Everything you need to know about the 2014 Chasers at Chicagoland

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The first race in a whole new Chase for the Sprint Cup takes place Sunday at the 1.5-mile Chicagoland Speedway.

The MyAfibStory.com 400 will be the first race in the three-race Challenger Round that will eventually cut the Chase field from 16 drivers to 12.

A victory now means automatic advancement to the next round, but if a win can’t be had, a strong finish near the front is also important to attain.

For teams that have been exceptionally fast all year like Hendrick Motorsports (Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Kasey Kahne), Team Penske (Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano), and Stewart-Haas Racing (Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch), this is a big chance to punch an early ticket to the Contender Round.

But for the smaller teams such as Richard Petty Motorsports (Aric Almirola) and JTG Daugherty Racing (A.J. Allmendinger), they can’t afford a poor start to the Chase that would have them up for early elimination.

Courtesy of NASCAR’s public relations and statistics teams, here’s everything you need to know for the first race of the 2014 Chase.

CHICAGO-SPECIFIC STATISTICS

1 – Brad Keselowski (No. 2 Miller Lite Ford)
· Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 103.0
2014 Rundown
· Four wins, 11 top fives, 13 top 10s; four poles
· Average finish of 13.5
· Led 20 races for 1,278 laps
Chicagoland Speedway Outlook:
· One win, two top fives, three top 10s
· Average finish of 12.6 in five races
· Average Running Position of 13.0, 10th-best
· Driver Rating of 93.6, eighth-best
· 85 Fastest Laps Run, seventh-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 169.375 mph, eighth-fastest

2 – Jeff Gordon (No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet)
· Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 109.1
2014 Rundown
· Three wins, nine top fives, 17 top 10s; two poles
· Average finish of 10.0
· Led 18 races for 545 laps
Chicagoland Speedway Outlook:
· One win, six top fives, eight top 10s; one pole
· Average finish of 11.6 in 13 races
· Average Running Position of 11.9, eighth-best
· Driver Rating of 96.9, fifth-best
· 133 Fastest Laps Run, fourth-most
· 548 Green Flag Passes, eighth-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 169.475 mph, sixth-fastest
· 1,769 Laps in the Top 15 (73.5%), fourth-most
· Series-high 322 Quality Passes

3 – Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet)
· Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 98.0
2014 Rundown
· Three wins, 11 top fives, 16 top 10s
· Average finish of 10.9
· Led 12 races for 220 laps
Chicagoland Speedway Outlook:
· One win, three top fives, five top 10s
· Average finish of 15.8 in 13 races
· Average Running Position of 13.9, 13th-best
· Driver Rating of 87.4, 13th-best
· 65 Fastest Laps Run, 11th-most
· 622 Green Flag Passes, second-most
· 1,537 Laps in the Top 15 (63.9%), eighth-most
· 282 Quality Passes, third-most

4 – Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet)
· Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 99.9
2014 Rundown
· Three wins, eight top fives, 16 top 10s; one pole
· Average finish of 14.2
· Led 15 races for 1,035 laps
Chicagoland Speedway Outlook:
· Seven top fives, 10 top 10s; two poles
· Average finish of 8.9 in 12 races
· Series-best Average Running Position of 7.1
· Series-best Driver Rating of 117.1
· Series-high 351 Fastest Laps Run
· Series-best Average Green Flag Speed of 170.236 mph
· Series-high 2,085 Laps in the Top 15 (86.7%)
· 274 Quality Passes, sixth-most

5 – Joey Logano (No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford)
· Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 106.3
2014 Rundown
· Three wins, 10 top fives, 15 top 10s; one pole
· Average finish of 13.2
· Led 18 races for 721 laps
Chicagoland Speedway Outlook:
· One top 10; one pole
· Average finish of 19.4 in five races
· Average Running Position of 17.1, 19th-best
· Driver Rating of 80.7, 20th-best

6 – Kevin Harvick (No. 4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet)
· Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 106.7
2014 Rundown
· Two wins, eight top fives, 13 top 10s; six poles
· Average finish of 14.8
· Led 18 races for 1,186 laps
Chicagoland Speedway Outlook:
· Two wins, seven top fives, eight top 10s
· Average finish of 9.9 in 13 races
· Average Running Position of 11.9, sixth-best
· Driver Rating of 96.4, sixth-best
· 557 Green Flag Passes, seventh-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 169.511 mph, fifth-fastest
· 1,637 Laps in the Top 15 (68.0%), sixth-most
· 264 Quality Passes, ninth-most

