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My Brickyard Moment: Bill Elliott, 2002

Note: This is the first in a series of letters from NASCAR drivers recounting their Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard wins. 

Bill Elliott always brought his “A” game to Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard. In 16 career starts, Elliott had nine top 10 finishes, led 157 laps, finished every race and won close to $2.8 million in prize money. His very best day was Aug. 4, 2002, when he dominated the race driving the No. 9 Dodge owned by Ray Evernham. Elliott, then 46 years old, led 93 laps, including the last 12, after chasing down Rusty Wallace for the lead. 1988 Cup Series champion Elliott, who has two Daytona 500 victories, calls his Brickyard victory one of the most prized of his life since it came in the twilight of his career. Here are his memories of that day, in his words:

I think the wins in the early years sometimes you don’t appreciate, maybe don’t have time to appreciate. I think Jamie McMurray said it best after he won at Charlotte in his second Cup start. He said sometimes you look at things that you've done, and you learn to appreciate more the things you accomplished as time goes on.

As you go through different eras in your career, so to speak, you know, it sometimes becomes a struggle. I think that's the thing that makes that win so sweet. We had some problems, we continued to race, we overcame those problems.

Indianapolis has always been a special place to me. I'd run so well there so many times. It was a race that I just hadn't been able to find my way to Victory Lane there. Winning Indy, that was a special day. 

I don’t remember the race lap by lap, but I do recall all the high spots. We had a really good car. My crew chief, Mike Ford, and his guys really put a good deal together there for me.

Early on in the race, I think Tony Stewart jumped out to a pretty good lead and I ran him down, or jumped out there a little bit, and then we were able to run him down and pass him and lead some. 

Rusty Wallace was good that day, but Rusty was not good for the long haul. We were better on the longer run. Our car was just so good through the corner. Mike and Kenny Francis and all them boys had really worked hard and put a lot of good stuff together. 

We had a really good test when we tested up there three, four weeks prior to the race. I think with that and everything we put together, we were ready to go. 

And let me say this about Tony Stewart that day. When I got to him at the end of the race, he just let me go, he let me pass him, and then I was able to run Rusty down and pass him and go on. 

I’ll always respect Tony for that because he could have done a lot of things right there. But I was coming hard and, I mean, we didn't waste no time. I was able to get on and get to Rusty and do what we needed to do. 

I won the Daytona 500 twice, but that was before the restrictor plates came along. Whenever they started doing the restrictor plates and all this stuff, it changed the way the racing ended up being at Daytona.

Indianapolis is different.

The thing about Indy is you’ve got to qualify well. You've got to do everything well, all day. Everything has to come together to win at Indy. In 2002, we pretty much stayed toward the front of the field most all day and were able to lead a lot and do what we need to do. 

We won that day because it all came together for us. There were no ifs, ands, or buts about it. We had a great car, great pit stops, and those other factors worked in our favor, like Rusty could run good for a short squirt, and we were better on a longer run. 

I went to a part-time racing schedule in 2004, but I always seemed to find my way to Indianapolis. It’s just always a place we liked to go back to, for whatever reason. 

The first laps I took at Indianapolis were in 1992 for that NASCAR test when I was driving for car owner Junior Johnson. And from my first lap to my last, racing there just feels natural to me. I can’t explain it, really.

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