NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Jeff Gordon (24) celebrates winning the Crown Royal Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. (Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports)
INDIANAPOLIS — Nearly 21 years to the day of his first triumph in the inaugural Brickyard 400, Jeff Gordon rallied to earn a record fifth Brickyard victory Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Gordon was 22 years old when he won the first Brickyard on Aug. 6, 1994. Sunday, he looked like he was in his prime.
He earned his second win of 2014 and 90th career victory in classic Gordon-like fashion, grabbing the lead from Kasey Kahne on the final restart 16 laps from the end.
“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 said.
It also marked Gordon’s first Brickyard triumph since 2004. He also won the inaugural Brickyard in 1994, as well as 1998 and 2001.
Gordon, who grew up in nearby Pittsboro, Ind., also presented himself an early birthday present. 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’re a little bit older than we were 20 years ago, but it’s a great win.”
It appeared Kahne, who dominated much of the race, would be unbeatable and was headed to his first win of the season. But he stumbled on the final restart, allowing Gordon to take the lead while Kahne quickly plummeted backward to fifth place.
“I’m not very good on restarts and wasn’t good today, and finally made the restart of my life,” Gordon said. “I got to thank Kasey, he raced me clean. Once I got past him, I thought to myself, I can’t believe this is happening.”
As the final laps clicked off, Gordon admitted he was hoping that there would not be a late-race caution.
“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.”
Joe Gibbs Racing had a monster day, with all three of its drivers finishing in the top-five.
Kyle Busch finished second, followed by JGR teammates Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth.
“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.”
Hendrick Motorsports had a solid day as well. In addition to Gordon’s win, Kahne finished sixth, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was ninth and four-time Brickyard winner Jimmie Johnson tailed off to a 14th-place finish.
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 and Gordon, as well as the next five on the leaders’ ladder, chose to remain on-track when an out of power Ryan Truex brought out the caution flag 21 laps from the finish.
When the green flag dropped for the final time on Lap 184, Kahne spun his tires while Gordon had a textbook restart and never looked back.