7 – Carl Edwards (No. 99 Fastenal Ford)
· Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 82.6
2014 Rundown
· Two wins, six top fives, 11 top 10s
· Average finish of 14.7
· Led 9 races for 133 laps
Chicagoland Speedway Outlook:
· Three top fives, three top 10s
· Average finish of 16.0 in nine races
· Average Running Position of 15.1, 16th-best
· Driver Rating of 90.1, 10th-best
· 112 Fastest Laps Run, sixth-most
· 569 Green Flag Passes, fifth-most
· 1,570 Laps in the Top 15 (65.3%), seventh-most
· 316 Quality Passes, second-most

8 – Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&M’s Toyota)
· Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 88.9
2014 Rundown
· One win, six top fives, nine top 10s; two poles
· Average finish of 18.2
· Led 12 races for 365 laps
Chicagoland Speedway Outlook:
· One win, four top fives, four top 10s
· Average finish of 12.1 in nine races
· Average Running Position of 10.3, fourth-best
· Driver Rating of 102.7, fourth-best
· 124 Fastest Laps Run, fifth-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 169.608 mph, fourth-fastest
· 1,793 Laps in the Top 15 (74.5%), third-most
· 276 Quality Passes, fifth-most

9 – Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Office Toyota)
· Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 90.0
2014 Rundown
· One win, six top fives, 11 top 10s; two poles
· Average finish of 15.2
· Led 11 races for 163 laps
Chicagoland Speedway Outlook:
· One top five, two top 10s
· Average finish of 20.5 in eight races
· Average Running Position of 16.9, 18th-best
· Driver Rating of 81.2, 19th-best
· 236 Quality Passes, 11th-most

10 – Kurt Busch (No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet)
· Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 87.6
2014 Rundown
· One win, six top fives, seven top 10s
· Average finish of 19.2
· Led 11 races for 181 laps
Chicagoland Speedway Outlook:
· One top five, seven top 10s
· Average finish of 17.2 in 13 races
· Average Running Position of 15.0, 15th-best
· Driver Rating of 86.2, 15th-best
· 64 Fastest Laps Run, 12th-most
· 530 Green Flag Passes, ninth-most
· 1,400 Laps in the Top 15 (58.2%), 11th-most

11 – Kasey Kahne (No. 5 Farmer’s Insurance Chevrolet)
· Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 89.9
2014 Rundown
· One win, three top fives, 10 top 10s
· Average finish of 16.3
· Led 10 races for 204 laps
Chicagoland Speedway Outlook:
· Two top fives, three top 10s
· Average finish of 18.3 in 10 races
· Average Running Position of 17.3, 20th-best
· Driver Rating of 82.8, 18th-best
· 75 Fastest Laps Run, ninth-most

12 – Aric Almirola (No. 43 Eckrich Ford)
· Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 73.9
2014 Rundown
· One win, two top fives, six top 10s
· Average finish of 20.1
· Led 4 races for 21 laps
Chicagoland Speedway Outlook:
· Average finish of 15.0 in two races
· Average Running Position of 13.2, 12th-best
· Driver Rating of 85.8, 16th-best

13 – AJ Allmendinger (No. 47 Kingsford Charcoal Chevrolet)
· Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 70.7
2014 Rundown
· One win, two top fives, four top 10s
· Average finish of 20.9
· Led 5 races for 68 laps
Chicagoland Speedway Outlook:
· Average finish of 17.6 in five races
· Average Running Position of 19.0, 21st-best
· Driver Rating of 72.2, 23rd-best

14 – Matt Kenseth (No. 20 Dollar General Toyota)
· Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 92.8
2014 Rundown
· 10 top fives, 16 top 10s; one pole
· Average finish of 14.0
· Led 16 races for 465 laps
Chicagoland Speedway Outlook:
· One win, three top fives, five top 10s; one pole
· Average finish of 11.8 in 13 races
· Average Running Position of 10.2, third-best
· Driver Rating of 105.4, third-best
· 222 Fastest Laps Run, second-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 169.840 mph, third-fastest
· 1,733 Laps in the Top 15 (72.0%), fifth-most
· 241 Quality Passes, 10th-most

