Saturday, May 26, 2018
Sports

Jimmie Johnson wins fourth Brickyard 400, tying Sprint Cup Indy record

INDIANAPOLIS — Jimmie Johnson fondly recalls watching the Indianapolis 500 as a kid in California, rearranging the couch cushions so he could pretend he was sitting in a race car.

Johnson's grandfather was an A.J. Foyt fan. Johnson liked fellow Californian Rick Mears.

And now Johnson can be mentioned in the same breath as those two and other Indy greats.

Johnson stamped another exclamation point on his racing resume Sunday, a dominant drive ending with his fourth career Brickyard 400 victory.

"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."

He and teammate Jeff Gordon of Hendrick Motorsports are the only NASCAR drivers to win four times at the historic 2½-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: Foyt, Mears and Al Unser Sr. Formula One ace Michael Schumacher won the U.S. Grand Prix five times on Indy's road course.

Johnson also won the Brickyard in 2006, 2008 and 2009.

"They're that good, and they deserve it," Gordon said.

Kyle Busch was second, followed by Greg Biffle, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Gordon. Pole-sitter Denny Hamlin was sixth. Matt Kenseth, who came in with the Sprint Cup points lead, was taken out in a late collision with Joey Logano and finished 35th.

Earnhardt, another Hendrick driver, took over the Cup points lead, 14 ahead of Kenseth.

"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."

But Johnson's big moment was seen by another disappointing crowd.

After huge NASCAR turnouts at Indy for more than a decade, attendance has sagged in recent years. The front-stretch stands were fairly full but there were sparse crowds in the turns. The track estimated attendance at 125,000, though media estimates were lower.

Jeff Burton's flat tire brought out a caution with 36 laps to go, giving the leaders an opportunity to make their final pit stops.

Johnson, Brad Keselowski, Gordon and Busch all took four tires on their stops, but Biffle only took two, allowing him to come out of the pits first.

The race restarted with 31 laps to go, with Biffle in the lead and Johnson fighting off Busch to hold on to second.

Johnson went around Biffle on the frontstretch with 29 laps to go.

"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."

Johnson got a flawless restart when the race went back to green with 20 laps to go, then pulled away from Busch in the closing laps.

Keselowski was going for a weekend sweep after winning Saturday's inaugural Brickyard Nationwide race. He took the lead after choosing a different pit strategy, but his car got loose after a restart on Lap 101, and he slid back to seventh — a significant setback, given how hard it is to pass at Indianapolis.

"I just made too many mistakes," Keselowski said.

But Johnson ran flawlessly.

"We were probably in our ZIP code on the rest of the field, but Jimmie Johnson was in his own country today," Busch said. "We just couldn't keep up with him. That was the best we had, and it seemed like that was the best anybody had."

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