@JeffGordonWeb and the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series travel to Indianapolis Motor Speedway this weekend for one of the sport’s most prestigious races. It also happens to be a race Gordon has won five times throughout his storied career, tying him with Formula 1’s Michael Schumacher for most at the facility.
While every Indianapolis win has been special for Gordon, his win in the inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994 stands above the rest.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway had already deeply cemented its place in American motorsports lure by 1994 as the host of the world’s most popular race, the annual Indianapolis 500. The track, however, had never hosted the Winston Cup Series, the country’s most popular and (at the time) rapidly growing racing series.
Naturally, there had been speculation about a stock car race at Indianapolis for decades, but the idea had never come to fruition. However, it started to become a possibility in the early 1990s, and nine of NASCAR’s top teams were invited to test at the track in 1992. The test was a success and was even covered by ESPN.
In April 1993, NASCAR President Bill France Jr. and Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Tony George announced the Inaugural Brickyard 400 would take place in August 1994.
When the 1994 race weekend finally came around, a NASCAR record 85 cars entered the race, competing for 43 starting spots. Qualifying was conducted in two rounds of single-lap runs. After the first round, the top-20 fastest cars would be locked into the race. Gordon was one of the last cars to run a lap in the first round and put up the third-fastest time, locking him into the race behind @RickMast22 and Dale Earnhardt.
When race went green on Sunday, Gordon first took the lead on Lap 2, getting by Mast after Earnhardt had brushed the wall the lap prior. He retained the lead for 22 laps, until being overtaken by @GeoffBodine on Lap 24. He remained about a car length behind Bodine in second place until a green flag pit stop on Lap 32, during which he took four tires and a wedge adjustment. Once pit stops had cycled through on Lap 47, the No. 24 Chevrolet took the lead for the second time on the day.
Gordon came in during the second round of green flag stops on Lap 70, giving Greg Sacks the lead for two laps, until he, too, came down pit road, putting Gordon back in first.
When a caution came out for debris on Lap 80, Gordon, along with all other drivers aside from Geoff Bodine, decided to pit. Gordon was beaten off of pit road by Sterling Marlin and Dale Earnhardt, but Earnhardt had to return to the pits before the restart, putting Gordon in the third position when the race went back to green on Lap 86.
The Hendrick Motorsports driver easily got around Marlin on the restart and took second. He would battle Bodine for the lead for the lead until Lap 96, when Dave Marcis and Mike Chase wrecked in Turn 4, bringing out another caution. When the leaders pitted yet again, Gordon was once again playing catchup after being beaten off of pit road by Brett Bodine, Geoff Bodine, and @AllWaltrip.
The Bodine brothers battled for the lead on Lap 100, with Geoff bumping Brett and taking the position in Turn Two. Brett then retaliated when the field reached the exit of Turn 4, spinning his brother. Geoff collected Dale Jarrett in the spin, ending both of their days.
When the race restart, Gordon was sitting third but quickly disposed of the top two and was back up front by the time the field cross the start-finish line to start another lap.
Over the next 26 circuits, Gordon opened up a nearly five second lead on the rest of the field, as @ErnieIrvan and @RustyWallace battled for second. That gap, however, was lost when a caution came out on Lap 130 after Geoff Brabham and Jimmy Hensley wrecked coming out of Turn 3, sitting up another round of pits stops where Gordon had to make up lost ground.
Just as he was able to do on the previous restart, however, Gordon took the lead on the first lap back under the green flag, Lap 136. He battled with Wallace throughout the next lap until the No. 2 Ford got loose in Turn 2 and dropped back in the field. With Wallace out of the picture, Gordon next had to worry about the hard-charging Ernie Irvan, who quickly filled his rear-view.
Irvan got around Gordon on Lap 139, but Gordon kept the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet close behind, never falling more than a car length behind.
Gordon kept looking for a move to make until Lap 144, when he got a run off of Turn 4, and passed Irvan on the inside heading into Turn 1 on the next lap. He then started to open up a decent lead on Irvan over the next two laps, at times three or four car lengths ahead. However, Irvan kept fighting and was able to get side by side with Gordon coming out of Turn 2 with 12 laps to go.
Although Gordon would fend him off and lead the lap, Irvan made almost the exact same move the next time through the turn, and Gordon, who was complaining of a loose car, relinquished the lead. Irvan crossed the line leading the race with 10 to go, but Gordon was still right on his tail.
Gordon, who had just turned 23 three days before the race, closely trailed behind Irvan for the next five laps, waiting for his opportunity which came with five laps to go when Irvan got lose entering Turn 1. Gordon saw this and dove to the inside, and took the lead as the estimated crowd of over 300,000 erupted.
Unlike the previous passes between the two, Irvan quickly dropped back, which was explained when his right front tire went down on the backstretch. Irvan’s misfortune gave Gordon a comfortable lead over second-place Brett Bodine.
Gordon cruised for the next five laps and took the checkered flag of the Inaugural Brickyard 400. After crossing the finish line, the young Gordon radioed to his crew saying “Oh my God, I did it! I did it!” The win was just the second of his career.
In the 21 years since, Gordon has won an additional four Brickyard 400s, taking home the victory in 1998, 2001, 2004, and 2014. Although he is NASCAR’s winningest driver, none of the wins can even come close to the effect the 1994 one had on both Gordon’s career and the sport as a whole.
John McHugh is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist
EMAIL JOHN AT email@example.com