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Bragging rights and a big piece of history were on the line for Jimmie Johnson in Sunday’s 20th annual Brickyard 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. A win would have been Johnson’s fifth in the Brickyard 400 and would have tied him with Formula 1 champion Michael Schumacher for most wins at the famed track. Instead, the driver of the No. 48 Kobalt Tools Chevrolet SS settled for a runner-up finish despite showing he clearly had a winning car, leading four times for a race-high 73 laps.
It was Johnson’s fifth top-five finish in 12 starts at the 2.5-mile oval and his ninth top-five in 20 races run this season. Johnson’s second-place finish also extended his lead in the driver standings to 75 points over second-place Clint Bowyer.
Johnson was never far from the lead during the 160-lap event. A second-place qualifying effort put him up front to start and he was rarely out of the top-five. He assumed the lead for the first time on lap 31,where he would stay for the ensuing laps. Caution flags during multiple rounds of green-flag stops created some turnover among the leaders, but Johnson kept finding his way back to the front. On the final stop of the day, Johnson pitted before eventual leader and race-winner Ryan Newman. Crew chief Chad Knaus called for four tires, but a subpar pit stop kept him from getting out quickly. When Newman eventually came down pit road several laps later, he took just two tires and was able to pull away from Johnson, who was never able to make up the gap in the closing laps.
“There is definitely disappointment there, but this is racing, that stuff happens,” said Johnson, who remains tied for second on the all-time Indianapolis Motor Speedway win list with his wins in 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2012, along with Sprint Cup teammate Jeff Gordon and four-time Indianapolis 500 winners A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears. “I have given away a couple late in the race, myself, this year. We win as a team, we lose as a team. It’s just how it is. I wouldn’t take another race team out there. I’m very proud of this KOBALT Tools Chevrolet team and everything that goes into it.
“Great day, Ryan (Newman) was fast all day long. I can’t take anything away from him. At the beginning of the race, he paced everything for a long time. I think he got mired back in traffic for a while, there. Toward the end of the race, he worked his way back to the front and he was plenty fast. A big hats off to Ryan and everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing.”
Newman’s Brickyard 400 victory was his 17th career Sprint Cup win, his first of the season and his first at Indianapolis.
Johnson finished 2.657 seconds behind Newman in the runner-up spot while Kasey Kahne, Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth rounded out the top-five. Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Joey Logano, Juan Pablo Montoya and Kyle Busch comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were three caution periods for a total of 14 laps with all 43 cars running at the finish of the 160-lap race.
With round 20 of 36 complete, Johnson continues to lead the Hendrick Motorsports contingent and the rest of the NASCAR field in the championship point standings. His 740 points give him a 75-point lead over second-place Bowyer and a 182-point lead over 11th-place Stewart. Earnhardt is fifth with 616 points, 124 out of first, 58 ahead of 11th. Kahne is ninth with 564 points, 176 out of first, six ahead of 11th. Gordon is 10th with 559 points, 181 out of first, one ahead of 11th.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the GoBowling.com 400 Sunday, Aug. 4 at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway. The race starts at 1 p.m. EDT, with live coverage provided by ESPN beginning with its pre-race show at noon.