INDIANAPOLIS (Ticker) — In a sport that has been dominated by young drivers this season, Bill Elliott won one for the old guys Sunday as the 46-year-old from Dawsonville, Ga. captured the NASCAR Brickyard 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Elliott finished 1.269 seconds ahead of another old-timer, 45-year-old Rusty Wallace.
Elliott, who won the Daytona 500 in 1985 and 1987, has enjoyed a Winston Cup revival ever since he sold his team to Ray Evernham prior to last season. It was the second victory in a row for Elliott, who also won last week’s race at Pocono, Penn.
“There was a lot of emotion here today,” Elliott said. “It seems like it’s been a lifetime getting here, and I don’t know how to describe it. Even the years when I had my own deal, I came here and ran well but I never could make the right decisions to get into victory lane. Every time it was always a hard luck story why we didn’t win.
“Now we know in our own minds that we can do it each and every week. We’ve just got to keep that momentum rolling. We’re not going to get what we want every week, but I think this is a great start to a great future and a great building block for Ray Evernham and what he wants to build this race team into down the road.”
Elliott believes his path to victory at the Brickyard actually began last month, when NASCAR held a mandatory open test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Rather than spend time working on speed for a qualifying run, Elliott’s crew at Ray Evernham Motorsports decided to concentrate on long runs to develop a car that would excel in the race.
“When we came here and tested, we worked so hard on race setup, and that really paid off,” Elliott said. “I’m so proud of the team and what they accomplished. It makes my job awfully easy.
“Rusty was tough. I kept working on him and finally got to him. This is the greatest, the greatest win of my career.”
Matt Kenseth finished third and was followed by rookie Ryan Newman and Kevin Harvick.
The top 30 cars finished on the lead lap, but it was Elliott who put his Dodge Intrepid at the front of the field for most of the day, leading 93 of 160 laps.
Dale Jarrett, a two-time winner here, might have been the only driver able to really challenge Elliott at the end, but his race was spoiled when he left the pit lane too soon on his final pit stop.
While one of his crewmen was grabbing the second can of gasoline, Jarrett pulled away with a gas catch-can protruding from the car. That’s an automatic stop-and-go penalty from NASCAR, and Jarrett found himself 23rd on that restart. He charged toward the front but wound up 10th.
“We’ve got a car that should have finished at worst second,” Jarrett said. “Could we have beaten him? We’ll never know.”
With 10 laps remaining, he was able to get under Wallace down the backstretch and completed the winning pass in the third turn.
“When Bill passed me, I was just getting too loose,” Wallace said. “The old hot rod took off with the big horsepower, but I got a look, he stuck his nose under me and with the aero push, I couldn’t do anything.”
A late caution period for debris set up a four-lap shootout to the checkered flag. Elliott was able to pull away on the restart.
Elliott’s victory also gave Evernham his third Brickyard 400 win but his first as a team owner.
“I owe an awful lot to these guys and the people at Dodge, this just means a lot,” said Evernham, who was Jeff Gordon’s crew chief when Gordon won here in 1994 and 1998.
Elliott led at the halfway point while many other drivers pitted under caution.
Pole winner Tony Stewart also spent extensive time in front of the field at the 2 1/2-mile oval. But his race ended in bitter disappointment when the car faded, dropping him to 12th.
Stewart was so upset afterward that he was involved in a physical altercation with a photographer.
A sellout crowd of 340,000 broiled under 95-degree heat and steamy conditions. According to Indianapolis Motor Speedway officials, at least 150 spectators were treated for heat-related illness.
The hot weather, however, did not slow some of the drivers who were strongest in the first half of the race.
After a caution flag for debris in the second turn on lap 68, Elliott’s 3.3-second lead disappeared as the leaders made pit stops. Stewart’s team changed just two tires on his Pontiac Grand Prix, allowing the Indiana native to move in front when the green flag waved on lap 72.
Stewart led Robby Gordon, who finished eighth in this year’s Indianapolis 500, as the field charged to the halfway point.
Stewart was in control during early portions of the race as part of a two-car draft with Elliott that pulled away from the field. But a two-car crash in the second turn on the 12th lap involving Brett Bodine and Mike Wallace brought out the first yellow flag.
As the leaders pitted, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was among several drivers who did a fuel-only stop and grabbed the lead when green flag racing resumed on lap 16.
Earnhardt’s time up front didn’t last long as Stewart was able to pass him by the end of the 16th lap and stayed in front until pitting on lap 37. That came one lap after Kurt Busch was bumped into the third turn wall by Jimmy Spencer.
Busch climbed out of his Ford Taurus and twice gestured at Spencer. The two drivers have been involved in a series of on-track incidents dating to last fall.
When Busch recorded his first career Winston Cup win earlier this year at Bristol, Tenn., he did it by bumping Spencer out of the way late in the race after Spencer knocked him sideways.
Spencer said afterwards that he “never forgets,” while Busch believed his trip into the barriers at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was intentional.
Busch’s gestures earned him a trip to the NASCAR trailer.
“It was a tough way to go,” Busch said. “I shouldn’t have been back there in the first place. We should have just qualified steadily up front and that wouldn’t have put us with that decrepit old has-been, or I guess a never-was is the term I would use for Jimmy Spencer.
“He [Spencer] is so hard-headed. Unlike the soft-wall that I hit, there’s nothing you can really say or do about his type of thinking. It’s pretty bad when he goes and calls out that he’s going to smash back and then does it at a 200 mile an hour race track, when there is a lot of points and a lot of money at stake. If that’s the option he wanted to take, then so be it. I mean, we’re race car drivers out here — all except for the 41 car and I feel real bad for Chip Ganassi [Spencer’s team owner].”CNN Sports Illustrated – Sunday August 04, 2002