Brickyard 400 turns 10

INDIANAPOLIS, Monday, July 28, 2003 -- On Saturday, Aug. 7, 1993, one thing filled the grandstands of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway: silence. One year later, on Saturday, Aug. 6, 1994, eager race fans witnessed the dawn of a new era in...

INDIANAPOLIS, Monday, July 28, 2003 -- On Saturday, Aug. 7, 1993, one thing filled the grandstands of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway: silence.

One year later, on Saturday, Aug. 6, 1994, eager race fans witnessed the dawn of a new era in NASCAR Winston Cup Series racing -- and a new era at the then-85-year-old Speedway, as the inaugural Brickyard 400 played in front of a packed house and national television audience.

What a difference a year made. And what a difference 10 years has made.

Adopted hometown favorite Jeff Gordon, of nearby Pittsboro, Ind., had the crowd going wild when he crossed the finish line first in the inaugural Brickyard 400. But we now know that Gordon's first Indy victory was just the tip of iceberg for what immediately became NASCAR's largest-attended event, and what would rapidly become one of its most important races every year.

The Brickyard 400 has become a race that has separated superstars from contenders in Winston Cup racing. Of the six drivers that have won the Brickyard, all but one have claimed at least one Winston Cup championship.

The late Dale Earnhardt, 1995 winner of the Brickyard 400, won seven championships; Jeff Gordon, a three-time Brickyard winner (1994, 1998, 2001) is a four-time Winston Cup champion, including two of his Brickyard-winning years in 1998 and 2001; two-time race winner Dale Jarrett (1996, 1999) would capitalize on his '99 Brickyard win and earn the championship that year; 2000 race winner Bobby Labonte also won the championship in the same year; and Bill Elliott, the 2002 Brickyard 400 winner, won the Winston Cup championship in 1988.

The only Brickyard winner yet to capture the championship, Ricky Rudd, is scheduled to start his 701st consecutive Winston Cup start at the Brickyard 400 on Aug. 3. Rudd has 23 career wins, and nearly half his starts have, amazingly, resulted in a top-10 finish. That's a championship career by any standard.

In 10 short years, the Brickyard 400 already has created a memorable list of triumphs and heartbreaks. The following is a synopsis of the first nine Brickyard 400s. It's hard to imagine what memories the 10th race on Aug. 3 -- and the next 10 and beyond -- will create:

1994: Now-retired Winston Cup veteran Rick Mast was the first driver to put his name in the record books by taking the pole for the inaugural Brickyard 400 with a lap of 172.414 mph. Earnhardt started next to Mast, in second, but brushed the Turn 4 wall on Lap 2. Earnhardt continued, however, and finished fifth. On Lap 101, a trade of bumps between Bodine brothers Brett and Geoffrey resulted in Geoffrey spinning and the brothers feuding publicly after the race.

Gordon and Ernie Irvan traded the lead four times in the last 21 laps. But Irvan's day would end in heartbreak when his car suffered a cut tire on Lap 156, forcing him to the pits and a 17th-place finish.

Gordon, who had just turned 23 on Aug. 4, would beat second-place Brett Bodine to the checkered flag, winning by .53 of a second to collect $613,000 of the NASCAR-record $3,213,849 purse. The race average speed was 131.932 mph.

"Without tears coming up, I tell you, this is the greatest thing in the world," Gordon said. "It's far past our expectations. I never thought it would happen. I'm a kid in a candy store. I don't know what to say.

"As bad as my memory is, I still remember Ray Harroun's name (the inaugural Indianapolis 500 winner). Everyone wanted to win this race. There wasn't anyone who wanted it any more than us."

1995: With the remnants of Hurricane Erin pushing across Indiana on race day, it appeared the only winner on Aug. 5, 1995, would be Mother Nature. But after a four-hour rain delay and a fast race slowed by only one caution, Dale Earnhardt was crowned 1995 Brickyard 400 champion.

Jeff Gordon returned from his 1994 victory to take the pole at 172.536. Elliott lead the most laps, with 47, but Earnhardt led only once for 28 laps, and it was the ones that counted at the end.

Rusty Wallace had a commanding lead over second-place Earnhardt when he pitted on Lap 129, but he got caught behind a pit-lane accident involving Joe Nemechek and Rich Bickle, allowing Earnhardt, who had already pitted, to take the lead. Earnhardt would outrun Wallace to the finish, winning the race by .37 of a second with a blistering 155.218 race average speed.

1996: Dale Jarrett and Ernie Irvan, at the time teammates at Robert Yates Racing, provided the story of the day with a duel to the finish at the Brickyard 400, but defending race winner Dale Earnhardt showed equal courage under great duress.

Earnhardt suffered a broken collarbone and cracked sternum in a serious accident at Talladega Superspeedway only six days before the 1995 Brickyard 400 yet he managed to qualify 13th at Indy's challenging 2.5-mile oval on Thursday (four days after the accident) and complete six laps of the race before Mike Skinner took over the No. 3 Goodwrench Chevrolet.

Jarrett made contact with the wall in qualifying and started 24th, yet had a dominating car on race day and took the lead for the first time on Lap 135. Irvan lead the race from Lap 139-153, when Jarrett passed him on the inside of Turn 2.

Robert Pressley hit the Turn 4 wall with two laps to go, and Jarrett won his first Brickyard 400 under caution. The average speed of the race was 139.508.

Jarrett also won the Daytona 500 and Coca-Cola 600 that year, making him the only driver to win those three major events in the same year.

