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NASCAR: Jeff Gordon looking for 5th win at Brickyard

By Jim Utter
jutter@charlotteobserver.com
NASCAR New Hampshire Auto Racing
Jim Cole - AP
Jeff Gordon was 23 when he won the first Cup race at the Brickyard. Now he’s 42 and drives the AARP car, but his future remains bright.

Jeff Gordon’s career is touching a lot of milestones this season.

Here’s one more.

Next week’s return to the Crown Royal 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway marks the 20th anniversary of Gordon’s win in that iconic facility’s inaugural NASCAR event.

In recent years, NASCAR’s annual visit to the Brickyard has lost some of its luster. A tire problem that resulted in a race run in 10-lap segments in 2008 didn’t help, nor did the recession.

Attendance is nowhere near what it once was, but for most drivers – and especially Gordon – racing and winning at the Brickyard is still a big deal.

“It’s something special when you go to Indianapolis,” said Gordon, the Sprint Cup Series points leader. “It’s just such a cool place, so much history, and obviously a lot of great memories for me and confidence.

“As a driver when I go there, of course it takes a great car and a great team to win that race, but it seems like most years that we’ve been there, we’ve had a car that’s capable of winning.

“It’s hard to believe it’s been 20 years, but I’m looking forward to celebrating those 20 years hopefully with another win.”

Gordon, 42, has had the most success at the historic 2.5-mile track that opened early in the 20th century as a testing ground for the budding American automobile industry. In 20 starts, he has four wins, 11 top-five and 16 top-10 finishes. In last year’s race, he finished seventh and led 11 laps.

“I never dreamed I would win one, let alone four,” Gordon said. “Winning five would be unimaginable.”

Most of Gordon’s memories of the inaugural Brickyard victory focus on the atmosphere around the event rather than the race itself.

“There was the obvious battle that I had between Ernie Irvan and myself, his tire issues, us getting the win,” Gordon said. “Most of the things that stand out to me was really about just the madness and craziness of how big that event was, how popular it was among fans, not just traditional NASCAR fans but new fans to the sport.

“Even if you go back to the test that we had (in 1993), the fans were just lined up on the fence around the garage area just wanting to see stock cars race at Indianapolis, and it was much of the same when it came to race day.”

“That just showed you the impact and significance of that inaugural event.”

In two of the seasons Gordon won at the Brickyard (1998 and 2001), he went on to win the series championship. The 2001 championship is his most recent.

Gordon believes there is still time in his career to win a championship in the Chase era and no better place to start than July 27 at the Brickyard.

“I think we’re in a good position this season,” he said. “We recognize that it's all about wins right now, and we need to win some more races to get ourselves seeded even better than what we are when that Chase starts.

“Regardless, I feel like we have a team that definitely can do very, very well in this new format over the 10 races in the Chase, and I think Indianapolis is a track where we can really shine.”

Utter: 704-358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter
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