Two stars were born at the inaugural Brickyard 400: Jeff Gordon and the race itself. Gordon, who cut his racing teeth on USAC short tracks around the Midwest, secured his NASCAR stardom with the second of what would become 93 Cup Series victories during his illustrious career. And the first NASCAR event at IMS – the first race at the Speedway other than the Indianapolis 500 since 1916 – was an unqualified success, playing out before packed grandstands and creating a new era of speed at the Racing Capital of the World.
NASCAR’s hottest rivalry in the 1990s was between the rough-and-tumble “Intimidator” Dale Earnhardt and the polished, new-breed “Wonder Boy” Jeff Gordon. While Gordon won the inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994, Earnhardt struck back by winning a rain-delayed epic in 1995, taking the checkered flag shortly before sunset. It was one of the biggest, most emotional wins of Earnhardt’s Hall of Fame career, eclipsed only by his sole Daytona 500 victory in 1998.
Popular Dale Jarrett earned the first of his two Brickyard 400 victories, but a simple gesture after the race between Jarrett and crew chief Todd Parrott sealed their immortality in Indianapolis Motor Speedway lore. After celebrating in the winner’s circle, Jarrett and Parrott fulfilled a pre-race promise to each other to kneel together and kiss the famous Yard of Bricks if they won the race. A tradition was born, one that continues to this day and is practiced by winners of every race at the world-famous track.
It appeared that Bill Elliott’s best days were behind him entering the 2002 Brickyard 400, as he had won just twice since 1995. But “Awesome Bill” turned back the clock during one magical weekend for a team owned by Jeff Gordon’s former crew chief, Ray Evernham, to dominate this race and earn an emotional victory. 1988 Cup Series champion Elliott became the race’s oldest winner at age 46 years and 300 days.
Jeff Gordon, who spent his teen years in nearby Pittsboro, Indiana, joined the Mount Rushmore of IMS legends by earning his fourth Brickyard 400 victory in just 11 starts. The only other drivers at the time to win a major race at IMS four times were Indianapolis 500 legends A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears. And Gordon – the first two-time and three-time winner of the Brickyard 400 – reached the milestone faster than any of those icons. Mears was the previous fastest to four after his 1991 Indy 500 victory in his 14th start.
Tony Stewart grew up in nearby Columbus, Indiana, dreaming of winning the Indianapolis 500 while dominating USAC short-track racing around the country. He didn’t fulfill that wish in five Indy 500 starts, but he earned the most emotional and fulfilling win of his storied, diverse career by earning his first Brickyard 400 victory at his beloved IMS. No one will forget seeing Stewart climb the catch fence with his team after the long-awaited victory, in equal amounts of pure joy and relief. “Smoke” summed up his emotion and sense of satisfaction with one famous line: “Today’s been my entire life.”
Jimmie Johnson admitted he didn’t get how to drive the rectangular oval at IMS when he first came to the Brickyard 400 in 2002. But once he figured it out, Johnson became the dominant force of this race for more than a decade. Johnson became just the second driver to win the Brickyard 400 three times and the first to earn back-to-back victories, adding the checkered flag in 2009 to his wins in 2006 and 2008.
Jimmie Johnson matched friend and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon as the only four-time winners of the Brickyard 400 with a 4.758-second victory over Kyle Busch. Johnson also tied Gordon in reaching the milestone in just his 11th start in the great race. Johnson dominated the race by leading 99 of 160 laps, more laps out front than in any of his three previous wins. The Jimmie Era of the Brickyard was at its peak.
Jeff Gordon was winless at IMS since capturing his fourth Brickyard 400 victory in 2004, while Jimmie Johnson had earned his fourth Brickyard win in 2012. So Johnson appeared to be the odds-on favorite to become the first five-time winner of the Brickyard, joining Formula One legend Michael Schumacher as the only driver to capture five major races at IMS. But Gordon pulled away on the final restart and cemented his Brickyard immortality with a popular fifth victory in a stock car at IMS. Gordon celebrated three more victories before his Cup Series career ended, but none was as sweet or cherished as this.
Kyle Busch worked overtime in the longest NASCAR event ever at IMS – 425 miles – but he barely broke a sweat to dominate en route to victory. Busch led 149 of the 170 laps from the pole to pull off his second consecutive sweep of the Brickyard 400 and Lilly Diabetes 250 races at IMS. “Rowdy’s” rampage made history at many levels. He became the first driver in NASCAR history to sweep the Cup Series and XFINITY Series races from the pole in the same weekend and also became just the second back-to-back winner of the Brickyard 400, following Jimmie Johnson. The race also was notable because it marked the final Brickyard starts of legendary race winners Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart.