Byline: JODY ROYCE email@example.com
INDIANAPOLIS -- When Jimmie Johnson has a problem, his race team finds a way to get him to the front, especially in the big-money events.
Johnson overcame a cut tire and rallied from the back of the pack to win the Allstate 400 at The Brickyard.
The 30-year-old California driver has had a dream season when it has come to NASCAR's marquee events. Sunday's race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with more than 250,000 in attendance, was no different, even with a purse of over $9.3 million.
Johnson opened the season by winning the Daytona 500 without crew chief Chad Knaus, who had been suspended. Then he won the Nextel All-Star Challenge. So far he has earned more than $6.4 million through 21 races.
In the past, Johnson had had no luck at the famed Brickyard. His best finish was ninth in his first race here in 2002.
He lost an engine two years ago. Last year a vicious crash cost him the points lead.
"I had doubted my ability to get around this track," Johnson said. "We just have not been competitive. It's been a disaster for us."
Johnson had the tire issue on lap 39. It brought out a caution flag. It appeared as if IMS would do him in one more time.
But he caught a break. At the time NASCAR had called for a competition yellow to check for tire wear, which slowed the whole field.
"I couldn't turn the car onto the access road, and I could see chunks (of rubber) flying," Johnson said. "It was a stressful 2 1/2-mile trip back around to get four fresh tires."
Johnson rejoined the race in 39th place, but worked his way back to the lead by lap 128. Then a caution came out for debris in the third turn with 19 laps to go.
"I knew we had a fast race car," Johnson said after his fourth win of the season. "We had to come through traffic, and that made it harder on the tires."
Most of the leaders, including Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Kevin Harvick, came in for four tires. On the final restart, Johnson restarted eighth.
The front four, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ryan Newman and Joe Nemechek, stayed out. Rookies Denny Hamlin and Clint Bowyer elected to take two tires on the final stop. Kenseth, thanks to crew chief Robbie Reiser and his pit crew, won the race off pit road with 16 laps to go and was seventh.
"I'm glad I don't have to make the call," said Rick Hendrick, Johnson's car owner. "I'll tell Chad (today) if he should have taken two or four. You see guys gamble and we had to with the 5 car (Busch) and it paid off."
Johnson beat Kenseth on the restart with 14 laps left and worked his way to third behind Hendrick teammate Busch and Earnhardt with 10 laps to go.
"I just got three wide on the bottom and got slowed up," Kenseth said.
Johnson followed Earnhardt past Busch in turn two, then Johnson passed Earnhardt in turn four to take the lead for good.
"He did a heck of a job getting back to the front," Hendrick said. "He had a flat tire and had to go to the back. He drove an unbelieveable race."
Johnson was nearly two seconds clear of Kenseth with a lap to go before two separate crashes ended the race. Richard Childress Racing teammates Kevin Harvick and Bowyer were third and fourth, with Mark Martin completing the top five.
The last-lap crash jumbled the points standings, save for the top two. After his 22nd career Nextel Cup series win, Johnson leads Kenseth by 107 points.
"Robbie and the guys did a great job," Kenseth said. "I feel bad because they put me in a position to win and I couldn't figure out how to get it done."
Busch finished seventh. He is tied for fourth with Harvick in the points, 16 behind Burton.
The biggest casualty was Kasey Kahne, who many thought had the best chance to win after coming in second in last year's event. It came on the last lap as he was batting Tony Stewart for a top-10 position.
Off the third turn, Kahne's Dodge went nose first into the wall in the north chute. He ended up 36th and fell from seventh to 11th in the points, 37 behind Earnhardt.
"I just tried staying off Tony and ran into the wall," a stunned Kahne said. "We battled everything all day trying to get a top 10 and didn't make it back."
Indiana driver Tony Raines ran over the debris from Kahne's crash and went airborne. Remarkably, he managed to finish the race.
"He got loose and overcorrected," Raines said after finishing 11th. "Whatever fell out of his car was the size of a beer cooler. I was surprised the car even drove back. I think the bottom was all torn up."
The first 40 laps were caution filled, and that included a competition yellow that came out on lap 15 to check tires.
It looked like polesitter Jeff Burton would be in control of the race. He lost the lead to Harvick on lap 70, then regained it from his teammate with Richard Childress Racing a lap later, then Harvick claimed it on lap 73.
ASSOCIATED PRESS / TOM STRATTMAN
Taking the flag
Jimmie Johnson smokes his tires after coming from 39th place following a pit stop to win the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis on Sunday.
ASSOCIATED PRESS / DARRON CUMMINGS
Jimmie Johnson has a good lead in the NEXTEL Cup Series after Sunday's win.
ASSOCIATED PRESS / BOB CRAIG
Kasey Kahne's Dodge slams into the wall head-on in Turn 3 late on the last lap of the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard on Sunday. Kahne finished 36th and dropped to 11th in the Chase standings.