Ranking the Most Memorable Moments in Brickyard 400 History
As hard as it is to believe, this year marks the 20th anniversary of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series coming to Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
In those two decades, history has been made, memories forged and traditions established. Races have been won by the biggest names in the sport, and they have been lost in unforgettable bonehead fashion by drivers and teams who knew better.
Kissing the bricks after a victory? It's a given now, but it wasn't when Jeff Gordon won the first Brickyard 400 in 1994. But a win there has always meant something more to the drivers. Asked recently where Indy ranks among the most prestigious tracks NASCAR drivers want to win at, Kyle Busch told FoxSports.com, "It's number two. It's right there. Daytona is one, Indy is two. They're both pretty close."
That's high praise. It also meant ranking the 10 most memorable moments, good and bad, wasn't easy and is sure to spark some spirited debate.
10. Juan Pablo Montoya Blows It
Juan Pablo Montoya was already more familiar with the 2.5-mile track at Indianapolis Motor Speedway than many of his fellow drivers when he seemingly took command of the Brickyard 400 in 2009.
After all, Montoya was an accomplished open-wheel driver who had won the Indianapolis 500 in 2000 before he made the switch to driving full time in NASCAR for Chip Ganassi in 2007. But by 2009, he still had not won on an oval track as a Sprint Cup Series driver—so he was salivating at the thought of getting to Victory Lane as he built a lead of more than five seconds before coming to pit road for what figured to be his final stop with 35 laps left in the race.
Then, the unthinkable happened. Montoya was penalized for speeding on pit road—and in that instant, his chance to win was gone. Columnist Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports summed it up by writing, "There was no police officer to flirt with, no traffic court to appeal to, no way out of what was essentially a $224,000 speeding ticket."
Montoya still has not won a NASCAR race on an oval in 254 career Cup starts. He probably made the right move by going back to IndyCar this year, although he will be in the Brickyard field this Sunday making his second Cup start of the 2014 season for Team Penske.
9. Jamie McMurray Completes Daytona-Indy Double
Montoya seemed to be the man to beat again in 2010, when he started from the pole and led 86 laps before pit strategy bit him late in the race—and his impatience afterward led to a crash that opened the door for Jamie McMurray, his teammate at what was then Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing, to go to Victory Lane.
In doing so, McMurray completed the rare Daytona 500-Brickyard 400 double, becoming only the third driver in history to do so (the others were Dale Jarrett in 1996 and Jimmie Johnson in 2006). The irony was that McMurray had convinced himself that after winning the Daytona 500 to open the season, it was Montoya's turn to win. He had resigned himself to finishing second.
"When Juan was leading and I was in second, I am a big believer in fate, and I thought this was just the way it is meant to be. ... I really thought it was his day," McMurray told the Associated Press (per ESPN.com).
8. Paul Menard Empire Strikes Back
Paul Menard's unlikely and highly unexpected win in 2011 was as much for himself as it was for his father, John.
John Menard, whose Midwest-based hardware store chain has long served as Paul's primary sponsor in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, fielded open-wheel teams for more than two decades in the Indianapolis 500 without winning despite employing some top cars and drivers who came tantalizingly close. When Paul won to claim the first and so far only victory of his Cup career, John Menard exclaimed (according to the Associated Press via FoxSports.com): "I've been waiting to kiss these bricks for such a long time. I'm ready!''
Menard also told the AP via FoxSports.com after the race: ''I've been coming here since I was a little kid, my dad tried to win this race for 35 years, so this is for my dad. A lot of emotions right now. I went to every Indy 500 from 1989 to 2003, I was here for the inaugural Brickyard 400 in '94. For my family and for myself, Indianapolis is a very special place.''
7. Ryan's Revenge
Last year, Indiana native Ryan Newman arrived at the Brickyard in a muddled state of mind.
He already knew he was losing his ride with Stewart-Haas Racing at the end of the 2013 season, having learned his fate just two weeks before coming to Indy. So if he figured he was auditioning for a 2014 job (he eventually signed with and now drives the No. 39 Chevy for Richard Childress Racing), he did a darn good job.
Although he started from the pole, Newman required a poor pit stop by Johnson to grab the lead back late in the race after Johnson had dominated the middle portion, leading a race-high 73 laps.
"This is a dream come true for me," Newman told the Los Angeles Times. "It will take a week or so for this to set in."
6. The Tire Debacle of 2008
Everything was fine prior to the 2008 Brickyard—including an infield concert by the seemingly ageless Charlie Daniels Band.
But then the green flag dropped and it all went terribly wrong.
With Goodyear tires literally coming apart at the seams after as few as six or eight laps, NASCAR was forced to order a ridiculous nine competition cautions for competitors to change out their tires. The most laps run consecutively were 12 in the 160-lap race, leading ESPN.com columnist Terry Blount to dub the event, "The Tire Graveyard 400."
