Gordon joins elites with Indy win No. 4

Giving that little extra, he clinches `Brickyard 402.5'

feat is first in NASCAR

Auto Racing

August 09, 2004|By Ed Hinton | Ed Hinton,ORLANDO SENTINEL

INDIANAPOLIS - Jeff Gordon not only dominated the 11th Brickyard 400 yesterday, but he seized command of the event's entire history.

He became NASCAR's first four-time winner at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, equaling an Indy 500 mark shared by A.J. Foyt, Al Unser Sr. and Rick Mears.

Gordon also managed to win the first Brickyard 402.5 - yesterday's race was NASCAR's first to go into overtime.

The 400 was extended by one extra lap, or 2.5 miles, in keeping with NASCAR's new "green-white-checkered" rule that provides up to two added laps, in the event of a late caution flag, to induce a green-flag finish.

It took the legendary Foyt 20 runnings of the 500 to become Indy's first four-time winner. It took Gordon only 11 runnings of the Brickyard. Still, Gordon refused to claim even equality.

"I don't compare myself to Rick Mears, A.J. Foyt and Al Unser," Gordon said. "To me, the Indy 500 is something so unique and different from the Brickyard 400. I'm very proud to be a four-time winner, but I don't allow those comparisons."

Gordon led a record 124 laps of the race, even after the right-front air dam of his Chevrolet was ripped open by a chunk of lead that had fallen off another car ... even after two late caution flags allowed Ford teammates Dale Jarrett and Elliott Sadler to close up behind him and threaten him on restarts ... and even after the extra lap was touch-and-go on his right rear tire, which was going flat.

Until only 18 of the 161 laps remained, he was on a breezy Sunday drive before a crowd estimated at 250,000 - not a sellout but still easily NASCAR's largest crowd of the season.

Then on Lap 143, disaster struck - or so he thought. He ran over the chunk of lead that was lying on the track.

"I hit some debris and killed the thing - KILLED the thing!" Gordon bellowed by radio to his crew chief, Robbie Loomis. He lambasted NASCAR officials for "not keeping their eyes open - that was a big piece of debris."

Later he called his ire "the heat of the moment."

Unwilling to fall back with a pit stop, Loomis viewed the damage through binoculars and "didn't like what I saw," he said. The hole in the bodywork might drastically affect the car's steering.

But when the race restarted, Gordon was pleasantly surprised - "Luckily, there wasn't a huge difference" in the car's handling, he said.

Still, Gordon had yet another worry. The Chevy of his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Jimmie Johnson, had blown an engine just past the halfway point. Gordon's engine had been assembled in the same shop by the same technicians.

But it all held together well enough that Jarrett and Sadler, even with their Fords operating at what both called optimal efficiency, couldn't jump Gordon, finishing second and third.

The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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