SPEEDWAY, Ind. – Of all the dominating racing performances that have been staged at the historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway in its 103 years of existence, few have been as impressive as Jimmie Johnson’s dominance in Sunday’s Crown Royal presents the Curtiss Shaver 400 at the Brickyard.
The five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion won his fourth Brickyard 400 in decisive fashion, leading five times for 99 of the 160 laps. He joined Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon as the only four-time winners of the Brickyard 400.
Once Johnson’s Chevrolet was out front, it was a futile effort by any other driver in the field to get close to it, let alone pass him. Of the only two drivers that led more than four laps in the race, Denny Hamlin’s 27 laps led was aided by starting on the pole and leading the first 26 laps of the race.
Brad Keselowski’s Dodge led three times for 22 laps after he pitted out of sequence to use a different fuel strategy than the other contenders in the race.
Johnson’s laps led came in huge chunks including 26 laps in front from Lap 46-71, 25 laps led from Lap 101 to 125 and the final 29 laps of the race. The only times he wasn’t in front after leading for the first time was during green flag pit stop sequences.
By winning the Brickyard 400 for the fourth time, Johnson is on pace to contend for a sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship.
“I wish the Chase started right now,” Johnson said.
While Johnson refused to wait on any other driver in the field in Sunday’s race at Indianapolis he will have to be patient in that quest because the Chase doesn’t begin until the Geico 400 at Chicagoland Speedway on September 16.
It was Johnson’s third victory of the season which ties him with Tony Stewart and Brad Keselowski for most wins this season and moved him up to fourth in the points. If all things remain the same, Johnson would start the Chase with the top seed because he is higher in the points than Stewart (eighth) and Keselowski (ninth).
If that wasn’t enough for Hendrick Motorsports to celebrate, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is the Sprint Cup points leader after finishing fourth combined with Matt Kenseth crashing out of the contest after 132 laps. Ironically, Kenseth was taken out after Joe Gibbs Racing’s Joey Logano spun in turn one on lap 134. Ironically, Kenseth is expected to replace Logano and JGR next season.
Earnhardt is the Sprint Cup points leader for the first time since Sept. 19, 2004 following the New Hampshire race. He leads Kenseth by 14 points heading to next Sunday’s race at Pocono.
“I’m proud of that because it says a lot about our body of work,” Earnhardt said. “All season of long we’ve been working hard and finishing well. That is symbolic of how well we’ve done. I’m proud of that. I have felt that way about our position in points all season long. We need to win more races. If we want to win the championship, we have to. I imagine we can win a couple races in Chase. I don’t know if finishing fourth or fifth is going to do it. We’ll just have to see. We’d like to step it up just a little bit more.”
Johnson whipped the field, defeating Kyle Busch’s Toyota by a whopping 4.758 seconds. He won the race with an average speed of 137.680 miles per hour in a contest slowed by five caution periods 25 laps.
Now the big question is can anyone slow down Johnson in this year’s “Chase for the Championship?”
“If it wasn’t for the 48, we were probably in our zip code on the rest of the field, but Jimmie Johnson was in his own country today, so we just couldn’t keep up with him,” Busch said. “That was the best we had, and it seemed like that was the best anybody had.”
The only thing that upstaged Johnson on Sunday was his two-year-old daughter, Genevieve, who nearly took over the early moments of the winner’s interview.
“Well, the way I saw it, the 11 (Hamlin) had great pace at the start of the race and I couldn’t get up there and challenge him at the start of the race,” Johnson said. “I don’t know what happened to him. I didn’t see him the rest of the day. The 2 (Keselowski) had great pace, even on older tires, because of the sequence deal. He held me off and Jeff Gordon off for a long time. I feel like I had pace on Jeff at the start of a run, but at the end of a run he’d kind of creep back up to us. I didn’t see the 18 (Busch) all day or the 16 (Greg Biffle), I just knew that the 2, the 48 and the 24 (Jeff Gordon) were gone, and then there was another group.
“So at the end, I think our strength looked more than it was because the 24 and the 2 weren’t around. I don’t know what happened to the 24 track position wise, but I think if either one of those would have been up there with us and had track position at the end, we would have had one heck of a race on our hands.”
Easier said than done.
So with Johnson’s victory, the Chad Knaus-led crew is hitting its stride at just the right time. There are six races left in the “Race to the Chase” and Johnson is already assured of the top spot at the moment. A few more wins in August can really boost the momentum which could mean another title is in Johnson’s future.
“I feel that from a performance standpoint, we’re as strong as we’ve ever been,” Johnson said. “We’ve had issues late in a race that’s cost us track position for a variety of reasons, and that’s the part that we need to make sure is buttoned up before the Chase starts and carry that through the Chase. But from a performance standpoint, these are amazing race cars. We’ve made a lot of progress through the off‑season and then getting started this year. I feel really good about the Chase.
“I’m ready for it to start.”
Greg Biffle’s Ford was third followed by Earnhardt’s Chevrolet with Gordon’s Chevrolet rounding out the top five.
Pole-winner Hamlin’s Toyota finished sixth.
Ironically, the car that Johnson drove was actually the same Chevrolet he drove to victory at Dover earlier this year. Now the high-banked, concrete surface at Dover is pretty dissimilar to the flat, four-cornered asphalt-surface at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway but Knaus believed it was a winning car for the Brickyard.
That allowed Johnson to add his name to the legendary list of drivers that have four or more victories at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway including A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears – all with four each in the Indianapolis 500; Michael Schumacher with five times in the United States Grand Prix Formula One race; and Gordon’s four in the Brickyard 400.
While those three events are completely different racing contests and should never be compared in terms of victories, it simply underlines the legendary status that Johnson has attained.
“It’s a huge moment, and I really enjoyed the lap around in the race car,” said Johnson, who as a youngster dreamed of winning the Indianapolis 500. “The fans were in the stands going nuts and cheering. The lap in the Camaro around the racetrack with the crew guys and my family and everybody, those moments really help soak it in. It’s usually so busy after a race win, but what happens here and how you can actually soak in the moment and look around and realize that you’re at the Brickyard and you’ve won is really special.
“This fourth, I’m able to join racing legends, my heroes, people I’ve looked up to my entire life, so to join them is a huge, huge honor. I know how much it means to Rick, and thankful for all of his support and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports, and thankful to Chad and my guys. I knew second or third lap yesterday on the track that we were going to have an awfully good chance at winning. 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. We qualified well and then went out there today and put it on them, so solid performance.”
Johnson’s performance was solid, alright – solid as a Brick. It etched his name alongside the greatest names that have ever won at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
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