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The performance of Jimmie Johnson and his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team was the stuff of legends. The story of their dominating run in the 19th Brickyard 400 began Saturday during qualifying. Johnson sideways nearly his entire trip around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in a lap that, to the naked eye, looked like it should have left him well outside the top-20 in the running order.
When his name popped up sixth on the run-down as he crossed the start/finish line, it became clear that this had the makings of a major weekend for the five-time champ.
Johnson took third place as he completed the first lap and dispatched of Carl Edwards for second soon thereafter. During the opening run of the event, it seemed as though polesitter Denny Hamlin had the car to hold Johnson at bay. That lasted until they left pit road side-by-side after making their first stops of the day. Johnson beat Hamlin in the drag race through the access road in turn one to grab the lead, and for all intents and purposes, he never looked back.
Differing pit strategies - particularly by Brad Keselowski's No. 2 team - cycled Johnson out of the lead briefly, denting his laps led total in comparison to previous dominant runs by Dale Jarrett in 1999 (117 laps led) and teammate Jeff Gordon in 2004 (a record 124) but the race's outcome seemed in little doubt once Johnson established his command. Yes, any number of circumstances - a crash, a flat tire, a mechanical failure, or the wrong pit strategy - could have ruined his drive, but barring some disaster, it was clear that the 2012 Brickyard 400 was Jimmie Johnson's race nearly from the start.
Ultimately he led 99 of the 160 laps after taking the lead for the first time on the 29th circuit. For those of you playing at home, that means the No. 48 Chevrolet was out front for all but 33 of the remaining 132 laps once he snared the top spot. Keselowski led 22 of those laps thanks to Paul Wolfe's pit decisions, while Greg Biffle added four more through strategy by his own crew chief Matt Puccia. The other laps were led by Kyle Busch, Landon Cassill, Bobby Labonte, Matt Kenseth, and Gordon during cycles of pit stops.
It was the fitting kind of race for Johnson and company to have as they raced to history. Before Sunday, only four men had won on Indy's legendary rectangular configuration in the Speedway's 102-year history, and only Gordon had achieved four victories in the previous 18 Brickyard 400s.
The 48 team had already established their legacy as one of the all-time great units in the history of motorsports thanks to their five-consecutive Sprint Cup titles and the 57 prior victories they had claimed before Sunday. The beating they laid on the field en route to that 58th triumph only further cemented the legend of Johnson and his team.
A top-five finish for Dale Earnhardt Jr. at the Brickyard 400 lifted the driver into first place in the Sprint Cup Series standings. For Earnhardt Jr., it's the first time he's been in first since Sept. 19, 2004.
With his win on Sunday, Jimmie Johnson is in fourth place and trails Earnhardt Jr. by 27 points.
Here is a look at the top-20 drivers in the standings:
In one of the most dominant performances the Brickyard 400 has seen, Jimmie Johnson led 99 of the 160 laps en route to his fourth victory at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It is Johnson's 58th-career win and his third of the 2012 Sprint Cup season. With the triumph, Johnson joins the elite class of quadruple Indianapolis winners. No man has ever claimed five victories on the track's legendary oval configuration. Jeff Gordon is the only other four-time Brickyard 400 winner.
Kyle Busch finished second, nearly five seconds behind Johnson. Greg Biffle finished third ahead of Dale Earnhardt Jr, who's fourth-place result vaulted him atop the point standings for the first time since 2004. Gordon finished fifth, yet another close-but-no-cigar result. He now has just six races to gain the necessary victories to make the Chase via a wild card.
Polesitter Denny Hamlin finished sixth after leading 27 laps early. South Bend, IN's Ryan Newman took seventh, followed by Martin Truex Jr. and Brad Keselowski. Tony Stewart, still the only native Indianan to win the Brickyard 400, rounded out the top-10.
Matt Kenseth, who led the points entering the race crashed late and wound up 35th. He falls 14 points behind Earnhardt in the standings but is all but assured of making the Chase for the Championship despite the crash.
