INDIANAPOLIS – Jeff Gordon was a confident man on Friday. The confidence was rewarded on Sunday.
A man who admits he isn't the best on restarts "had the restart of my life" with 17 laps to go in the Brickyard 400 and powered past teammate Kasey Kahne for the lead and the eventual win in the first turn.
Kahne was the leader on the restart and chose the inside lane, typically the preferred lane throughout Indianapolis Motor Speedway's four treacherous 90-degree turns. But after the green flag waved, Gordon stayed even with Kahne entering turn one and pinched the No. 5 down as far as he could to the inside. Gordon's car wobbled a bit as he picked up the throttle, but the momentum he gained was more than enough to clear Kahne.
"(Kahne) was loose," Gordon said. "So I knew that if I could get alongside of him that he was going to have a hard time using the throttle up off the corner. I didn't know if that meant we were just going to bump, wreck, be sitting ducks for (Kyle Busch) to go by, what that really meant. But I thought that was our only shot at winning."
And given the monumental impact that clean air had throughout Sunday's race, there was no chance Gordon was going to get caught unless there was another caution to bunch up the field.
There was not.
Friday, Gordon called Sunday's race "by far the best chance we’ve had at winning in a long time." A four-time winner at Indianapolis, Gordon's last win was 10 years ago. And earlier on Friday, thanks to Gordon's win in the first Brickyard 400 and other efforts, Sunday was declared by Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard to be Jeff Gordon day and Gordon received the No. 24 placard from the old scoring tower at the track.
His performance showed his optimism wasn't simply buoyed by the goodwill of the festivities. After qualifying second, Gordon swept past polesitter Kevin Harvick on lap two. And then, despite a vast array of pit strategies that were the sole impetus for lead changes throughout the race, Gordon clearly had the best car throughout the day.
However, until the final caution, Gordon might have been a victim of the clean air that so benefitted him while he was leading. As he was following Kahne before the final caution, Gordon was unable to get near Kahne for a sustained amount of time to set up a pass thanks to the turbulence from Kahne's car. (Kahne ran out of gas coming off turn four on the final lap and finished sixth.)
The win extends Gordon's points lead atop the standings now and also puts him in line to start the Chase near the top too. In 1998 and 2001 Gordon also won the Brickyard 400 as the points leader. In those two seasons, he won the championship.
Of course, the Chase wasn't around back then. There was no reset of points with 10 races to go. But with the way that Gordon is running, the points format may not matter in the quest for title number five.
"I do think we were (the best team) today," Gordon said. "And I think the reason why we're leading the points is because I believe we're the best team. I don't think that always means we have the best race car We've had a lot of great race cars this year and there's been times when I feel like we've needed a little bit more but this weekend we had the best car and the best team, no doubt about it. And that tells me that if you can do it here, you can do anywhere."
- - - - - - -