Senior staff writer
Five-time Brickyard 400 winner Jeff Gordon knows that his emotions will run wild this weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
He will return home Thursday to Pittsboro for a rain-postponed parade in his honor at noon. Gordon lived there and raced midgets and sprints on Indiana dirt tracks as a teenager. He is alum of Tri-West High School in Hendricks County.
The IMS is his home track. His historic triumph in the inaugural NASCAR Brickyard race was only the second win in his Sprint Cup career in 1994. He won again in 1998, 2003, ’04 and last year.
“The sentiment has to do with my history and the memories that I have at that track,” Gordon said in anticipation of his homecoming at the Speedway. “When I heard the crowd applaud on race day for driver introductions (Sonoma), it really stuck with me, and it was cool. I anticipate that at Indianapolis as well.
“The cheers and the support have been overwhelming everywhere we’ve gone. But when you talk about the significant tracks in my career, Indy certainly comes to mind because of the support I’ve always had there. At Indianapolis it will hit me too that this (final race) is happening.”
Gordon announced after the 2014 season that he would no longer race on a full-time basis. This is his farewell tour. He has won more NASCAR races (92) than any active driver; teammate Jimmie Johnson has 74 wins; Tony Stewart is third with 48.
“It rained on my parade,” Gordon joked at Kentucky Speedway, where the test session also was rained out. “The town means a lot to me because of all the support I had from the people there.”
Then Gordon summed up his emotions by saying, “That whole Brickyard weekend is going to be a great one.”
Indeed it will be one to remember for Gordon, whose roots include USAC’s national midget and Silver Crown championships.
Gordon’s string of races at Kentucky Speedway ended July 11 without a win – the only track he’s raced where he was not victorious. He was seventh in the No. 24 AARP Member Services Chevrolet, which ran better late in the race.
Gordon has received many gifts and accolades at each track this season, but none as unique or plentiful than at Kentucky Speedway.
Track representatives and Kentucky Bourbon master distillers Jimmy Russell (Wild Turkey), Jim Rutledge (Four Roses), Fred Noe Sr. (Jim Beam) and Willie Pratt (Michter’s) presented a dozen bottles each of four distinct brands.
However, veteran motor sports writer Gary Graves pointed out that Gordon would have traded all those bottles to drink champagne if he would have won at Kentucky Speedway.
Tenth in points before Sunday’s race in New Hampshire, Gordon is still searching for his first win of 2015, which would virtually guarantee him a spot in The Chase. His four titles were earned prior to The Chase format.
“It really bums me out that I haven’t won under this format,” Gordon said. “We’ve been close, but haven’t won it. I’m using that as motivation in this final season to run for the championship. I would love to get into that same position that we were in this past year and do that again this year with running for the championship at Homestead.”
Gordon’s successor in the Hendrick Motorsports No. 24 will be second-generation driver Chase Elliott, son of 2002 Brickyard winner Bill Elliott. Chase became NASCAR’s youngest champion last year by winning the Nationwide (now Xfinity) Series at 18.
“Obviously we want to make the race,” said Chase Elliott, who will have to qualify fast enough to make the field on his time. “I’ll be asking him (Gordon) a lot of questions before then.”
Elliott, who is among the top three in points in the Xfinity Series, will race Saturday and hopefully Sunday at 3:50 p.m. in the Crown Royal presents the Jeff Kyle 400 at the Brickyard.
Looking ahead to 2016, Elliott said, “It will be an honor to drive that car (No. 24) next year.”
The fabled No. 24 will roll on but without Indiana’s adopted racing son behind the wheel.