15 – Greg Biffle (No. 16 ScotchBlue Ford)
· Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 81.3
2014 Rundown
· Three top fives, 10 top 10s
· Average finish of 15.3
· Led 6 races for 109 laps
Chicagoland Speedway Outlook:
· One top five, one top 10
· Average finish of 18.0 in 11 races
· Average Running Position of 15.4, 17th-best
· Driver Rating of 87.7, 12th-best
· 75 Fastest Laps Run, ninth-most
· Series-high 653 Green Flag Passes
· Average Green Flag Speed of 169.136 mph, 12th-fastest

16 – Ryan Newman (No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet)
· Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 84.7
2014 Rundown
· Two top fives, 10 top 10s
· Average finish of 14.1
· Led 4 races for 24 laps
Chicagoland Speedway Outlook:
· One win, three top fives, eight top 10s; one pole
· Average finish of 14.5 in 12 races
· Average Running Position of 14.9, 14th-best
· Driver Rating of 83.2, 17th-best
· 561 Green Flag Passes, sixth-most
· 1,311 Laps in the Top 15 (54.5%), 12th-most
· 235 Quality Passes, 12th-most

Chicagoland Speedway Track Data
Race 27 of 36, Chase Race 1
1.5-mile oval
Banking: 18 degrees in turns, 11 degrees in tri-oval, 5 degrees on backstretch
Frontstretch Length: 2,400 feet
Backstretch Length: 1,700 feet
Race Distance: 267 laps, 400.5 miles

Top 10 Driver Rating at Chicago
*Ratings compiled from 2005-2013 races among active drivers at Chicagoland Speedway
Jimmie Johnson, 117.2
Tony Stewart, 109.8
Matt Kenseth, 105.4
Kyle Busch, 102.7
Jeff Gordon, 96.9
Kevin Harvick, 96.4
Brian Vickers, 95.0
Brad Keselowski, 93.6
Clint Bowyer, 91.4
Carl Edwards, 90.1

Qualifying/Race Data
2013 pole winner: Joey Logano, Ford, 189.414 mph, 28.509 seconds
2013 race winner: Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 125.855 mph (3 hours, 10 minutes, 56 seconds)
Track qualifying record: Logano, Ford, 189.414, 28.509 seconds, 09-13-2013
Track race record: David Reutimann, Toyota, 145.138 mph (2 hours, 45 minutes, 34 seconds), 07-10-2010

Chicagoland Speedway History
· Construction of the Chicagoland Speedway began in August 1999.
· The first NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Chicago was July 14, 2001.
· The first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race was held on July 15, 2001 – won by Kevin Harvick.
· This weekend marks the fourth year Chicagoland Speedway has been included in the 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup – Sept. 18, 2011.

