Johnson’s Brickyard legacy set
Posted: Monday, July 30, 2012 7:00 pm
By CHRIS JENKINS
AP Sports Writer
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Startled awake by an earsplitting fireworks blast at 6 a.m., then annoyed by an early morning sound check session by the band that was playing the prerace show, Jimmie Johnson’s day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway didn’t exactly get off to a winning start.
It ended just fine, though — with Johnson making plenty of noise of his own.
Johnson stamped another exclamation point on his racing resume Sunday, a dominant drive that ended with his fourth career Brickyard 400 victory.
Afterward, Johnson was able to laugh about how annoyed he was by the aerial bomb blast that signaled to fans that the track’s gates were open — so annoyed, in fact, that he complained about it with a post on his Twitter account.
“I thought the motorhome next to me blew up,” Johnson said. “I was looking for a fire extinguisher to put out the fire. I guess getting up earlier than I wanted to let me prepare for the day and get ready.”
Johnson said he got over it quickly, and that he respects that the big boom is part of the track’s tradition.
And he’d better respect Indy tradition, because he’s now a big part of it.
With the win, Johnson joined Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon as the only NASCAR drivers to win four times at the historic 2.5-mile track, which has hosted stock car racing since 1994.
The victory also puts Johnson among some top names in the track’s record books.
Only three drivers have won four Indianapolis 500s: A.J. Foyt, Rick Mears and Al Unser Sr.
Formula One ace Michael Schumacher won the U.S. Grand Prix five times on Indy’s road course configuration.
“I’m able to join racing legends, my heroes and people I looked up to my entire life,” Johnson said. “To join them was a huge, huge honor.”
Johnson took it all in after the race, taking a victory lap in a pace car with his wife, his daughter and his crew guys all piled on board.
“You can actually soak in the moment, and look around and realize that you’re at the Brickyard — and won — was really special,” Johnson said.
And while his daughter, Genevieve, enjoyed playing with a microphone during Johnson’s post race news conference, they couldn’t convince her to join in as they completed the tradition of kneeling to kiss the yard of bricks at the start/finish line.
“She wasn’t into it,” Johnson joked.
Johnson also won the Brickyard in 2006, 2008 and 2009.
“They’re that good, and they deserve it,” Gordon said.
Kyle Busch finished second, followed by Greg Biffle, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Gordon. Pole sitter Denny Hamlin was sixth.
Nobody had a car capable of challenging Johnson, who led 99 of 160 laps.
“It didn’t really matter if you were in front of him or not, he was going to pass you in about four or five laps anyway,” Biffle said. “His car was just really, really good.”
Team owner Rick Hendrick said the win was a testament to the combined talents of Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus.
“I think the equipment is so equal today, but you’ve got to look at the talent Jimmie has and the talent Chad has and the pit crew and everything else, the feedback, the communications,” Hendrick said. “I’ve never seen a guy that could drive a car as out of control and make it look in control as Jimmie can.”
And as the No. 48 team celebrated a victory, another Hendrick driver solidified his surprising status as a Sprint Cup championship front-runner.
With his fourth-place run Sunday, Earnhardt Jr. took over the points lead — 14 points ahead of Matt Kenseth, whose day ended early in a crash with Joey Logano.
“We’ve persevered all year, and we’ve done good work all year,” Earnhardt said. “I think it is a bit of a confidence booster, something I’m proud of because we’ve worked hard all year and we’ve got something to show for it.”
Earnhardt took the points lead at the expense of Kenseth, whose car was banged-up and smoldering after he tangled with Logano.
“It is crazy there at the end,” Kenseth said. “You could see the wreck happening and I was just hoping I wasn’t going to be in it.”
It also was a rough day for Carl Edwards, whose engine began losing power only a handful of laps into the race.
In his first race with new crew chief Chad Norris, Edwards qualified second but began dropping in the field after an apparent engine malfunction. Edwards finished 29th, left Indianapolis 12th in the points and is in danger of missing NASCAR’s season-ending Chase.
“We have to take chances,” Edwards said. “We have to go race. We can do that, we can race like that. It will actually be a big relief in a way because there is no other choice. We just go race for wins. I wouldn’t bet against us. We can do it.”
Published in The Messenger 7.30.12