At several points during today’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Jimmie Johnson was making it look easy. But while he led a race-high 73 laps before finishing second after a slow final pit stop, the five-time Sprint Cup champion admitted that having the clean air while leading was critical to him doing as well as he did.
“It wasn’t the easiest [car] to drive,” Johnson told ESPN. “I was real tight in and loose off [the corner], and if I had clean air and the track to myself, I could get my mind right and run the laps I needed to. But in traffic, it was a little tougher than what I wanted.
“It was still an awesome race car. We just came up a little short today but we’ll load up and go to the next one and try to win next week.”
Johnson, along with Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon (who finished seventh), was seeking to become the first five-time winner of the ‘400.’ But while he was in front for extended stretches, he could never completely shake Ryan Newman, who showed that he had the pace to challenge for the win.
Then came Johnson’s four-tire stop with 27 laps remaining, which went long at 17 seconds and cost him the lead after Newman quickly pitted for just two tires on his own final stop. When both of them were back on the track after service, Newman had an initial gap of more than seven seconds over Johnson. The cushion was more than enough for Newman, who went on to win by more than two and a half seconds to the delight of his home fans.
“Ryan was fast all day long,” Johnson said. “I can’t take anything away from him. At the beginning of the race, he was pacing everything for a long time. Then he got mired back in traffic for a while there, and then toward the end of the race, he worked his way back to the front. He was plenty fast.”
Johnson led a strong day overall for the Hendrick camp, which also got a third-place effort from Kasey Kahne and a sixth-place run from Dale Earnhardt Jr.