Monday August 07, 2006
Johnson Finally Conquers Brickyard
FLAT TIRE CAN'T PREVENT INDY WIN
By TONY FABRIZIO
The Tampa Tribune
INDIANAPOLIS - All that's left for Jimmie Johnson to complete the perfect season is the Nextel Cup championship.
He won the Daytona 500. He took home the $1 million winner's check at the all-star race. And Sunday, in perhaps his most telling accomplishment yet, the Nextel Cup points leader overcame an early flat tire and powered to victory in the 13th Allstate 400 at the Brickyard.
"This track has been an emotional disaster for us," Johnson said after giving team owner Rick Hendrick his fifth Brickyard victory. "From a blown engine to hitting the wall to just running bad, whatever it is, we've left here and it has taken the wind out of our sails. So to get over this hurdle, I'm just so proud of what we've done."
Johnson finished in the top 15 in only one of his previous four Brickyards. In 2004, he followed a 36th-place finish with two more bad races, gave up his points lead and wound up second to Kurt Busch for the championship. Last year, he blew a tire and crashed, finished 38th, and lost the points lead to Tony Stewart.
Winning the Brickyard is a positive sign. Five of the past eight winners have gone on to win the championship, including Stewart last year.
"It's way too early to say if we have broken the pattern, but this is a great start," said Johnson, who became only the second driver to win the Daytona 500 and Brickyard in the same year, joining Dale Jarrett (1996). "It's nice to speculate and to take this as team morale, but there's too much racing left."
Early on, the race was shaping up as a showdown between Richard Childress Racing teammates Jeff Burton and Kevin Harvick. Burton started on the pole and dominated, leading 87 of the first 109 laps.
Harvick, after dominating Saturday night's Busch Series race at nearby O'Reilly Raceway Park, led twice for 18 laps.
But Burton faded as the race went on, his car's handling going away in long runs, and Harvick was strong enough only to hold onto third, finishing behind Matt Kenseth.
Said Burton, "We started getting tight, and by the end of the race, we were pathetic. We may get home and find out that a spring collapsed or something."
Tire wear was a concern entering the race because of problems experienced in Saturday's practice; for one, Busch blew a tire and crashed. As a precaution, NASCAR mandated "competition" caution flags on Laps 15 and 40 to check tire wear.
The second mandated caution was a lap away when Johnson's left-front tire deflated and began to shred.
"The tire started coming apart, and I thought it destroyed the fender and took us out of contention," Johnson said.
Damage was minimal, though. The mishap and a subsequent penalty for pitting before pit road was open dropped Johnson to 38th, but he did not lose a lap.
"From then through the next two pit stops, I took it kind of easy, trying to get through traffic," Johnson said. "I was afraid of having another issue with that left-front tire. We made some changes and got the tire to where it would survive the whole run.
"After two good runs without Chad [crew chief Knaus] being nervous over the radio telling me about the left front, I got aggressive and drove the heck out of the car."
The flat tire wasn't the only setback for Johnson and Knaus. They had a brief fire in their pit and, just before the start of the race, discovered dead two-way radio batteries.
But on Lap 117 of 160, Johnson showed up in the front as if arriving to a party late and drove by Kenseth for the lead.
There was still work to be done, though. A caution flag for debris with 19 laps to go bunched the field and allowed some drivers to gain track position by taking only two new tires.
Johnson took four fresh tires and lined up eighth for the restart with 14 laps remaining, but he had little trouble working his way back to the front. He made the winning pass on Kyle Busch with 11 laps remaining.
"The 48 [Johnson] came out of nowhere and blew by us all and won the race," said Kenseth, who remained second in the standings, 107 points back. "He just got through traffic better than us. He just did a better job of being in the right place getting through those cars."
The race ended under caution because of a last-lap crash by Kasey Kahne. Johnson stopped his car at the start-finish line, took the checkered flag, then climbed back in and unleashed a burnout across the famed "yard of bricks" that engulfed the grandstands in smoke.
The NASCAR tradition of the winning team "kissing the bricks" would come later.
In Victory Lane, Johnson's lower lip quivered as he spoke.
"I've watched so many races here as a kid growing [up]," he said. "I thought I would come here in an Indy car. I drove in the off-road ranks and idolized Rick Mears, Roger Mears, Robby Gordon, and those guys all came out of off-road racing to Indy car.
"I hoped to win here in an Indy car. I can't believe I'm here in a stock car in NASCAR winning the biggest race."