Chicagoland Speedway Notebook
· There have been 13 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Chicagoland Speedway, one race per season since the first event in 2001.
· 108 drivers have competed in at least one NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Chicagoland Speedway; 84 in more than one.
· Eight drivers have competed in all 13 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series events at Chicagoland Speedway; four of which are Chase Contenders: Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick.
· Todd Bodine won the inaugural Coors Light pole at Chicago in 2001 with a speed of 183.717 mph.
· 10 drivers have Coors Light poles at Chicago, led by Jimmie Johnson with two.
· Youngest Chicago pole winner: Joey Logano (09/15/2013 – 23 years, 3 months, 22 days).
· Oldest Chicago pole winner: Matt Kenseth (09/19/2011 – 39 years, 6 months, 9 days).
· 10 different NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers have won at Chicagoland Speedway, led by Tony Stewart with three; followed by Kevin Harvick with two (first two series events at speedway).
· Six Chase Contenders are former winners at Chicagoland Speedway: Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman, Brad Keselowski and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
· Kevin Harvick (2001, 2002) is the only driver to post consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series wins at Chicagoland Speedway
· Youngest Chicago winner: Kyle Busch (07/12/2008 – 23 years, 2 months, 10 days).
· Oldest Chicago winner: Mark Martin (07/11/2009 – 50 years, 6 months, 2 days).
· Joe Gibbs Racing has the most wins at Chicago in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with four: Tony Stewart (two), Kyle Busch (one) and Matt Kenseth (one). Richard Childress Racing, Penske Racing and Hendrick Motorsports each have two.
· Three different manufacturers have won in the NSCS at Chicago; led by Chevrolet with eight victories; followed by Toyota with three and Dodge with two each. Ford has yet to win at Chicago.
· One of the 13 (7.6%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Chicago have been won from the Coors Light pole; Kyle Busch in 2008.
· Five of the 13 (38.4%) NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Chicago have been won from a top-10 starting position.
· Three of the 13 (23.0%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Chicago have been won from a starting position outside the top 20.
· The deepest in the field that a race winner has started at Chicago is 32nd, by Kevin Harvick in 2002.
· Kyle Busch swept the weekend at Chicagoland Speedway winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup and NASCAR Nationwide Series races in 2008.
· Jimmie Johnson leads the series in runner-up finishes at Chicago with three; followed by Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth with two each.
· Tony Stewart leads the series in top-five finishes at Chicago with eight; followed by Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick with seven each and Jeff Gordon with six.
· Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart lead the series in top-10 finishes at Chicago with 10 each; followed by Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick and Ryan Newman with eight each.
· Jimmie Johnson leads all active drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in average starting position at Chicago with a 7.667.
· Tony Stewart leads all active drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in average finishing position at 8.500.
· Seven of the eight active NASCAR Sprint Cup Series winners at Chicagoland Speedway participated in at least one or more races before visiting Victory Lane. Kevin Harvick won at Chicago in his first two appearances (2001, 2002). Ryan Newman won in his second appearance (2003).
· Kurt Busch and Matt Kenseth lead the series among active drivers with the most NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts at Chicago without visiting Victory Lane at 13.
· Since the advent of electronic scoring the closest margin of victory (MOV) in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Chicagoland Speedway was the July 12, 2008 race won by Kevin Harvick over Jimmie Johnson with a MOV of 0.159 second. It is the 75th closest finish scored by electronic scoring in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
· Nine out of the 13 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Chicagoland Speedway have had a Margin of Victory less than a second.
· Only one NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race has resulted with a green-white-checkered finish at Chicagoland Speedway (Scheduled No. of Laps/Actual No. of Laps): 7/9/2006 (267/270).
· None of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Chicagoland Speedway have been shortened due to weather conditions.
· Qualifying has been cancelled due to weather conditions in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Chicagoland Speedway once – the 2008 event.
· Two active NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers have posted their first career start at Chicagoland Speedway: Justin Allgaier (09/15/2013) and Josh Wise (9/19/2011).
· Jimmie Johnson leads all drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in laps led at Chicago with 537 laps led in 12 starts.
· Danica Patrick is the only female driver that has competed at Chicagoland Speedway in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series; Shawna Robinson attempted to in 2001 but failed to qualify for the event.
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NASCAR in Illinois
· There have been 15 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races among three different tracks in Illinois: 13 at Chicagoland Speedway, and one each at Soldier Field (Chicago) and Santa Fe Speedway (Willow Springs).
· 75 drivers in NASCAR national series history have their home state recorded as Illinois.
· Two of the 74 have posted at least one victory in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series including NASCAR Hall of Famer Fred Lorenzen.
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Why it’s important for Fernando Alonso to be in the Indianapolis 500

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It seemed so natural, so logical that Fernando Alonso would be part of McLaren in the 104thIndianapolis 500, it likely could have been announced last August.

NBCSports.com gave all the reasons why an Alonso reunion with McLaren at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway made the most sense last week.

Tuesday afternoon, it became official.

Arrow McLaren SP announced the two-time Formula One champion as its third driver for the Indy 500. He joins full-time NTT IndyCar Series drivers, rookies Oliver Askew and Pato O’Ward, on the Chevrolet team.

In a world where social media allows everyone to voice an opinion, there have been some who have asked, “Why is it so important that Fernando Alonso compete in the Indianapolis 500?”

