Countdown To The 20th Running: The 1997 Brickyard 400
Date: August 2, 1997
Location: Indianapolis Motor Speed Way
Race Winner: Ricky Rudd
Pole Winner: Ernie Irvan
From January 1, 1981, to November 20, 2005, Ricky Rudd showed up at the track almost every for 788 consecutive races earning him the moniker as NASCAR’s "Iron Man." However, on August 2, 1997, Rudd was more brick than iron when he scored perhaps his most prestigious victory in the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
For the first two-thirds of the 1997 fourth annual Brickyard 400, it seemed that the event was headed for its first two-time winner. Jeff Gordon appeared to have one of the strongest cars in the field and defending champion of the Brickyard 400, Dale Jarrett was right in his tire tracks. The two were either leading or in the battle for the lead, along with others like Jeff Burton and Ernie Irvan.
As the final third portion of the race began, Virginia native Ricky Rudd decided to play a fuel-mileage game, knowing it was his only hope of winning. Rudd’s Tide Ford conserved fuel from the beginning of the race. The fuel window was in the 38-42 lap range for all the teams. With 46 laps to go and a full load of fuel on board, Rudd decided to roll the dice. The final tour of the 2.5-mile oval began. While other teams began plans to make their final pit stop with 10 laps to go, Rudd maintained his conservative pace.
With 14 laps remaining in the race, the yellow flag flew after Robby Gordon slapped the wall between the first and second turns. Most teams headed for pit road but Rudd, Bobby Labonte and Johnny Benson remained on the track and gained the front of the field for the restart. The race restarted on lap 151.
Rudd’s lead was erased when Rich Bickle hit the third turn wall on lap 154 of the 160-lap race. Rudd was still at the point, but he now had to be concerned with a furious dash to the checkered flag if the green flag waved again. The cleanup was speedy, and with three laps left in the event, the green flag flew. Because the restart came with less than 10 laps to go, it was a single-file start, eliminating any problem for Rudd with lapped cars on his left, and he was able to burst away to a small lead. Bobby Labonte followed Ricky Rudd in preparation for a single-file restart with just three laps remaining in the race. Labonte was unable to catch Rudd after the green flag flew, but did manage to protect his position and finish second.
Rudd motored to a .183-second victory, becoming the fourth different driver to win the Brickyard 400. The independent owner/driver had just beaten the biggest teams in the sport in the richest race of the year.
Stories and excerpts used from The Official NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Yearbooks are used with permission of Round 5 Books and UMI Publications.