If Jimmie Johnson wants to finally capture his first Nextel Cup championship, winning at Indianapolis Motor Speedway was a step in the right direction. Johnson pulled off a gritty win at the Brickyard on Sunday, battling back from an early tire problem to take the lead, only to see it evaporate when a late debris caution bunched up the field. It dropped him from first to eighth and forced him to slice his way to the front in the final 14 laps.
But he did it with ease and pulled away for his second major victory of the season. Johnson won the season-opening Daytona 500, the only event that trumps Indianapolis in prestige. Now he’ll have to see if he can translate it into a championship. The winner of the Brickyard automatically becomes the favorite to win the title, and five of the past eight went on to do it.
Johnson will now give it a try in his constant pursuit of an elusive first championship.
The perpetual points leader has never been able to put together a full season, and his swoon typically begins right around the Brickyard. He wrecked here and lost his points lead last season to race winner Tony Stewart, who parlayed the victory into his second championship while Johnson faded all the way back to fifth.
Matt Kenseth, who has been sitting in second behind Johnson the past nine weeks, finished second and is 107 points out of the lead. Kevin Harvick was third and Clint Bowyer, his rookie teammate at Richard Childress Racing, was fourth.
Mark Martin finished fifth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. stole a sixth-place finish by not pitting on the final caution to salvage a horrible day and reclaim the 10th spot in the Chase for the championship standings.
Kyle Busch was seventh, followed by Carl Edwards, Stewart and Kurt Busch.
Jeff Burton, who started from the pole and led a race-high 87 laps, finished a disappointing 12th after fading late.
Jeff Gordon, looking to race his way into the record books, never got the chance. He broke the sway bar on his Chevrolet just eight laps into the race and had to stop to have the part replaced. The repair work dropped him three laps off the pace, and even though he worked his way back onto the lead lap he wound up 16th. The poor day prevented him from tying two distinguished marks–joining Formula One superstar Michael Schumacher as the only five-time winners in Indy history, and the late Dale Earnhardt’s mark of 76 Cup wins.
Fin, St, Car, Driver, Make, Sponsor, Pts/Bonus, Laps
1 5 #48 Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet Lowe’s 185/5 160
2 20 #17 Matt Kenseth Ford DEWALT 175/5 160
3 10 #29 Kevin Harvick Chevrolet Reese’s 170/5 160
4 2 #07 Clint Bowyer * Chevrolet Jack Daniel’s 160/0 160
5 19 #6 Mark Martin Ford AAA Insurance 155/0 160
6 31 #8 Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevrolet Budweiser 150/0 160
7 37 #5 Kyle Busch Chevrolet Kellogg’s/Delphi 151/5 160
8 22 #99 Carl Edwards Ford Office Depot “Back to School” 142/0 160
9 32 #20 Tony Stewart Chevrolet The Home Depot 138/0 160
10 3 #2 Kurt Busch Dodge Miller Lite 134/0 160
11 13 #96 Tony Raines Chevrolet DLP HDTV 130/0 160
12 1 #31 Jeff Burton Chevrolet Cingular Wireless 137/10 160
13 14 #11 Denny Hamlin * Chevrolet FedEx Express 124/0 160
14 11 #21 Ken Schrader Ford Little Debbie 121/0 160
15 8 #12 Ryan Newman Dodge ALLTEL Fastap 118/0 160
16 16 #24 Jeff Gordon Chevrolet DuPont Hot Hues 115/0 160
17 30 #25 Brian Vickers Chevrolet GMAC 117/5 160
18 24 #40 David Stremme * Dodge Coors Light 109/0 160
19 23 #1 Martin Truex Jr. * Chevrolet Bass Pro Shops/Tracker 106/0 160
20 34 #4 Scott Wimmer Chevrolet Lucas Oil/Forward Air 103/0 160
21 12 #10 Scott Riggs Dodge Stanley Tools/Valvoline 100/0 160
22 26 #100 Bill Elliott Chevrolet Burger King 97/0 160
