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Johnson fights back for Brickyard triumph

6 August 2006

Nextel Cup points leader Jimmie Johnson fought back from a near-disastrous puncture to add the Indianapolis Motor Speedway victory lane to the long list of tracks he has won at.

Johnson's Allstate 400 victory came thanks to a virtuoso performance from the driver and the #48 Hendrick Motorsports team on a day where tyres were a worry all day and track position was key.

After starting fifth and cruising through the opening stages of the 160-lap encounter Johnson's day almost came unravelled when he became the first and only victim of the left front tyre problems that some predicted would blight the race. Running in third place Johnson's left front Goodyear went flat on the front straight and while that was a blessing for the driver who failed to finish last year's Allstate 400 after a far more catastrophic failure, it did mean a full lap of the 2.5-mile IMS quad oval at a greatly reduced pace.

But with every cloud comes a silver lining and on this occasion the timing of Johnson's puncture couldn't have been better. Due to the pre-race tyre worries NASCAR had called for a pair of competition caution periods on lap 15 and 40. With Johnson's failure occurring on lap 39 Johnson was able to change tyres and remedy the light bodywork damage caused by the flailing rubber without losing a lap.

Restarting from 38th position on lap 45 Johnson gained several places before the caution flag flew again on lap 56, which in turn allowed the #48 team to help their man gain several more positions on pit road. By lap 60 Johnson was back up to 18th, which became tenth by lap 75 and sixth following the next round of yellow flag pitstops on lap 86.

By the time the race reached the lap 100 mark Johnson was fifth and within sight of Bud Pole winner and early race dominator Jeff Burton but as Burton's #31 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet began to fade it helped to bunch the leaders considerably. Some incisive passing moves allowed Johnson to get Mark Martin and Burton in quick succession and then Kevin Harvick and finally Matt Kenseth for the lead on lap 118.

Keeping the rest of the leaders at arms length Johnson was able to cycle through a round of trouble-free green flag pitstops and retain the lead as the race entered its final 30 laps but when the caution flag waved again on lap 141 all bets were off.

As expected on a day where overtaking was tough several drivers elected not to change tyres while others chose to take just two fresh Goodyears. Johnson, Kenseth and Carl Edwards, running third at the time of the yellow, all took four fresh tyres, a decision that would prove critical.

Johnson took the final restart of the day on lap 146 in eighth position behind four drivers (Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr, Ryan Newman, Joe Nemechek) who stayed out on old rubber, two drivers (Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer) who took two tyres and one driver (Kenseth) who took four tyres and beat the #48 team off pit road.

Crucially Johnson passed Kenseth during a manic couple of laps after the restart and swiftly dealt with all bar Busch and Earnhardt Jr by lap 150. Busch and stubborn leader Earnhardt Jr were able to offer little resistance and within a lap of catching the top two Johnson was through and into an unassailable lead.

Kenseth was also able to follow Johnson passed Busch and Earnhardt Jr but couldn't do anything about the #48 Chevrolet, which took the chequered flag first for the fourth time this year to add to Johnson's already healthy points lead.

Kenseth's second place finish keeps him in a clear second place in the championship but the deficit between him and Johnson now stands at 107 points.

Kevin Harvick finished a strong third on a day that looked as if it belonged to his Richard Childress Racing team. Harvick wasn't as strong as teammate Jeff Burton in the opening half of the race but stayed the course better in the closing stages. The third member of the RCR camp, rookie Clint Bowyer saw his tyre gamble pay off with a fourth place finish while Mark Martin overcame a late race wheel worry to complete the top five.

Earnhardt Jr managed to turn a poor day around at the end of the day as he held on to sixth position with Kyle Busch seventh, Carl Edwards eighth, last year's Allstate 400 winner Tony Stewart ninth and Kurt Busch tenth in his back-up car that he started from the rear of the field.

No less than three accidents on the final lap shuffled the order considerably and left half a dozen teams with damaged cars. Robby Gordon and Greg Biffle clashed coming off turn one whilst battling just outside the top 20 while a little further ahead Kasey Kahne lost control and spun in turn three, his car jack-knifing head on into the outside wall before rebounding, clipping Denny Hamlin and leaving a big enough chunk of debris on the racing line to lift Tony Raines' car clean off the ground when he hit it.

All this helped elevate Busch to tenth on the final lap with Raines holding on for eleventh, a disappointed Jeff Burton 12th after he led more than half the race, Hamlin dropping to 13th and Ken Schrader moving up to 14th.

Four-time IMS winner Jeff Gordon finished 16th after a torrid day that saw him lose two laps in the early running when he broke a front sway bar while of the final lap victims Biffle finished 33rd while Kahne was classified 35th.


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