News From Terre Haute, Indiana

July 30, 2012

JJ joins hero Mears among four-time winners of Brickyard

Lori Wood
Tribune-Star Correspondent

INDIANAPOLIS — Love him or hate him, there is no denying that Jimmie Johnson is a master at the Brickyard.

Johnson became a four-time winner Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the Curtiss Shaver 400 at the Brickyard. He joins teammate Jeff Gordon as the only stock-car driver with four Indianapolis victories.

At a track that demands excellence from all involved, Johnson was flawless. “Four wins. I am at a loss for words,” said Johnson. “It makes going around this track something special.”

Johnson grew up in California, where fellow native and four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Rick Mears was his hero. “I just hoped to come here and race, and I’m glad I have my own memories here,” Johnson said. He has made 10 starts at the Brickyard, making him the most successful NASCAR driver at Indianapolis.

Johnson’s crew chief Chad Knaus felt the weekend off prior to the Brickyard gave them a boost. “It was a fantastic weekend all around. The team came in very energized,” Knaus noted.

Johnson started sixth, but after taking his first lead from Brad Keselowski on lap 46, Johnson dominated, leading 99 of the 160 laps. He finished 4.7 seconds ahead of second-place Kyle Busch, who had his best finish ever in seven starts at the Brickyard.

“We had a really good car. We worked on it well, and I can’t say enough for [the team’s] effort,” said Busch. “If it weren’t for the 48 car, we probably would have been in our own zip code. Johnson was in another country.”

Greg Biffle came home in third, grateful for the finish. “We were just super-loose all day long, and that made it difficult,” he said. During the last round of pit stops, Biffle took just two tires, anticipating other teams would do the same. However most took four. “We took the two instead of the four, and that hurt us,” he admitted.

Biffle won the race out of the pits on lap 127, but Johnson passed him for the lead on two laps later. “It didn’t matter if he started behind you. In a few laps he was going to pass you,” Biffle said afterward.

After taking the lead, Johnson checked out. He stretched his lead over Busch by over five seconds with just two laps to go.

Johnson said that he knew his car was so good, he slept very well Saturday night. “As a racer, you just want to wear them out all day long. Our stuff was good. There is no doubt about it,” he added.

It looked like Hendricks Motorsport was going to come away with a 1-2 finish as Jeff Gordon made his way to second, but he lost four spots on the final pit stop.

“We had a car that we thought could compete for the win, but we could never get the track position, and when we did, it was so hard to pass. It was a solid performance, so I can’t complain,” Gordon said. Gordon finished fifth, putting all three of the Hendrick’s cars in the top 10.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. came in fourth after starting 20th. Earnhardt’s finish put him in the points lead for the first time since 2004.

“We got some good fortune there to start on the inside on those last few restarts. We had a fourth- to eighth-place car. The car was fast, and we worked real hard today,” Earnhardt said. He gained the points lead from Matt Kenseth, who was taken out by Joey Logano when Logano slid up the track in Turn 1 into Trevor Bayne, then slid back down to knock Kenseth  out of the race. Kenseth finished 35th.

“The farther back we got, the dumber the people drove,” Kenseth said.

Pole-sitter Denny Hamlin finished sixth.

Tony Stewart was the top mover of the race. He started in 28th place, but methodically made his way through the field, getting as far as ninth by lap 140. He finished in 10th, and teammate Ryan Newman came in seventh. “I was proud of the gains we made. It was a very inconsistent car [Saturday], and a very consistent car today,” said Stewart.

Martin Truex Jr. finished eighth, and Keselowski ninth. Keselowski led three times for 22 laps, but on a lap 101 restart he got loose in Turn 2, dropping him to sixth, and could never recover. “I want to be a legit contender to win the big races, and we were today. I just didn’t close it out,” Kezelowski said.

Mark Martin finished 11th, while Kasey Kahne, Kevin Harvick, Paul Menard and Clint Bowyer rounded out the top 15.

That caution was one of five for a total of just 25 laps.  Kenseth, Logano, Travis Kvapil and Casey Mears were all involved in incidents. The race had 17 lead changes from nine different drivers.

The last three times Johnson was won at Indianapolis, he was the series champion. Hendrick Motorsports has accounted for eight of the 19 Brickyard 400 victories.