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Ben Smith

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Associated Press
Jeff Gordon won a record fifth Brickyard 400 on Jeff Gordon Day, as proclaimed by Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, to commemorate his victory in the inaugural race 20 years ago.

All pieces fell into place for Gordon

– Throwback Sunday’s in the rearview now, Jeff Gordon summoning one of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s many restless ghosts to blow by Kasey Kahne with a move straight out of 1994.

And what do you take away from that, except that when everything’s hooked up a 43-year-old family man can still bring it like the 23-year-old kid who never imagined all that was coming when he won the first Brickyard 400 two decades ago?

Well, here are a few things that occur:

1. Symmetry is a beautiful thing

And not just because Jeff Gordon made it to Victory Lane exactly 20 years from the first time he did it here.

He also did it on Jeff Gordon Day, so proclaimed by Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard to commemorate, yes, that inaugural win back in ’94.

Can’t make this stuff up.

2. The best car won

Gordon could say all he wants that 90 percent of the time the best team wins the Brickyard.

That doesn’t always mean the best car does.

Sunday it did, beyond question. From the very start, when Gordon built a four-second lead in the first 15 laps, it was clear he could do things out there no one else could.

“I raced around him a few times, and every time he had a run I was like. ‘Wow,’ ” said Joey Logano, who finished fifth. “We’re not even close to where they were at.”

3. Check your mirrors, boys and girls

Yes, that is the future you see coming.

You want symmetry, try this: On a day when Gordon summoned echoes of a younger self, someone who might actually be his younger self shone again.

Kyle Larson, four days shy of his 22nd birthday, started 15th, led five laps and finished seventh to win Rookie of the Year honors. It was his ninth top-10 finish this season.

“Cool to finish in the top 10 in the Brickyard,” he said.

With cooler stuff to follow, one suspects.

4. Indy means elbow room

Which is to say, once again there was a whole lot of Ghost Town USA in some parts of the sprawling old place.

There was also a sense of “oh, well” about that, because a crowd eyeballed at roughly 70,000 to 80,000 is simply the new reality here. And at least the turnout wasn’t noticeably smaller than last year.

In NASCAR today, they call that progress.

5. Jeff Gordon said what?

When asked what motivates him in this throwback season he’s having, the man who’s won more Brickyards (five) than anyone and more Cup races (90) than anyone not named Richard Petty or David Pearson said this: “I don’t want to be the weak link.” No, really. He did.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at bensmith@jg.net; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.

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