Busch and Kasey Kahne remain the two drivers who would make the Chase via a wild card spot. Busch sits 11th in the standings, 55 points behind 10th-place Clint Bowyer. Carl Edwards, who started second, had engine problems early and finished a miserable 29th. He falls to 12th and, like Gordon, is running out of races to get to victory lane and have a chance to make a run at the championship he lost last year.
Sprint Cup point leader Matt Kenseth will not finish his last Brickyard 400 with Roush-Fenway Racing.
The Sprint Cup point leader was collected in a crash after Joey Logano got loose under Trevor Bayne. Logano's car spun at the exit of turn one, hit the nose of Bobby Labonte's car and shot back towards the outside wall where Kenseth had gone to attempt to dodge the wreck.
Kenseth's Ford briefly fireballed after the accident, but the 2003 Sprint Cup champion walked away uninjured. With the wreck, he will likely relinquish his lead atop the series standings to Dale Earnhardt Jr. who hasn't led the points since the 2004 season.
The crash tightens things up further in terms of fuel mileage. Everyone should be right on the edge of making it to the checkered flag on fuel if the race goes its scheduled 160 laps. In the event of a green-white-checkered finish, however, there will be many teams in need of a splash of gas to reach the end of the race.
Jimmie Johnson, who has dominated all day, leads the way just 25 laps from the end ahead of Greg Biffle, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, and Earnhardt.
Just as with last year's Brickyard 400, a late yellow flag may lead to a fuel-mileage race to the finish in the 2012 edition.
Jeff Burton blew a tire to draw out the caution with 36 laps remaining. That is a few laps outside the teams' pit window, meaning everyone will either need another pit stop to make it to the checkered flag or will try to stretch their gas mileage by slowing their pace way down.
The same strategy netted Paul Menard's maiden - and only - Sprint Cup victory a year ago. He was one of several drivers who slowed their pace considerably over the last stretch of the race after topping off on fuel during the last yellow flag. Jeff Gordon made a valiant charge, closing the gap Menard had built when the No. 24 Chevy hit pit road to within one second, but came one or two laps shy of his fifth Brickyard 400 win.
Gordon was second at the caution flag, behind the dominant mount of teammate Jimmie Johnson. The five-time Sprint Cup champ, who started sixth, has led 70 laps and all but clinched the extra bonus point for leading the most laps. Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, and Greg Biffle rounded out the top-five at the yellow.
Legendary car owner Roger Penske has 15 wins in the Indianapolis 500, but until Brad Keselowski won Saturday's Nationwide Series event at Indianapolis, he had never tasted victory in a stock car race at the Speedway.
Keselowski is doing his best to bring The Captain a win in the Sprint Cup series at Indy, leading at the halfway point in the 19th-annual Brickyard 400. Keselowski's crew chief, Paul Wolfe has used a different pit strategy that the other leaders - staying out under a caution period and then pitting under green several laps later to get the benefit of four fresh tires - to get the No. 2 Dodge out front with Hendrick teammates Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon closing from behind.
Greg Biffle holds down the fourth position, with Kyle Busch running fifth.
The No. 2 machine has endured plenty of near-misses at Indianapolis. Rusty Wallace was well on his way to a win in the 1995 event before a near-miss on pit road forced him to slow down. Dale Earnhardt snatched the lead and raced to the win. In 2000, Wallace dominated but was passed late by eventual series champ Bobby Labonte and rode to another runner-up finish.
Finally, Wallace was out front in the closing stages of the 2002 race before a dominant Bill Elliott ran him down and relegated him to a third bridesmaid result.
Penske's other Sprint Cup efforts have also failed to taste Indy glory, but the heartbreak he went through with Wallace would certainly make the victory especially sweet for Penske if it is the Miller Lite car pulling into victory lane at race's end.
Jimmie Johnson has already cemented his legacy as an auto racing great, thanks to his five-straight NASCAR Sprint Cup titles. He can add to his resume today with a fourth win in the Brickyard 400, which he leads after 40 laps.
