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Gordon dominates a tyring day at Indy.

By Andrew Charman

Jeff Gordon earned himself a place in Indianapolis history by dominating the Brickyard 400 to become NASCAR's first four-time winner at the famed speedway, but this was a day dominated by tyre failures, sparking 12 caution flags – more than twice as many as in any previous Brickyard 400.

Indy fans were looking for a continuation of Brickyard history when Casey Mears put the #41 Target Dodge on pole position at the track where his Uncle Rick Mears added four Indy 500 wins to six poles. But the real interest was further back, especially among those trying to break into the top 10 in points and earn a place in the 10-race final shootout for the first Nextel Cup. One of those was rookie sensation Kasey Kahne, currently 12th in points 69 points back from 10th, and with all three of the Evernham Motorsports squad quick in happy hour practice, many predicted Kahne could open his win account in front of 250,000 spectators at one of the biggest venues of all.

The 160-lapper saw action at the first turn, Mears and fellow front-row qualifier Ward Burton bouncing off each other, Burton's #0 Netzero Hi-Speed Chevrolet dropping back to fourth behind Elliott Sadler and Dale Earnhardt Jr. “Tell Casey I owe him one,” said Burton on his radio. Mears led the first three laps until Sadler's #38 M&M's Ford drove round him, but by now the first yellow was out, Jason Leffler's excursion into the Nextel Cup proving brief with a heavy hit in the wall after a tyre went down.

At the restart on lap 9 Sadler resumed his lead while Earnhardt Jr's #8 Budweiser Chevrolet ran into the back of Mears, who saved the spin but was shuffled back to eighth. Now Burton led the chase of Sadler, Earnhardt behind and fighting off Jeff Gordon's #24 Dupont Chevrolet, who went by on lap 12. Further back the now struggling Mears was hit again, this time in the side by the loose #9 USW/Dodge Dealers Dodge of Kasey Kahne, Tony Stewart's #20 Home Depot Chevrolet moving ahead of both of them.

Lap 15 saw Gordon into second and closing the three second gap to Sadler, until on lap 23 it was removed by a yellow flag after Tony Stewart spun, luckily without hitting anything. “My fault, I got too close to the rumble strips,” Tony told his team as everyone headed for pit road. The top four exited as they had entered with Sadler leading Gordon, Earnhardt and Jeremy Mayfield's #19 UAW/Dodge Dealers Dodge, and as the green flew on lap 27 Sadler worked hard to keep Gordon behind him. Jeff could wait, however, and at the end of the lap simply drove into the lead passing the pits.

Now Earnhardt found himself with a tight car, and both Mayfield and Matt Kenseth's #17 DeWalt Ford quickly went by the Budwesier Chevrolet. But then the caution flew again as points leader Jimmie Johnson went for a wild ride in his #48 Lowe's Chevrolet after the closely following#12 ALLTEL Dodge of Ryan Newman took the air off Jimmie's rear spoiler.

The green flew on lap 33, cruelly for Mark Martin who was on pit road fixing a puncture on the #6 Viagra Ford, but within nine laps that flag was out again as the left front tyre on Tony Raines' Dodge exploded on the frontstretch, everyone heading for pit road. Several teams gambled on taking only two tyres and Dale Jarrett benefited most, the #88 UPS Ford coming out in third. At the restart on lap 49 the fastest mover was Robby Gordon, the #31 Cingular Wireless Chevrolet snatching fourth but then getting loose allowing Stewart and Kenseth to go by. Just behind the Evernham Dodges were working together, Kahne heading Mayfield and Bill Elliott, the Brickyard winner having one of his irregular 2004 outings. Kahne was running a wider line than rivals and passing them on the outside, but on lap 59 the rookie became the latest puncture victim. Luckily he kept it out of the wall but unluckily the race stayed green and Kasey lost a lap in the pits.

Up front Gordon was 2.5 seconds clear of Sadler and Kenseth coming on strong, passing Jarrett for third on lap 64. Three laps later the caution flew again, and again it was a left front tyre, this time on Sterling Marlin's Coors Dodge. Foolishly he stayed on track, hoping to avoid the penalty for entering a closed pit road, and instead had to stop on circuit as sparks from a grinding wheel set the tyre alight. Kahne was happier, as the first lap-down car getting his lap back but restarting 35th. Meanwhile Sadler beat Gordon out of the pits, followed by Kenseth, Jarrett and Stewart. They went green on lap 73, but for only seconds as Rusty Wallace's #2 Miller Lite Dodge was pushed into the wall and chaos erupted behind, Scott Wimmer's #22 Caterpillar Dodge drilling the #10 Valvoline Chevrolet of Scott Riggs which bounced from wall to wall and collected several other cars, those of Ward Burton and Terry Labonte the most heavily damaged.

Cleaning up after the Brickyard record sixth caution took six laps, and Gordon waited until turn two to stick the Dupont Chevrolet past Sadler and back into the lead. Behind them Stewart rounded Jarrett for fourth, then quickly disposed of third-placed Kenseth. Gordon meanwhile was the fastest car on the track, pulling away from Sadler, while by lap 86 that man Kahne was back up to 14th with virtually half the race still to run.



Related Pictures

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Jeff Gordon, four-time Brickyard winner (Photo: GM Media)
Jeff Gordon dominated the day at the Brickyard (Photo: GM Media)
Elliott Sadler was for a long time best of the rest (Photo: Autostock/Ford Motor Co)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 16, 2014 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet, and Ryan Newman, driver of the #31 Caterpillar Chevrolet, lead a pack of cars during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 16, 2014 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 14, 2014 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet, passes Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, to take the lead and win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 16, 2014 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell-Pennzoil Ford, pits during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 16, 2014 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet, and team owner Tony Stewart celebrate winning in Victory Lane after the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 16, 2014 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet, celebrates with his wife DeLana and son Keelan in victory lane after winning during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 16, 2014 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet, celebrates with the trophy in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 16, 2014 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Marcos Ambrose, driver of the #9 Stanley Ford, poses with his team before his last race, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 16, 2014 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet SS, celebrates his victory and the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship Sunday, November 16, 2014 winning the final NASCAR Sprint Cup race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Ryan Newman, driver of the #31 Caterpillar Chevrolet SS finishes 2nd. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet SS, celebrates his victory and the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship Sunday, November 16, 2014 winning the final NASCAR Sprint Cup race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Ryan Newman, driver of the #31 Caterpillar Chevrolet SS finishes 2nd. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet SS, celebrates his victory and the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship Sunday, November 16, 2014 winning the final NASCAR Sprint Cup race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Ryan Newman, driver of the #31 Caterpillar Chevrolet SS finishes 2nd. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet SS, celebrates his victory and the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship Sunday, November 16, 2014 winning the final NASCAR Sprint Cup race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Ryan Newman, driver of the #31 Caterpillar Chevrolet SS finishes 2nd. (Photo by Christa L Thomas/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet SS, celebrates his victory and the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship Sunday, November 16, 2014 winning the final NASCAR Sprint Cup race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Ryan Newman, driver of the #31 Caterpillar Chevrolet SS finishes 2nd. (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet, leads Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 16, 2014 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

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