Gordon flashes to Brickyard victory Driver, 23, holds off Brett Bodine, wins by half-second

August 07, 1994|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Sun Staff Writer

INDIANAPOLIS -- Jeff Gordon, the youngest driver in the inaugural Brickyard 400 Winston Cup stock car race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, stepped into the motor sports history books yesterday.

"Without tears coming up -- I don't want to be a crybaby all the time -- I tell ya, this is the greatest thing in the world," said Gordon, who sobbed wildly when he captured his first career victory in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte last May. "It's far past our expectations. I never thought it would happen. I'm a kid in a candy store. I've got a big smile and I don't know what to say. I was just happy to be a part of it. I'm definitely happy to be the winner."

He is known as "The Kid" to his crew and car owner Rick Hendrick, who said he may be "Mr. Gordon" from now on.

Gordon sure didn't drive like a kid yesterday afternoon, steering his DuPont Chevrolet to a .53-of-a-second victory over Brett Bodine.

There was no denying Gordon, 23 as of last Friday. He led 93 of the 160 laps at an average speed of 131.932 mph.

He overcame every obstacle -- on and off the track -- and pressure was everywhere.

There were more than 300,000 fans in the stands, waiting to see if stock car racing would live up to its billing as the most exciting brand of motor sports.

There were 43 car owners and sponsors already considering what a victory here could do for their racing programs.

And there were 43 drivers determined to win the most anticipated race in Winston Cup history.

The Brickyard 400 was the first race other than the Indianapolis 500 to be held at this 2.5-mile Indy Car bastion in eight decades and in the end, with cars running side-by-side through the turns and as many as five running side-by-side at one point down the backstretch, it lived up to its 18-month buildup.

After a slow start that saw the cars stretched out around the track like Indy Cars in May, the Winston Cup stock cars gave a demonstration of the best they have to offer over the last 200 miles of the race.

It featured a family feud between brothers Geoff and Brett Bodine that crashed Geoff's Ford, the only car in the early going that could stay with Gordon, out of the race.

It demonstrated what door-to-door racing is all about, as Rusty Wallace and Ernie Irvan fought a side-by-side battle until Wallace faded in the turbulence to finish fourth.

It showed the true grit of the sport's six-time champion Dale Earnhardt, who overcame a brush with the fourth turn wall, lug-nut trouble and out-of-sync pit stops to manage a fifth-place finish.

And it entertained with a wonderful game of cat-and-mouse between Irvan and Gordon up to within five laps of victory.

"We both felt we were in the right spot," said Irvan, who traded places with Gordon time and again over the last dozen laps. "We raced on each other's bumpers for a long time. If we were first or second, both of us felt we were in the right spot and had a good chance at winning.

"We were playing mind games. It was a great battle. He figured he'd beat me and I figured I'd beat him. I couldn't see no way either of us would finish worse than second. But I cut a tire and he backed up what he'd been showing ever since we got here and won."

For his part, Gordon was glad to be on what he called "equal ground" where no one knew any more about how to race this race track than anyone else.

"It was a track with no NASCAR history," he said. "So when it mattered, I knew as much as anyone else.

"The last 10 laps racing Ernie, he was the last guy I wanted to race, he's so tough. Him and Earnhardt. I hated to see Dale hit that wall on the first lap. Darn!

"But Ernie could loosen my car up by getting up close behind it and I could do it to him. But I thought I could beat him and I planned to press him and pass him with two or three laps left. We were just playing. I figured it would come to the last lap and we'd either both be in the wall or in a photo finish."

But with five laps left, Irvan's left front tire blew, sending Gordon to victory.

Last season Gordon was the Winston Cup rookie of the year.

Two months ago he won the series' longest race, the Coca Cola 600. Yesterday, he won it's richest, collecting $613,000, more than double the previous record of $294,450 won by Kyle Petty in 1990 at Rockingham, N.C.

"The Kid's unbelievable," said Hendrick.

The Kid is on top of the world.

Today, at 4 p.m, he will be the grand marshal of a parade at Disney World.

"I don't know what it was like for Ray Harroun when he won that first Indy Car race in 1911," said Gordon, who joined Harroun as a first-time event winner here. "I don't know if everyone anticipated that race like everyone anticipated this one or if everyone wanted to win as bad as everyone here did.

"But as bad as my memory is, I still remember Ray Harroun's name and, from my perspective, that was a pretty good race team and I'd like to think we've kept him in pretty good company."

In the history books. At Indianapolis. In a Winston Cup stock car race.

Brickyard 400 results

At Indianapolis (AP)

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