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By Al Stilley
Southsider Voice correspondent
Noblesville’s Dakoda Armstrong realizes the prestige and challenge of racing in the Nationwide Series for team owner and seven-time NASCAR champion Richard Petty.
Although Armstrong is a rookie, the expectation is for him to put his No. 43 in victory circle, just as Petty’s Sprint Cup driver Aric Almirola did earlier this month at Daytona.
“He’s my boss,” Armstrong said in admiration of Petty. “There is a lot of prestige and pressure. People want to see the car up front and in victory lane. As a team we have to make sure we’re ready to go for those wins.”
Armstrong, a Rookie of the Year in the 2008 Hooters Pro Cup and 2011 ARCA national stock car series, competes Saturday for the first time on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval in the Lilly Diabetes 250. His best finish this year was 10th at Dover, Del., last month.
The 22-year-old graduate of USAC open wheel cars once raced quarter-midgets as a youngster on a small course behind Gasoline Alley at the IMS.
“To get to run Indy will certainly be very cool,” Armstrong said. “Everyone loves the Speedway and wants to win there, but the big thing for me is that I grew up there. I take pride in that.”
What’s in a number?
The iconic No. 3, made famous by seven-time NASCAR Cup champion Dale Earnhardt, returns to IMS in a Sprint Cup race for the first time since 2000.
Team owner Richard Childress, who has won the Brickyard 400 three times with different drivers, rolled out the No. 3 for the first time since Earnhardt’s death in 2001. The No. 3 returns with Childress’ grandson and Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Austin Dillon in the seat. Dillon drove the same number to NASCAR truck and Nationwide series championships.
Dillon recently visited Eagle Creek Park where he took on the Go Ape zip line and talked about driving No. 3 in Sprint Cup.
“The fans, they are excited to see the 3 back on the track,” said Dillon, whose brother Ty races in the Nationwide Series. “It’s huge for me to be a part of that, having the history behind the number. Having the company (RCR) behind me, I want to run well for them because they work so hard on the car.”
Childress said the response has been positive to the return of No. 3 with little negativity among fans.
Dillon’s teammates in the Brickyard 400 are 2013 winner Ryan Newman and ’11 winner Paul Menard.
Race honors veteran
The official name of Sunday’s Sprint Cup race is the Crown Royal Presents the John Wayne Walding 400 at the Brickyard Powered by BigMachineRecords.com.
The race pays tribute a deserving military veteran through Crown Royal’s third annual Your Hero’s Name Here program.
This year’s honoree is Texan race fan John Wayne Wadling, a Green Beret who served 12 years in the Army with tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. He is a Silver Star, Bronze Star, Purple Heart and Combat Infantry Badge recipient.
Wadling, an amputee who will attend his first NASCAR race, was announced as the event’s namesake by Justin Moore at this year’s CMT Music Awards in Nashville, Tenn., where Wadling was presented with a Gibson guitar.
It is mystifying that team owner Roger Penske, a 15-time Indianapolis 500 winner, has never fielded a winning car in the Brickyard 400.
Penske enters Sunday’s race with 2012 Cup champion Brad Keselowski, who has won three Cup races this season, Logano, and 2000 Indy 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya.
Logano addressed the Penske drought in the 400 during a break in Goodyear tire tests last month at IMS: “We talk about it quite a bit. It’s a race that he hasn’t won and we’re committed to winning. He’s almost won this race several times. Montoya is going to run the 12 car, so that gives us another shot at it, too.”
All for The Chase
Only six Sprint Cup races remain for drivers to become eligible for The Chase under a new knockout formula that begins Sept. 14 at Chicagoland Speedway. The 16 participants will be determined Sept. 6 at Richmond, Va.
Race winners automatically qualify for The Chase unless there are more than 16 different winners. If The Chase field were set now, the following drivers would be in: Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson (three wins each), Dale Earnhardt Jr., Joey Logano, Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick (two wins each), Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Almirola and Kurt Busch (one win each) and on points: Matt Kenseth (fourth in points), Newman (seventh), Clint Bowyer (10th), Paul Menard (11th) and rookie Kyle Larson (14th).
Twelve drivers have shared victory in the 20-year history of the Brickyard 400.
Hendrick Motorsports drivers Jeff Gordon and Johnson have won four races each; Dale Jarrett and Tony Stewart are the only other multiple winners with two apiece.
The winners: Gordon 1994, ’98, 2001, ’04; Dale Earnhardt 1995; Dale Jarrett, ’96, ’99; Ricky Rudd ’97; Bobby Labonte, ’00; Bill Elliott, ’02; Kevin Harvick, ’03; Tony Stewart, ‘05, ’07; Johnson, ‘06, ’08, ’09, ’12; Jamie McMurray, ’10; Paul Menard, ’11; and Newman, ’13.
Gordon is the youngest winner (1994) at the age of 24 years, 2 days; Elliott is the oldest winner (2002) at 46 years, 9 months, 27 days. Labonte holds the race record of 155.912 mph set in 2000.
Trio in all races
Jeff Burton, Gordon and Labonte are the only three active drivers who have raced in all 20 previous Brickyard 400s. Gordon has led the most races (13) and the most laps (488). Teammate Johnson is second with 302 laps led. Labonte is the all-time lap leader with 3,117.
The winner of the Brickyard race has gone on to win the Cup championship eight times. Those titles are split among Johnson (three times), Gordon (twice) and Stewart, Labonte and Jarrett (one each).
Eleven in a row
Chevrolet has won the last 11 Brickyard 400s. Chevy also holds the all-time record of 13 straight wins at Talladega.
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