By David Morgan, Associate Editor
After the first three years of the Brickyard 400 had produced winners like Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt, and Dale Jarrett, the fourth year of NASCAR at Indianapolis Motor Speedway was sure to provide another headlining driver ending the day in Victory Lane, right?
Not quite. Ricky Rudd, a driver/owner piloting his own equipment, pulled a fast one on the competition and held off all comers down the stretch to take home the trophy.
For most of the day, drivers like Gordon and Jarrett controlled the front of the field, but as the race entered its final stages, fuel mileage became a concern for the leaders, while Rudd and his team were prepared to gamble that they could make it all the way to the end without stopping.
Rudd made his final pit stop under caution with 46 laps to go, but his plan to go the distance didn’t kick into high gear until lap 147, when Gordon and Jarrett elected to come down pit road to top off with fuel, handing the lead over to Rudd as he stayed out on track.
From that point on, Rudd just had to keep his Ford out front and hope he had enough fuel in the tank to keep from running dry before the checkered flag flew.
Rudd’s cause was helped by a caution with five laps to go that ensured he’d be able to save enough to get to the end.
With three laps remaining, the green flag flew for the final time and Rudd held off a furious charge by Bobby Labonte, who never could get quite close enough to make a move on Rudd to take the win for himself.
Jarrett and Gordon stormed back through the field to finish third and fourth, with Jeremy Mayfield rounding out the top-five finishers.
“These guys did a great job,” said Rudd. “We were a third or fourth-place car today and they kept digging. In practice the other day, we were a last place car and they didn’t give up. They kept working on this Tide Whirlpool Ford and they got us pretty racy…I don’t know what to say, this is just a shock to me.
“We knew (fuel mileage) was going to be really tight. Really tight. We were going to go for it. We were going to roll the dice. We were either going to win it or finish last. The guys kept telling me ‘back off a little bit. If you don’t back off of it, you’re not going to make it’ and then the cautions played right into our hand.
“It’s a boyhood dream to be able to race here at Indianapolis and then to let alone race, but come here and win this thing in a stock car is unbelievable. I took a tour around here when I was 12 years old when we were racing go karts down the street. Never thought we’d be racing here. This is unbelievable.”