NASCAR Sprint Cup Brickyard 400, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, July 29, 2012

Grip and Drift deliver for Johnson at the Brickyard

story and photos by Tim Hailey


Jimmie Johnson waves to the Indy crowd after kicking everybody's ass

As Jimmie Johnson joined the pantheon of four time winners at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, he did it the old fashioned way—a finesseful combination of mechanical grip and four wheel drift. Johnson won the unfortunately named Crown Royal Presents the Curtiss Shaver 400 at the Brickyard Powered by on Sunday. Jeff Gordon is the only other four-time winner of the Brickyard 400, but A.J. Foyt, Al Unser Sr. and Rick Mears all have four Indianapolis 500 wins on their résumé, and Michael Schumacher won the United States Grand Prix a whopping five times on the IMS road course. "Man, you just hope to race here," Johnson said. "To come here and win is a huge honor. 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."

Outdoing the Target bull terrior for press room charm, Jimmie Johnson brings daughter Genevieve

Nice indeed. From my position on the inside of turn 3, Johnson was hustling through the corner visibly quicker than the field. Not boring quick, like the car was stuck on rails, but racing-quick—breathing the throttle into the corner, transferring weight, and hustling it out. The Jumbotron showed occasional four wheel drift “Winning” style as the black No. 48 Chevy came off the corners of this true driver’s track. Johnson earned $430,461 for his 4.758-second victory over the No. 18 M&M's Toyota of Kyle Busch—and it wasn’t that close. “He was really, really fast, and you could see it, too, on the restarts when he would make it through the corners and he just put his car anywhere he wanted and would just slam on the gas pedal and take off from me,” said Busch. “His car was down and digging. It definitely had a lot of grip and definitely was really fast. If it wasn't for the 48, we were probably in our zip code on the rest of the field, but Jimmie Johnson was in his own country today, so we just couldn't keep up with him.”

Kyle Busch's Camry was good, but not nearly good enough

“You know, honestly, this is the car that we raced in Dover, and ran really well there,” said Johnson’s crew chief Chad Knaus. Wait—you brought your one mile, high banked, concrete track Dover car to two and a half mile, low banked, asphalt Indianapolis? “Honestly, we took the car to the wind tunnel before it went to the race in Dover and it posted some pretty decent numbers...and we won there. And we just said, you know, that's a good car. The timing is right. We had about a month and a half, two months to kind of work on the car and just kind of get it prepped and ready to go. We worked on it some and cleaned it up. The guys at Hendrick Motorsports really do a good job of paying attention to details, and that's making sure the bolt lengths are right, making sure that you've got the weight out of the car as best you can, doing everything you can to get the center of gravity low, doing all that kind of stuff. So we said, OK, we're just going to take a little bit of time, put this car to the side for a couple of weeks, and as we have guys that have an opportunity, we're going to focus on it.

Chad Knaus discusses Johnson's car

“You know, it turned out to be a really good product. It's not head and shoulders better than our other cars, but it's a good car. It's just a good, solid car. And Jimmie will attest to it—if you've got a car that you can go out there and drive and drive consistent laps and fast consistent laps and not be out of control, you're going to go faster for the long haul, and that's really what we focused on with this race car.

“So it was brand new in Dover, and we raced it there, and we thought we would bring it here hoping that we would get a similar result, and fortunately enough we did. In this industry details are what makes the difference, and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports and especially the 48/88 shop really honed in on the two cars that we brought here. I think we saw that with the performance from the 88 car. They ran exceptionally well all weekend in practice. They didn't qualify as well as they wanted to, but they definitely raced very well.”

Dale Jr. hustles through turn 3

Dale Earnhardt Jr, driver of the 88, wasn’t quite as stoked about the quality of his car as Knaus was. “We had about a fourth- to eighth-place car, just seemed to get some good fortune on how those restarts lined up for us at the end,” said Earnhardt, who indeed finished fourth. “The car was fast. I was trying to pass Biffle but couldn't get no closer than I was."

Earnhardt took over the Sprint Cup points lead during the race. "If you run in the top five or top 10 enough, you will get points, but we would like to win some more races,” said Dale. “I know our fans would like us to win some more races. We are working real hard, really happy with our result today. Happy for Hendrick Motorsports and the No. 48 shop. Everybody has got to be happy with what we got today. All cars run pretty good."

Jeff Gordon gets all up in Martin Truex's rear

Absolutely. Jeff Gordon’s No. 24 was very strong in the early going and ended up fifth behind Earnhardt. Gordon’s late race restart fortunes fell opposite of Dale Jr’s. "We started in the outside lane on both of those last two restarts, and that did not do us any favors,” said former Brickyard dominator Gordon. “You really need to be on the inside. My car was really tight, especially on that outside lane and a little bit too tight in traffic, but it was fast, really fast. We proved it all day long by running up front and passing cars. But with 20 to go, you lose spots like that, it's going to be hard to make it up. But we got to fifth, so that's really solid for our guys. We will take this top-five here in Indy. Congrats to Jimmie and Chad and those guys. They are a great team, and they deserve to be in victory lane."

