September 30, 2001, three short weeks after September 11, a patriotic, but somber crowd paid tribute to its hero’s (both on and off the track) before a sold out crowd in the Protection One 400 at Kansas Speedway, the inaugural NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at the facility.
As pre-race festivities unfolded, the word around the garages from drivers and officials was for everyone to have patience, both because this was the first Cup race at the facility and people were also still feeling the tragic effects of September 11, 2001. However, the call went unheeded, as several drivers, including John Andretti and Ricky Craven, would get together on the second turn of the first lap of the race.
Veteran driver and Missouri native, Rusty Wallace would lead the most laps (117) but would come up short after a pit road speeding penalty. Wallace would ultimately finish fourth. In the end, Jeff Gordon would finish 0.413-second ahead of rookie Ryan Newman. Gordon would use the win to help him win his fourth championship in 2001.
Gordon would lead a total of 53 laps but most of the race found him following NASCAR drivers Ricky Rudd, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and several others. Gordon was able pass Rudd, a 26 –year veteran, on lap 245 never to look back.
NASCAR team owner Rick Hendrick, who learned his way to Kansas Speedway’s Victory Lane earlier in the season when he joined his son, Ricky, in Victory Lane for his first career victory, would join Gordon in Victory Lane to celebrate the driver’s 58th career win and sixth of the season. In inaugural races, the win was Gordon’s third. “This is one of the best tracks we go to in the circuit,” Gordon exclaimed in Victory Lane. “And, this track is only going to get better.” Team Hendrick would lay claim to two victories that year at Kansas Speedway.
Newman, who was driving in just his sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race, finished a career high second.