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

INDYCAR: Zach Veach ready for stronger second half of season

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If you hear Zach Veach humming or even singing The Beatles’ “Penny Lane” this weekend at Road America, there’s a jolly good reason for it, as they say in England.

Much like the way teammate Alexander Rossi has nicknamed his car “Baby Girl,” Veach has nicknamed his road and street course car “Penny Lane,” thanks in part to his girlfriend being a huge Beatles fan who has helped Veach also become a fan.

The Stockdale, Ohio native also has a nickname for his speedway car: “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds.”

Veach has had a tough rookie season in the Verizon IndyCar Series. He comes into this weekend’s Kohler Grand Prix in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, ranked 15th in the standings with 147 points, but an already massive 210 points behind series leader Scott Dixon.

He could easily sing The Beatles’ “Help!”, given how the season has gone so far.

The 23-year-old Veach’s best finish – and only top-10 showing thus far in 2018 – has been fourth at Long Beach – in “Penny Lane” of course, a finish he hopes to equal, if not improve upon, Sunday in central Wisconsin.

He’s struggled since Long Beach, though, failing to finish higher than 12th in the following six races: 13th at Birmingham, 23rd in both the Indianapolis Grand Prix and Indy 500, 12th and 13th at Detroit’s Belle Isle and 16th at Texas.

He also finished 16th in each of the season’s first two races at St. Petersburg and Phoenix.

But Veach hopes to be singing another Beatles song on the 4.048-mile road course: “Twist and Shout” in hopes of having a strong finish on the twisting 14-turn kettle moraine course.

Zach Veach, driver of the #26 Relay Group 1001 Honda, practices for the DXC Technology 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 8, 2018. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

Veach has a good reason to be optimistic for success at Road America.

“Road America has actually been pretty good to us in USF 2000 and Indy Lights,” Veach said. “I think we have four or five podiums there. In 2016 (racing for Belard Auto Racing), we set the track record in Lights, won the first race and finished third in the second. I’m hoping that speed continues (in Sunday’s IndyCar race).”

While he acknowledges this season’s struggles thus far, Veach also knows he’s learning and improving.

“I think the biggest thing is the braking capabilities of the Indy car,” he said. “You’re going from steel rotors (in Lights) to carbon pads. Honestly, it feels like you can brake 150 feet deeper going into a corner with an Indy car, but at the same time, you’re also going into that corner 40 to 50 mph faster in an Indy car than in a Lights car.

“Our first year in Indy Lights wasn’t anything spectacular, and then we came back and almost won a championship. I think that’s just the way I go about things. I take inches at a time instead of miles, but I feel like we’re getting to that point where we need to be in IndyCar.”

Veach is no stranger to Andretti Autosport, having raced with the team from 2010 to 2014 and then signed a three-year contract to drive in the Verizon IndyCar Series last fall.

“To have the opportunity to race with Andretti is almost perfect for me as far as growth and development,” Veach said. “With the three teammates I have and the skill and experience they have, it’s allowed my learning curve to accelerate that much quicker.

“That’s the tough thing. It’s a rookie season and when I look back at it and look at numbers, you may say things didn’t look good at certain races. But when I look back at them, I say to myself where that’s when I did my best fuel save, or that’s when I figured out how to fix an issue with braking. There’s so much I’ve picked up.

“But I feel like these last two race weekends have been arguably the most comfortable I’ve felt. Detroit, I was looking so great for 12th and 13th, and Texas, racing from 16th to 3rd and then I made a mistake (finished 16th). I finally feel confident enough to say I can race these guys and can race them hard and the car is finally starting to feel small, if you want to say that, like I’m driving the car instead of being stuck behind somebody else.”

While he’s learned from all of his Andretti Autosport teammates — Rossi, Marco Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay — Veach feels he is closest to fellow young driver, Rossi.

“We’re both on the younger side of the spectrum of our teammates,” Veach said of Rossi. “And he’s the newest guy learning IndyCar, so he got that experience a little sooner than the other guys as far as time.

“For me, I’m in much the same position he was in two years ago. He’s been real helpful in helping me get up to speed.”

With eight more races remaining in the season, Veach’s primary goal is to finish his first full IndyCar season in the top-10. He’s currently 66 points behind the 10th-ranked driver, teammate Marco Andretti.

“If we could be top-10 in the championship, that’d be great, that’s what we’re hoping for,” Veach said. “We want to try and be consistently in the top-10 in the second half (of the season) in race results, too. And if we could get some top-fives, that would be fantastic.

“We just have to keep improving on qualifying, which shows how well you understand the car and how you can get the most out of it. I feel our race speed has been good, but when you’re starting at or near the back, it’s hard to move forward.”

Even so, there’s still good reason for optimism for Veach.

“Andretti always gives its drivers some of the best cars, so at the end of the day, it comes down to you learning as much as you can and learning as much as you can get out of a race-winning car,” he said. “I’ve just been lucky. This is my sixth season with Andretti if you count the ladder series, and it always has felt like a family.”

And if he has a strong finish Sunday at Road America, don’t be surprised if Veach hums or sings another Beatles song, “I Feel Fine,” as he leaves the legendary road course.

Follow @JerryBonkowski