INDIANAPOLIS — For NASCAR's drivers, at least, the Brickyard 400 remains one of Sprint Cup's marquee events despite the race's sliding attendance in recent years.
"It's the obvious second" in prestige, Clint Bowyer said Friday before practice for Sunday's 20th running of the race. "It's the Daytona 500 and then the Brickyard."
NASCAR estimated that 125,000 attended last year's race. That's a sizable crowd but smaller than the 200,000-plus who came to the inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994 to see the novelty of stock cars racing around the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway — at the time, the first race in generations at the track aside from the Indianapolis 500.
Jeff Gordon won that first race and three other Brickyard 400s. Gordon and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson are the only four-time winners of the race.
"I can't believe it's been 20 years," Gordon said. "To me, that inaugural race really set the precedent for how impressive this facility is and how prestigious the race was the first year and always will be."
Amid speculation that the 104-year-old Indianapolis track might one day install lights, one notion for boosting the Brickyard 400's crowd is holding the race at night.
"It would be awesome to race here at night," Gordon said. "I would never want to see the Indy 500 run under the lights. But the Brickyard 400 breaks traditions."
In the opening practice for Sunday's race, Juan Montoya turned the fastest lap at 185.410 mph on the 2.5-mile, rectangular oval track. After Montoya, the next fastest drivers in practice were Kurt Busch, Austin Dillon and Paul Menard.
Grand-Am: Ryan Dalziel, who inherited the lead when Brazil's Rubens Barrichello was forced to make a late pit stop for fuel, held off Scott Pruett by 3.438 seconds to win the Brickyard Grand Prix at Indianapolis in a BMW Riley. Dalziel's co-driver, Alex Popow, celebrated his second straight win at Indy. "It's just crazy. I told the guys on the radio, 'I don't know if I should kiss everybody or kiss the bricks first,' " Dalziel said. IndyCar driver Tony Kanaan and co-driver Joey Hand were ninth after Hand's penalty for contact.
NHRA: Matt Hagan led Funny Car after two rounds of qualifying at the Sonoma (Calif.) Nationals. Mike Edwards (Pro Stock) and Hector Arana (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also led their classes; Top Fuel was not over at press time. Qualifying continues today.