Jimmie, Genevieve Marie and Chandra Johnson kiss Indy's bricks - NASCAR photoEnlarge Photo
When Jimmie Johnson was growing up, Rick Mears was one of his heroes. Now he's joined INDYCAR legends Mears, A.J. Foyt, Al Unser, Formula One's Michael Schumacher (who has five wins at Indianapolis Motor Speedway) and NASCAR teammate Jeff Gordon as a four-time winner at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, earning his fourth trip to Victory Lane in the 19th annual Brickyard 400.
The five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion dominated the 160-lap race on Sunday, taking his No. 48 Lowe's/Kobalt Tools Chevrolet to a gaping 4.758-second margin of victory over Kyle Busch's No. 18 M&M's Toyota. He earned $430,461 for the win, helping Hendrick Motosports earn his eighth Brickyard victory and extending the team's event record. Johnson led 99 of the 160 laps, passing Greg Biffle's No. 16 Ford on the 132nd lap and then winning the race off pit road for the final time under caution two laps later.
"I knew second or third lap yesterday on the track that we were going to have an awfully good chance at winning," Johnson said. "That confidence that I had helped us through practice yesterday. There were a couple moments where maybe an adjustment didn't work and we lost a little pace, but I just had a feeling, and I just knew we were going to be fine." He credited his crew with "a solid performance."
Johnson held off Biffle on the subsequent final restart of the race on lap 141 and pulled away in the final 19 laps on the historic 2.5-mile oval. Biffle finished third while Johnson's teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr earned a career-best Brickyard finish of fourth in the No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevy, taking over the point lead from Matt Kenseth in the No. 17 Fifth Third Bank Ford, who failed to finish after being caught up in Joey Logano's accident and was classified 35th. Jeff Gordon was fifth in the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevy.
Johnson's biggest challenges over the first two-thirds of the race came from polesitter Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Toyota) and Saturday's NASCAR Nationwide Series winner Brad Keselowski in the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge Charger. Hamlin led the first 26 laps and finished sixth; Keselowski led three times for 22 laps but ended up ninth.
Indiana natives and teammates Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman finished in the top 10, with Newman seventh in the No. 39 Quicken Loans Chevy and Stewart bringing the Mobil 1/Office Depot Chevy home tenth. Martin Truex Jr continued his consistent season with an eighth place result in the No. 56 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota.
Dale Earnhardt Jr gets quick pit support - NASCAR photoEnlarge Photo
The domination by Johnson had those chasing him feeling absolute hopelessness. Kyle Busch even said that "Jimmie wasn't just in his own zip code, he was in his own country today." Every time Johnson has won the Brickyard race, he's followed it up with a championship run and with this result, "I feel that, from a performance standpoint we're as strong as we've ever been," Johnson acknowledged. "These are amazing race cars; we've made a lot of progress and I feel really good about the Chase; I'm ready for it to start."
The top 10 in points are Earnhardt Jr (731), Kenseth with 717, Biffle (709), Johnson with 704, Hamlin holding 667, Kevin Harvick in sixth with 653 and tied with Truex Jr, Tony Stewrt, Brad Keselowski and Clint Bowyer completing the group with 643 points. The series moves back to Pocono for its second run on the tri-oval this weekend.