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Johnson ties record with Brickyard 400 victory

The SportsXchange

INDIANAPOLIS -- Five-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson wrote yet another page in his personal history book, becoming the second Sprint Cup driver to win four races at the fabled Indianapolis Motor Speedway, capturing Sunday's Brickyard 400.

Or, to be precise, Johnson won the event with perhaps the longest name in sports history: the 19th annual Crown Royal Presents the Curtiss Shaver 400 at the Brickyard Powered by Big Machine Records.

"I really felt like today was going to be the day," Johnson said. "We went out there prepared to do 400 and it was just a matter of not messing up. There were a lot of opportunities to crash the car, multiple pit stops, pit strategy, there was a lot going on and myself, the team, everybody executed well and we got the job done."

Johnson joined Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon as the only two Cup drivers to win four times at the fabled Speedway, and the sixth driver overall to achieve such a feat. The others were Indy car drivers Al Unser Sr., A.J. Foyt and Rick Mears, all of whom won four, as well as five-time Formula 1 U.S. Grand Prix winner Michael Schumacher.

"It's time to kiss the bricks," Johnson said over his team radio shortly after crossing the finish line.

Upon pulling into victory lane for the third time this season and the 58th time in his career, Johnson displayed the familiar excitement and fire in his eyes that was evident not only in his three prior Brickyard wins, but also in his run to his five Cup titles. Might we see history repeating itself for a sixth title run in 2012?

"To come here and win is a huge honor," Johnson said. "And to win four - four wins! I'm at a loss for words. It was a total team effort. We put it on them today. It was nice."

Later, Johnson alluded to Mears, his boyhood hero, saying Sunday's achievement "is wild, and (tying Jeff) Gordon, as well. It's really wild for me to get my start in a Cup car for him (Gordon is co-owner of Johnson's race car).

"I can remember watching the (Indy) 500 on the couch with my grandfather, and I remember him telling me he came to Indy. It's nice to create my own family memories here."

Johnson now has four wins and one other top-10 finish in 11 career starts at IMS.

"The keen element is it was just a fantastic weekend all the way around," said crew chief Chad Knaus. "We had a well-deserved weekend off last weekend, everybody got a little time off and I think the whole team came in energized this weekend.

"We had the same car we won at Dover with; now it's 2-0, so it's a pretty special car for us. Everybody worked really hard. I couldn't be happier with what we did. It's awesome."

Coming back from the final off-weekend of the season, it was clear Johnson returned with a determination that few drivers could match. He dominated by leading the most laps, and he never was seriously threatened in the closing laps by runner-up Kyle Busch or third-place finisher Greg Biffle. He then celebrated by doing a monstrous burnout down the front stretch, much to the glee of the approximately 120,000 fans in attendance.

"Today's performance was awesome, especially on a stage like we had here at the Brickyard," Johnson said. "It would have been exciting for the fans to have a side-by-side finish, but as a racer, you just wear them out all day long and win by a large margin, that's what I want to do as a racer and we did that today."

Johnson's teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished fourth and Gordon was fifth, giving Hendrick Motorsports three top-5 finishers.

Sixth through 10th were Denny Hamlin, Ryan Newman, Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski and Tony Stewart.

Johnson looked so dominating that many observers quickly wondered whether this was a precursor to a sixth Sprint Cup championship. Johnson didn't disappoint when asked if he's in championship form.

"I am," Johnson said without hesitation. "I wish the Chase would start right now. I feel this team is ready, I'm ready, I learned a lot last year from my mistakes last year, I think the team has as well, and I believe I'm stronger and better today than I've ever been in my career and I'm looking forward to this Chase."

Cautions were few and far between for much of the first 95 laps, with just three single-car mishaps, affecting the cars of Travis Kvapil (tire), Clint Bowyer (spun) and Casey Mears (wreck).

But the two most important caution periods came within eight laps of each other in the final quarter of the race. The first was on Lap 126, when the leaders came onto pit road. Kyle Busch pulled in as the leader but lost four positions, while Biffle's pit crew did an outstanding job, getting him out first and allowing him to move up from third to first place. It also helped that Biffle took just two tires and fuel, rather than four tires, but crew chief Matt Puccia felt the gamble was worth it.

It looked like the right call for the first few laps, but eventually Biffle yielded the lead to Johnson.

On Lap 134, the cars of Joey Logano, Bobby Labonte, Trevor Bayne and reigning series points leader Matt Kenseth got together -- all while battling for 21st position -- ending the race for Kenseth and Labonte, while Bayne's damage was minor and Logano was able to get back on the track.

When action resumed on Lap 140, Johnson got a great jump on the restart. Biffle and Kyle Busch tried to keep it close, but to little avail. Johnson appeared as if his car was propelled by a rocket; when he passed over the start line one lap later, he already had built a 10-car lead.

With 10 laps remaining in the 160-lap event, Johnson had built a lead of nearly 2.5 seconds. From then on, Knaus instructed his driver to preserve his tires, run a smart race and don't be over-aggressive. That strategy proved to be the winning ticket as Johnson would not be denied his place in IMS history.

With his day ending early because of the crash, Kenseth lost his hold on first place in the Cup points standings. Earnhardt took over the top spot for the first time since 2004, leading Kenseth by 14 points. Biffle is 22 points back, followed by Johnson (-27) and Sunday's pole-sitter, Denny Hamlin (-64). Sixth through 10th are Kevin Harvick (-78), Martin Truex Jr. (-78), Tony Stewart (-79), Brad Keselowski (-82) and Clint Bowyer (-88).

Carl Edwards, who had high hopes after starting from the outside pole, suffered issues with a misfiring engine early in the race that -- while it was repaired fairly quickly -- still dropped him four laps behind the leaders, effectively ending any chance of rallying back to break what is now a 53-race winless streak dating to March 2011. Edwards finished 29th.

Meanwhile, Sam Hornish Jr., filling in for suspended driver A.J. Allmendinger, continued to state his case to be the No. 22 Penske Racing Dodge permanent driver, finishing 16th. Hornish was the runner-up behind teammate Keselowski in Saturday's Nationwide Series race at IMS.

Defending race winner Paul Menard was never much of a factor Sunday, finishing 14th. Kasey Kahne, the fourth Hendrick Motorsports driver that many considered a pre-race favorite to win, wound up 12th.
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