(CHART) NEXTEL CUP ALLSTATE 400 AT THE BRICKYARD
At Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Pl. (Start) Driver Car make Laps Earnings
1. (5) Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet 160 $452,861
2. (20) Matt Kenseth Ford 160 $361,141
3. (10) Kevin Harvick Chevrolet 160 $327,636
4. (2) Clint Bowyer Chevrolet 160 $271,900
5. (19) Mark Martin Ford 160 $239,150
6. (31) Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevrolet 160 $230,516
7. (37) Kyle Busch Chevrolet 160 $209,825
8. (32) Tony Stewart Chevrolet 160 $237,111
9. (22) Carl Edwards Ford 160 $202,975
10. (14) Denny Hamlin Chevrolet 160 $177,225
11. (13) Tony Raines Chevrolet 160 $168,825
12. (3) Kurt Busch Dodge 160 $211,933
13. (8) Ryan Newman Dodge 160 $198,308
14. (11) Ken Schrader Ford 160 $184,264
15. (1) Jeff Burton Chevrolet 160 $243,995
16. (16) Jeff Gordon Chevrolet 160 $198,236
17. (30) Brian Vickers Chevrolet 160 $161,675
18. (24) David Stremme Dodge 160 $179,033
19. (23) Martin Truex Jr. Chevrolet 160 $174,733
20. (34) Scott Wimmer Chevrolet 160 $152,275
21. (12) Scott Riggs Dodge 160 $148,350
22. (26) Bill Elliott Chevrolet 160 $143,850
23. (39) Casey Mears Dodge 160 $181,308
24. (21) Joe Nemechek Chevrolet 160 $171,845
25. (36) Travis Kvapil Chevrolet 160 $158,558
26. (18) Jamie McMurray Ford 160 $186,575
27. (40) Kyle Petty Dodge 160 $161,508
28. (35) Dale Jarrett Ford 160 $172,825
29. (42) Dave Blaney Dodge 160 $149,797
30. (41) Reed Sorenson Dodge 160 $147,725
31. (33) Sterling Marlin Chevrolet 160 $136,225
32. (28) Kenny Wallace Chevrolet 160 $136,125
33. (7) Greg Biffle Ford 160 $156,625
34. (6) J.J. Yeley Chevrolet 160 $170,500
35. (9) Robby Gordon Chevrolet 160 $134,925
36. (4) Kasey Kahne Dodge 159 $173,689
37. (17) Mike Skinner Dodge 159 $134,750
38. (29) Jeff Green Chevrolet 159 $142,625
39. (25) Chad Chaffin Dodge 158 $134,525
40. (38) Bobby Labonte Dodge 135 $171,386
41. (15) Jeremy Mayfield Dodge 82 $164,316
42. (43) Boris Said Ford 19 $134,225
43. (27) Elliott Sadler Ford 3 $162,383
Time of race: 2 hours, 54 minutes, 57 seconds. Margin of victory:
Under caution. Winners average speed: 137.182 mph. Caution flags: 8 for
24 laps. Lead changes: 18 among nine drivers.
Lap leaders: J. Burton 1-6; K. Kahne 7; J. Burton 8-41; K. Wallace 42;
J. Burton 43-58; B. Vickers 59-60; J. Burton 61-69; K. Harvick 70; J.
Burton 71-72; K. Harvick 73-89; J. Burton 90-109; M. Kenseth 110-116; J.
Johnson 117-123; M. Kenseth 124-125; Kyle Busch 126; J. Nemechek
127; J. Johnson 128-143; Kyle Busch 144-150; J. Johnson 151-160.
(CHART) POINTS LEADERS
Unofficial Nextel Cup standings after Sunday's Allstate 400 at the Brickyardat Indianapolis Motor Speedway:
Driver Car Pts.
1. Jimmie Johnson Chevy 3,124
2. Matt Kenseth Ford -107
3. Jeff Burton Chevy -366
4. Kevin Harvick Chevy -391
4. Kyle Busch Chevy -391
6. Mark Martin Ford -412
7. Denny Hamlin Chevy -486
8. Jeff Gordon Chevy -497
9. Tony Stewart Chevy -509
10. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevy -512
11. Kasey Kahne Dodge -546
12. Greg Biffle Ford -627
13. Kurt Busch Dodge -679
14. Carl Edwards Ford -740
15. Casey Mears Dodge -845
Reporter Tony Fabrizio can be reached at (813) 259-7794 or email@example.com.
Photo credit: The Associated Press
Photo: After a string of bad fortune at Indianapolis in recent years, Jimmie Johnson hopes Sunday's victory at the Brickyard leads to bigger and better things - like the Nextel Cup points championship.
Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo: Jimmie Johnson, left, and car owner Rick Hendrick kiss the bricks after winning Sunday's Allstate 400 at the Brickyard.
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