In the 101-year history of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, only four men have won four times on the track's oval configuration. A.J. Foyt, Al Unser, and Rick Mears all won the Indianapolis 500 on four occasions. Jeff Gordon is the lone four-time champ in the Brickyard 400 and could become the Speedway's first five-time oval winner and second overall (Michael Schumacher won the US Grand Prix Formula 1 race on a road course circuit in the track five times).
Johnson's career at Indianapolis has been feast or famine. Of course, he has the three victories in 2006, 2008, and 2009. The latter two make him the lone driver in the event's 18-year history to have won the race in consecutive seasons. When he hasn't won, however, Johnson has endured miserable finishes. He has just one top-10, a ninth in his first run at the venerable old Speedway in 2002. Two of Johnson's worst crashes in a Sprint Cup car have come at Indy, with a blown right front tire sending him into the fourth turn wall in 2005 and a left front failure leading to a fiery turn three crash. Johnson spent the night in the hospital after his '05 crash, his lone trip to the hospital following a crash at NASCAR's top level.
The 2012 edition of the Brickyard 400 is still in its infancy, but fans of the No. 11 team and driver Denny Hamlin are smiling. The Chesterfield, VA, native has led the opening 15 trips around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Hamlin is looking for his first win in seven tries at Indy. Should he go to victory lane, he would join Kevin Harvick as the only two drivers to ever win the 400 from the pole. It would be Hamlin's third win of the 2012 season and the third for Joe Gibbs Racing in the Brickyard 400.
The miserable season for Carl Edwards has continued. Edwards, who started second and was running a solid third behind Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson, has dropped off the pace with an engine issue. He began the day 11th in the standings, 46 points behind 10th-placed Brad Keselowski. That immense margin is magnified by the fact that Edwards has yet to win a race this season - in fact, he hasn't won since Las Vegas in March 2011 - and is not currently in position for one of the wild card spots to make the Chase.
Hamlin shows the way with Jimmie Johnson a second and a half back. Kyle Busch sits third, followed by Greg Biffle and four-time Indy champ Jeff Gordon.
There is little question as to which automaker has dominated Sprint Cup racing at the Brickyard 400.
In the previous 18 runnings, Chevrolet cars have gone to victory lane 13 times and are riding a nine-race winning streak entering today's race. Jeff Gordon took a Chevrolet Lumina to victory lane in the inaugural Brickyard in 1994, the final year for that nameplate.
Dale Earnhardt helped christen the Monte Carlo by winning the '95 edition of the race, one of 21 victories out of 31 races for Chevrolet that season.
Ford took back to back wins with Dale Jarrett and Ricky Rudd in 1996 and 1997. Gordon won twice more in 1998 and 2001, sandwiched around wins by Jarrett (Ford) in 1999 and Bobby Labonte (Pontiac) in 2000. Georgia's Bill Elliott grabbed the 2002 race for Dodge, the last win to date for a car not carrying the iconic bowtie on the hood.
Kevin Harvick began the streak in 2003, winning from the pole. Gordon won the 2004 race to give him a record four wins, tying him for the track's oval configuration record with Indy 500 champs A.J. Foyt, Al Unser, and Rick Mears. In 2005, Tony Stewart became the first native Hoosier to win at Indianapolis since 1939. Stewart added another win in 2007, while Jimmie Johnson took his own Chevy to victory lane in 2006, 2008, and 2009 (the only driver to ever win back-to-back 400s). Jamie McMurray took the largest upset in the race's history up to that point in 2010, before Paul Menard snatched that distinction away last season with his first-career win.
ESPN will handle the remainder of the coverage for the NASCAR season starting with today's race from Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Pre-race coverage gets underway at 12 p.m. ET with the actual green flag drop scheduled for 1:19 p.m. ET.
Denny Hamlin captured the pole for today's race and will be joined on the outside of row one by Carl Edwards. Joey Logano, Aric Aimirola and Greg Biffle round out the top five.
