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One to remember

'Awesome Bill' considers Brickyard win favorite feat

Posted: Wednesday July 30, 2003 7:13 PM

INDIANAPOLIS (Ticker) - Perhaps no other driver understands career milestones better than Bill Elliott.

Elliott scored his first Daytona 500 victory in 1985 and went on to join Lee Roy Yarbrough (1969) and David Pearson (1976) by winning three of NASCAR's "Big Four" races in the same season. By capturing the Daytona 500, Winston 500 and Southern 500 that season, he became "Million Dollar Bill," earning a $1 million bonus from series sponsor R.J. Reynolds.

Jeff Gordon duplicated the feat in 1997.

Another milestone came in 1987, when Elliott won a second Daytona 500. The following year, he added a Winston Cup championship.

When Elliott captured last year's Brickyard 400, however, he considered the victory at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway his greatest accomplishment. Even a boy from the mountains of northern Georgia understands the significance and history that comes with a win at the world's most famous race course.

"My career has been a series of milestones," Elliott said. "The first time I won Daytona came pretty quick, and I didn't realize how great it was. Then to win Daytona a second time and then a Winston Cup championship and finally a Brickyard 400 really rounds out a career. You appreciate you aren't as long in this sport as you were 15 years ago."

Elliott never has been known as someone who shows emotion. When the dollar bills were floating from the sky at Darlington Raceway in 1985, he seemed more bewildered than overjoyed by the celebration.

After winning last year's Brickyard 400, however, the driver was overcome.

"It was very emotional," Elliott admitted. "That was a big win for us, not only for me but for Ray Evernham and Dodge. It was a great event for us in a lot of ways. You can't put it into words when you walk out of Gasoline Alley at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as a winning driver. That is a very, very special feeling."

In the mid- to late-1980s, Elliott was one of Winston Cup's most dominant drivers. His superspeedway victories were legendary. But as he became the sport's elder statesman, he endured a seven-year drought.

Elliott ended that skein in the final race of the 2001 season at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Last year, he won two races in a row - Pocono and the Brickyard 400.

"I had other things on my mind earlier in my career," he said. "Daytona and the Brickyard, with as much history behind those places, those are great personal goals for me to achieve. To win at as many different places in my career and then to win at the Brickyard was icing on the cake."

Even during his lean years, Elliott always seemed to excel at the 2 1/2-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He finished third and fourth in the first two Brickyard 400s and has placed outside the top 10 just twice.

"Bill's like a fighter pilot," team owner Ray Evernham said. "Bill is a very precise race car driver, and at a place where you have to be precise, it makes a difference. Bill is good at those places."

Elliott believes his racing style is well-suited for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He proved that last year when he chased down the leader, Rusty Wallace, and set him up for the winning pass.

"It's very important once you are up front because it's a tough passing race track," Elliott said. "If a guy is pretty decent, it's hard to beat him. At the end, Rusty Wallace went into turn 1 a little high, lost some momentum. I was able to duck under him in turn 2 and beat him down the back straightaway."

That gave Elliott and Evernham a chance to share something special by winning a race on the biggest stage. It's something they can carry with them the rest of their careers.

"Bill is a racer, and anytime you get a big win at Indy or at Daytona or you win something that is one of the crown jewels of the sport, it does mean something to you - something he didn't have," Evernham said. "It meant a lot to him, especially after people had written him off and said he couldn't win again. Not only does he win, but he wins one of the biggest races that we have."


 
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