23 39 #42 Casey Mears Dodge Texaco/Havoline 94/0 160
24 21 #01 Joe Nemechek Chevrolet U.S. Army 96/5 160
25 18 #26 Jamie McMurray Ford Crown Royal 88/0 160
26 40 #45 Kyle Petty Dodge Tire Kingdom 85/0 160
27 36 #32 Travis Kvapil Chevrolet Tide-Downy 82/0 160
28 35 #88 Dale Jarrett Ford UPS 79/0 160
29 41 #41 Reed Sorenson * Dodge Target 76/0 160
30 42 #22 Dave Blaney Dodge Caterpillar/Cat Financial 73/0 160
31 33 #14 Sterling Marlin Chevrolet Waste Management 70/0 160
32 28 #178 Kenny Wallace Chevrolet Furniture Row Racing 72/5 160
33 7 #16 Greg Biffle Ford National Guard 64/0 160
34 6 #18 J.J. Yeley * Chevrolet Imitrex/GSK 61/0 160
35 4 #9 Kasey Kahne Dodge Dodge Dealers/UAW 63/5 159
36 9 #7 Robby Gordon Chevrolet Menards/Johns Manville 55/0 159
37 17 #37 Mike Skinner Dodge Checkers/Rally’s 52/0 159
38 29 #66 Jeff Green Chevrolet Inta Juice 49/0 159
39 25 #34 Chad Chaffin Dodge Race El Paso 46/0 158
40 38 #43 Bobby Labonte Dodge Totino’s MEGA Pizza Rolls 43/0 135
41 15 #19 Jeremy Mayfield Dodge Dodge Dealers/UAW 40/0 82
42 43 #160 Boris Said Ford SOBE – No Fear 37/0 20
43 27 #38 Elliott Sadler Ford Snickers 34/0 3
“I think I passed 60 cars or more today. I was pretty happy with it. It shows us ninth on the board, but I’m pretty sure we’ll get eighth out of this. But I’m just really, really proud of this Home Depot team. We had an air gun break and versus taking a chance, Zippy brought us back in and made sure that the lugs were tight. We went to the back and battled our way back into the top 10, so I’m pretty happy with this Home Depot team.” “We got ourselves in the top-10 pretty early there in the race, just had an airgun break there on a pit stop, so rather than take a chance that the wheel wasn’t torqued as high as it needed to be, we came in and made sure it was good and battled our way back toward the front. “This is not how we wanted this day to go by any means, but to have us get back into the top-10, it was an awesome day for us. “It was definitely a long day, but I am just so proud of the awesome job my Home Depot team did. I am really proud of my crew chief, if he doesn’t think I am 100% safe, he made come back in to make sure I was. And were able to rally back, just an awesome day. “It is kind of hard to pass on when you get guys in a two-wide situation, a lot of times you can get a really big run and go three-wide to get by. That’s about the only time we had to take any chances. For the most part, we had a lot of fun today.
DALE EARNHARDT JR:
THAT CALL AT THE END SEEMED TO BE EXCELLENT: “Well, I’d like to have a better car so we don’t have to make those kinds of calls. We’ve got a lot of talent on our team. We put it to good use on pits. We need to do better and get better cars. We can’t make the Chase with 30th place race cars. We took a chance and make it work. But we just got lucky. We’ve got to thank the Lord today.” FROM WHAT IT WOULD HAVE BEEN, THAT MAY HAVE SAVED YOU RIGHT THERE: “Yeah, but I’d sure rather have it be in more comfortable circumstances, you know what I mean? I thank my fans for all the support this weekend and I’m just glad we could give them something to be happy about. “We took a risk at the end, it paid off. We had too, we didn’t have a good car all day and the car wasn’t very fast and then started so deep in the field back in 30th or something. But we took a the risk at the end and it paid off for us. We were really lucky. Normally it doesn’t work out too well in our favor. When we say our prayers tonight, we will thank the Lord for this one because we got really lucky. Finishing sixth has to help us some in the points especially at a place like this where we haven’t had a good car for a while and after the last two weeks, we lucked out and we will take whatever we can get.”
