Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Gordon Feels the Love at Indy; Five-Time Winner at Brickyard Now Has Bead on Sprint Cup Crown

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Gordon Feels the Love at Indy; Five-Time Winner at Brickyard Now Has Bead on Sprint Cup Crown

Article excerpt

Byline: Don Coble

SPEEDWAY, IND. | Jeff Gordon was given the key to the city for his charity work with a local children's hospital before Sunday's Royal Crown 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

He left town with a winner's trophy - and the town's heart.

Gordon hardly looked like a 42-year-old man with a bad back at the famed Brickyard. His car was fast; his drive to win never more determined.

The fans reacted with overwhelming support. They cheered wildly during the final five laps, and they didn't stop until long after Gordon's team had kissed the famed yard of bricks at the finish line.

He was a fuzzy-faced kid when he won the first Brickyard 400 in 1994. Although he now has touches of gray, his youthful exuberance was never more prominent.

He's surrounded by a team that seemed to dig a little deeper, push a little harder when they arrived at Indianapolis.

"This team has rejuvenated me in a lot of ways," Gordon said after leading the final 17 laps to beat Kyle Busch by more than 200 yards. "Makes me want to dig down even deeper than I possibly can to give them everything back that they're putting into it. So they've inspired me in so many ways. I'm just having a blast this year driving awesome race cars."

Car owner Rick Hendrick, who has spent a lot more time celebrating six championships for Jimmie Johnson in the last eight years, saw the difference, too. Before the race, Hendrick assured Gordon of a victory.

"I had a feeling this morning," Hendrick said Sunday. "I told him, 'You're going to win the race today.' It's really special. The team put a lot of effort in this."

Gordon said the victory at Indianapolis - which he said is more important than winning the Daytona 500 - will serve as a springboard to what he hopes will be a fifth championship.

His last championship came in 2001, his ninth full-time season in the Sprint Cup Series. By then he already had 58 career wins.

Sunday's victory was his 32nd since - a stretch of more than 12 years. …

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