‘5-TIME’ DOMINATES AT INDY
Dale Earnhardt Jr. took over the Sprint Cup Series championship lead after recording a career-best finish at the Brickyard. With his fourth place finish tbhe driver of the No. 88 car has nine top-five and 15 top-10 finishes in 20 starts (photo courtesy: Jerry Markland, GETTY IMAGES SPORT)
Jimmie Johnson stamped another exclamation point on his impressive racing resume Sunday, a dominant drive that ended with his fourth career Brickyard 400 victory -- Race 19 of 36 en route to NASCAR’s series-crowning Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 16-18. Tickets for Ford Championship Weekend—Nov. 16-18 at Homestead-Miami Speedway—are available now. For ticket information, click [HERE] or call (866) 409-RACE.
Johnson became only the second driver to win the Brickyard 400 four times after making a trip to Victory Lane at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Johnson led 99 of the race’s 160 laps to take his third victory of the season and tie Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon as the only two drivers to win the annual NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Indy four times.
“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.”
The two NASCAR drivers join Indianapolis 500 winners Al Unser Sr., Rick Mears and A.J. Foyt in the exclusive four-time Indy victory club.
“I can remember watching the 500 on the couch with my grandfather and I remember him telling me he came to Indy,” said Johnson. “It’s nice to create my own family memories here.
''I'm able to join racing legends, my heroes and people I looked up to my entire life. To join them was a huge, huge honor.''
With the win, Johnson joined Hendrick Motorsports teammate Gordon as the only NASCAR drivers to win four times at the historic 2.5-mile track, which has hosted stock car racing since 1994.
Johnson also won the Brickyard in 2006, 2008 and 2009.
Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford Fusion, came into Sunday's race with the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points lead but was involved in a late collision with Joey Logano.
While Johnson ruled the day, NASCAR’s most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., walked away with the points lead - 14 points 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.''
It’s the first time Earnhardt has been atop the championship standings since September 19, 2004 following the first race in Chase history at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
"We were really excited about our car the first run,” Earnhardt said. “I’m happy with how it was driving. I don't know how fast the leaders were, but I thought the car had excellent speed and drive-ability. We messed with the balance a little bit throughout the race. It wasn't perfect at the end. I think we got the best we could with car, and the speed that we had. I'm happy with that. My teammate got the win (Jimmie Johnson). We had a good run. I would like to win here, but I'm going to have to wait until next year."
It was Earnhardt’s career-best finish at the Brickyard as three of the four Hendrick Motorsports cars finished in the top five led by Johnson’s victory, Earnhardt’s fourth-place and Gordon’s fifth-place finish.
But it’s also another example of Earnhardt’s outstanding consistency this season with nine top-five and 15 top-10 finishes in 20 starts.
“I'm proud of that because it says a lot about our body of work,” Earnhardt said. “All season of long we've been working hard and finishing well. That is symbolic of how well we've done. I'm proud of that. I have felt that way about our position in points all season long. We need to win more races. If we want to win the championship, we have to. I imagine we can win a couple races in Chase. I don't know if finishing fourth or fifth is going to do it. We'll just have to see. We'd like to step it up just a little bit more."
A confident Earnhardt could be quite a contender for the Sprint Cup Series title. Imagine the drama if the championship comes down to Johnson and Earnhardt battling each other for the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship, to be crowned in Miami on Nov. 18. Tickets for Ford Championship Weekend—Nov. 16-18 at Homestead-Miami Speedway—are available now. For ticket information, click [HERE] or call (866) 409-RACE.
To Earnhardt, that’s a “Dream Scenario.”
“We would actually rather us two to fight for the championship at the end knowing one of us is going to get it for the company,” Earnhardt said. “If I could line that up right now, I would. That is how I'd have it."
It was a tough day for last year’s championship runner-up, Carl Edwards, whose engine began losing power only a handful of laps into the race. In his first race with new crew chief Chad Norris, Edwards qualified second but began dropping in the field after an apparent engine malfunction. Edwards finished 29th, left Indianapolis 12th in the points and is in danger of missing NASCAR's season-ending Chase. The Top 12 drivers in points after Race 26 qualify to contend for the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship, to be crowned in Miami on Nov. 18. Tickets for Ford Championship Weekend—Nov. 16-18 at Homestead-Miami Speedway—are available now. For ticket information, click [HERE] or call (866) 409-RACE.
''We have to take chances,'' Edwards said. ''We have to go race. We can do that, we can race like that. It will actually be a big relief in a way because there is no other choice. We just go race for wins. I wouldn't bet against us. We can do it.''
Next up for the Sprint Cup Series drivers is Pocono on Sunday, August 5 (1 p.m. ET, ESPN) — en route to Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Nov. 16-18). Tickets for Ford Championship Weekend—Nov. 16-18 at Homestead-Miami Speedway—are available now. For ticket information, click [HERE] or call (866) 409-RACE.