Oh, and the winner? It was Johnson for the second time (he has since gone on to win the event two more times, tying him with Gordon for the most Brickyard wins in the series). But hardly anyone remembers that; sadly, they only remember all the tires coming apart, turning the race into a punchline for a bad joke.
5. Dale Earnhardt Doubles Down
After coming up short in the inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994, Dale Earnhardt desperately wanted to win the second running of the race in 1995.
He had to wait out a rain delay of more than four hours and the early dominance in the race of Gordon, who was the defending race champion and got out front for the first 31 laps. But in the end, Earnhardt, who had yet to win the Daytona 500 at that point (he would cross that off his career wish list in 1998), emerged victorious and counted the win as one of the more special in his storied career.
According to FoxSports.com, Earnhardt told his crew on the cool-down lap: "I guess I'm not too old to win at Indianapolis."
He was 44 years old at the time. He died at age 49 in a last-lap crash during the 2001 Daytona 500.
4. Tony and His Team Climb the Catch Fence
Tony Stewart never wanted to win anywhere more than he did at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, dating back to his days as an open-wheel racer.
He grew up in Columbus, Indiana, raced at tracks throughout the state and eventually found himself trying to win the Indy 500. But five runs at that produced a best finish of fifth, and then he put his best efforts into NASCAR.
It wasn't until 2005, though, that he finally broke through with his first Brickyard victory on his seventh attempt. He passed Kasey Kahne with 11 laps to go and celebrated by imitating open-wheel driver Helio Castroneves and climbing the catch fence—along with his entire team—to the flagstand to officially claim the checkered flag.
It was an unforgettable moment, and one that Stewart had a hard time living down—or repeating in years to come when his diet and, uh, lack of traditional training finally got the better of him.
3. Bill Elliott Ends Drought by Kissing Bricks
As a very public feud between Kurt Busch continued to escalate, grabbing most of the attention from the Brickyard race in 2002, Bill Elliott almost quietly waltzed into Victory Lane.
In what proved to be the next-to-last win in his storied, Hall of Fame driving career, "Awesome Bill from Dawsonville" was awesome once again while leading a total of 93 laps in the 160-lap event. He still had to catch and pass Rusty Wallace, another eventual Hall of Famer, with 11 laps remaining to claim the victory.
2. Dale Jarrett Establishes Kissing the Bricks Tradition
There are very few pictures of it and possibly no video of it, after an exhaustive search for both failed to produce either for this slide.
But it was after Dale Jarrett's win in the Brickyard 400 in 1996 that the tradition of the race victor and his team kissing the bricks afterward first began. According to NASCAR.com, it was the idea of crew chief Todd Parrott, who sat atop Jarrett's pit box calling the shots during the race that day.
When it was over, Parrott supposedly thought (again, per David Caraviello of NASCAR.com), "Why not kiss the famed yard of bricks that comprises the start/finish line?" So Parrott called Jarrett and the rest of the Robert Yates Racing No. 88 team over and they went and did just that, and a ritual was born.
Ricky Rudd followed suit the next year, then 1998 winner Gordon, then Jarrett and Parrott again a second time in 1999, and every winner of the Brickyard thereafter. Soon even Indianapolis 500 winners were doing it when it had never occurred to them before in nearly 100 years of holding that open-wheel race at the track.
1. Jeff Gordon Wins Inaugural Brickyard 400
What better way to close out the inaugural Brickyard 400 than to have Gordon, an adopted Hoosier, come out on top at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
That's exactly what happened in 1994, when Gordon held off Ernie Irvan and Brett Bodine to win the very first Brickyard in front of a huge throng of fans that was estimated at 250,000. The lead changed hands four times between Gordon and Irvan over the final 25 laps before Irvan cut a tire with five laps to go, giving the advantage to Gordon for good.
Gordon talked about that magical day recently with Tom Jensen of FoxSports.com, telling Jensen:
Most of the things that stand out to me was really about just the madness and craziness of how big that event was, how popular it was among fans, not just traditional NASCAR fans but new fans to the sport. Even if you go back to the test that we had (the year before the inaugural race), the fans were just lined up on the fence around the garage area just wanting to see stock cars race at Indianapolis, and it was much of the same when it came to race day -- just so many fans and you just couldn't walk anywhere without getting mobbed. That just showed you the impact and significance of that inaugural event.
Gordon has since gone on to win the race three more times, tying him with his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Johnson for most Brickyard victories. "It's unlike any other place that I go, and I love it," Gordon added to Jensen per FoxSports.com.
Unless otherwise noted, information for all slides was obtained firsthand by the writer.
Joe Menzer has written six books, including two about NASCAR, and now writes about it and other sports for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @OneMenz.