite to reach Victory Lane because he's won a jaw-dropping seven of the Sprint Cup Series' 19 races this year.

"He's just an amazing talent," said Dale Jarrett, a former Brickyard 400 winner and now a NASCAR television analyst. "It makes for a great show."

Busch, who drives the No. 18 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, also leads the championship standings with hope of capturing his first Cup title.

He has a long road ahead to catch Gordon, who has four series titles and 81 career wins, sixth highest in history, for Hendrick Motorsports.

Yet it was Johnson, Gordon's teammate, who won the opening round for today's race by capturing the pole position in qualifying on a warm, muggy Saturday.

Johnson turned a lap of 181.763 mph on the flat, 2.5-mile Indianapolis oval.

"We had a car that I could really be aggressive with," Johnson said. "The team and I are really in sync with the car and what it is doing and what we need from it."

Johnson won the Brickyard 400 in 2006. But last year he was forced to jump from his No. 48 Chevrolet after it blew a tire, hit the wall and caught fire.

Mark Martin, the Dale Earnhardt Inc. veteran who has predicted a strong run today for his No. 8 Chevy, qualified second at 181.393 mph and will start on the outside of the front row.

Gordon qualified fifth and Busch was 19th, but Busch picked up speed and frequently was among the top 10 in the two afternoon practice sessions.

Tony Stewart, the Indiana native who has won two of the last three Brickyard 400s, qualified 14th.

Gordon also is a local favorite, having grown up in Pittsboro, Ind., after his family relocated from his hometown of Vallejo, Calif. He has won over many NASCAR fans who booed him early in his career when he frequently beat the likes of Dale Earnhardt and Rusty Wallace.

Now it's Busch who draws most of the boos from fans who dislike the Las Vegas native's cocky, aggressive nature.

But Busch thrives on his controversial image. He's won eight other races in NASCAR's second-tier Nationwide and Craftsman Truck series this year, and acknowledged that he's laying the groundwork for a career that might one day rival Gordon's.

"Times change all the time," Busch said. "Before Gordon, it was Rusty Wallace and Darrell Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt chasing the other guys like Richard Petty and those guys.

"It all changes and sooner or later there's going to be young guys that are going to be chasing after me, hopefully anyway. I don't think I'm quite there yet."

Gordon, meanwhile, is sixth in the Cup points standings despite not winning yet this year and appears headed for NASCAR's late-season Chase playoff in search of his fifth championship. Gordon has won at least one race every year since 1994, a streak he wants to keep alive.

"I think we're getting closer," he said. "Those wins could be around the corner."

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John C. McGinley, who plays Dr. Perry Cox on the television comedy "Scrubs," is grand marshal of today's race.

McGinley is a longtime NASCAR fan who grew up in Short Hills, N.J., and now lives in Malibu. But this will be the first Cup race he's watched in person.

"When they called me up and I had the opportunity not only to attend but to wave the green flag, [my answer] was a big, fat 'yes,' " he said.

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james.peltz@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

NASCAR at the Brickyard

Winners and pole winners at the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard (note: race was known as the Brickyard 400 from 1994-2004:)

*--* Year Pole winner Race winner 1994 Rick Mast Jeff Gordon 1995 Jeff Gordon Dale Earnhardt 1996 Jeff Gordon Dale Jarrett 1997 Ernie Irvan Ricky Rudd 1998 Ernie Irvan Jeff Gordon 1999 Jeff Gordon Dale Jarrett 2000 Ricky Rudd Bobby Labonte 2001 Jimmy Spencer Jeff Gordon 2002 Tony Stewart Bill Elliott 2003 Kevin Harvick Kevin Harvick 2004 Casey Mears Jeff Gordon 2005 Elliott Sadler Tony Stewart 2006 Jeff Burton Jimmie Johnson 2007 Reed Sorenson Tony Stewart 2008 Jimmie Johnson *--*

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Source: NASCAR

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