The Wild, The Innocent, and The Brickyard Shuffle

INDIANAPOLIS, IN.- - On a hot day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Bill Elliott passed Rusty Wallace with 12 laps remaining to win the Brickyard 400. It was a dominating win for Elliott as he led 93 of the 160 laps. It was Elliott's second consecutive victory and the 43rd of his storied career. Ray Evernham scored the biggest victory of his career as a car owner and Dodge notched their most monumental win since their return to Winston Cup racing in 2001.

With temperatures in the 90's at the start of the race, the 400-mile affair would be a difficult one for the drivers. Jeff Gordon started 21st but didn't stay there for long. He moved up to 17th by lap 6. The first caution of the day came out on lap 11 when Mike Wallace hit the soft wall in turn two. He came across the track and hit Brett Bodine's Ford. Pit stops followed and Gordon left pit road in 11th position after taking two tires. On the restart he moved into the top ten and passed Matt Kenseth and Steve Park to gain the 8th position by lap 20.

At the front of the field, Tony Stewart and Bill Elliott traded the top spot with Elliott pulling away from the pack. Gordon was mired in race traffic and was battling an aero push behind other cars. He made some headway on the track passing Kevin Harvick for the 6th position on lap 28.

On lap 35, Kurt Busch passed Jimmy Spencer on the backstretch. As Busch headed into turn three, Spencer hit the rear of Busch's Ford spinning him out into the soft wall in turn three. Earlier this season at Bristol, Spencer and Busch mixed it up for the victory with Busch tapping Spencer to take the lead for the final time. While the Brickyard incident could be viewed as "payback," there is a distinct difference between payback at 100 miles per hour (Bristol) and 190 miles per hour (Indianapolis). Busch pulled no punches in noting that he was taken out by a "decrepit has-been."

Pit stops for the lead lap cars followed with Gordon exiting pit road in 9th place. He moved up one spot before the next caution flag waved on lap 51 when Geoffrey Bodine wrecked on the short chute between turns one and two. Gordon took fuel only on the pit stop under caution and restarted in seventh. He fell to eighth when Harvick made a daring pass on the outside on the restart. He dropped five spots in the next six laps and was running 13th when a caution for debris on the track came out on lap 68. Gordon took two tires on pit road and moved up to 7th place.

He lost four positions after the restart and was running 12th at the halfway point. Jeremy Mayfield's blown engine on lap 80 brought the leaders back onto pit road. The DuPont team changed four tires and restarted in 23rd position. Gordon gained four positions in the next 10 laps. On lap 98 Casey Atwood got loose on the inside of Dale Earnhardt Jr in turn one. When Atwood got off the gas, Ricky Rudd hit him from behind sending Atwood into the turn one wall. Under caution crew chief Robbie Loomis called for gas-only and Gordon exiting pit road in second place behind race leader Bill Elliott. It was a track position gamble that was well worth the risk.

Under caution points leader Sterling Marlin stayed on the track to lead a lap in order to get a 5 point bonus. His engine had begun to sour under the last green flag run and the Coors Light Dodge would run at the tail end of the pack for the remainder of the day. On the restart it looked as if Gordon's track position gamble would pay off but he began losing spots on lap 111 when Dale Jarrett took the runner-up spot. He lost five positions in the next six laps before a caution on lap 125 for Elliott Sadler's blown tire. Pit stops followed with Gordon taking four tires and leaving pit road in 11th position.

The restart came on lap 134 (26 laps to go). Tony Stewart made a daring pass on Mark Martin to take the top spot on the restart. Stewart went low in the short chute between turns one and two. Martin, rather than block Stewart into the infield grass, gave way and allowed Stewart to take the top spot. Three laps later Rusty Wallace passed Stewart for the lead.

Jeff Gordon had restarted in 11th and got around Jimmie Johnson to break into the top ten on lap 138. Mark Martin developed engine problems and Gordon moved up to ninth on lap 143. With 12 laps remaining, Elliott got a strong run coming off turn two and took the lead from Wallace. As Elliott pulled away from Wallace, a caution for debris on the track (Vince McMahon would be proud) with eight laps remaining bunched the field and allowed for a dramatic finish.

The final restart came with four laps remaining. Elliott got a great restart and pulled away from Wallace. The real drama was back in the pack. With three laps remaining Steve Park pulled to the inside of Tony Stewart to take 6th place. However, Gordon got a draft off of Park's Chevrolet and made it three-wide down the backstretch. Gordon took the 6th position but couldn't challenge Ryan Newman for fifth. He would finish in 6th and gain 63 points on Marlin in the series point standings.

The day clearly belonged to Bill Elliott and Evernham Motorsports. It was without a doubt the biggest victory of Elliott's career in more than a decade. For a driver who has won the Daytona 500, the Southern 500, and the Winston Million (back when it was really prestigious to win the Winston Million), the victory at Indianapolis has to rank near the top of his career highlights. In 2001 Evernham Motorsports struggled with their program. A ray of hope shined on the team in November when Elliott won at Homestead. Car owner Ray Evernham had hoped that Elliott could win a few more in 2002. But a victory on the grandest stage in motorsports left the Jersey boy speechless and on the verge of tears as he watched the #9 Dodge cross the finish line at Indianapolis.

From building the Dodge program from the ground up in 2000 to victory lane at the Brickyard in 2002. It was a long and emotional road to get there. Success doesn't happen overnight-- it takes hard work, dedication, focus, and a vision to the best. Four traits that epitomize Ray Evernham.

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