INDIANAPOLIS -- With all the talk that Kyle Busch could set a record with a third consecutive Brickyard 400 win Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, don't count out another driver looking to tie a NASCAR victory record at the famed 2.5-mile oval.
Johnson has won "only" once in the last eight years at the track, but he posted a surprising fourth-fastest speed in qualifying Saturday. But his team had to change a gear following qualifying, and he will start at the rear because of a transmission change.
At least he has the confidence of having a fast car, something he hasn't had after qualifying many weeks this year.
Johnson had not had a top-10 starting spot this year until two weeks ago when he started eighth at Kentucky. He followed that with starting second at New Hampshire.
"I qualified in the top-5 two weeks in a row -- I'm feeling good about things," Johnson said before finding out about the gear change at Indy. "There's a lot of raw speed in the car. Of course I want more."
Before Johnson fans -- or his haters -- get too excited, his speed in the final qualifying session was 185.851 mph, much slower than Busch's speed of 187.301 mph that won the pole.
"There is a big gap between where we are and Kyle [Busch] got the pole," Johnson said. "But I had two huge slides on that lap. Overall, I'm very optimistic and I'm excited about the speed we're finding in our cars."
Beyond Johnson, here are other things to watch for at Indianapolis:
Kyle Busch ... Of Course
Busch sits on the pole and seeks his first win in the Cup Series since his Brickyard victory a year ago.
"I'm certainly optimistic about it," Busch said. "I do feel like we've got a great shot."
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver didn't work on qualifying in practice, so the pole might have been a little bit of a surprise. He felt the cloud cover helped him, something that likely he won't have Sunday as the forecast calls for sun.
"There's probably about four or five guys that are right in the same group, and we're one of those guys, so it's just a matter or not whether or not one of those or two of those or any of those guys can distance themselves from the rest of them," Busch said.
Larson ... And McMurray
When talking about Chip Ganassi Racing, most of the focus is on series points leader Kyle Larson. But McMurray, who sits seventh in the standings, has had a solid season.
McMurray, the 2010 Brickyard champion, will start third on the grid Sunday. Larson, meanwhile, had a surprisingly mediocre qualifying time and will start 25th.
"Our cars have been so good this year," McMurray said. "I thought we were one of the best cars in race trim. ... If we can have an uneventful race and have the right track position at the end, we should be good."
Larson was not all that surprised he wasn't fast in qualifying, but he didn't expect to be as slow as he was -- he ranked 15th in the final Cup practice -- and not at least be among the top 24 to advance to the second round.
"I just haven't found a balance," Larson said. "I don't really think I have speed. Like Jamie, our data and stuff will look similar and he's a lot faster.
"It's puzzling. But we'll race fine."
McMurray is confident Larson could be a factor in the race.
"They just didn't have the speed for some reason [in qualifying], which is odd because they've been so consistent all year long," McMurray said. "They don't really have anything a lot different than what we do. ... They'll be fine in race trim."
A Pass For The Lead ... Hopefully
It's hard to argue the view that NASCAR Cup races at Indianapolis have been underwhelming in recent years.
Don't expect an incredible afternoon of passing Sunday, even with the 2017 aerodynamic package that has reduced downforce from 2016. But the cars should handle fairly similar, partly because as NASCAR tries to reduce downforce, teams find ways to engineer it back into the cars.
"At this particular point, we've all closed up so many of the gaps from the aero side of things that we had from the beginning of the year to where we were last year," said Kevin Harvick, who will start third.
NASCAR tried a totally different package for the Xfinity cars Saturday, and it enhanced the race.
The Cup cars are running the same package they run at all tracks except Daytona and Talladega.
"It's always been a challenge here to pass -- it's all about horsepower and downforce," said Ryan Newman, who won the 2013 race. "The track is relatively flat. It all depends on the tire. It's a different left-side tire and it all depends on how it falls off. That will dictate a lot of the racing."
Indiana Loyalty ... ???
Hoosiers have it rough this week at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. A year ago, they enjoyed the spectacle, an unexpected spectacle, of Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon doing a postrace lap together.
Now both of those drivers are fully retired and the two drivers who went to high school within an hour's drive of the track won't compete Sunday in the Brickyard 400.
So who could capture the love of the Hoosier fan base? Here's seven drivers who could:
-- Newman: The one driver from Indiana left on the NASCAR Cup circuit. He grew up in South Bend and graduated from Purdue.
-- Larson: Larson is one of the most accomplished dirt-trackers who has made a successful transition to stock cars. If there is a throwback racer in the Tony Stewart fashion, it's Larson.
-- Ryan Blaney: Blaney is employed by one of the most successful people at Indianapolis -- Roger Penske -- and he currently drives for the Wood Brothers, whose NASCAR history is well-known but they also pitted the car for 1965 Indianapolis 500 winner Jim Clark.
-- Chase Elliott: The driver who replaced Gordon in the No 24 car.
-- Clint Bowyer: The driver who replaced Stewart in the No. 14 car.
-- Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: He won a USAC title driving for Stewart. Plus Stenhouse, who is into rodeo and motorbikes, would connect well with many of the Indiana folk.