Gordon, Stewart favored as NASCAR hits Indy

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This weekend's race conjures up plenty of powerful images and memories for drivers and fans alike: the history of the Brickyard, the long straightaways with fans surrounding the track on the frontstretch, the yard of bricks that the winner will be kissing at the end of the day and tires. Oh no, not the tires! After last year's so-called "race," the thought of tires and Indy likely makes your stomach turn.

NASCAR and Goodyear have spent countless hours and dollars to ensure we don't see a repeat of last year where cautions and blown tires dominated the day. Hopefully for all involved, the problem has been solved and we will once again see racing worthy of a track of Indianapolis' stature. Last year's notes will be practically useless for the teams as they plan their strategy for Sunday's race. For the fantasy owner, they aren't worth much either. Look for a driver who will have and can maintain good track position, and one with a powerful engine under the hood. And picking a driver who has a chance to win it all at the end of the year isn't a bad strategy either, since seven Brickyard winners have gone on to win the championship that year.

So which drivers will help your team rise above the rest this year and bring glory to your team? Read on to find out this week's favorites, sleepers and longshots.

Jeff Gordon -- If you're looking for a pick based off stats this weekend, then Gordon is your man. With an average finish of 8.6 in his 15 Brickyard starts, Gordon leads in every major statistical category when it comes to stock car racing at Indianapolis. It also doesn't hurt that Gordon has finished second in three of the past five races this season making him one of the hottest drivers right now. He'll be a popular pick this week so you might not gain many points in your league taking him, but you don't want to miss out on the big points everyone else could be getting either.

By the numbers: Gordon has three poles, nine top-5 finishes, 12 top-10 finishes in his 15 Brickyard starts. He's also led 440 laps, which is 225 more than his nearest competitor.

Tony Stewart -- Wondering who that driver is who's led 225 fewer laps than Jeff Gordon? That would be Indiana native and two-time Brickyard winner Tony Stewart. There is no doubt that winning at the famed track is a proud moment for any driver, but it seems to mean just a bit more to Stewart. Now just imagine how much he'd like to take his No. 14 (the same number driven by his Indy hero AJ Foyt) to victory lane for a third time as a driver AND an owner. In the past seven races this season, Stewart is smoking the competition with seven straight top 10s and two wins. Getting win number three would be big for his title hopes, but even bigger on a personal level.

By the numbers: In the past five races at Indy, Stewart has two wins and an average finish of 7.6. With an average start of 21.2 don't panic if he doesn't qualify well.

Mark Martin -- If the Chase started today; Martin would be the point leader thanks to his series-leading four wins. Unfortunately, for Martin there are still seven races to go before the Chase field is set. Just 11 points ahead of the cutoff line, Martin has little margin for error if he wants to reap the benefits of those four wins in his bid for his first championship. The past five races have been feast or famine for Martin with two wins to go with two finishes of 35th or worse. After a dominant performance at Chicagoland, Martin needs to stay hungry and keep reeling in top 10s. For a fantasy owner, Martin is a solid pick if you want to steer away from the two big popular picks this week.

By the numbers: At Indy, Martin has nine top-10 finishes in his 15 starts. After a stretch of bad luck from 2000-2002, Martin has bounced back with four top 10s in the past six races.

Juan Pablo Montoya -- One driver who should be near the top of your list that probably isn't is Montoya. Not only is he the only driver to race in the Brickyard 400, Indianapolis 500 and US Grand Prix, he's having one heck of a season. Currently ninth in the standings, Montoya is becoming a serious contender for a spot in the Chase thanks to nine top-10 finishes this year; which equals the number of top 10s he earned in his first two NASCAR seasons combined. If you're lucky, your league is still undervaluing Montoya and you can get a top driver for a steal this weekend.

By the numbers: In his first start at Indy in a stock car, Montoya started and finished in second place after running in the top 10 all day. Last year -- well, we're not counting that "race" for anyone.

Kasey Kahne -- Becoming only the second Dodge driver to visit victory lane at Indy might be a tall order for Kahne this weekend, but a solid top 10 could be in the cards. Making his 200th career start this weekend, look for a strong qualifying effort from Kahne, who has an average start of 5.8 at Indianapolis. But qualifying isn't where the real points are made, when it comes to race day Kahne is a good second tier option. Since his win at Sonoma four races ago, Kahne has two top 10s and a 15th-place finish putting him eighth in the standings. He's just 51 points ahead of 13th place, so there is not much room for error.

By the numbers: At first glance, Kahne's 17.8 average finish may not be impressive. But looking a bit closer, you'll see he has three top-10 finishes. A crash in 2007 and poor run in 2006 torpedo that overall stat.

Jimmie Johnson -- Earlier I talked about feast or famine with Mark Martin. The same description could be used when looking at Jimmie Johnson's record at Indianapolis. Johnson has made seven starts at Indy in his career, twice he's come away kissing the bricks and taking home the big trophy. But in three of those races he's hit the road early, crashing out twice and losing an engine in 2004. He's not the worst pick for this weekend, but he is certainly one of the riskiest when you look at his past record.

By the numbers: Currently third in the standings, Johnson has been trying to keep pace with Stewart and Gordon and has done a good job by posting four straight top-10 finishes.

Next up: The series makes one more trek to the Pocono Mountains for the Pennsylvania 500.

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