“When you get three laps down, it is hard to ever come back. It is hard to ever come back. We had a great car. We just couldn’t get any track position. I think we ended up 16th but that was a hard fought spot to get. I really applaud the team for the comeback, it shows what a championship team we are but we can’t afford to have these kinds of problems. Frustrating, to have a car as good as ours and not be able to race up front for the lead or the top positions. We just got so far behind at the beginning. I guess we are just fortunate that we got back on the lead lap. As far as points, Junior (Dale Earnhardt, Jr.) lucked out there big time at the end with the strategy there at the end, it really paid off for him. He was horrible all day. That is going to hurt us as well as the fact that we weren’t up there where we needed to because of the problems we had really hurt us. Obviously these next two weeks are going to be real critical for us. I can’t be too disappointed, we could have been a heck of a lot worse than 16th.”
“The Jack Daniels Chevrolet had a good day. We were fast all day long. That’s all I had. I was driving the wheels off of it.”
“The Reese’s Chevrolet was good all day. We just got back there a little bit and took four tires. That was the right choice, but it just took a little bit and Jimmie (Johnson) got away from us.”
“We were pretty good the first half of the race, then we started getting tight and by the end of the race, we were pathetic. It just got away from us. I am not really sure why or how, we just missed something. We were really good, then we weren’t. We kept losing track position because we weren’t good, we weren’t good because we were too tight. Of course it got tighter and tighter because we were around other cars, it just magnified itself. It is a disappointing finish, we just have to get on and try to figure out what happened.”
“That was a good day for us. We had good stops all day long and the car kept getting better and better. Philippe (Lopez, crew chief) did a great job on the adjustments. The track came to us. We put two (tires) on there at the end, and I didn’t think it would work. But, once we got by the 31 car (Jeff Burton), I thought we had something. I was running pretty hard, and I thought I might be able to catch the 11 (Denny Hamlin), but I was starting to get a little hard on the brakes. I figured we didn’t need to crash if we’d come this far. At the end Kasey (Kahne) got in the wall. I don’t know what I ran over, but it was huge. It torn the whole underside of the car up.”
We had a top 25 car today and that last caution hurt us because they were wrecking in front of me and I had to stop on the track to miss it. Several cars behind me were carrying a lot of momentum and were able to pass me. I wish NASCAR would have thrown the caution as soon as those cars were sliding across the track so that we would have be able to keep our position. I had nowhere to go. This was by far the best car I have had all season. The guys in the pits were perfect. They got me positions every time. The biggest challenge for us came after we made a spring rubber adjustment during the halfway mark. It really loosened up the car at the start of each run and I could not be as aggressive as the guys that were around us but the longer the run went, it got better for us. But like I said, this was the best car we had all season and it was an awesome team effort. It’s just too bad the wreck happened where and when it did.
JEFF GREEN: “(The car) was a handful. We just didn’t have overall grip, no matter what we tried. We threw some pretty drastic changes at the car. It would get a little better for awhile, but it was never where we wanted it. It’s been frustrating for everyone on the team these past few weeks.”
J.J. YELEY: WHAT HAPPENED ON THE LAST RESTART? “We had guys that took two (tires) and others who took four (tires) and looked like we had the 32 (Kvapil) car split going in to the short chute and as we went into turn three Kasey (Kahne) went to the outside of me and didn’t quite clear the 32 in time. Kasey had a run on the outside but I don’t know if he was going to try to split me and the 32, but in order to do that you have to have someone cleared and he turned down and hit me in the right front with his door and got me sideways into the fence and which pointed me back in the right direction. The car was so damaged in the back so it hurt the rear downforce and made the car really loose.” “It just killed a perfect day. You run in the top-10, top-11 all day long and then you have someone get impatient with 12 laps to go and cost everyone a good day and it’s stupid. It’s probably why he’s not going to make the chase.” WERE YOU PLEASED WITH THE CAR MOST OF THE DAY? “Our second run we made some adjustments on the Imitrex car and we were able to hang on to 11th and 12th place position on the race track. The car drove very well. We weren’t really good at the start of the run but the longer we ran the better the car was. On old tires we were really fast. We were easily a top seven or top eight car, which has been our goal the past five to10 races. We’ve been trying to be consistent and run top 10′s and get a good handle on things and eventually we’ll be in the top five and start to win races. We were accomplishing most of the goals today, but unfortunately because of someone’s impatience it cost us a really good finish.”