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IMS Writers’ Roundtable, Vol. 29: Best Brickyard-Winning Drive?

Today’s question: What was the best winning drive you’ve seen in the Brickyard 400?

Curt Cavin: The one that jumps to mind is Dale Jarrett’s 1999 victory, mostly because it was in his most dominant season and the Brickyard was at its zenith in terms of popularity and being a must-win on the circuit. D.J.’s Ford led 117 of the 160 laps, including 81 of the final 82, owning a 3.35-second lead over Bobby Labonte at the finish. Only two other drivers led more than a lap that day, and there were 57 entries. But one could make the case that Kyle Busch’s 2016 victory was more dominant. He led 149 of the 170 laps – 87.6 percent – and was the fourth of five drivers to win the Brickyard from the pole. Jarrett won from the fourth starting position in 1999.

Zach Horrall: I have to give my nod here to Jeff Gordon in 2004. When talking NASCAR at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it’s rare that Gordon isn’t the leading driver of a moment, statistic or category. This one is no different. Gordon led 124 of 161 laps on his way to his fourth Brickyard 400 win. There were just nine lead changes between six drivers. With more than 75 percent of the laps led that day, it is the second-most laps led by a Brickyard 400 winner ever, only behind Kyle Busch’s 2016 performance, as Curt said. The reason I think this is more impressive than Busch’s 2016 win is because Gordon held on to the lead through 13 cautions, including the unknown of what was first ever use of NASCAR’s green-white-checkered rule, which we now know as Overtime. Meanwhile, Busch had to hold on over just eight cautions.

Paul Kelly: Yes, he only led 44 of the 160 laps. He only held off Kasey Kahne by .794 of a second at the finish. But Tony Stewart’s victory in the 2005 Brickyard 400 remains the best drive I’ve ever seen at the annual NASCAR classic, for reasons that are not statistical. At the time, Stewart was NASCAR’s premier bad boy, endless thumbing his nose and speaking his mind to the NASCAR brass, media, fans or anyone he thought wronged him. He attracted attention everywhere, but nowhere more than his beloved Indy. He never won the Indianapolis 500 in five starts, and he also was winless on the IMS oval in his first six starts, with three top-10 finishes and a pole. The pressure was building and questions were mounting over whether Indiana’s racing hero could ever win the big one in his backyard. Stewart took the lead from Kahne with 10 laps to go and drove perfectly under pressure to finally break through with his long-coveted win at the Racing Capital of the World. I’ll never forget seeing Stewart’s father, Nelson, standing over the railing of one of the Turn 2 suites, pointing to his head every time his son drove past in those final 10 laps, imploring “Smoke” to use his head and hit his marks. Father knows best, and son delivered in a drive for the ages that lifted the weight of the world from his mind and shoulders.

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