JOHNSON BEATS EARLY OBSTACLES TO WIN ALLSTATE 400 AT THE BRICKYARD
INDIANAPOLIS, Sunday, Aug. 6, 2006 -- Neither dead batteries nor flat tires nor pit fires could keep Jimmie Johnson from the coveted Victory Lane at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Aug. 6, as he overcame several early-race hurdles to win the 13th Allstate 400 at the Brickyard.
Johnson handed Hendrick Motorsports its record fifth win in NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series competition at the famous 2.5-mile IMS oval by leading 33 laps of the 160-lap race in a No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet that was dominant when it counted, toward the end of the race.
Matt Kenseth equaled his 2003 best-career finish of second at this event in the No. 17 DeWalt Ford. 2003 race winner Kevin Harvick was third in the No. 29 Reese's/GM Goodwrench Chevrolet, while Harvick's Richard Childress Racing rookie teammate, Clint Bowyer, who started second, finished fourth in the No. 07 Jack Daniel's Chevrolet. Mark Martin was fifth in the No. 6 AAA Insurance Ford.
Johnson was able to cruise to the checkered flag on the last lap due to two incidents that brought out the yellow flag, causing the race to finish under caution. The race, which saw eight cautions for 24 laps, had an average speed of 137.182 mph. Johnson earned $452,861.
"I'm speechless right now," said Johnson, who drives a car that is co-owned by Rick Hendrick and four-time Allstate 400 at the Brickyard winner Jeff Gordon. "I can't thank this race team enough for what they've done. We overcame a left-front flat tire to rally back. We drove all the way to the front. I never thought I would win at this racetrack. We had such a drought at this racetrack, and now we have a victory."
Johnson and his team struggled in three of their previous four starts at the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard. After finishing ninth in 2002, his rookie season, Johnson's respective finishes in 2003-05 were 18th, 36th and 38th.
The victory also extends Johnson's lead in the NEXTEL Cup Series points by 107 over Kenseth, but Johnson's focus wasn't on points.
"There was nothing of a championship on my mind today," he said in Victory Lane. "I wanted this trophy over here with the brick on it. I want to pucker up and kiss those bricks on the front stretch. It was all about winning the race today."
Johnson's 2006 Allstate 400 at the Brickyard started ominously. He was a late departure from the grid as the field pulled away to start pace laps because his team had to frantically replace a dead battery on the car.
On Lap 40, the caution flag flew as smoke trailed from Johnson's car entering Turn 1 due to the left-front tire problem. Johnson was able to nurse the car back to pit lane with only very minor damage.
Following the pit stop, a minor oil fire erupted in Johnson's pit that was more dramatic than dangerous, due to the cloud of smoke and fire retardant that briefly erupted over the No. 48 pit near the south end of pit lane. There were no injuries.
Johnson also was sent to the tail end of the longest line on the Lap 45 restart for pitting before pit lane was open.
But once the green flag flew, Johnson started a pace that would see him in ninth place by Lap 79.
Pole winner Jeff Burton dominated the first two-thirds of the race and led the most laps, 87. He led all but 21 of the first 109 laps but said the No., 31 Cingular Wireless Chevrolet did not handle well late in the race.
"We made huge adjustments, and it never fixed it," Burton said. "So I don't know, we might go home and find that a spring collapsed or something unusual. I would be shocked if we just tuned ourselves out like that; we never do. To lead that many laps and to have that big of a dominant car and then not even be in the mix is really disappointing."
Johnson had a commanding lead of 2.3 seconds on Kenseth when the caution flag flew on Lap 143 due to debris in Turn 3. The leaders, including Johnson, Kenseth, Martin, Denny Hamlin, Bowyer and Harvick, dove into the pits for tires and a splash of fuel while Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ryan Newman and Joe Nemechek stayed on the track.
On the restart on Lap 147, Busch and Earnhardt pulled away from the field while the drivers that pitted battled behind them. Johnson and the other drivers on fresh tires quickly got around Newman and Nemechek and, on Lap 150, Earnhardt took the lead from Busch in Turn 2 while Johnson was on a fast approach. Johnson passed Busch on the backstretch on Lap 150 and took the lead back from Earnhardt in Turn 4.
Kenseth got around Earnhardt and Busch and tried to give chase to Johnson, but Johnson gradually widened the lead to 2.144 seconds when he received the white flag with one lap to go, just before the last-lap incident involving Kahne brought out the caution flag.
Robby Gordon and Greg Biffle also made contact on the last lap and they finished 33rd and 35th, respectively. LaPorte, Ind., native Tony Raines was caught in Kahne's accident but still managed to finish 11th in the No. 96 DLP HDTV Chevrolet.
2005 Allstate 400 at the Brickyard winner Tony Stewart finished eighth in the No. 20 The Home Depot Chevrolet, while four-time race winner Jeff Gordon encountered bad luck early when a tire deflated on the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet on Lap 7, breaking a sway bar. He went three laps down but returned to the lead lap, finishing 16th.
Johnson's win marks only the second time in race history that the same driver has won NASCAR's Daytona 500 and Allstate 400 at the Brickyard in the same year. Dale Jarrett accomplished the feat in 1996.
The 14th running of the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard is scheduled for Sunday, July 29, 2007.