NASCAR: Rudd, Jarrett, Bobby Labonte look back on Brickyard 400 triumphs

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Time has not lessened the significance of winning at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for Ricky Rudd.

Rudd was not fortunate enough to win a Sprint Cup championship or a Daytona 500 in his driving career. But his 1997 Brickyard 400 triumph is something he takes deep pride in.

“It was just such a big day,” Rudd recalled today in an NASCAR teleconference. “I still have visions of that. I was fortunate enough to win a few more races along the way, but none of them seem to stand out in the detail that Indy has.

“It’s almost like it was a dream but yet it came true. I just have very vivid recollections of how that thing unwound.”

The same goes for fellow Brickyard champions Dale Jarrett (1996, 1999) and Bobby Labonte (2000), who joined Rudd today to recall their own Indy memories.

As part of his 1996 Indy win, Jarrett and his crew chief at the time, Todd Parrott, also started what’s become a tradition in both the Brickyard and the Indianapolis 500: The post-race kiss of the Yard of Bricks for the winning team.

Jarrett said the two talked beforehand about doing that if they won, but Parrott wound up having to remind his driver in Victory Lane.

“Todd grabbed me and said, ‘Hey, remember what we talked about,'” said Jarrett. “It wasn’t until then that I remembered that we were going to do something a little different. We hadn’t told any of the crew or anything like that. So we just told them to follow us and went out and had our time on the Yard of Bricks.”

“..Of course it’s a lot more orchestrated now than what it was at that time, because we took everybody by surprise,” he continued. “But to even see the guys that win the Indy 500 go out and be a part of it, it’s pretty cool to know you started a tradition that will probably carry on for a long time.”

As for Labonte, who will look to make this weekend’s show at Indy in a third car for Tommy Baldwin Racing, he remembers his Brickyard win as a pivotal moment in his successful run to the 2000 Cup title.

“It seemed like that was kind of the trend for a lot of guys for a few years,” he said. “It seemed like if you won the Brickyard, you ended up winning the championship. Some of it was for sure, some of it didn’t happen.

“We definitely had what we felt like was momentum on our side. Just that race there and being able to win it with our guys, we were on a roll. That just really boosted our confidence up more than we ever could imagine.”

Helio Castroneves: ‘I have nothing to lose’ Sunday in bid for 4th Indy 500 win

All photos: IndyCar
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You might say Helio Castroneves comes into Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500 with a “less is more” philosophy than he’s had in years past:

* No pressure

* No worrying about points

* No worrying about winning a championship

Take away all those things and the very popular Brazilian driver could be in the best position he’s ever been to achieve the biggest goal of his career:

Winning a fourth Indy 500, making him a member of motor racing’s most exclusive club, joining legendary drivers A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears as the only drivers to conquer the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway four times each.

Like his car number, Castroneves has won the Indy 500 three times. He wants to change that number to four times in Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Greatest Spectacle In Racing. Photo: IndyCar.

“For sure, I definitely don’t have much to lose in terms of points, championships, and things like that,” Castroneves told MotorSportsTalk earlier this week. “I don’t have to think that I don’t have a car to win, I’m not going to risk that much because there are still championship points (to earn if he was still racing full-time in the series).

“Not that I did that before, but if the situation occurs, people just need to know I have nothing to lose this time.”

Castroneves three prior triumphs in the 500 came in his first two years in the field – 2001 and 2002 – and again in 2009. In addition, he has finished twice in the last four editions of the Greatest Spectacle In Racing in 2014 and 2017.

Coming so close last year, losing to Takuma Sato by .201 of a second, is something Castroneves hasn’t forgotten about. To come so close to No. 4 has only made him more hungry to get it done on Sunday.

“Yeah, but if it were easy, we would likely have had more than four wins by now,” he said. “We’ve had opportunities in the past, the last four years we were really competitive, we were right there, especially in ’14 and ’17, we were right on it.

“Last year, I thought it was going to be the hardest 500 for me and look what happened: we were battling to the end for a victory,” Castroneves said. “It’s not just about trying hard, it’s about being there at the right place at the right time.

“And this place, Indianapolis, I’ve always said the track winds up choosing who is going to be the winner. Hopefully, with safety and luck, we’ll be part of it and be on the right side.”

Team owner Roger Penske decided after last season to put Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya as the chief drivers of Team Penske’s new two-car effort in the IMSA WeatherTech Championship sports car series.

When the announcement was first made, many feared that Castroneves had run out of chances to get that elusive No. 4 at Indy.

But Penske sweetened the deal for Helio to go sports car racing by promising he’d field a car for him at Indy. And Penske has proven to be a man of his word, giving Castroneves everything he needs to finally win No. 4.

“I feel we’ve prepared as much as a team, we’re doing everything possible in relation to preparation,” Castroneves said. “The preparation we had in the previous year helps us tremendously to give us an opportunity fighting there for a win, and that’s what we’re looking for.”

Castroneves has taken to the new style Indy car with aplomb. During the first week of practice leading up to last weekend’s qualifying, he was consistently one of the fastest drivers in the field.

The 43-year-old even topped the speed charts in the Fast Nine last Saturday before ending up eighth in the following day’s pole qualifying.

As a result, he’ll start Sunday’s race from the middle of Row 3, anchoring Team Penske’s four-man Top 8 starting lineup effort in the 500. When the green flag drops, to his left will be Danica Patrick and to his right will be four-time IndyCar champ and former 500 winner Scott Dixon.

And millions of others right behind him, so to speak.

“I feel the sense that everyone wants it to happen,” he said of winning No. 4. “We’re talking about being part of history here. The last guy to do it was Rick Mears in the ‘90s (1991).

“I mean, how cool would that be if I would be in the position and to see No. 4 in my era. I hear a lot of the fans, even those supporting different drivers, all saying ‘Man, I want to see you win No. 4.’ That just shows how special this place is.

“(The Indy 500) is part of a lot of people’s lives. I just would be very fortunate to hopefully to have this generation see someone do No. 4.”

While he’d rather not think about missing out on a fourth win at Indy for a ninth straight year, Castroneves is using reverse psychology somewhat.

He’s going into Sunday’s biggest race in the world fully believing he will finally win No. 4.

And if he does, forget the idea that he would never come back to race at Indy again.

“Not at all. Why? You’re so close to getting four, and then when you get four, you stop it? It doesn’t make sense.

“I think I still have at least four or five more years, there’s no question about it. As long as Roger (Penske) gives me the opportunity, I’m going to be going for it, for sure.”

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