INDIANAPOLIS – It was an oldie but goodie performance as Jeff Gordon – seven days short of his 43rd birthday – rallied late to win Sunday’s 21st Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Looking like he did in his prime, Gordon took the lead from Kasey Kahne 16 laps from the finish on the final restart and held on to earn a record fifth Brickyard title, his second win of 2014 and the 90th win of his 22-season Sprint Cup career.
“I don’t think there’s a greater feeling for a race car driver and a race team because that’s what it took today, a total team effort to be here in victory lane at Indianapolis,” Gordon told ESPN in victory lane. “I’m not very good on restarts and wasn’t good today, and finally made the restart of my life. I’ve got to thank Kasey, he raced me clean. Once I got past him, I thought to myself, ‘I can’t believe this is happening.'”
Gordon did all he could to focus on driving his race car and not worry about those behind him or the victory that potentially awaited ahead of him at the start-finish line.
“I was trying so hard with 10 to go not to focus on the crowd,” Gordon said. “I could see every once in a while I’d glance up there and see the reaction. You can’t help it. It’s such a good race and such an important victory.”
Gordon won the inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994, and followed that up with wins in 1998, 2001 and 2004. Many fans and media borrowed Gordon’s “Drive for 5” line about winning his fifth Sprint Cup championship this season and instead applied it to Sunday’s event.
“All week long, fans were coming up to me and saying, ‘We believe in you’ and ‘You’ll get No. 5.’ Well, we got No. 5. Yes!” Gordon said.
Gordon, who grew up in nearby Pittsboro, Ind., even gave himself an early birthday present with the win. The Sprint Cup veteran turns 43 on Aug. 4.
“I told him this morning, ‘This is your day,'” team owner Rick Hendrick said. “For him to break that tie (four Brickyard wins with teammate Jimmie Johnson), this is pretty special. We’ve a little bit older than we were 20 years ago, but it’s a great win.”
It’s also the ninth Brickyard win in 21 years for Hendrick Motorsports drivers.
Ironically, before the race, Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard proclaimed the day “Jeff Gordon Day,” and Gordon certainly finished it in outstanding form.
Gordon led a Hendrick Motorsports surge, as Kahne finished sixth, followed by fellow teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr. (ninth) and four-time Brickyard winner Jimmie Johnson (14th).
Right behind Gordon was the potent Joe Gibbs Racing triumverate of Kyle Busch (second), Denny Hamlin (third) and Matt Kenseth (fourth).
“We had a good day, certainly better than expected,” Busch said. “We’ve been working hard the last few months in making better race cars and the TRD guys making better horsepower and it paid off with a 2-3-4 finish for the whole JGR organization.”
Also finishing in the top-10 were Joey Logano (fifth), rookie Kyle Larson (seventh), pole-sitter Kevin Harvick (eighth) and rookie Austin Dillon (10th).
Kahne dominated through much of the race and appeared headed to victory, but after Ryan Truex lost power on the frontstretch, bringing out the caution flag, Kahne slipped badly on the restart, eventually dropping as far back as fifth. Gordon took advantage with a power move of his own and began to pull away towards victory.
Among other highlights:
* Juan Pablo Montoya, who twice fell short of winning the Brickyard during his previous tenure as a full-time Sprint Cup driver, wound up 23rd on the finishing grid. Montoya moved back to the Verizon IndyCar Series this season after seven seasons on the Cup circuit.
* Danica Patrick, who had a strong 14th-place qualifying effort, was knocked out of the race on Lap 67 when the rear axle in her Chevrolet broke. She was sidelined nearly 30 laps before repairs were made, but Patrick still finished 42nd.
* Last year’s Brickyard winner, Ryan Newman, could not repeat his success. Never really much of a factor in the race, Newman ultimately finished 11th.
* Two-time Brickyard winner Tony Stewart struggled to a 17th-place finish.
Harvick, who won the 400 in 2003, held the lead for the first lap before four-time 400 winner Jeff Gordon took the point.
There was a competition caution on Lap 21, but it was rather routine and uneventful. Most teams took either two or four tires and fuel, although four-time 400 winner Jimmie Johnson and Clint Bowyer came in for fuel only (they both came in on Lap 37 for tires).
Joey Logano took the lead on the restart and held it until Lap 33, when he was forced to pit for fuel and tires, allowing Kasey Kahne to take the point.
Paul Menard glanced off the wall on Lap 33, as well, but suffered only minor damage and was able to continue.
Larson took over the lead on Lap 38 as Kahne pitted, and then yielded to fellow rookie Austin Dillon on Lap 43.
Dillon led for just one lap before he pitted, turning over the lead to Denny Hamlin.
Harvick regained the lead on Lap 55 as teams started stepping up their game at that point because of reports of rain in the area. As it turned out, however, the rain held off until about an hour after the conclusion of the race.
Because IMS never announces attendance figures, a poll of several media members, all veterans at IMS, pegged Sunday’s turnout around 70,000, similar to crowds in the last two editions of the 400.
Fans watching on TV might have thought the turnout was even less, but that’s probably because of the massive size of IMS, which can seat between 250,000 and 300,000.
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