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Gordon’s Brickyard legacy superb, but can’t be compared to other Indy legends

Jul 27, 2014, 7:52 PM EDT

Jeff Gordon AP

Comparing apples to oranges to bananas is always going to come off as a bit pear-shaped.

Jeff Gordon became the first NASCAR driver to win five times at the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday afternoon.

That in itself in an awesome feat, and it’s rather fitting that Gordon made it happen on the 20th anniversary of his first Brickyard 400 triumph all the way back in 1994.

But it simply cannot be compared, favorably or unfavorably, to the four Indianapolis 500 wins apiece from A.J. Foyt, Rick Mears, and Al Unser Sr.

Or for that matter, the five Formula One wins that Michael Schumacher racked up when the United States Grand Prix (now at the Circuit of the Americas) was run on the original IMS road course.

To say that Schumacher and now Gordon are superior to Foyt, Mears, and Unser simply because five wins trump four is a foolish declaration to make.

In the end, we have to acknowledge all of the accomplishments as special on their own and resist the temptation to stack them against each other.

As these drivers created their Indianapolis legacies, they had to adapt as their cars moved along with the times.

Examples: Gordon’s won his Brickyards in what’s now known as “Generation 4” and “Generation 6” Cup cars; Foyt’s the only man to have won the ‘500’ in both front and rear-engined machines; and en route to all of his USGP wins, Schumacher had to get used to new chassis and engines each year.

And with the changing cars, the styles of racing obviously changed too. Then there’s the differences in the speeds and the tracks as well.

For the Indy 500 guys and Gordon, they constantly barrel (or barreled) around a 2.5-mile oval at speeds of 200 mph or more. For Schumacher, he drove on a 2.6-mile road course with 13 turns that only let him and his peers get close to those speeds perhaps once or twice during a lap.

Finally, there’s the time lengths involved. Schumacher won his five USGPs in the span of seven years. Foyt (17 years), Unser (18 years), and Mears (13 years) all went well beyond a decade for their respective four Indy 500s. And to get his five Brickyard wins, Gordon (21 years) went two full decades.

How can you possibly compare any of this without betraying your bias for a specific racing discipline – or just coming across real, real poorly?

It’s better to just look back and marvel at what these men have done at the world’s greatest race course.

No matter the form of racing, these five drivers make for one hell of a fraternity of speed.

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