Jeff Gordon won his second Brickyard 400 and a $1 million bonus Saturday, holding off tenacious Mark Martin until a caution flag three laps from the end cut short the drama.
The sellout crowd of about 320,000 was on its feet and ready for a shootout when Joe Nemechek bumped the rear of Jeff Green's car near the back of the pack during a restart on the 158th of 160 laps at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Cars were suddenly strewn across the main straightaway, bouncing off the walls and each other as Gordon took the green flag at the front of the field. The first two-time Brickyard winner stayed out front easily, beating Martin back to the finish line to take the yellow flag by about five car-lengths.
There was no way that NASCAR could get the track cleaned up in time to get the field back to racing, so Gordon was able to drive his Chevrolet Monte Carlo to the checkered flag behind the pace car at a leisurely 100 mph.
"I guess when it's meant to be, it's just meant to be," said Gordon, who will turn 27 on Tuesday. "When we won here in `94, everything just went our way, and it was the same today."
Bobby Labonte was third, followed by Mike Skinner and teammate Dale Earnhardt.
Gordon frequently booed around the Winston Cup circuit, was a popular winner this time. He grew up not far from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Pittsboro, Ind.
In the drama that proceeded a the final caution, Martin made his big move on Gordon.
"He made a great effort," Gordon said of Martin, who second to him in the points race. "He drove in on me in turn two, was trying to get on my rear bumper and I didn't know if i could get away from him or not."
Six days before the Brickyard, during a CART race at Michigan Speedway, three spectators were killed and six more were injured when a wheel and other debris from a one-car crash flew into a grandstand. It was the worst accident involving spectators ever at a major American race venue.
The trajedy appeared to have no effect on Saturday's race, with the usual festive sellout crowd, all occupying grandstand seats, on hand on a warm, sunny afternoon. There were several crashes during the race, but nothing from the wrecked cars got past the 19-foot fencing.
Although Gordon dominated the race, leading 97 laps, Martin and Dale Jarrett both had the crowd in an uproar in the late going.
Martin, who had been running second to Gordon before the last pit stops by the leaders, had a problem with a lugnut during his stop and was 11th for the restart on lap 124.
Gordon came out of that stop fourth as he took four new tires while Earnhardt, Skinner and Sterling Marlin each took two and beat the two-time Winston Cup champion back onto the track. But the high-flying Gordon, winner of six races this season, including the last two, took second in his first trip around the 2½-mile oval, then passed Earnhardt to take the lead for good on lap 127.
Meanwhile, Martin's Ford was slicing through the field. It took him only until lap 144 to take second, and it appeared he would be able to challenge Gordon. But two late caution flags kept him bottled up.
Jarrett, who led 27 laps early in the race and appeared to have one of the fastest cars on the track all day, cost himself a shot at winning his second Brickyard 400 when he ran out of fuel on lap 81.
By the time he came out of the pits after coasting around most of the track, Jarrett was four laps down to the leaders. To the delight of the big crowd, and with the help of caution flags, he was able to get back on lead lap. But, by the time he was back among the leaders, it was too late to make a real run at Gordon and Jarrett finished 16th.
© 1998 SportsLine USA, Inc. All rights reserved