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.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Behind the scenes of how the biggest story in racing was kept a secret

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In a world where nobody is able to keep a secret, especially in auto racing, legendary business leader and race team owner Roger Penske and INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles were able to keep the biggest story of the year a secret.

That was Monday morning’s stunning announcement that after 74 years of leadership and ownership of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Hulman George Family was selling the track, the Indianapolis 500 and INDYCAR to Penske.

In an exclusive interview with NBC Sports.com on Thursday, Miles revealed the extreme lengths both sides went to so that nobody found out about this deal ahead of time. That included meeting with Penske at his Detroit offices early on Saturday mornings and late on Sunday nights.

The most important way of keeping it confidential was containing the number of people who were involved.

“We thought it was important to keep it quiet until we were ready to announce it,” Miles told NBC Sports.com. “The reason for that is No. 1, we wanted employees and other stakeholders to hear it from us and not through the distorting rumor mill.

“That was the motivation.

“We just didn’t involve many people. For most of the time, there were four people from Roger’s group in Michigan and four people from here (IMS/INDYCAR) involved and nobody else. There were just four of us. We all knew that none of the eight were going to talk to anybody about it until very late.”

Even key members of both staffs were kept out of the loop, notably Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles, who admitted earlier this week he was not told of the impending sale until Saturday when he was at Texas Motor Speedway for the NASCAR race.

Both Penske and Miles realize the way a deal or a secret slips out is often from people far outside of the discussions who have to get called in to work to help set up an announcement.

Miles had a plan for that scenario, too.

“On Saturday, we had to set up a stream for Monday’s announcement,” Miles said. “We came up with an internal cover story so if anybody saw what was going on, there was a cover story for what that was, and it wasn’t that announcement.

“The key thing was we kept it at only those that needed to know.”

It wasn’t until very late Sunday night and very early Monday morning that key stakeholders in INDYCAR were informed. Team owner Bobby Rahal got a call at 7:30 a.m. on Monday. Racing legend Mario Andretti was also informed very early on Monday.

At 8 a.m. that day came the official word from Hulman & Company, which owns the Indianapolis 500, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and INDYCAR as well as a few other businesses, that Penske was buying the racing properties of the company. It was an advisory that a media conference was scheduled for 11 a.m. at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

It was a masterful move by both Penske and Miles.

Penske is already famous for keeping one of greatest secrets in racing history in 1993 and 1994. That is when his famed racing team along with Ilmor Engineering created “The Beast” – a 209 cubic-inch, pushrod engine that was designed, developed and tested in total secrecy. A small, select group of Team Penske mechanics were involved in the top-secret project and were told by Penske that if word of the engine leaked out, “it would be like cutting your paycheck.”

Nobody talked.

History repeated itself with the biggest racing story of the 21st Century, the sale of the world’s most famous race course that hosts the largest single-day sporting event in the world – the annual Indianapolis 500.

When INDYCAR held its “Victory Lap” award ceremony on Sept. 26 in Indianapolis, Miles told the crowd of an impending announcement that would be big news for the sport.

Was he coming close to giving away Monday’s announcement?

“No, that was about a sponsor announcement that will be coming along later,” Miles said on Thursday night.

Penske is one of America’s greatest and most successful business leaders. He is also the most successful team owner in auto racing history with 545 wins in all forms of racing including a record 18 Indianapolis 500 wins, a record 16 NTT IndyCar Series championships as well as two Daytona 500 wins and two NASCAR Monster Energy Cup championships just to name a few.

Penske was not the only bidder, but he was the one who made the most sense to the Hulman George Family, because it was important to find an owner who believed in “stewardship” of the greatest racing tradition on Earth more so than “ownership” of an auto racing facility and series.

“There were a number of parties that were engaged in thinking about this with us,” Miles revealed to NBC Sports.com. “There were a couple that got as far as what I call the ‘Red Zone.’

“Then, Tony George reached out to Roger Penske on Sept. 22.

“Price and value were always important, but the thing that nobody could match was the attributes that Roger could bring to the table, in terms of his history of the sport, his knowledge of the sport, combined with his business sense.

