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Top 25 NASCAR Drivers at the Brickyard | 25-21

Editor’s Note: This is a five-part series looking back at the top 25 drivers to race in the 24 editions of the Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard Powered by Florida Georgia Line, based on victories, results, laps led, qualifying performance and other factors. The drivers will be unveiled five at a time, starting with No. 25 and finishing with No. 1

No. 25: Dale Earnhardt Jr. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Bill Elliott are arguably the most popular NASCAR drivers of the last 30 years, but Junior never enjoyed the same kind of success at the Brickyard as Awesome Bill from Dawsonville.

Junior was a solid performer at IMS during his 17 starts, with five top-10 finishes. He also completed 2,484 laps, 10th best in the history of the race. He also led seven times in five races for a total of 61 laps. He also qualified in the top 10 six times.

But Earnhardt and his legions of fans always expected better at the Brickyard. He had one three-year stretch of strength, from 2012-14, with three consecutive top-10 finishes with Hendrick Motorsports, including a career-best fourth in 2012. But his Brickyard career record also included four finishes of 30th or worse.

Hendrick holds the all-time Brickyard record for victories by a team, with 10. But they were split among Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne, with Junior surprisingly not among that circle of champions.

But while Junior never won at Indy, perhaps no driver was more beloved in the event’s first 24 years. He’ll always be the people’s champion, whether in the No. 8 Chevrolet with Dale Earnhardt Inc. or the No. 88 with Hendrick Motorsports. They’re two of the most iconic cars in the event’s history even though neither ever crossed the finish line first.

No. 24: Jeff Burton. Jeff Burton was Mr. Consistency at the Brickyard, one of only four drivers to complete more than 3,000 laps at IMS during their NASCAR Cup Series career, with 3,097 laps. Burton also was running at the finish in 19 of his 20 starts.

But the top two drivers on the laps completed list – Jeff Gordon (3,519) and Bobby Labonte (3,274) – both did something that Burton couldn’t pull off by winning the race.

Still, Burton produced an enviable record in his 20 Brickyard starts besides the impressive number of laps led. He produced five top-10 finishes and won the pole in 2006.

Burton also is a respectable 11th all time on the laps led list at the Brickyard, with 110 laps in front over five races.

If there’s one year at the Brickyard that may stick in Burton’s mind as a missed chance for victory, it was 1997.

The crew chiefs for Burton and Ricky Rudd decided late in the race to gamble on fuel and stretch their final stop to the finish. Burton’s strategy changed on Lap 145 when Robby Gordon brushed the wall and Burton ran over debris. Burton was forced to the pits under green, but the caution flag flew on Lap 147 for debris just as Burton finished his stop and rushed back to the track ahead of the leaders.

It appeared Burton would cruise to victory with four fresh tires and plenty of fuel after the rest of the lead cars on track would pit under that caution period for their final stop. But Burton’s victory train was derailed when NASCAR officials penalized him for speeding while exiting pit lane. He ended up 15th, stung by what might have been.

No. 23: Greg Biffle. Another model of consistency, The Biff was a real threat to land longtime team owner Jack Roush into Victory Lane for most of the 2000s but never closed the deal.

Biffle was running at the finish of 13 of his 14 Brickyard starts and ended up with six top-10 finishes. He also produced a stretch of five consecutive top-eight finishes from 2008-12, including his best result of third, in 2010 and 2012.

But while consistent, Biffle didn’t always display blazing speed at IMS. His best start was fifth in 2012, and he led in just three races for a total of 53 laps.

Still, Biffle was one of the best in a stable of steady standouts at Roush through the years at IMS that included Mark Martin and Jeff Burton.

No. 22: Joey Logano. It’s hard to believe Joey Logano will make his 10th Brickyard start this September at just age 28. It seems like just yesterday that he was the latest NASCAR “boy wonder,” a precocious driver ready to win all the top races in the sport and contend annually for championships in his early 20s.

Logano delivered on that promise by winning the Daytona 500 for team owner Roger Penske in 2015, but he hasn’t been able to add a Brickyard trophy to his mantle.

Still, Logano has finished in the top 10 six times in nine starts, with four top-10 finishes during that span. He has led in four races for a total of 55 laps.

“Sliced Bread” enters this year’s race with a five-year streak of top-10 finishes, including a Brickyard career-best second in 2015. That was the year he qualified an IMS career-best second and finished just .332 of a second behind winner Kyle Busch.

Logano pulled a few inches ahead of Busch on the final “green-white-checkered” overtime restart but fell short of delivering the first Brickyard victory to legendary Indy 500 team owner Roger Penske and becoming only the fourth driver to win the Daytona 500 and Brickyard in the same season, joining Dale Jarrett, Jimmie Johnson and Jamie McMurray.

No. 21: Juan Pablo Montoya. By the numbers only, Juan Pablo Montoya should be higher on this list.

Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Montoya is fifth on the all-time laps led list at the Brickyard, with 203 trips out front. He finished second in the race as a NASCAR rookie in 2007. He won the pole in 2010 and also started on the front row in 2007 and 2009. His average start of 6.6 is the best all time among Brickyard drivers with at least five starts.

In terms of raw speed and the ability to learn stock car racing quickly at IMS, Montoya easily is a top-15 all-timer.

But what many will remember for Montoya’s eight Brickyard starts from 2007-14 are the two that got away.

Montoya and Chip Ganassi Racing arguably threw away victories in 2009 and 2010. Montoya led a race-high 116 of the first 125 laps in 2009 but was caught speeding on pit road, ending up 11th.

The next year, Montoya dominated again, leading 86 of the first 139 laps. But he pitted for four tires and fuel on his final stop with 23 laps remaining, while the other leaders took just two tires. Montoya was sixth on a late restart, with four fresh tires and seemingly poised to race through the field to the top.

But Montoya crashed on Lap 146 and ended up 32nd, instead seeing his Ganassi teammate Jamie McMurray in Victory Lane. The dream of becoming the only driver to win the Indianapolis 500 and Brickyard 400 ended for that day in a second consecutive year of frustration and heartbreak for JPM.

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