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Ford, Toyota drivers looking for inroads at Indy

July 28, 2012, Mark Aumann,

Roush Fenway, Joe Gibbs Racing teams looking to snap Chevy Brickyard streak

INDIANAPOLIS -- Ford drivers haven't had an opportunity to kiss the bricks since 1999, and those with Toyota nameplates are still looking for their first win at the Brickyard.

So when cars from both Roush Fenway and Joe Gibbs Racing moved to the top of the scoring pylon at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during Saturday's final practice session, hopes were raised that one of those two teams might be able to snap Chevrolet's nine-year winning streak this weekend.

Curtiss Shaver 400

Practice 1

"Indy has eluded us, but there have been a number of occasions where our cars were good enough to have won," Jack Roush said. "Either because of a fuel mileage situation or the way it worked out by taking tires or not taking tires, it didn't work out. ... We had the speed to win on a number of occasions but just didn't have things work out for us at the end so that we could close the deal."

Roush certainly had a reason to smile after Saturday's final Cup practice session, as his three cars -- led by Biffle's fast lap of 181.499 mph -- occupied three of the top five spots on the leaderboard. Teammate Carl Edwards was a tick slower than Biffle at 181.232 mph, while Matt Kenseth turned in the fifth-quickest lap of the session.

For Biffle, going out and posting a quick lap in a brand-new car in what will be his 350th Cup start was a huge boost of confidence, although that wasn't necessarily the case immediately after Kasey Kahne blistered the track with a lap of 185.326 mph in the first of two practices.

"We weren't real confident the first practice session when Kasey Kahne laid down that lap," Biffle said. "Right now, it's a level playing field, everybody went out and did a [qualifying] run -- and we feel pretty good about this car. I think it can be a little bit better than it is now, so we're going to make us some small adjustments and really watch what the weather does."

A shift in wind direction, even some small cloud cover, can play havoc with a car's handling. Because the flat turns and long straightaways at Indianapolis require a level precise line, the consensus in the garage area is that weather affects this track perhaps more than any other on the Cup circuit.

So knowing what to expect on race day -- and being able to anticipate changes throughout the race -- could be the difference between running up front or spending the day chasing the leaders.

"Is it going to be overcast? Is it going to be hot and sunny?" Biffle said. "That's going to make a big difference on how the car handles. And then, how are you going to be in traffic? That's the main thing."

Kenseth turned his fast lap on his last trip around the 2.5-mile oval, doing it in qualifying trim. He believes this will be the year when good fortune will finally smile on him at the Brickyard.

"In the past, we've had some really good runs and some really good cars and haven't always had the finishes, but it's probably circumstances more than anything," Kenseth said. "I think we have equipment as good as anybody, we've just got to figure out how to make that all work for there and for the race and strategy that goes into being successful at Indy."

Confidence was also high in the Gibbs garage, after Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch all ran better than 180 mph in Happy Hour. Logano's lap of 181.189 mph was third-quickest of the 46 cars entered.

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Hamlin -- who was 10th-fastest in final practice -- said the team's history here certainly plays into his positive outlook.

"I think we've shown, at Indy, that we have what it takes to win [here] and the team really builds great cars for this track," Hamlin said. "It's a track where JGR cars have won before and a track that I really like from the driver's seat, so we go there feeling like we can unload fast, get better in practice and compete on Sunday.

"To win here you need the car, the driver and the crew all at their best, and then have a lot of things go your way. We have had our share of issues at Indy, but if you take those away there is no reason we can't run up front."

The operative word to describe Indianapolis is "momentum."

With two straightaways that measure nearly a half-mile each in length, Indy would seem the perfect place for cars with strong engines. But three-time winner Jimmie Johnson said all the horsepower in the world won't make a difference if you don't carry enough speed through the corners.

"If you make a mistake on a corner here you have such a long straightaway to pay the penalty," Johnson said. "A tenth [of a second] lost in the corner compounds to three or four tenths at the end of the backstretch or frontstretch. Turns 1 and 3, you need to be right and you can lose time, but you just have the short shoot to really lose time. But if you're wrong off of 2 and 4, you really pay the price down the whole straightaway."

Stewart concurred.

"It's a place that is a momentum-driven track," he said. "You don't just have two ends to the racetrack and two big 180-degree corners. You've got four 90-degree corners to negotiate.

"If you have one bad corner at Indy, and if your car's not right, you're going to be bad in four corners versus two corners a lap. And with it being two-and-a-half miles, you carry so much speed, if you lose momentum at that track, it just seems like it's really a big penalty."