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Posted on Wed. Jul. 23, 2014 - 12:01 am EDT

NASCAR slowly building its own history at Brickyard

The iconic track will host stock cars for the 21st year this weekend

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When NASCAR first set foot upon the yard of bricks and the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1994, it was a track dominated by the legends of Foyt, Unser and Andretti.

The inaugural Brickyard 400 was the first race to be held at the Speedway other than the Indianapolis 500 since 1916.

Over the last 20 years, the historic facility has continued to be the Mecca of open-wheel racing, but has added some stock car history.

Another chapter in that two-decade history will be added this Sunday when the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races for the 21st time at Indianapolis in the Curtis Shaver 400 at the Brickyard.

While North Carolina and the South are the heart of NASCAR, Tar Heel native, ESPN analyst and team owner Brad Daugherty has witnessed much of the stock car racing at Indianapolis, ever since he watched the first race in the tower with Dale Earnhardt Jr.

“For me, when going to any NASCAR venue you think about the history of stock cars there,” Daugherty said. “But when you walk into the Brickyard, it's a whole different genre. A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, a group of racing disciples raced those grounds and made it historic.”

Daugherty made a career of basketball but immediately went into racing following his retirement in 1994. He co-owned Liberty Racing in the then-Craftsman Truck Series for several years and currently is part owner of JTG Daugherty Racing with driver A.J. Allmendinger.

While some complain about the lack of exciting racing in recent years at the Brickyard, Daugherty does not.

“Some of our races have been really exciting,” Daugherty said. “I just love going to the place. You have Indy cars in the back of your mind going around 230 miles per hour while watching a 4,000-pound stock car go around there.”

What has been so fitting for a race at an iconic track that is the unofficial kickoff to the final stretch run of the season has been the list of winners, which reads like a NASCAR Hall of Fame ballot. Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson have each won the event four times, while Dale Jarrett and Tony Stewart each have two victories.

Legends like Dale Earnhardt, Ricky Rudd, Bill Elliott and Bobby Labonte have also secured Brickyard wins.

“We've seen some of our best drivers in the history of the sport win here,” Daugherty said.

One of the issues with stock cars racing at Indianapolis is the uniqueness of the track. NASCAR is a series built on mile-and-a-half ovals, with plenty of racing and practice time at those tracks to gain information.

Meanwhile, the superspeedways at Talladega and Daytona feature high banking as well as four races a year, including Speedweeks at Daytona in February that gives race teams plenty of time to work out kinks.

But Indianapolis is still a one-of-a-kind track even after a century, a two-and-a-half mile oval with barely any banking in the corners. NASCAR does not have the luxury of several weeks leading up to its event at the Speedway like IndyCar. It has instead had to adjust car setups and tire compounds based on one year's results to the next.

“A lot of our tracks, you go into a turn and its 20 degrees of banking at least, it will catch the car and help it turn,” Daugherty said. “At Indy, it is a unique challenge.”

Even after 20 years, NASCAR drivers and teams continue to adapt to what the Indianapolis Motor Speedway presents.

All while building its own history across the yard of bricks.

“We no longer feel like outsiders when we come here … we feel like we are a part of (the Speedway's history),” Daugherty said.

jkenny@news-sentinel.com


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