Dale Earnhardt badly wanted to win the inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994, but came up short, finishing a disappointing fifth as adopted Hoosier Jeff Gordon won that first race.
A year later, Earnhardt and his Richard Childress Racing team came back loaded for bear with a brand new black No. 3 Goodwrench Chevrolet for the seven-time champion to race. Foiled in his first attempt at the Brickyard, Earnhardt was not going to lose the second time around.
The weekend did not get off to an especially good start for Earnhardt, as Gordon qualified on the pole, flanked by Bobby Hamilton in the No. 43 Petty Enterprises Pontiac. Earnhardt, meanwhile, qualified a disappointing 13th.
On race day, weather was a serious issue.
The start of the ’95 Brickyard 400 was delayed some four hours by rain and when it was finally run, Gordon was dominant early, leading the first 31 laps. The fastest cars on the day belonged to Gordon, Bill Elliott and Rusty Wallace, all of whom had finished in the top five in the first Brickyard, just as Earnhardt had.
There were 17 lead changes among 11 drivers as the race ebbed and flowed into the late afternoon and early evening.
But in the end, the race came down to pit road, as so many races do today.
Earnhardt made his final pit stop for gas and tires on Lap 128 of the 160-lap race, running second to Wallace at the time. But Wallace got blocked in on pit road when Rich Bickle and Joe Nemechek collided ahead of him, and Wallace came out behind Earnhardt.
Under green-flag conditions, Earnhardt’s pit stop for four Goodyear Racing Eagles and fuel was 18 seconds, an eternity in today’s NASCAR but good enough to get him on track ahead of Wallace.
The day’s lone caution came on Lap 133, when Jeff Burton spun coming out of Turn 2 in his No. 8 Stavola Brothers Ford. Earnhardt took his first and only lead of the day on that lap and never trailed, with Wallace finishing second ahead of Dale Jarrett, Elliott, Mark Martin and Gordon.
As in the inaugural Brickyard, the talent at the top of the board was remarkable, with the top six finishers combining for 14 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championships and 336 race victories over their storied careers.
On the cool-down lap, Earnhardt told his crew, "I guess I’m not too old to win at Indianapolis."
And given that at this point in his career, Earnhardt had yet to win the Daytona 500, it could be argued that it was his most significant race victory to date.
"I can’t thank ’em enough," Earnhardt said of his RCR crew. "Put a great race car together, brand-new car. Had about 40 laps of practice on it before the race. To go out and win this race in this car was great. … This race car, this crew, they’re hard to beat when they’re right. And they were right today."