5 things to watch in today’s Brickyard 400 from how cars handle to heat, Hoosiers and more

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INDIANAPOLIS – Will anything be different? Will the racing be better or much of the same?

NASCAR’s high-drag aero package debuts with today’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. While drivers eagerly anticipated the low-downforce package earlier this month at Kentucky Speedway, there is not the same enthusiasm for this package, which is intended to increase passing by helping a trailing car draft up to a car ahead.

So far, drivers have said passing hasn’t been any easier and say that the cars are handling much different when running behind another car. Instead of a push, drivers say their cars are loose.

“If you try to get too aggressive, you’ll wreck,’’ Jeff Gordon said. “When you get to the corner behind those cars, you’re going to be walking on eggshells.’’

Said Danica Patrick: “It’s little bit odd that we’re so loose. The one hard thing about stock cars is that one thing leads to the next. The nose comes up because it’s not getting pushed down. And all of a sudden the underbody doesn’t work the same, and all of a sudden the car doesn’t have the right downforce and it shifts the balance. It’s definitely very loose in traffic.’’

Kyle Busch ran behind Tony Stewart for a couple of laps in practice Friday but couldn’t pass.

“You could really get a tow,’’ Busch said of the draft. “I want to say I was seven, eight lengths back going down the from the beginning of the straightaway to the end and then I could almost pull out and pass him. It just wasn’t quite a big enough run to get there, but once I got to the next corner, I was really loose and I wasn’t able to stay within that close enough range in order to come off of Turn 2 and have that drag effect be able to help me down the backstretch to get alongside of him. You’re going to have to be able to time your stuff a little bit and work around the aero affects you get in the corners in order to have a bigger effect on that help you get during the straightaway to be able to utilize that.”

That’s just among the storylines for today’s race.

Watch the restarts. Every driver has said with the new aero package, the difficulty still with passing and what’s at stake is the recipe for some wild action.

“I think the bump draft is going to be big on the starts,’’ Justin Allgaier said. “Because of the way these cars stall each other out, when you’re side-by-side, you’re going to have to find a way to break that barrier. I think you’re going to be able to shove a guy past. I think you’re going to see a lot of guys shoving each other.’’

Said Joey Logano: “As a driver, it’s all about restarts. You’ve got to be on your game, and you’ve got to make sure your car is good for that and this year we all obviously have track bar adjusters, so what we can do to adjust our cars to make ourselves better for restarts compared to where we are on long runs. That’s going to come into play a lot and when we’re in dirty air and clean air and all that, so that adjustment will be pretty big to make sure you’re up on that.”

Kyle Busch will look to sweep this weekend’s races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and add a coveted trophy to his collection.

Busch has won 146 races in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup, Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series – including Saturday’s Xfinity race. While 32 of those victories have come in Cup, he doesn’t have a championship, doesn’t have a Daytona 500 win, doesn’t have a Coca-Cola 600 victory and doesn’t have a Brickyard 400 win.

“It’s a little disappointing that I’ve been around this long and haven’t won those races, but the things haven’t all quite worked out and haven’t put ourselves in the exact perfect position in order to win those races,’’ Busch said. “To get those top-three – the Daytona 500, Brickyard 400 and the Coke 600 – those certainly would be nice accolades to add to my resume.”

Will he add to his resume today?

Heat was a factor in Saturday’s Xfinity race and could be an issue today.

Drivers emerged from the 250-mile Xfinity race exhausted. While it was warm and muggy, competitors noted that new aero package has resulted in trapping more hot air around the car and that they’re on the throttle more, creating additional engine heat.

Cup drivers face the same challenges and will race 150 miles more than Xfinity drivers today. It is expected to be muggy again today with temperatures are expected to be in the mid 80s.

Hoosier favorites Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman all face varying degrees of challenges.

Stewart, mired in an awful season, starts a season-best fourth. Could he score a third win in this event?

Gordon, the defending race winner, starts 19th – his worst starting spot in this race since 2009. Today marks the final start at this historic track for the five-time winner who was honored with his own parade in his adopted hometown of Pittsboro, Ind., earlier this week.

Newman starts last after a safety violation in qualifying. For a driver so far winless this season and trying to make the Chase, this will not be an easy day.