Roush Fenway driver Greg Biffle sandwiched his Ford in third behind Busch’s Toyota and amongst all those Chevys. “Well, it was a pretty good day for us,” said Biffle. “We were just super loose all day long. Toward the end of practice, we put a different package on our car that seemed like it had pretty good speed on the lap tracker but was a little bit free, and we thought that might be good for today if it was going to need the car to turn. We decided to race that package, and just really loose all day. It made it difficult after about four or five laps my car just started to get real loose. We did two tires there at the end, and I thought a lot of people would do two tires, and it turned out most everybody did four. That hurt us a little bit, but still, we ended up third. Kind of flattened off. It didn't really matter if you were in front of him (Johnson) or not, he was going to pass you in about four or five laps anyway. His car was just really, really good.”

Third place finisher Greg Biffle

Biffle made a real good racing point about track position regarding being in front of someone faster—AKA Johnson. “Sometimes you don't want the guy behind you, you know, if inevitably he's going to pass you no matter what. Sometimes it's not an advantage to be in front of him to be honest with you, because it puts you in a position for more guys to be battling with you than the one. He ran me down in two laps from 25 car lengths.”

Johnson led 99 of 160 laps in a dominant performance, and took the lead for good by passing Biffle on Lap 132. Johnson's crew won the race in the pits on the final stop of the race, under caution on Lap 134. Johnson then did his part by holding off Biffle on the final restart of the race, on Lap 141, and he pulled away over the final laps.

Denny Hamlin's car on the grid

Pole sitter Denny Hamlin and Saturday’s Nationwide winner Brad Keselowski were Johnson's toughest challengers over the first 100 laps. Hamlin led the first 26 laps in the No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota and one lap thereafter but finished sixth. Keselowski led three times for 22 laps in the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge but faded to ninth. "It was just an average day,” said Keselowski. “I made too many mistakes. We had great strategy. I think we do a great job of making good decisions. I made a few too many mistakes to be able to win the race. The big thing is the 48 car, the parts they had brought out this weekend. You could see it on their car following. We're racing trucks, they're racing cars, and that's why they're winning. We've got to make a step up before the Chase to catch up to what they got there. If we do that, we can get on the same speed platform. And I'm confident with our good strategy and smart decision-making skills, we can win races and the championship."

Johnson agreed with Keselowski’s assessment of his race car. “From a performance standpoint, these are amazing race cars,” Jimmie said about his Impala. “We've made a lot of progress through the off season and then getting started this year. I feel really good about the Chase. I'm ready for it to start.”

Child actor turned filmmaker Ron Howard on the grid

“I think that I feel as though that the product we're bringing to the racetrack right now is very competitive week in and week out, and once again, it's in the details,” said Knaus.

Knaus and the Hendrick Motorsports’ teams prep, and the organization and attention to detail of their garage, helped them greatly over the condensed schedule of the three race “Super Weekend” at The Brickyard. “With the compressed schedule that we've got here at Indianapolis—with your two practice sessions on Saturday and qualifying on Saturday—if you don't come off the truck ready to go and fast, you're going to be behind the 8 ball, and it's difficult to get back on top of that mountain,” said Knaus. “Jimmie had some rest, and the team had some rest, and we were ready to go and ready to attack, and it went really well, so I couldn't be prouder of what we were able to accomplish today. Jimmie does a fantastic job of driving the race cars. But he can't clearly do it without good pit stops and a good race car, and Jimmie communicating what it is that he needs in the race car, how comfortable he is in the car, much like what he did yesterday, he was able to say, look, the car is good.”

Rick Hendrick on the grid with....REGGIE JACKSON!

“I talked to both of them (Johnson and Knaus) last night, and Jimmie said it was the best car he'd ever had here, and I've seen him put on quite a show here before,” said team owner Rick Hendrick, who earned his eighth Brickyard victory as an owner. “I mean, every time you come here you know how important this place is, and everybody wants to win here because just the unique history of this place and how many legends in racing have raced here. So everybody puts a lot of effort into it.

“Everybody wants to win, but you've got to look at the talent Jimmie has and the talent Chad has and the pit crew and everything else, the feedback, the communications. These two are phenomenal together, and I'm just glad I don't have to race against them. I've never seen a guy that could drive a car as out of control and make it look in control as Jimmie can.”

Who, me? Jimmie Johnson

Ah, that balancing act of grip and drift. Five-time Sprint Cup Series champion Johnson also won The Brickyard in 2006, 2008 and 2009. “He's awesome, there's no doubt about it,” Knaus said about Johnson. “He's the best race car driver that we've got in the sport right now.”

FULL Brickyard photo gallery