INDIANAPOLIS, Sunday, July 27, 2014 —
I was here in 1994 when Jeff Gordon won his first Brickyard 400 and I am thrilled to say I was here today when he won his fifth.
Gordon was clearly the class of the field for the Crown Royal 400 at the Brickyard Sunday afternoon and his victory here brought many Hoosier fans to their feet, feeling a favorite son (albeit adopted from his birthplace in California) had triumphed once again.
When we arrived here at the epicenter of motorsports history at 6am Sunday morning, we were greeted by heavy rains, lightning and weather reports threatening the running of the very race itself. Although the rains subsided, the clouds continued to cast a gray hue over the great speedway throughout the morning. Humidity was high, but so were hopes that the race would be run its full 400 miles. Indianapolis Motor Speedway and NASCAR track officials dried & prepared the Brickyard track perfectly and many fans waited in anticipation for what record speeds might be challenged by the now “green” or tire-rubber-free track.
They were not disappointed. The gray day turned to one filled with bright sunshine, along with a mild breeze from the west and fans witnessed a virtually error-free race to the checkered flag.
Pittsboro, Indiana’s Jeff Gordon, in his 21st consecutive Brickyard 400 start, made history on Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, winning for the fifth time on the iconic 2.5-mile oval. Gordon with Brickyard wins coming in 1994, 1998, 2001 and 2004, had been previously tied with four-time Indianapolis 500 winners A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears on the IMS win list. All legends in their own right.
Gordon now leads the Sprint Cup points standings by 24 points over Dale Earnhardt Jr. His wins at Indianapolis in 1998 and 2001 were a prelude to his winning NASCAR Cup Championships those seasons. His win today was his 90th in the series and he became the first Sprint Cup Series driver to lead over 500 laps (528) at IMS.
Gordon took the lead from Kasey Kahne with a stunning move on the Lap 143 restart in his No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet and held off Kyle Busch the rest of the way, thrilling his many fans and rewriting the record book at the Racing Capital of the World.
From lap 143 till the checkered flag, Gordon sped away from the field as he increased his lead by a total of 2.408 seconds, being followed across the finish line by a trio of Joe Gibbs Racing entries; Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth. Busch summed up the feelings for most of the race teams in the field saying: “There was no catching Jeff Gordon, I don’t think anybody had anything for the 24.”
A clearly emotional Gordon said: “I don’t think there’s a greater feeling as a racecar driver, and a race team. I finally made the restart of my life when it mattered most. I cannot believe this just happened. I was trying so hard with 10 to go not to focus on the crowd, I was trying not to let it get to me. You can’t help it, it’s such a big race, such an important victory. This one is for all those fans throughout the years and all weekend long who said, ‘go get No. 5.” As is the tradition at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Gordon issed the bricks and allowed himself to finally soak in the moment with his adoring fans.
When asked if he ever thought he’d win the Brickyard 400 five times?: Gordon replied “Certainly not in 1994 I didn’t. You never know when your next win’s going to come. We’ve been close a number of times to getting number five. But every time I come here to Indianapolis I feel like we have a shot at winning. It’s just a special place and I love racing here. This weekend in particular, you know, the first couple laps that I felt this racecar, I knew that we had a racecar that was capable of winning this race. It just had the feel. It had the balance that I love to have. I think we showed that today, just how strong this car is. We got behind a couple times. Pit strategy changed for some people. It threw some people off. I think it made for a great race. Throughout all of that, I think we showed the speed our car had. There at the end, had a great battle with Kasey Kahne. I didn’t know how it was going to end up. I didn’t want to see that caution because I thought I could push him to slide the back, he was sliding the back a little bit. But I don’t know if I would have gotten by him. I’m terrible on restarts. Restarts didn’t go great for us all day today. I didn’t think I wanted to see a restart. Out of nowhere, I have the restart of my life at the most important moment that you could ask for in a race, in a season, at a race like this. So that was awesome, just awesome.” (Comparing emotions with 1994) “Very, very similar. I remember in ’94, you know, in the closing laps of just disbelief. You don’t want to see a caution. You’re leading the Brickyard 400 with just a handful of laps to go. You want to take that moment in and look into the crowd and see what they’re doing, but at the same time you don’t want to lose focus. You know it’s not over till in this case the white flag waves. I kept going in and out of those emotions of, All right, don’t get off track, what’s going on. Remember, still got to get to the end. Be ready if there is a caution.”
As a bit of unique circumstance, on Friday Gordon had been honored on the 20th anniversary of the first win. Indianapolis Motor Speedway President J. Douglas Boles presented the 42-year-old with a No. 24 placard from the IMS scoring pylon that was removed last month, and Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard had proclaimed Sunday “Jeff Gordon Day.”
Chevrolet now owns a 12-year win streak at the Brickyard, winning 16 of 21 Brickyard 400s overall. Ford last won in 1999 (Dale Jarrett). Toyota has never won a NASCAR Sprint Cup race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Photos & Data Courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway