Other Sports
Gordon, Brickyard Continue Love Affair
By Mike Harris
Aug 9, 2004

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Jeff Gordon couldn't wait to kiss the bricks Sunday after matching his heroes with a fourth victory at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The driver, who spent his teen years living within 25 miles of the track, made history with his fourth victory in the Brickyard 400, joining open-wheel stars A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears as four times winners at the storied speedway.

"It feels amazing," Gordon said. "I can't compare four (wins) in a stock car to what my heroes like Rick Mears and A.J. Foyt and those guys did here. To win at this speedway, I can't even describe the feeling right now."

As he crossed the finish line, the jubilant Gordon yelled into his radio: "Let's go kiss those bricks, yeah."

He was referring to the NASCAR tradition started in 1996 -- the third year the race was held here -- by two-time Brickyard winner Dale Jarrett of the victorious driver and team kneeling and kissing the yard of bricks that mark the Indy finish line.

Gordon stopped his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet on the front straightaway, scrambled out of the car and hugged team owner Rick Hendrick, then stood staring for a long moment at what is left of the original brick track.

"That yard of bricks right there is so special, and it feels so incredible to win this race," Gordon said.

Gordon made it look easy most of the day, dominating on the way to his fifth win of the season and the 69th of his NASCAR career.

The four-time series champion, who won the inaugural NASCAR event here in 1994 and added victories in 1998 and 2001, led 124 of the 161 laps on the 2 1/2-mile oval, but still had to fend off Jarrett in a pair of late restarts.

The last restart on lap 160, which was supposed to be the final lap, was the first green-white-checkered overtime since NASCAR added the rule last month in an effort to assure that races finished with the cars racing, instead of driving slowly behind the pace car.

A crash involving Ryan Newman and rookie Brian Vickers on lap 155 -- the record 13th caution of the day -- set up the final restart after it took until the end of lap 159 to get the track cleared and ready for racing.

As he did on virtually every restart in the race, Gordon got a great jump and pulled away from Jarrett's Ford, moving out to a half-second lead on the first lap. He was about one second and six car-lengths ahead when the last yellow flag came out as the leaders were about halfway through the final lap.

Because NASCAR said there would be only one green-white-checkered opportunity, that's the way the race finished, although the pace car didn't have time to get onto the track.

A rash of flat tires caused most of the crashes and caution flags throughout the day, and the final yellow came out because Ricky Rudd, Mark Martin and Dale Earnhardt Jr. were all running slowly and losing positions because of flats on the last two laps.

Elliott Sadler, Jarrett's Robert Yates Racing teammate, finished third, followed by rookie Kasey Kahne, Tony Stewart, Greg Biffle, Jamie McMurray and 2003 Brickyard winner Kevin Harvick.

"Jeff was just too good on the restarts for us," Jarrett said. "I didn't need that last caution. I thought I was gaining on him a little bit, but he had the best car all day.

"Elliott was actually better on the restarts than I was, so he probably would have been better served to be second trying to get to Jeff."

Gordon did get a scare with 18 laps left when he hit a large piece of debris, tearing a hole in the air dam on the right front of the No. 24 and throwing off the aerodynamics.

In April, Gordon lost the lead and the race when he ran over a piece of concrete that was torn up from the track at Martinsville. This time, though, he was able to get the car to the checkered flag.

"Man, I don't know how we pulled that off," Gordon said. "I don't know what this one was, but it was big. And when we hit that thing, I thought it was all over. I saw Martinsville all over again, but this is a good trade-off.

"This was just our day. It was meant to be," he added.

Gordon's car threw the debris, probably a piece of lead from one of the damaged cars, into the car driven by Matt Kenseth, who was running second and appeared to be catching the leader. Kenseth pitted, thinking he had a flat tire, but his crew said there was no flat and sent Kenseth back onto the track. He wound up 16th.

Earnhardt ran the whole race for the first time since being burned in a sports car crash July 18 and finished a disappointing 27th after running in the top 10 for most of the second half of the race. Junior said he is still in some pain from the burns to his legs, but was more upset about the flat tire that cost him dearly at the end.

"We fought hard all day and it's tough," he said. "I'm mad. I had a sixth-place finish until that tire blew."

Series leader Jimmie Johnson, who came into the race off a victory at Pocono, had a miserable day and wound up failing to finish for only the third time this season. Johnson survived a spin after a flat tire but went out after just 88 laps with an engine failure and finished 36th.

Johnson, who came into the race with a lead of 232 points over Gordon, goes to next Sunday's event on the road course at Watkins Glen leading by just 97. Earnhardt remained third, 240 behind.

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