Jeff Gordon comes from behind to win the Brickyard 400!!!
Tradition, steeped with history, returned to NASCAR Winston Cup racing this week.
Although the Brickyard 400 has only been run since 1994, the years of motorsports
history have touched every driver in every series. Since its inception, the Brickyard 400
has become as big an event for NASCAR as the Daytona 500.
While this is one of the most important races to every driver, it is extra special for Jeff
Gordon. Growing up in Pittsboro, Jeff always thought his sprint car racing would bring
him up through the open wheel ranks. A fateful decision to accept a ride from Rick
Hendrick brought him to NASCAR, and finally to Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Making it an even bigger event for Gordon, the race is always held during the week
surrounding his birthday. This year, Jeff hit the big 3-0, and while his qualifying run was
disappointing, he made up for it in grand style.
Jeff took the green flag from the outside of row 14 from the 27th position. Pole sitter
Jimmy Spencer ran side-by-side with Bill Elliott through the third turn, before edging the
lead by the conclusion of the first lap. Meanwhile, Gordon remained mired in mid-pack
traffic and was unable to make up any ground before the first caution came out.
On the second lap, Andy Houston spun around -- collecting several cars behind him.
Gordon drove the DuPont Chevrolet low on the inside and made his way through safely.
None of the leaders pitted under the yellow flag, and racing resumed on lap 7.
Although Jeff had pulled up to 19th place, it was quickly apparent he could not hold his
track position. By lap 10, he fell to 23rd place and continued to drop further back.
Rusty Wallace passed him the following lap, and on lap 12 both Ron Hornaday and
Terry Labonte were able to make their way past. Jason Leffler passed Gordon on lap
13, dropping him to 26th place, as Jeff fought a very ill handling car. It was running
tight, and he said he couldn't get it down on the track and that he couldn't get power
out of the turns.
Bill Elliott took the race lead on lap 17, while Jeff remained in 26th place. Fortunately,
the yellow flag fell for the second time on lap 22; allowing Gordon to make a
much-needed pit stop. Rudd's car had overheated, and eventually took him out of the
race. He took on 4 tires, and the crew made significant adjustments to the car to help
free it up -- they pulled out the right front fender, made a spring rubber adjustment to
the right rear, in addition to a wedge adjustment of 2 full rounds. Even with all the
adjustments needed, Jeff restarted the race on lap 25 in 26th position.
Kevin Harvick took the race lead from Ryan Newman shortly after the restart. Still
adjusting to the car, Gordon lost a position to Leffler on lap 29. Three laps later Dale
Earnhardt Jr. was able to pass Jeff, however on lap 34 Gordon passed both Earnhardt
and Hornaday to move back into 26th place.
The third caution of the race came out on lap 33 after Newman spun out in turn 3 due to
a nudge from Spencer. Jeff was one of a few drivers who made pit stops under the
yellow flag. The car was still handling rough, so it was best to bring the car in and
make more adjustments. Gordon remained in 26th place.
Racing resumed on alp 36, only to go back under caution the following lap. Dave
Blaney hit hard into the back of another car that did not get a good start with the drop
of the green flag. He left a long streak of oil, mainly down the frontstretch, that took
several laps to clean up. On lap 40, racing was back underway.
Running in 25th place, Gordon moved up two positions on the restart. By lap 45 he
moved into 20th place as Sterling Marlin was taking over the race lead. Jeff remained
there for several laps, and did not gain another position until lap 56.
Shortly after, green flag pit stops began. Since Jeff made a short stop earlier, he was
off sequence and able to stay out on the track longer. Marlin gave up the lead on lap 63
to make his pit stop, with Tony Stewart taking the advantage back on the track after
the two stopped. Gordon continued to move up through the pack during the stops, and
climbed as high as 2nd place. He was forced to come in on lap 73, which is when
Bobby Labonte dropped out of the lead as well. A 15.2-second pit stop put Jeff in 24th
place by lap 75 when the stops had cycled through.
The fifth caution came out on lap 76 due to debris on the track. While many made pit
stops, Gordon stayed out on the track. He made up a lot of track position and restarted
the race in fifth place on lap 80.
Steve Park took the race lead from Stewart with a pass on the inside off of the restart.
Earnhardt Jr. moved alongside Stewart to take second place. Jeff went low behind
Earnhardt as Stewart dropped to third place. Unfortunately, Jeff was unable to get
around Stewart, and remained in fourth place until the next round of pit stops began
under the green flag.
Both Park and Stewart pitted on lap 105 as Earnhardt took the lead. Jeff was able to
sustain his position on the track long enough to take the lead when Earnhardt ducked
in for his stop. Jeff led laps 109-112 before making his stop. The DuPont crew turned an
impressive 15.6-second stop that kept Jeff in contention.
The stops finally cycled through by the 120-lap mark with Jeff running in fifth place
behind Dale Jarrett. The top positions remained the same through the sixth caution that
came out on lap 131 due to debris in turn 3. Marlin stayed on the track while the rest of
the leaders made pit stops. A slight chassis adjustment was made while putting two
fresh Goodyears on the car. Gordon was the first off pit road, which put him back in the
race in 2nd place.
Gordon dove down immediately on the restart at lap 135 and easily got by Marlin to
take the race lead. Unfortunately, the caution came out on lap 139 after his teammate
Jerry Nadeau crashed into the wall. Jeff had built up a good lead on Sterling, and was
the last one who wanted to see the caution flag come out.
The green flag flew again on lap 143 and Jeff got a good jump on the restart. Gordon got
out in front of Todd Bodine who ran at the front of the inside line, while Marlin was
forced to duck in behind him. Jeff built up, on average, about a one second lead on
Marlin that he carried with him to the checkered flag.
"That was just an incredible day, I never dreamed it would happen," Gordon said. "At
the beginning we were way off, and lately we haven't had too many pit strategies go our
way. Everything worked out today. The car drove great once I got out front.
"This was just an amazing week for me, and this is for sure the best way to celebrate
my birthday. It feels unbelievable. To have all these people cheering us on, I got really
choked up in the car. I love Indianapolis. I love the state of Indiana. Sometimes things
just work in your favor and that certainly happened to us today."
Jeff Gordon became the first driver to win the Brickyard 400 three times as he further
notched his way up in the point standings. Jeff now sits 160 points ahead of Dale
Jarrett and 179 points ahead of Ricky Rudd.
Next week racing returns to the second, and final, road course of the season. Although
Steve Park is the defending race champion of the Global Frontier at the Glen, Jeff has
won 3 of the last 4 events there, and is one of the favorites to win this year. After his
scuffle with Tony Stewart last year that took him out of contention, Jeff is ready to get
back into victory lane!