In what was likely their final time racing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart shared a few post-race moments following Sunday’s Brickyard 400.
Seconds after Kyle Busch took the green flag, the two veteran drivers from Indiana took a final, post-race lap together around the 2.5-mile track. Stewart and Gordon then emerged from their cars, spoke briefly and hugged.
“It was cool,” said Stewart. “I knew when we got the checkered we just didn’t want to come in just yet. I wanted to run one more lap, and Jeff was around us. Before that last green run, I told my spotter to go get his spotter and said after this thing is over, we need to go a lap around here together because most likely is the last time we’ll both get a chance to do that. I couldn’t think of a better guy to share that moment with than Jeff.”
Stewart, 45, who finished 11th, will retire after this season. A native of Columbus, Ind., he won two NASCAR races at Indianapolis after competing five times in the Indianapolis 500 as an IndyCar Series regular.
Gordon, 44, who grew up in Pittsboro, Ind., retired after last season and has temporarily come out of retirement to drive for Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is out with concussion-like symptoms. He finished 13th and will sub for Earnhardt again next week at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway.
They made for compelling, dual storylines at the Brickyard. They were often-contentious rivals for years during their hall-of-fame worthy careers, with seven Cup championships between them. But that all melted away in the Indianapolis heat late Sunday afternoon.
“Tony and I have gone through a lot over the years,” said Gordon, who spent the first half of this season as a Fox television commentator. “But he and I have become really good friends. To see what he’s done and how tough he is as a competitor – I’ve always know what a great guy and what a great race car driver he is, and now I know more about who Tony Stewart really is. I’m just so proud that I was able to be here and race with him in his final race.”
They will race against each other next week at Pocono, perhaps for a final time if Earnhardt returns afterward. Gordon, who hadn’t driven a car competitively since last November at Homestead-Miami Speedway, said he’s ready to give it another go.
“I can’t wait to talk to Dale Junior and debrief him on how today went and see how he’s doing,” Gordon said. “I want him in the car as soon as possible. I’m too old to be doing this stuff. But to come here and do this race and finish a decent 13th, I think I can do better next week for him, and then we’ll just go from there.”
For Stewart, he’ll continue to position himself for the postseason Chase, in which he’s all-but assured a spot after winning at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway in June.
But, for one day at least, he was happy to share a meaningful post-race moment with another legend of the sport.
“I can say that just ranks in the top three coolest moments of my 18 years in this series,” Stewart said. “I don’t even have the words for it. That is a moment that I will remember for the rest of my life.”