“He was viewed as the leader from a legacy or stewardship perspective, which was a very important factor.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

McLaren IndyCar boss breaks down team’s first test since missing Indy 500

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McLaren Sporting Director Gil De Ferran left Sebring International Raceway last Tuesday with a much happier outlook than when he left the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 19.

That was when McLaren and famed two-time Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso arrived at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway ill-prepared. They failed to make the 33-car starting lineup for the 103rd Indianapolis 500.

That day in May, De Ferran vowed that McLaren would return.

Last Tuesday, what is now known as Arrow McLaren Racing SP after purchasing into Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, De Ferran was back to evaluate the team’s NTT IndyCar Series effort.

Instead of Alonso in the cockpit, it was the team’s recently named full-time drivers for 2020 at the test. That included 20-year-old Pato O’Ward of Monterrey, Mexico, the 2018 Indy Lights champion and 22-year-old Oliver Askew of Jupiter, Florida, the 2019 Indy Lights champion.

O’Ward was in the car for the test with Askew watching from the pit area.

“Pato did a great job, did not put a foot wrong, got on to it straight away and it was all good,” De Ferran told NBC Sports.com. “It was a positive day on all fronts. To work together, to build the team together and embark on this team together was very positive.”

De Ferran is a two-time CART champion with titles in 2000 and 2001 when he was with Team Penske. He also won the 2003 Indianapolis 500 for Team Penske before retiring as a driver at the end of that season.

Since then, he has been involved in numerous Formula One, IndyCar and Sports Car efforts. As McLaren’s Sporting Director, De Ferran is involved in both Formula One and IndyCar.

Arrow McLaren Racing SP also includes partners Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson. Arrow also has a financial stake in the team in addition to serving as sponsor.

The chance to work with two young drivers is something that has De Ferran excited.

“They are both very young, but they have been around for a while,” De Ferran said. “It’s not like these guys are completely clueless about racing. They have been racing ever since they were kids. Generally speaking, as a trend in motorsports, they start much younger than I did. They move to cars at a younger age and tend to reach this level of the sport at a younger age then when I was coming up.

“Although they don’t have a lot of experience in IndyCar, several members of the team can help in their development. These guys are very accomplished and top-level guys. They have won a lot of races and championships before getting the nod from our team.”

Last week’s test was part of INDYCAR’s evaluation of the new aeroscreen that will be on all cars beginning in 2020. Arrow McLaren Racing SP is a Chevrolet team. Honda team Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser and Sullivan also participated in the test with four-time Champ Car Series champion Sebastien Bourdais as the driver.

This was the only test that Arrow McLaren Racing SP will conduct in 2019. Testing time is severely limited De Ferran said it won’t be back on track until the 2020 regulations take effect.

Arrow McLaren Racing SP has already experienced some controversy after the team said several weeks ago that popular driver James Hinchcliffe would not be driving for the team. He remains on the payroll and is expected to be at the track in a public relations capacity.

That has angered many IndyCar fans who are huge fans of the popular Canadian driver.

“I have nothing more to add to this than what was said at the time,” De Ferran told NBC Sports.com. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s head-down. We have to go racing. We are on a journey here together with this partnership and two young drivers that are very accomplished and have a lot of talent. Our job is to deliver the results on the track.

“That is where my focus is. I’m completely focused on improving every aspect of everything that we do trackside.

“One thing I guarantee you, whatever we start, to have that focus to improve everything that we do we will continue to move forward. It was like that when I was driving, and it was like that throughout my professional career away from the cockpit. We will keep looking for opportunities to improve.

“Eventually, good things will happen.”

It was just Day One on the track, but after seeing this team struggle at last year’s Indianapolis 500, McLaren took its first step in returning as a full-time NTT IndyCar Series team.

“This is the beginning of a journey that we embarked on several months ago now and you do a lot in the background,” De Ferran said. “The guys from SPM and us have put a lot into this partnership. Behind the scenes, we have been working hard together.

“We’re all racers, man. We want to see cars on track. This has been like a little check off the box and it feels good that we were on track.

“We have a long journey ahead, but it’s good to be working together, at the race track, how the car is handling, the engine is working and how the drivers do.

“First day on the track for Arrow McLaren Racing SP. It’s a good day.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500