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Better the second time
Gordon claims another Brickyard 400, $1 million bonus
Posted: Sunday August 02, 1998 02:50 PM
INDIANAPOLIS (CNN/SI) -- NASCAR's California-born and Indiana-raised king collected his second Brickyard 400 victory and the biggest payday in racing history Saturday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and for once, the noise cascading from the stands embraced Jeff Gordon instead of scorning him.
Only three days short of his 27th birthday, Gordon staved off Mark Martin until a caution flag with three laps remaining negated further drama in the 5th Brickyard. Most of the estimated 300,000-plus crowd -- the Speedway doesn't issue attendance figures -- roared with approval on the cool-down lap and subsequent ceremony in Victory Circle.
"It's definitely sweet to come here and win," Gordon said afterward. "After the race was over, I shut the engine off. I had to hear it. It's awesome to hear that many people cheering for you."
Gordon, who spent his teen years in Pittsboro, a 15-minute drive from the Speedway, endures double-edged status as NASCAR's biggest star. He is the object of considerable dislike and jealous, as evidenced by the anti-Gordon bumper stickers and Web sites available to detractors. Part of the reason is his 35 career Winston Cup victories in just six seasons.
But Saturday's victory was pure joy for the driver known as The Kid, who was nicknamed by Dale Earnhardt several years ago. He was cheered loudly with enthusiastic chants of "Gordon Fans" and "Gordon Rules" as he stood on the elevated Victory Circle in front of the main grandstand.
"I think we need to ask those fans," Gordon said when asked if he understands why fans boo him at other places. "I try not to put too much effort into finding out why."
Thanks to a $1 million bonus from series sponsor Winston, as part of its No Bull 5 promotion, Gordon's total earnings Saturday were $1,637,625. That breaks the NASCAR record of $1,059,805 set by Earnhardt in the season-opening Daytona 500, as well as the all-time motor sports mark of $1,569,150 by Arie Luyendyk in the 1997 Indianapolis 500.
The sellout crowd of about 320,000 was on its feet and ready for a shootout between Gordon and Martin when Joe Nemechek bumped the rear of Jeff Green's car near the back of the pack during a restart on the 158th of 160 laps.
Suddenly cars were strewn across the main straightaway, bouncing off the walls and each other as Gordon took the green flag at the front of the field. With too little time for NASCAR to clean the track and restart the race, Gordon was able to drive his Chevrolet Monte Carlo to the checkered flag behind the pace car at a leisurely 100 mph.
In the drama that preceded the last green-flag lap, Martin made his big move on Gordon.
"He made a great effort," Gordon said of Martin, who is 72 points behind him at the top of the season standings. "He drove in on me in turn two, was trying to get on my rear bumper and I didn't know if I could get away from him or not. I think he got a just a little bit tight when he got real close to me."
"I just didn't have enough car," said Martin, who led only one lap in the race. "I tried to pressure him, but I just didn't have enough to put the squeeze on him."
Even if the race had stayed green to the end, Martin said he wasn't expecting to beat Gordon.
"He had the lead in the race and the fastest car," Martin said. "It's hard to beat a man when he's got that."
Six days before the Brickyard, during a CART race at Michigan Speedway, three spectators were killed and six more injured when a wheel and other debris from a one-car crash flew into a grandstand. It was the worst accident ever involving spectators at a major American race venue.
The tragedy appeared to have no effect on Saturday's race, with the usual festive sellout crowd on hand on a warm, sunny afternoon. There were several crashes during the race, but nothing from the wrecked cars got past the 19-foot-high fencing.
Although Gordon dominated the race, leading 97 laps, including the last 34, both Martin and Dale Jarrett had the crowd in an uproar in the late going. Martin, who had been running second to Gordon before the last pit stops by the leaders, had a problem with a lugnut during his stop and was 11th for the restart on lap 124.
Gordon came out of that stop fourth as he took four new tires while Earnhardt, Mike Skinner and Sterling Marlin took two each and beat the two-time Winston Cup champion back onto the track. But Gordon, winner of six races this season, including the last two, took second in his first trip around the 2 1/2-mile oval, then passed Earnhardt to take the lead for good on lap 127.
Meanwhile, Martin's Ford was slicing through the field. It took him only until lap 144 to take second, and it appeared he would be able to challenge Gordon. But two late caution flags kept him bottled up.
Jarrett, who led 27 laps early in the race and appeared to have one of the fastest cars on the track, cost himself a shot at winning his second Brickyard 400 when he ran out of fuel on lap 81.
By the time he came out of the pits after coasting around most of the track, Jarrett was four laps down. To the delight of the crowd, and with the help of caution flags, he was able to get back on lead lap. But, by the time he was back among the leaders, it was too late to make a real run at Gordon. Jarrett finished 16th.
"I just drive the car," an angry Jarrett said afterward. "I come in when they tell me to come in. We ran out of gas. I don't make that call."
The plan was to bring in Jarrett after one more lap.
"They calculate fuel pretty well, but we just ran out in the wrong place," said car owner Robert Yates.
The dry tank proved extremely costly to Jarrett, who now trails Gordon by 193 points with 14 of 33 races remaining. Jarrett finished second to Gordon last year, losing by just 14 points.
Gordon is the first driver to get the $1 million bonus Winston for its No Bull 5 promotion, which offers the big money to any of the top-five finishers in NASCAR's five biggest events who can win the next of the majors.
In this case, Gordon won the Coca-Cola 500 at Charlotte on May 24 to earn his shot at the money on Saturday. He, as well as the other top-five finishers in the Brickyard, will have an opportunity to win another million on Labor Day weekend in the Southern 500 at Darlington, South Carolina.
Bobby Labonte finished third, followed by Skinner and teammate Earnhardt.
There were nine caution flags, several brought out by crashes. The only injury was to Jimmy Spencer, who crashed in the first turn on lap 155, bringing out the second of 10 cautions in the last 10 laps. Spencer, who had a concussion, was transported by ambulance to Methodist Hospital, where he was to be kept overnight for observation.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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