Fans, drivers endure plenty of caution flags in early going
INDIANAPOLIS -- There was plenty of yellow at the Brickyard 400.
There were seven cautions for 28 laps Sunday, including four yellows in the first 36 laps.
The Brickyard record was set in 1998 with nine yellows; there was only one caution period in 1995.
The first yellow on Sunday came on the second lap, the earliest caution in the eight-year Brickyard history, after a half-spin into the wall by Andy Houston triggered a crash that also knocked out Matt Kenseth and damaged several other cars.
Houston, a Winston Cup rookie, was awarded last place -- 43rd. Kenseth, who was able to drive around to the garages, was credited with two laps for 42nd place.
"Obviously, the car just jumped around on me. ... There wasn't really any indication, it just really swapped ends on me. It's heartbreaking," Houston said.
The second yellow came on the 22nd lap when Ricky Rudd apparently lost a water pump. On the 32nd lap, the third caution came out when pole-starter Jimmy Spencer nudged Ryan Newman into the wall. Four laps later, right after the restart, Dave Blaney bumped the rear of Elliott Sadler's car and pulled into the pits trailing flames, bringing the yellow out again.
"They all stacked up and I ran in the back of [car] 21. It was a stupid move on my part," said Blaney, who returned later, 45 laps behind the leader, and finished 40th.
The later yellows were for a crash by Jerry Nadeau and twice for debris on the track.
Remembering The Intimidator
The Speedway honored the late Dale Earnhardt in a ceremony before the start of the Brickyard 400.
Earnhardt, the 1995 winner at Indianapolis, was killed in a last-lap crash in the season-opening Daytona 500.
"Dale may be responsible more than anyone that there even is a Brickyard 400," Speedway president Tony George said in a taped message played to the crowd of some 320,000 standing reverently during a video tribute to Earnhardt, a seven-time Winston Cup champion.
"So as you enjoy the race today and celebrate its winner, let's also celebrate the life of a great champion, our friend, Dale Earnhardt," George said.
At the front
Jay Leno, who two years ago drove the pace car at the Indianapolis 500, was behind the wheel of a Chevrolet Monte Carlo leading the start of the Brickyard 400.
"Normally I just ride in that little bus around the track," the host of NBC's "Tonight Show" joked. "So being able to get in the pace car and have some fun is a real thrill.
"It's been a real exciting day for me. I've gotten to meet all the drivers, so as a fan it's great," said Leno, who collects antique and classic cars and motorcycles and has driven in some celebrity races.
The Brickyard pace car was a specially modified 2001 Monte Carlo, with increased horsepower and a lowered suspension.
In the eight-year history of the Brickyard 400, the pole-winner has led the first lap each time but has never won the race.
Jimmy Spencer, who started from the pole on Sunday, led the first 16 laps, including six during a yellow caution period following crash on lap two. Spencer was passed on the 17th lap, fell to fourth by lap 31 and finished 13th.
The best finish from the pole was by Jeff Gordon, who was third in 1999. Gordon also holds the Brickyard record for the worst finish by a pole-starter, 37th in 1996.
There were 18 lead changes involving 12 drivers, neither a race record. ... Steve Park led the most laps, heading the field three times for 39 laps. He lost the lead on a pit stop with 29 laps to go. ... Jeff Gordon led 29 laps, giving him a Brickyard-record 306. The 2000 race, when he finished 33rd, was the only one in his eight Brickyard starts in which he did not lead a lap. ... When Bill Elliott passed pole-starter Jimmy Spencer on the 17th lap, he became the first Dodge driver to lead the Brickyard. ... A sunny sky and 89-degree air temperature produced a surface temperature of more than 140 degrees on the Speedway's asphalt track. ... Gordon celebrated his 30th birthday a day earlier. "I think I got a few new gray hairs after today," he said after the race.