Race Date/Time: Sunday, July 29, 12 p.m. ET
Location: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Indianapolis, Indiana
Radio: Performance Racing Network
Online Streaming: WatchESPN
Here is a look at the full starting lineups for Sunday's Brickyard 400:
1. Denny Hamlin
2. Carl Edwards
3. Joey Logano
4. Aric Almirola
5. Greg Biffle
6. Jimmie Johnson
7. Kyle Busch
8. Paul Menard
9. Jeff Gordon
10. Matt Kenseth
11. Ryan Newman
12. Juan Pablo Montoya
13. Kurt Busch
14. Regan Smith
15. Kasey Kahne
16. Jamie McMurray
17. Martin Truex Jr.
18. Trevor Bayne
19. Mark Martin
20. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
21. Jeff Burton
22. Brad Keselowski
23. Marcos Ambrose
24. Sam Hornish Jr.
25. Casey Mears
26. David Stremme
27. Kevin Harvick
28. Tony Stewart
29. Bobby Labonte
30. Travis Kvapil
31. David Gilliland
32. Dave Blaney
33. Clint Bowyer
34. Scott Speed
35. Josh Wise
36. David Ragan
37. Stephen Leicht
38. Landon Cassill
39. Mike Skinner
40. JJ Yeley
41. Ken Schrader
42. Scott Riggs
43. Mike Bliss
In a highlight of his six-plus seasons of Sprint Cup racing, Denny Hamlin won the pole for Sunday's Brickyard 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He will lead the field to the green flag in the 19th running of the 160-lap trip around the venerable old Speedway.
Carl Edwards will start second in his first race with Chad Norris as his crew chief. Joey Logano, Aric Almirola in Richard Petty's iconic No. 43, and Greg Biffle completed the top five. Three-time Brickyard winner Jimmie Johnson was sixth, followed by Kyle Busch and defending race champ Paul Menard. Four-time winner Jeff Gordon - who leads all drivers in nearly every statistical category for the Brickyard 400 - will start ninth as he seeks to become the first driver to record five victories on the track's oval configuration. Sprint Cup point leader Matt Kenseth starts 10th.
Other notables include Kasey Kahne, who won the pole for Saturday's Nationwide Series event and was fastest in Sprint Cup practice, in 15th and Mark Martin in 19th. Tony Stewart, the only native Hoosier to win at the Speedway since Wilbur Shaw claimed the 1939 Indy 500, will have a long way to go if he wishes to claim his third Brickyard win. Stewart will start 28th.
Unadilla's David Ragan was 37th, one year after he took the pole for this race, while Peachtree City's Reed Sorenson failed to qualify Randy Humphrey's Ford Fusion. Also missing the show were Joe Nemechek and Michael McDowell. McDowell qualified on speed but his time was disallowed after his Ford failed post-race inspection.
The No. 78 Chevrolet Regan Smith is be driving in Sunday's Brickyard 400 will be a somber tribute to the victims of the horrific and senseless tragedy that took place in Aurora, CO, on July 20.
Denver-based Furniture Row Racing has pulled its company's decals off the black Impala, instead carrying the town's name on the rear fenders and the names of the 12 individuals killed around the rear wheel wells. The rear TV panel carries the slogan "For Those Lost, Those Injured And Countless Acts of Bravery 7/20/12."
Furniture Row Racing's headquarters is seven miles from the theater where the cowardly act took place, and one of the victims was a friend of a Furniture Row employee.
This is far from the first time a NASCAR team has shown solidarity with victims of a natural or man-made disaster. At last year's Coca-Cola 600, Joplin, MO's Jamie McMurray's No. 1 Chevrolet featured his tornado-ravaged hometown's name on the rear fenders. In the first race after the September 11 attacks, every race car in the field at Dover carried some kind of patriotic tribute.
The legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway plays host to Sunday's Brickyard 400. The event's first 18 winners read like a who's who of stock car racing.
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