The Most Coveted Yard in Sports
HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (July 24, 2012) – There are several famous yards in sports. “The Tackle” from Super Bowl XXXIV between the Tennessee Titans and St. Louis Rams will be remembered for linebacker Mike Jones’ game-saving tackle of Titans receiver Kevin Dyson a yard short of the goal line as time ran out. Another example would be golf’s 2012 Masters tournament where, deadlocked in a playoff with Louis Oosthuizen, Bubba Watson hit an incredible shot from the trees to leave his ball just over two yards from the cup, from where he made the putt for the win and the legendary green jacket.
While these yards were certainly involved in classic game-changing moments, one of the most historic yards in all of sports lies embedded in the track at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The famous “yard of bricks” is synonymous with the 2.5-mile track. Track owners repaved the speedway in late 1909 after the first two motorsports events held at the track ended with issues concerning the original track surface, a mixture of gravel, limestone and stone chips, among other things.
After subsequent repaving projects, the final sections of brick were paved over in October 1961. The exception was the 36-inch brick section that makes up the start-finish line. Now, crossing those bricks in front of 42 other NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competitors guarantees a driver’s name is cemented forever in the famed track’s record books, as Jimmie Johnson has done three times – 2006, 2008 and 2009.
Johnson’s Brickyard 400 victories were hard-earned. In 10 races, his wins account for his only three top-five finishes. He has four top-10 results in the event, meaning despite his three victories, he has only one other finish of 10th or better (ninth in 2002). Three of his 10 appearances produced finishes of 36th or worse (36th in 2004, 38th in 2005 and 39th in 2007). It is safe to say Johnson’s results in one of the sport’s crown jewel events have been feast or famine.
His three victories, however, place him among the racing world’s elite. There are only five drivers in all major motorsports series – Sprint Cup, IndyCar, Formula 1 – with more wins at Indianapolis. Those names include some of the most recognizable drivers in the world. Jeff Gordon’s four Brickyard 400 wins are the most. IndyCar drivers A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears also have four wins in the illustrious Indy 500. All drivers, however, are eclipsed by Formula 1 champion Michael Schumacher, who has five wins in the U.S. Grand Prix at Indianapolis.
Johnson’s three victories were won in varying fashion. His first in 2006 was only the second time in Sprint Cup history that a driver won the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 in the same year. Dale Jarrett did it first in 1996. Despite cutting a tire early in the race, the team rebounded with Johnson passing Dale Earnhardt Jr., with less than 10 laps to go on his way to his first Brickyard 400 victory that led to his first of five consecutive Sprint Cup championships. The 2006 victory was also the first time Johnson had led a lap at the track, and it was his first top-five finish in five races at Indy.
His second win in 2008 and was his 35th career win in the series. Johnson held off Carl Edwards after final pit stops for a seven-lap run to the end to earn his second Brickyard 400 trophy in a race where the racing surface played havoc with tire wear.
Johnson took his third Brickyard 400 trophy in four races the following year, becoming the first driver with consecutive wins in 16 NASCAR races at Indy. Juan Pablo Montoya led 116 of the 160 laps but was penalized for speeding on pit road. Mark Martin soon took the lead but Johnson passed him on lap 137. Martin made a run at the lead in the final 10 laps, but Johnson was able to hold on for the win.
Johnson will go for his fourth win Sunday. To earn it, however, he must cross over the most hallowed yard in sports first to claim victory.
JIMMIE JOHNSON, Driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports:
We had a rare weekend off. What did you do last weekend?
“My family has been in Europe for July. I took them over after the Kentucky race and came home to race two more times and get some work done. I left immediately following the race at New Hampshire and flew back over and spent our off weekend over there. It was exciting to see and explore. At the same time, my mother-in-law, my wife, my daughter and then some other families, friends that we know in North Carolina, they took their families over, so kids and wives have been all over Europe having a great time. I’m very happy that my wife and daughter have been able to explore and experience that. I was just eager to see them since it had been two weeks, and I couldn’t wait to get over there and see them both.”
Is there a mystique going to Indianapolis Motor Speedway? Is it similar to going through the infield tunnel at Daytona?
“Oh, yeah. You drive through the tunnel at Indy and come in and look around and the history just starts talking to you. I’m so happy to have had three very special moments there myself. I hope to have a fourth and join some elite company of drivers who have won four times there.”
Indy is a very difficult track, but you have been very successful there. What is the key to getting around Indy?
“Track position is everything. The track position challenge starts in qualifying. Clearly, a fast racecar is important, but maintaining track position and, especially, having track position at the end of the race is everything.”
There are three series that are going to be competing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway Brickyard 400 weekend. What are your thoughts about having all three series at the track at once?
“I think it’s good. I’m going to miss watching the racing at the short track (Indianapolis Raceway Park). I think, for drivers and teams, the sport itself and for the Nationwide and GRAND-AM series to say they race at the Brickyard is huge. I think it will hopefully attract more sponsors for everyone involved and it would be a nice resume-builder for everybody.”
At Indy, you will be using a different garage area than you traditionally use due to the fact there are three series competing. What are your thoughts?
“They were showing us that the other day (on a recent media tour at the track). Where Moto GP and the Formula 1 garage have been over the years is now where the (Sprint) Cup cars will be with all the additional vehicles needing garage space. The cool thing about that is it is right on pit road and the fans who sit on the frontstretch will be able to look right into the garage area. I’ve known those garages have been there. I’ve always wondered why we didn’t use them, and now we are going to use them, which is pretty cool.”
Do you have a favorite Indy tradition?
“Well, there are two things. Kissing the bricks is a big one, which is so cool. When I was up at Indy the other day, the first thing I did was run out on the frontstretch and take a look at the bricks and hopefully picked my spot where I will be after the race. Another neat thing that takes place when you win is they put the driver in a Corvette and take you around the speedway, waving to the fans. And they have a microphone there so you can talk to everyone, which is cool. I’ve over the years had my crew guys pile on the car. We have a really neat photo of me, (wife) Chani, Mr. Hendrick and I think 10 or 11 other crew members just laying on top of this Corvette taking the victory lap around the track, which is really cool.”
Source: Jimmie Johnson media