MRN Flashback: 2001 Protection One 400
By: MRN Staff on May 7, 2014 | 2:45 P.M. EST
The inaugural Protection One 400 at Kansas Speedway launched Gordon another step toward his eventual fourth Cup Series championship. (Photo: Getty Images)
The inaugural Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1994 launched Jeff Gordon into NASCAR superstardom.
On Sept. 30, 2001, the inaugural Protection One 400 at Kansas Speedway launched Gordon another step toward his eventual fourth Cup Series championship.
He stormed past Mark Martin with 21 laps to go, held off Ricky Rudd after a red-flag restart with six laps left and beat rookie Ryan Newman to the checkered flag to become the first Cup driver to visit Victory Lane at Kansas Speedway.
It was Gordon’s sixth - and final - victory in 2001. He held the top spot in the point standings for the final 22 races en route to the title.
"My secret is a team led by Robbie Loomis," Gordon said after the win. "They put incredible racecars underneath me. They’re extremely good at getting a lot of good information when we go to a new track and adapting quickly to a new environment."
Perhaps more importantly, Gordon stopped the points bleeding from the previous two races. He had lost 130 points in that span to lead Rudd by 212 headed to Kansas. Rudd ended up third and trailed Gordon by 222 points following this race, and wound up fourth in the final standings.
"This team has certainly gotten us to where we’re at today – battling for a championship and winning the race here," Gordon said.
Rusty Wallace rallied from 17th late in the race to finish fourth with Sterling Marlin fifth. Mark Martin ended up sixth followed by Robert Pressley, Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch and Dave Blaney.
"It would have been fun to have battled with (Wallace) but unfortunately, he got a penalty," Gordon said. "If Rusty had not had the penalty, I don’t know if anybody could have beaten him."
Wallace led the most laps but lost the race on pit road with 37 laps to go. He headed to the pits as the leader under caution but was caught speeding as he tried to beat Rudd back onto the track. Wallace was sent to the end of the longest line, restarting 17th.
To say Gordon survived would not be an understatement. There were 13 cautions with the most serious crash involving former Cup champion Dale Jarrett, who hit the Turn-1 wall on the driver’s side after contact with Bobby Labonte. Jarrett remained in his car for several minutes while emergency personnel worked to get him out.
He walked to the ambulance but was taken to Kansas University Medical Center because he was briefly knocked unconscious. Jarrett was released from the hospital and then headed home to Hickory, N.C.
Two other contenders blew right-front tires in the closing laps. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was running fourth when he hit the wall in Turn 1 on Lap 229 and Matt Kenseth was fifth when his right-front went down at the end of the frontstretch. Kenseth bounced off the wall, shot down the track and then headed back up the banking in traffic. Luckily, no one hit Kenseth.
The 13 cautions slowed the race for 70 of the 267 laps. Trouble began early as four cars crashed on the first turn of the first lap. Once the race settled down, Wallace took control - especially after Bill Elliott blew an engine on Lap 134. Elliott’s trouble marked a difficult day for Dodge. The four Dodges that started in the top 10 didn’t last the entire race.
After the 200-lap mark, Gordon stalked Wallace, following him for 23 laps. Gordon made a move under Wallace off Turn 2 on Lap 225 but with the outside lane coming in, Wallace held him off. When Earnhardt hit the wall with 38 laps to go, pit strategy played out. Several teams changed two tires and some others took only gas. Gordon took two right-side tires and after the yellow for Kenseth, restarted third on Lap 244.
"We were going to go gas-only," Loomis said. "Jeff came on the radio and said he wanted tires … so we put right-side tires on it and Jeff was going to make sure that was the right call from there."
Martin made a move under Rudd a lap later and Gordon took to the apron on the frontstretch to pass Martin on Lap 246.
"I paid close attention in the drivers’ meeting because they said there is no out-of-bounds," Gordon said. "That tells me that as soon as everybody gets a chance, they’re going to go down there. I didn’t want to go there. Mark knew I had a run on him and he shut the door on me pretty good. I didn’t want to get into him so I said, ‘Well, I’m going to the apron.' I hadn’t gotten a warning for doing it because I hadn’t done it all day, so I figured I at least have one shot at it.
"I about lost the car. It was pretty slick down there. Mark was holding me down. When I tried to come up off the apron, the car jumped sideways on me. I wasn’t going to lift. I knew that was the defining moment, whether we were going to win that race."
Newman was coming, too, passing Rudd for second with four laps left. But the rookie had little chance and he wasn’t about to get into Gordon.
"When I got by Ricky Rudd, I knew we had a car capable of, if not getting to Gordon, at least staying where we were," Newman said. "If he maybe slipped up a little bit, I was gonna be there. But I was never really in that position. The lap I got by Ricky, I got too low on the apron (in Turn 1) and had to get out of the gas. That cost me a run at Jeff going down into Turn 3, but I wouldn’t have gotten up against him or rubbed him or anything like that.
"He’s obviously a proven champion. He’s the points leader and there’s no reason for me to take that position like that."
Visit MRN.com on Thursday at 12:30 p.m. (ET) to hear the complete broadcast of the 2001 Protection One 400 from Kansas Speedway, anchored by Barney Hall and Joe Moore. Motor Racing Network - "The Voice of NASCAR" - features a classic race each week on "Throwback Thursday" only at MRN.com.