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Jimmie Johnson routs the field at Indianapolis in winning the Brickyard 400

Jimmie Johnson routs the field at Indianapolis in winning the Brickyard 400

It was all over but the shouting very early on in Sunday's Brickyard 400, dominated by Jimmie Johnson


   By Mike Mulhern

   The list of four-time winners at this legendary track is pretty short, but it got a bit longer Sunday when Jimmie Johnson etched his name on the plaque too, next to A. J. Foyt, Al Unser Sr, Rick Mears, Michael Schumacher and Jeff Gordon.
    Johnson's fourth Brickyard 400 win, in a runaway at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s leap to the top of NASCAR's Sprint Cup standings with a fourth-place finish is yet more proof that team owner Rick Hendrick has a stranglehold on the competition on the stock car tour.
   Since Johnson's Darlington Southern 500 victory in mid-May, Hendrick men have won six of 10 tour events. And they've dominated action on the tracks. Johnson here led 250 of the 400 miles, and no one could touch him.
    Brad Keselowski made a valiant bid, but slipped on the track late in the three-hour race, lost track position, and finished a disappointed ninth.
    Early in the race Keselowski -- whose Roger Penske engines are some of the strongest in the sport -- ruefully discovered that Johnson's had a major edge, which Keselowski seemed to indicated was either chassis or aero, rather than just horsepower. "We're all driving trucks, and he's in a real race car," Keselowski radioed his crew at one point.
   Teammate Jeff Gordon had probably the second-best car on this 2-1/2-mile track, but he lost track position late and wound up fifth. "Wish I could have been up there to make it a little harder on him," teammate Jeff Gordon said. "Gosh, he had it pretty easy there at the end."



    Crew Chief Chad Knaus (L) and Jimmie Johnson suddenly appear the team to beat for the championship, with an impressive two month run now, and now victory in the Brickyard 400 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   For Gordon the pressure is thus ramped up even more -- if he expects to make the playoffs, he will likely have to win two of the tour's next six events. And he is still winless this season.
   That would be for one of the two wild card spots in the chase; those two spots at the moment belong to Kasey Kahne and Kyle Busch.
   Busch wound up second and said he had the second-best car of the day. But he had nothing for Johnson.
   Johnson's command of the race was stunning. Yes, aerodynamics at these speeds -- he and Gordon were clocked at 205+ mph on the straights -- is important, and thus track position too. But Johnson had more than that going for him, because he repeatedly simply drove away from the field.


   A beautiful day...... (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    The weather was picture-perfect, bright sun and temps in the high 80s, a respite after days of high 90s and 100+.
    Yet the crowd was again less than capacity.
   Of course capacity here is nearly 260,000 in the grandstands alone, but acres and acres for thousands more in the infield.
    The Indianapolis Star estimated the crowd at 120,000. That's not a bad sports crowd at all, for any event. Yet compared to the 280,000 this annual mid-summer's event used to draw, it was less than half-full.
    Part of the loss of fans can be attributed to the economy of course, and part to the still-lingering effects of that 2008 tire debacle.
    However part of the loss may also be related to the typically boring races at this high-speed but very flat track. Sunday's 400 was no exception to the rule, of little on-track passing.
    And once again there were few cautions, mostly for cut tires from debris.
    At times though there was some hot action, like when Joey Logano, trying to pass Tony Stewart, slipped and triggered a crash that wiped out Matt Kenseth. That cost Kenseth the points lead; he wound up a painful 35th.
    Carl Edwards, Kenseth's teammate, didn't fare much better. He had an engine problem early, perhaps a burned sparkplug wire, and a pit stop under green dropped him several laps off the pace. He wound up 29th, four laps down. And that may have been the coup de grace to his playoff hopes. Edwards, whose last tour win was some 18 months ago, would, like Gordon, probably have to win two of the next six Cup events to qualify for the chase.

    Jimmie Johnson at the head of the pack at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Kyle Busch, second, but almost five seconds back, was almost speechless afterwards, when assessing Johnson's performance: "I don't know that you can go around this place that fast.  
   "You talk about guys being in their own zip code, he  was in his own country.
   "The rest of the field has a whole lot of work to do, I can tell you that."
   Nevertheless Busch said "It feels like a win for us, for as bad as the last two months have gone.  
    "Just excited to, hopefully, be able to turn this around and start getting headed in the right direction.
     "I'm a lot happier than I've been in the last two months.  Just so many frustrating days..."

   Teammate Denny Hamlin, who started from the pole but had nothing for Johnson and his teammates, said he noticed something unusual with the chassis/body-layout of the four Hendrick cars.
    "The Hendrick cars had something going on with the back of their cars that's unique," Hamlin said.
     "They were the dominant cars.  No one was going to run with them."

    Keselowski noticed something odd with Johnson's car too.
   But Keselowski was more upset with himself at the end: "I just made too many mistakes.  It’s hard to be mad with a top 10.  I’m not mad, but no, I’m not happy.  I want to win these races.  I want to be a legit contender to win the big races and we were today.  I just didn’t close it out.  We had a strong shot at getting a top two or three and didn’t.

   Biffle, finishing third, figured he didn't have that much of a chance either, from the start, considering how strong Johnson was: "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.  His car was just really, really good. 
    "He ran me down in two laps from 25 car lengths."


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