INDIANAPOLIS – Jimmie Johnson fondly recalls watching the Indianapolis 500 as a kid in California, rearranging the couch cushions so he could pretend he was sitting in a race car.
Johnson’s grandfather was an A.J. Foyt fan. Johnson liked Rick Mears. And now Johnson might be mentioned in the same breath as those two drivers and other Indy greats.
Johnson stamped another exclamation point on his racing resume Sunday, a dominant drive that ended with his fourth career Brickyard 400 victory.
“I’m able to join racing legends, my heroes and people I looked up to my entire life,” Johnson said. “To join them was a huge, huge honor.”
With the win, Johnson joined Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff 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.
The victory also puts Johnson among some top names in the track’s record books.
Only three drivers have won four Indianapolis 500s: Foyt, Mears and Al Unser Sr. Formula One ace Michael Schumacher won the U.S. Grand Prix five times on Indy’s road course configuration.
Johnson took it all in during a unique family moment of his own after the race, taking a victory lap in a pace car with his wife, his daughter and his crew guys all piled on board.
Johnson also won the Brickyard in 2006, 2008 and 2009.
“They’re that good, and they deserve it,” Gordon said.
Kyle Busch finished second, followed by Greg Biffle, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Gordon. Polesitter Denny Hamlin was sixth.
It was a rough day for Matt Kenseth, who came into Sunday’s race with the Sprint Cup Series points lead but was taken out of the race in a late collision with Joey Logano.
While Johnson ruled the day, Earnhardt 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.”
But Johnson’s big moment was seen by another disappointing crowd at what still is considered one of the Sprint Cup Series’ most prestigious races.
After drawing huge crowds for more than a decade after the first NASCAR race at Indianapolis in 1994, attendance has been sagging in recent years. The front-stretch stands were fairly full but there were sparse crowds in the turns. Attendance was 125,000, although media estimates were lower.
Jeff Burton’s flat tire brought out a caution with 36 laps to go, giving the leaders an opportunity to make their final pit stops.
The race restarted with 31 laps to go, with Biffle taking the lead and Johnson fighting off Busch to hold on to second.
Biffle’s lead didn’t last long, as Johnson went around him on the front stretch with 29 laps to go.