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IMS Writers’ Roundtable, Vol. 27: Best Driver To Not Win Brickyard?

Today’s question: As the NASCAR Cup Series shifts to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course for the first time for the Verizon 200 at the Brickyard on Sunday, Aug. 15, it’s time to look back at the heritage of 27 editions of the Brickyard 400 on the oval. Who was the best Brickyard 400 veteran to not win the race?

Curt Cavin: First, let’s put some “contenders” for this discussion in context. There are five Cup Series champions who have amassed 30 or more race wins and not won at Indianapolis, assuming they had the chance to do so: Darrell Waltrip (84 wins), Rusty Wallace (55), Matt Kenseth (33), Kurt Busch (33) and Martin Truex Jr. (30), and only Waltrip and Wallace are in NASCAR’s Hall of Fame. Given that, the pick should be Waltrip, although none of his Cup wins came in the Brickyard era, and he was driving for lesser teams in his seven Indy starts at the end of his career. I considered picking Wallace, who usually ran well at the Speedway, but I’ll go with another stalwart: Hall of Famer Mark Martin, who won 40 Cup races. In 20 Brickyard starts, Martin had 14 top-11 finishes, including a pair of seconds, four other top-fives and the pole in 2009. For the record, A.J. Foyt competed in the Brickyard 400 in 1994 and won seven Cup career races, but I don’t think he fits the spirit of the question.

Zach Horrall: I think this is an easy one. It’s Rusty Wallace. This guy had several near wins at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He had three second-place finishes, 148 laps led, five top-five finishes and nine top 10’s in 12 starts (that’s 75 percent of finishes in the top 10, if you’re curious). Considering those numbers and his NASCAR Hall of Fame status, it’s rather surprising he never won here. His nearest miss came in 2000 when he led 110 of 160 laps, but a slip up in Turn 3 with 15 laps to go saw Bobby Labonte sneak by and kiss the bricks en route to his 2000 NASCAR Cup Series championship. Wallace was also passed for the lead by 2002 winner Bill Elliott with 12 laps to go. Always a bridesmaid, never a bride.

Paul Kelly: I interpret this question as naming the best full-time NASCAR Cup Series driver not to win the race at IMS, so that eliminates A.J. Foyt – who was 59 when he made his only Brickyard 400 start in the inaugural event in 1994. Even eliminating Super Tex and other “one-offs” such as Danny Sullivan and Jacques Villeneuve, that still leaves quite a list of impressive drivers who never won a Cup Series on the IMS oval. Rusty Wallace is a great pick, as he won 55 races in his career. But he always seemed to fall short on NASCAR’s biggest stages, as he never won the Daytona 500 or Brickyard 400. So, my choice is Juan Pablo Montoya. When it comes to “all-arounders” in global motorsports in the last 25 years, Montoya’s name is either at or near the top. Two-time Indy 500 winner, Cup Series race winner, Formula One race winner, INDYCAR SERIES champion, IMSA champion. Yet he never won the Brickyard 400 in eight starts. But he should have, probably twice. Montoya led by five seconds with 36 laps to go in 2009 when he was caught speeding on pit lane. He led 86 of the first 145 laps from the pole in 2010 but hit the wall late in the race trying to catch Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Jamie McMurray, whose took two tires on his final pit stop while Montoya took four.

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