Jimmie Johnson was peerless on his way to a third victory of 2012 in the Brickyard 400, the fourth time he has won at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Johnson's win – which puts him in a select club with open-wheel legends Rick Mears, Al Unser, AJ Foyt and Michael Schumacher, as well as his own team-mate Jeff Gordon as four-time winners of major events at Indy – never looked in doubt after he wrested the lead from Denny Hamlin early on. Thereafter, Johnson was never troubled as he romped away to a victory which places him firmly in title contention.
“I’m able to join racing legends, my heroes and people that I’ve looked up to during my entire life, so to join them is a huge honour,” said Johnson.
“I knew second or third lap yesterday on the track that we were going to have an awful good chance of winning. The confidence that I had helped us through practice yesterday. There were a couple of moments where adjustments didn’t work and I lost a little pace but I had a feeling and I knew we were going to be fine.”
It was Hamlin who had led away from the start with Carl Edwards in tow, the Roush-Fenway driver finally in a position to turn his wretched season around. Sadly, Edwards' miserable form was to continue, with engine issues costing him two laps, and with it any chance of a good result. After the race Edwards recognised that any chance of making the Chase via a top-10 placing in points is now out of his reach, and that only scoring enough wins to make it into the Wildcard spot will suffice.
“I don't think we are points racing anymore. I think we are officially racing only for wins,” said Edwards, who narrowly lost the title to Tony Stewart in 2011. “Right now we are going to talk to the guys. Chad [Norris, crew chief] and I want to make sure they know that we do not quit. We keep going. We don't give up. We put our best effort out there and if it is meant to be, it will be.”
The lead pack was shuffled when the first caution came out for Travis Kvapil, whose BK Racing Toyota had suffered a tyre failure and ploughed into the wall. Kyle Busch lost several seconds with a tardy getaway from pit-lane, his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota spewing black smoke. Team-mate Hamlin fared little better. Passed by Johnson exiting pit road, Hamlin then attempted to regain the lead with an audacious move to the outside of Turn 1, but got well out of the groove and had to back right off to avoid hitting the outside wall. Having dropped down to 14th place, it took him most of the race to fight his way back to the top 5.
“We had about a fourth, fifth, sixth-place car and that's kind of where we ended up,” Hamlin said. “Once I got back there, I was able to maintain and make up a little ground, but I wasn't going to go any further forward than where I was.”
After winning the inaugural Nationwide race at IMS the day before, Brad Keselowski was forced to roll the dice on strategy, having been left well down the order after a poor qualifying session. Keselowski therefore elected to stay out, knowing that with a little fuel saving, he could make it to the end with one fewer stop than his rivals, a strategy which vaulted Paul Menard into Victory Lane last year. Johnson led away from the restart, with Keselowski keeping him firmly in his sights. The race was bubbling nicely when Keselowski's hopes of victory were scuppered on lap 101, as the Blue Deuce almost spun trying to pass Regan Smith: his loss of momentum dropping Keselowski down to seventh. With a poor handling car in the latter stages, Keselowski would slip further to ninth by the finish.
“We had excellent pit strategy,” said Keselowski. “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. I don't have much more to add to that.”
After Jeff Gordon's challenge was stunted by a poor final stop costing him crucial track position, it was left to Kyle Busch to take up the chase, and would eventually finish second to put an end to a poor run of form stretching back to Dover. After his early pit-lane maladies, the JGR man was one of the quickest cars on track, but simply didn't have an answer for the supreme pace of Johnson.
“If it wasn’t for the 48 [Johnson,] we were probably in our own zip code on the rest of the field,” Busch said. “But Jimmie Johnson was in his own country today, so we couldn’t keep up with him.
“We've had a lot of frustrating days here – we've had the last eight frustrating weeks. It's been really hard on us and hard on our team. So this feels like a win for us.”
Greg Biffle was third, having taken just two tyres at the last stop, while Dale Earnhardt Jr. solidified his championship advantage with fourth. Earnhardt's gain was Matt Kenseth's pain. Kenseth was the innocent victim collected when Joey Logano came off worst in a wheel-to-wheel battle with Trevor Bayne. Kenseth's car momentarily caught fire, but the 2003 champion was able to walk away. The only other incident of note occurred when Clint Bowyer spun out after contact with 2000 Indy 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya caused a puncture.