1997: It is widely known in the racing community that the fastest car doesn't always win, and Ricky Rudd and his No. 10 Tide Ford team put that wisdom to use at the 1997 Brickyard 400 to give Rudd the biggest win of his career.

Ernie Irvan won the pole in the No. 28 Robert Yates Racing Ford at 177.736. Irvan, his teammate, Dale Jarrett, and Jeff Gordon collectively dominated the race, together leading 95 of the 160 laps. Rudd pitted for fuel and tires on Lap 114, and when the leaders made their final stop on Lap 147, Rudd stayed out.

While Jarrett, Irvan and Gordon had horsepower, Rudd had fuel mileage, and thanks to a final caution on Lap 155, he made it to the end, beating Bobby Labonte to the finish line by .138 of a second, the closest finish in Brickyard 400 history.

The Tide Ford ran out of the gas as Rudd entered Victory Lane, appropriately enough.

1998: From dominance, to disbelief, to heartache in a matter of seconds. That was Dale Jarrett's day at the 1998 Brickyard 400.

Ervin Irvan took the race pole for the second-consecutive year, setting a track record in the No. 36 Skittles Pontiac at 179.394 mph.

With a clearly dominant car in the race, Jarrett was leading by several seconds when he ran out of gas on the backstretch on Lap 80, the halfway point of the race.

The car coasted around to the pit entrance where members of his pit crew and that of his Robert Yates Racing teammate, Kenny Irwin Jr., hurriedly pushed the car to his pit stall.

Jarrett was away on Lap 84, but four laps down.

Jeff Gordon arguably had the second-fastest car of the day, and he would lead a total of 97 laps. He took the lead from Dale Earnhardt between Turns 1 and 2 on Lap 127 and never relinquished it, winning his second Brickyard 400 under caution and earning a $1 million No Bull Five bonus from Winston. He also became the first two-time winner of the event.

The race also saw an event-record number of caution flags: nine cautions for 34 laps.

Further demonstrating the dominance of his car that day, Jarrett came back to finish on the lead lap, in 16th place.

1999: Dale Jarrett and his crew proved his early-race dominance of 1998 was no fluke. Jarrett and the No. 88 Quality Care Ford crew made the day look easy, leading a total of 117 laps and beating Bobby Labonte to the finish line by 3.351 seconds and averaging 148.228 for the race.

"We tried to become the first two-time winner in the Brickyard 400, but (Jeff) Gordon beat us to that," Jarrett said in reference to his heartbreaking 1998 Brickyard 400. "It's a race you want to do well in. You have to approach the Brickyard 400 just like the Daytona 500. Four hundred miles around that place is a long time."

Jeff Gordon won his third career Brickyard 400 pole at 179.612.

2000: After finishing second, third, and second, respectively, the three previous years, Bobby Labonte finally got a taste of Victory Lane at Indianapolis in the 2000 Brickyard 400.

Rusty Wallace valiantly tried to deliver team owner Roger Penske his first stock car victory at Indianapolis, leading 110 laps. Penske has the record for the most Indianapolis 500 victories as a team owner, with 13.

Wallace took the lead on Lap 44, and from that point on only he and Labonte led, trading the lead five times. But Labonte drove under Wallace exiting Turn 4 on Lap 146, gave Wallace a little nudge on the main straightaway and cleared Wallace's No. 2 Miller Lite Ford entering Turn 1 on Lap 147. Labonte would go on to win by 4.229 seconds, the largest margin of victory in event history, and finished the race with an average speed of 155.918, also an event record.

Popular NASCAR champion Darrell Waltrip, in the midst of a farewell tour as a driver, thrilled the crowd by qualifying second for his final Brickyard 400 start. The sight of Waltrip dancing near the start-finish line and hugging his younger brother, Winston Cup standout Michael Waltrip, after the qualifying run was a memorable Brickyard moment.

2001: Three-for-eight. Jeff Gordon became the first three-time winner of the Brickyard 400 in only eight starts at the fabled Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Gordon also set the record in the 2001 Brickyard 400 for the lowest-starting driver to win the event, after starting 27th.

Gordon credited crew chief Robbie Loomis with an important pit-lane call on Lap 132. Race leader Sterling Marlin did not pit, but Gordon came in for fuel and only two tires. Gordon got out ahead of the rest of the field, placing him second behind Marlin. On the restart on Lap 136, Gordon got a good jump on Marlin and passed him entering Turn 1.

Gordon turned smooth, consistent laps in the waning stages of the race and beat Marlin to the line by .943 of a second, averaging 130.790 in a race that saw seven cautions for 28 laps.

2002: Despite a heat index that surpassed the 100-degree mark, popular NASCAR veteran Bill Elliott maintained a dominating edge throughout the 2002 Brickyard 400 weekend. Elliott qualified second in Evernham Motorsports' No. 9 Dodge, led 93 laps and won by 1.269 seconds. Elliott became the first driver to win the Brickyard 400 from the front row.

Rusty Wallace finished second -- again -- earning the dubious distinction of finishing the Brickyard 400 in second place three times, in 1995, 2000 and 2002, more than any other driver.

Several records were set during the event: 30 cars finished on the lead lap, the most in event history; the average speed was 125.033 mph, the slowest in event history; and there were eight cautions for 36 laps, the most yellow-flag laps in event history.

Tony Stewart, a native of nearby Columbus, Ind., won the pole for the race with a track-record lap of 182.960 mph in the No. 20 Home Depot Pontiac.

-ims-

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