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It didn't take long for Indy to decide on the shape of the 2013 Brickyard 400 weekend...

It didn't take long for Indy to decide on the shape of the 2013 Brickyard 400 weekend...

Joey Logano (L) and Joe Gibbs? Is another contract in the cards?

   By Mike Mulhern

   POCONO, Pa.
   Looks like NASCAR and Indy officials have decided the 'superweekend' package – Nationwide, Grand-Am and Sprint Cup – is worth trying again next year, because Indianapolis Motor Speedway just put 2013 tickets on sale for next July.
    Prices: general admission Thursday, Friday and Saturday general admission $50. Nationwide race seats $45 to $60. Grand-Am races $25.
   But no pricing yet for Sunday's Brickyard 400, presumably July 28th.
   The early story line here: Pressure is mounting on Joey Logano to make a decision -- on 2013 and his future on the NASCAR tour.
   Logano won from the pole here at Pocono Raceway in June, when 36 men broke the track record, on the new asphalt.
   Since then, though, except for that fourth at Daytona, Logano is averaging only 23rd place finishes.
   Of course that should be put in perspective: teammates Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin each are only averaging 17th place finishes over that stretch.
   Which all raises the question of what's the problem in the Toyota camp?
   Michael Waltrip's resurgence has gone flat too.
   Toyota executives have been strangely absent from the garage during this span, perhaps worried about questions they need to answer.
   Meanwhile Rick Hendrick's Chevy guys are kicking butt, with three wins in the last six races.
   Curiously over those six, Busch and Hamlin have led far more laps than the Hendrick guys (434 to 306), but they have gone winless.


  And Jimmie Johnson is flying so high right now his feet don't even hit the ground. Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.....(Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
  This track's new asphalt, and record speeds, and fewer bumps, was the big issue line going into the June 400 here…400 miles for the first time, which took precisely three hours to run.
  This time the big issue, or rather the two big issues: Jimmie Johnson and teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr., who both work out of the same shop at Hendrick's, with crew chiefs Chad Knaus and Steve Letarte sharing notes. They are hot stuff on the stock car tour this summer, and even teasing each other now about racing each other for the championship.
   But elsewhere around the NASCAR garage things are a bit more dicey.
   -- Logano, for example.
   He won here, from the pole, in June. But he comes here with the weight of his future on his shoulders – should he stay with Joe Gibbs, or should he leave for another team? If Matt Kenseth, as expected, joins Gibbs for 2013, Logano would become the fourth man on a powerhouse lineup, with Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch and Kenseth all solid winners.
     If Logano gets the offer, should he move on to the Roger Penske camp, which will be running Fords next season?
     Logano, remember, is still just barely 22, and yet he's been running the Cup almost four years now. Highly personable, with the Mark Martin seal of approval, he would be a good pick for Penske....or a good pick by Chevrolet, if anyone over there is keeping an eye on this situation.
   One key in Logano's decision -- what does his crew think?
   Then again what is Gibbs' plan for the expected new Kenseth team -- what crew lineup?
   Logano is still in the hunt for one of the two wild cards spots in the playoffs. But he, like Carl Edwards and Jeff Gordon, will have to 'win' his way into the chase.

   Winning Pocono in June: but two months later and Joey Logano still has no answers about 2013 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   -- Kurt Busch is another star whose career appears at a turning point.
   He hasn't had a great time of it lately. And his prickly personality keeps getting in the way of any progress. Again he was yelling at his crew last weekend for a loose lug nut at Indy.
   Busch had that heartwarming run at Sonoma, but other than that his summer has been miserable.
   This weekend he's stretching himself thin, shuttling between this track and Iowa Speedway, where the Nationwide tour is playing.
    He too has to be looking at 2013 and wonder what he'll be doing. It's not clear if team owner James Finch will keep him on. And it's not clear who else might want to risk hiring the volatile Busch.
   -- Brother Kyle?
   He lost an engine here early in the June race.
   The 'new' Pocono, Kyle Busch says, "is a little bit harder to pass, because it seems like when you're out front in clean air you have so much more of an advantage than being back in traffic than what it used to be.
    "It was always a hard, tricky place, but it finally started becoming a two-lane track in turn three; you could run the bottom and you could run the top, with what we call 'the grip strip.'  
    "Now it's all grip...so it's all back to the bottom again, and you can't really make much time up on the outside anymore."


   Kyle Busch has been too low-keyed this season. Time to fire him up. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   -- Ryan Newman too is the subjection of speculation. Tony Stewart wants to keep him in the fold and re-sign him to a contract. But Roger Penske is also in the market for a new driver for 2013, and he already knows a lot about Newman from their days together. Penske has big-dollar sponsor Shell; Stewart doesn't have such a sponsor on the line yet, but still says he's ready to sign Newman again.
   Is it Penske versus Stewart for Newman?
    Newman too is trying to get one of those wild cards spots in these final weeks before the Richmond cut.
    "We know we're locked in a battle to get one of the wild-card spots," Newman says. "We had hoped to be in the top-10 and wouldn't have to fall back on our win at Martinsville. But that unfortunately doesn't look to be the case right now.
     "We all know we need to get another win."

    --  And then there's Brad Keselowski. He won here last summer. And he's got three wins already this season.  
    Since the repave here, the chassis setup has changed dramatically, crew chief Paul Wolfe says, not just because of the speeds but because the surface is significantly smoother. "In the past we had to worry about mechanical grip, to deal with all the bumps in the track," Wolfe says. "Now it's more about the aerodynamic balance of the car, because of the speeds we are running.
    "One aspect that is still concerning to all of us, especially with the increased speeds, are the brakes. Turn one is a heavy braking zone, after that long frontstretch.
    "And track position is still important. Obviously it's hard to pass because the groove is narrower; but the race being 100 miles shorter also gives you less time to develop a strategy to get track position if you don't qualify well.
    "So qualifying is definitely important."
   And Keselowski's qualifying record this season is poor.


   If it's Pocono, it's Denny Hamlin Time. And since teammate Joey Logano's win here in June, the Joe Gibbs guys have been leading more laps, by far, than even the red-hot Rick Hendrick bunch. But then Hendrick's guys have three wins in the last six races, and the Gibbs guys are 0-for-6. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)



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