NASCAR drivers in awe of Indy

DEAN MCNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:31 PM ET

INDIANAPOLIS -- Just about every driver in the Sprint Cup garage has a special place in his racing memory for Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Whether it be from visiting the 2.5-mile track as a child or coming here for the first time as a driver, to a man they are still in awe every time they come through the tunnel to get to the infield.

Some, like Tony Stewart, grew up in the shadows of the huge facility that sits smack in the middle of Indianapolis suburbia at the intersection of 16th St. and Georgetown Rd.

"I think the first time I came here was with my dad," said Stewart, who won at IMS in 2005 and again in 2007. "I was probably five or six years old. We came out to watch practice the day before (Indianapolis 500) qualifying. There were a lot of cars on the racetrack that day. It was pretty amazing.

"I think it was special from day one and I don't think it's ever changed."

Stewart said he got that same special feeling this week on his most recent visit.

"I got in (Thursday) night after the Silver Crown race," he said. "You come in and see it lit up, you get that tickle in your stomach that tells you you're home."

Stewart was asked Friday if that made Indy his favourite track of all time.

"Always has been, always will be," he said.

Current Sprint Cup points leader Carl Edwards is not a native Hoosier like Stewart, but he, too, said there is a reverence about the track and a prestige that the Brickyard 400 has developed since Jeff Gordon won the inaugural NASCAR race in 1994.

"This race is huge," Edwards said. "This is one of the biggest races that a NASCAR driver can win."

Edwards certainly has achieved success in NASCAR -- witness the feeding frenzy he has caused by being the most sought after free agent driver since Dale Earnhardt Jr. left the family firm to race for Hendrick Motorsports. But other than a single non-points all-star win at Charlotte Motor Speedway Edwards has not won a major -- a Daytona 500, a Coca-Cola 600 or a Brickyard 400 -- in the Cup division.

"I think if you run well enough and you're a good enough driver, you will eventually win these races and, hopefully, I get to but I don't really measure someone by whether they've won these races," he said.

But nonetheless Edwards made it clear he would like nothing more than to end his drought at the big three races on Sunday.

Matt Kenseth, who grew up just up the road in Cambridge, Wis., has always wanted to race the Brickyard 400 at Indy.

And with the race falling in mid-season it makes it even more attractive to the former Sprint Cup champion.

"Yeah, it's always cool to come here to Indy," he said. "It's always one you have circled on your calendar and you're ready to go when you get here."

Five-time series champion and three-time Brickyard champion Jimmie Johnson said he views the Indianapolis race as equal to the Daytona 500 -- which for many NASCAR fans is almost heresy.

"It's argued back and forth which is more prestigious and important," he said. "It's tough for me to pick one, but they're both very special.

"I'm very fortunate to have won at both of them."

However, when prodded, Johnson admitted that because he grew up a huge Rock Mears fan, Indy has always been his favourite track and now the Brickyard is his favourite race.

"With my upbringing throughout motorsports, it's extra special for me to come and compete at this track and to have won here," he said. "I can remember all the races I watched with my grandfather and dad, watching the Indy 500. It's really special to come back."


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