Jeff Gordon wins record 5th Brickyard 400 in vintage fashion

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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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Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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