To back up their point, the 33-driver starting lineup already includes many legendary names of the NTT IndyCar Series. From five-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon to three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves, to Indy 500 winners Alexander Rossi, Will Power, Simon Pagenaud and Ryan Hunter-Reay to two-time IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden, the lineup is full of big names.

On the grand scale of international motorsports, however, Alonso has the charisma and star power that transcend into the mainstream of popularity.

“Having Fernando in the Indy 500 is going to be great for IndyCar, for the Indy 500 and for the fans,” Arrow McLaren SP co-owner Sam Schmidt said. “I can’t wait to see that get started.

“On behalf of Ric (Peterson, another co-owner of the team) and myself, Fernando needs to be in the 500, he needs to have an opportunity to win and that would be mega for IndyCar. For all of those reasons, we kept our foot on the gas and tried to position our team as the team of choice. Although we haven’t won, we have shown pace there and ran at the front. Now that we are with Chevrolet, we feel that we can get it done.

“Our team of guys is fantastic. We have been preparing for this for a long time, and we are poised to get it done. Ric and I are very excited about this.”

McLaren CEO Zak Brown has a long and close relationship with Alonso. Brown was in charge of Alonso’s Formula One program. Last year when Alonso did not compete in F1, he remained under contract as a McLaren “Ambassador.”

His contract with McLaren ended on Dec. 31, 2019. He officially rejoined the team with Tuesday’s Indy 500 announcement.

“He creates a tremendous amount of attention wherever he goes,” Brown said of Alonso. “When we did the first test at Indy in 2017, the live digital feed got over a couple million followers. Fernando will draw a lot of global attention to Indianapolis, to IndyCar, to our partners and to the sport as a whole.

“He is a great addition. He is an ambassador to the sport. He very much enjoys the way he is embraced in Indianapolis.”


With so many obstacles in the way of Alonso competing for any other team at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it just made sense that his best (and essentially his only) option come with the McLaren-backed operation.

But it was certainly a long, strange trip to get there.

“Clearly, Fernando was deep in conversations with Michael Andretti,” Brown said in a response to a question from NBCSports.com in a Tuesday teleconference. “Short of Roger Penske’s team, he believes Michael’s team is the most successful team at Indianapolis, certainly in most recent times.

“If you are Fernando Alonso, and you want to win Indianapolis, then Andretti is clearly on your short list.

“We had a strong desire to run him. Fernando didn’t want to take a decision until after (the Dakar Rally) because he wanted to be very focused on that event. had two good opportunities. We kept him informed of some of the offseason moves we made. We secured Craig Hampson (as technical director after a successful term as Sebastien Bourdais’ engineer). When he was ready to make his decision, we had all of our pieces in place.

“He chose to move forward with us.”

Alonso’s best days at Indianapolis Motor Speedway came in an Andretti Autosport-prepared Honda in 2017. He got up to speed quickly, qualifying fifth and leading 27 laps before his Honda failed with 21 laps remaining.

Alonso’s worst days at Indianapolis Motor Speedway came in a McLaren-prepared Chevrolet. That was last year when one mistake after another showed how unprepared the McLaren operation was to take on the Indy 500 on its own. The list of faux pas was so long and legendary, there is no reason to recount them.

It all added up to one of the biggest names in international motorsports getting bumped out of the 33-car starting lineup by unheralded Kyle Kaiser of Juncos Racing.

McLaren officials knew the best way to succeed at Indianapolis was to join forces with a full-time IndyCar Series team. The main obstacle was Honda teams were ordered by corporate headquarters in Japan that the company’s days of doing business with McLaren were over because of disparaging and critical comments about its engine by Alonso and the team.

Under no circumstances would American Honda and Honda Performance Development be allowed to make a deal with McLaren.

Brown found a partner at what then was known as Arrow Schmidt Peterson, but that was a Honda team. To make the deal work, the team had to break the final year of its contract with Honda and switch to Chevrolet.

When the Arrow McLaren SP deal was announced on Aug. 9, 2019, Alonso still was attempting to negotiate an Indy 500 deal with Andretti Autosport, and the team was willing to make it happen. Sponsors were signed, and decisions were made leading to an expected announcement of an Alonso-Andretti combination for the Indy 500.

