Stewart, Gordon share “Legends Lap” in goodbye to IMS

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INDIANAPOLIS, IN - JULY 24: Jeff Gordon, driver of the #88 Axalta Chevrolet, and Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Mobil 1/Chevy Summer Sell Down Chevrolet, take a cooldown lap together after the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Crown Royal Presents the Combat Wounded Coalition 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 24, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Outside of Kyle Busch’s dominant performance, the lasting image from Sunday’s Brickyard 400 will be Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart, taking one final lap together on their home track, after crossing the bricks for the final time.

“I can say that ranks in the top three coolest moments in my 18 years in this series,” said Stewart, who finished 11th in the race. “To share that moment with Jeff here at Indianapolis. I don’t even know. I don’t have the words for it. That’s a moment I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”

Leading up to the race, the Columbus native Stewart dispelled the notion that Gordon, who spent his teenage years in Pittsboro, was somehow “stealing his thunder”, returning to the Brickyard 400 in Stewart’s final season in NASCAR. Rather, Stewart welcomed Gordon’s presence so much that he wanted to run one final lap alongside his long-time rival.

“Thank you to Tony Stewart,” said Gordon, who finished 13th in the race. “What a class act he is. It meant a lot to me that he invited me to come take that last lap with him.”

Gordon and Stewart have not always been close. They were notably involved in an altercation at Watkins Glen in 2000, but recently, the two drivers have spent more time together and developed a friendship. Gordon was even present when Stewart injured his back in January before this season began.

“To see what he’s done (in rehabbing), how tough he is as a competitor,” recalled Gordon, “I’ve always know what a great race car driver he is, but now I know more about who Tony Stewart really is.

“I’m just so glad I was able to be here and race with him in his final race.”

Gordon caught himself at that statement, realizing he himself was in a similar situation last year.

“Maybe?” He laughed, “I don’t know.”