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.