Remembering Jeff Gordon's greatest win: 1994 Brickyard 400
Editor's note: As the final week of Jeff Gordon's NASCAR Sprint Cup career continues, FOXSports.com is counting down the four-time champion's top five Sprint Cup wins.
No. 1: 1994 Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway
When NASCAR made its first trip to Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1994, many in the sport looked toward Dale Earnhardt as the odds-on favorite to take the inaugural Sprint Cup Series race at the iconic track.
However, when the checkered flag flew on that historic day, it was sophomore sensation Jeff Gordon who celebrated the victory and cemented his name in the NASCAR history books.
"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," Gordon said.
The win did not come easy for the young driver of the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, as he had to do battle with some of the sport's toughest competitors of the day throughout the entire event.
With Earnhardt starting on the front row alongside pole-sitter Rick Mast, the Richard Childress Racing driver was eager to the lead the opening lap, but it did not go according to plan.
Racing hard into the first corner on the first lap, Earnhardt and Mast made contact, upsetting the handling of Earnhardt's iconic black No. 3 Chevrolet. Exiting the fourth corner on the opening lap, Earnhardt hit the outside wall and fell through the field.
While Earnhardt's eagerness ultimately cost him a shot at the victory, Gordon -- who started third -- quickly made his way to the front of the field, taking the lead for the first time on Lap 3.
Born in California, Gordon's family moved to Indiana when he was a child to pursue his racing dreams. Chasing NASCAR instead of open-wheel racing, Gordon finally had the opportunity to showcase his talents at the track he grew up less than 25 minutes from.
But his road to the inaugural Brickyard 400 victory was not easy by any means, as he was forced to battle Geoffrey Bodine, Rusty Wallace and Ernie Irvan for the race lead.
Bodine was eliminated from contention on Lap 100 after his younger brother, Brett, put the bumper to Geoffrey and sent him spinning off Turn 4 in front of the field. The contact was the culmination of a yearlong family feud and left Geoffrey steaming after the race.
Over the course of the final 25 laps, Gordon and Irvan swapped the lead four times, putting on a great show for the fans watching at home and in the packed grandstands.
Their battle allowed Brett Bodine, Bill Elliott, Wallace and Earnhardt to close in over the closing laps.
However, their hard-fought battle came to an end with five laps to go as Irvan lost a right-front tire going into the first corner while leading. With Irvan slowing and going out of the groove, Gordon dove underneath and took the lead for the final time of the day.
With Irvan out of contention, Gordon drove on to score his second career Sprint Cup Series victory to become the first NASCAR winner at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Gordon would go on to score five total Brickyard 400 victories, tying Formula One legend Michael Schumacher for the most wins at the iconic track.
Ray Evernham, the winning crew chief that day, described the historic victory as the culmination of Gordon's hard work over the years.
"In one lifetime one person doesn't get many chances to make an everlasting mark or set a record that no one will ever break," Evernham told Stock Car Racing magazine in 1994. "When those things happen, it is the greatest payback that you will ever receive for the hard work and effort you've invested. The Brickyard 400 did those things for us."
For Gordon, the excitement of the fans for that inaugural race still stands out.
"Even if you go back to the test that we had (before the 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," Gordon said. "That just showed you the impact and significance of that inaugural event."