Honda Japan said no and held firm against doing business with Alonso for the same reasons as with McLaren.

Alonso would have to find a Chevrolet team for the Indy 500. Team Penske wasn’t interested in increasing to five cars at Indy. Ed Carpenter Racing also said no to expanding to four entries.

All paths led back to Arrow McLaren SP.

“It’s a great day in the history of our team,” co-owner Sam Schmidt said. “We’ve had a lot of changes recently. Arrow McLaren SP is a fantastic cooperation of the future of our company. This just raises the bar.

“Fernando Alonso, two world championships, two WEC’s, Le Mans and the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona. He has made it perfectly clear the Indy 500 is the missing link there. We all know how competitive he was previously.

“For our team, we want to tap into his experience. We have two exciting rookies with Oliver Askew and Pato O’Ward. We really think being around him for the month of May will help them raise their game and understand what it takes to be a true, top-level, world-renowned driver.”


Though it appeared this deal was put together quickly, Brown and Schmidt emphasized they had been wooing Alonso for several months.

The addition of Hampson, who oversaw a car Bourdais qualified for the Fast Nine in the past two Indy 500s, and a solid test at COTA helped make the case.

“These were things as Fernando made his final decision helped get him over the hump,” Brown said. “There was speculation he would go elsewhere with parallel conversations that were going on.”

Said Schmidt: “It seems like a bit of a whirlwind announcement, but we have been talking since November. We’ve always run a third car at Indy. This will be a very, very well-prepared, thought-out deal.”

In a separate interview with Leigh Diffey of NBC Sports, Alonso admitted he had several teams to consider and McLaren was always in that group.

“We had some conversations,” Alonso said. “I already said last year I wanted to explore more options. I’d been talking with Andretti as well and some other teams. Andretti and McLaren are the ones I feel in my heart are like family. At the end, it was the natural choice to go with McLaren, especially after last year and give the fans something back after the disappointment of last year.”

Alonso has long dreamed of winning the international “Triple Crown” of motorsports — the Grand Prix of Monaco, the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Indianapolis 500.

Alonso behind the wheel of the famed Marmon Wasp, the first winning car in the 1911 Indianapolis 500 — INDYCAR Photo

Having conquered Monaco and Le Mans, Indy remains the final event to master for the Spaniard.

“The Indy 500 completes the big three races in motorsports, and three completely different disciplines,” Alonso explained. “It makes you quite a complete driver. That’s what I’m looking for in this stage of my career. The Indy 500 is probably the biggest priority for me now.

“Oval racing is unique, but the Indianapolis Motor Speedway even more. It’s a huge place. There are four corners but all very different. The traffic, the slipstream, the strategy, the tire degradation. The downforce you run differently from practice. The race, you are adjusting downforce. Even if it seems a simple way to drive, over 200 laps, you never repeat the same line or speed in any laps. It’s quite difficult to adjust the minimum settings in the car.”

The key to completing the deal was Michael Andretti allowing mortgage firm Ruoff to follow Alonso as his Indy 500 sponsor to Arrow McLaren SP after the deal with Andretti Autosport fell through.

“Ruoff is a partner of Michael’s, he’s a good friend of mine and a partner in Australia,” Brown said, referring to the Virgin Australia Supercars team. “As he was having his conversations with Fernando, Ruoff was looking for something with big impact and exposure. When Michael and Fernando were unable to get their deal together, Ruoff asked Michael if he would mind going where Fernando goes. Michael gave his blessing, he cut a deal with Ruoff, and we are excited to have them.”

Alonso is just as excited to return at Indy despite last year’s disappointment, gleefully describing the Brickyard’s appeal in his interview with Diffey.

“Definitely. once you experience the Indy 500, it’ll remain always in your heart,” Alonso said. “I think the Indy 500 is on top of all the events I’ve ever participated. The atmosphere, the adrenaline, the traditions all the celebrations before the race. Even the milk! It arrives in a fridge Sunday morning and goes to the Pagoda.

“There are things as a driver you understand the importance of the moment and how big that race is worldwide.”

And that is why it is important that drivers such as Alonso compete in the Indianapolis 500. It’s an event that is bigger than the sport itself.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500