NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Jeff Gordon waves to the fans as he rides around the track during driver introductions before the Crown Royal Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. At 42, Gordon is still going strong. (Reuters)
INDIANAPOLIS — Jeff Gordon won the inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994.
On Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, in a No. 24 Chevrolet that clearly was the class of the field, Gordon won the 21st edition of the prestigious race.
It’s remarkable enough that Gordon could win a record five times at IMS. It’s even more astounding that his first and most recent victories at the Brickyard are 20 years apart.
And it’s even more staggering that Gordon seems to have rediscovered the same sort of passion and intensity that propelled him to his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship as a 24-year-old.
So don’t be too surprised if Gordon returns to Victory Lane in the 41st running of the Brickyard 400, at age 62.
OK, that might be a pipe dream. But Gordon seems to have accomplished something Ponce de León couldn’t achieve five centuries ago — discovering the Fountain of Youth.
Make no mistake. This is a relatively recent phenomenon. A few years ago, Gordon complained of an aching back, opined that he had lost a step and seemed a likely candidate for early retirement.
Fast race cars, however, have put the bounce back in Gordon’s step. When he won at Kansas earlier this season, an elated Gordon said, “I’ve been having so much fun. I’m going to be 43 this year, and I feel like I’m 25 again. …
“I just feel so competitive out there, and that makes me feel young again. When the cars are that good, my back just doesn’t seem to hurt as much. … Man, if 43 is like this, I can’t wait for 50.”
Back spasms did sideline Gordon briefly at Charlotte in May but didn’t cause him to miss the Coca-Cola 600. That brief setback, however, hasn’t diminished the vigor he has shown in his driving before or since.
And on Sunday, with the race on the line, Gordon looked like the champion of old as he buried the No. 24 Chevy into Turn 1 and made a clean pass to the outside of Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne moments after the decisive restart with 17 laps left.
To a great degree, Gordon credits team owner Rick Hendrick and crew chief Alan Gustafson with keeping him motivated. Perhaps an even larger factor is his family.
When Gordon won the most recent of his four premier series crowns in 2001, he was married to Brooke Sealey. The couple divorced in 2003, and Gordon subsequently married Ingrid Vandebosch in 2006. Daughter Ella was born in 2007, and son Leo followed in 2010.
After Sunday’s race, Gordon acknowledged that his family life has sharpened his focus on his career goals.
“My wife and kids, they’ve never experienced it — Ingrid has never experienced a championship,” Gordon said. “I told her, I said, ‘Hey, I know you want to know what it’s like to win a championship. Well, there’s a big commitment that it takes.’
“She’s like, ‘Whatever it takes.’
“That’s the kind of year that we’re having. We’re just putting everything we can into it.”
So, come to think of it, maybe a Jeff Gordon victory in the 2024 Brickyard 400 isn’t that far-fetched. “The 24 in ‘24” has a nice ring to it.
And, by then, Gordon may well have grandchildren with whom he’ll feel compelled to share the experience.