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Johnson wins at Indy, Earnhardt new points leader

Johnson wins at Indy, Earnhardt new points leader

INDIANAPOLIS – Jimmie Johnson broke away from the field on the final restart at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and paced the pack en route to his fourth career NASCAR Sprint Cup victory at the famed 2.5-mile speedway. The driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Kobalt Tools Chevrolet now ranks tied for first all-time in victories at the historic track with teammate Jeff Gordon.

“To come in here and win is a huge honor, and to have four wins, I’m at a loss for words,” Johnson said. “But I’m so proud of my team, so proud of everybody at Hendrick Motorsports. It was a total team effort today.”

Johnson was joined inside the top 10 by teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr. in fourth and Jeff Gordon in fifth. Kasey Kahne crossed the stripe 12th. Hendrick Motorsports now has eight victories at Indianapolis and helps Chevrolet maintain its streak, giving the manufacturer its 10th straight wins at the Brickyard.

With his ninth-top five result of the 2012 season, Earnhardt becomes the new leader in the championship standings.  The last time Earnhardt ranked first in the standings was after the 27th event of the 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup season when he finished third at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

“We had about a fourth- to eighth-place car, and it just seemed to get some good fortune on how the restarts lined up for us,” Earnhardt said. “The car was fast.

“Run in the top five and top 10 enough, and you’ll get enough points, but I’d like to win some more races. I know our fans would like for us to win some more races.”

Within the first 10 laps, Johnson had climbed four spots into second and was chasing the leader. Gordon, despite reporting a free-handling condition, followed close behind in fifth. Kahne was running eighth five laps later, and Johnson finally captured the lead on Lap 29.

Earnhardt made it an all-Hendrick Motorsports top 10 by Lap 40 and was the biggest mover among his teammates early when he climbed from his 20th starting spot. The driver of the No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet maintained his presence inside the top 10 and improved to fourth

Gordon led one lap during green-flag stops – Lap 72 – and like his teammates, he encountered several handling issues throughout the 160-lap event. But track position proved to be the biggest issue for Gordon.

“We had a car that could compete for the win,” Gordon said. “I think we were probably the only ones who could have competed for the win. Congrats to the No. 48 team. They deserve to be in Victory Lane today; they had a fast car. But we had as good of a race car if not better. We just couldn’t get the track position.”

As the laps wound down, Gordon was running third and radioed to Gustafson that he needed to free up the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet so he could catch Johnson. The caution flag waved shortly thereafter and the No. 24 team addressed Gordon’s issues during a four-tire, fuel stop. Johnson, Earnhardt and Kahne also took four tires.

With 32 laps left in the race, Johnson lined up on the front row next to Greg Biffle for the restart. Earnhardt lined up fifth, Gordon sixth and Kahne in 18th.  The green flag dropped with 31 laps left and Johnson side jammed up for the restart. Kyle Busch unsuccessfully attempted to make the pass by Johnson before the top five settled in, with Johnson running second and Busch in third; Earnhardt rounded out the top five.

After a brief caution period, the field reset with 20 laps left.  Crew chiefs Alan Gustafson and Steve Letarte instructed Gordon and Earnhardt to save fuel, but when the green-flag dropped, Johnson sped away with the lead and eventually the win.

“It’s just a fantastic weekend all the way around,” said crew chief Chad Knaus. “We had a well-deserved weekend off last weekend, and I think the whole team came in energized and ready to go. A lot of effort went into this weekend. It’s the same race car we won with at Dover (Del., earlier this year), so it’s pretty special. It’s 2-0.”