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Johnson Wins Fourth Cup Race At Brickyard

Jimmie Johnson kisses the bricks after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Crown Royal presents the Curtiss Shaver 400 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 29, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana. [1]Team owner Rick Hendrick may have had better days — but not many.

Hendrick joined his No. 48 team in kissing the bricks at the finish line after driver Jimmie Johnson won Sunday’s Crown Royal 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, taking the checkered flag 4.758 seconds ahead of runner-up Kyle Busch and tying teammate Jeff Gordon for most NASCAR Sprint Cup Series wins at the Brickyard — four.

The victory was Johnson’s third of the season — all but assuring he will remain the only driver to have qualified for the Chase for the Sprint Cup each year since the inception of NASCAR’s playoff format in 2004. Johnson won for the 58th time, leaving him eighth on the all-time list and second to Gordon among active drivers.

“Man, you just hope to race here — to come here and win is a huge honor,” Johnson said. “And to win four — four wins! I’m at a loss for words.”

A fourth-place finish propelled Hendrick teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. into the lead in the series standings, after Matt Kenseth, the points leader entering the race, wrecked out in 35th place.

The last time Earnhardt led the Cup standings was October 2004 after Talladega, but he held the top spot for only two days, thanks to a 25-point NASCAR penalty for cursing during a post-race television interview. He now leads by 14 points over Kenseth.

Greg Biffle came home third, followed by Earnhardt and Gordon. Pole-sitter Denny Hamlin, Ryan Newman, Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski and Tony Stewart completed the top 10.

Johnson was asked whether he was already thinking of a fifth victory at Indy — something no one has done either in NASCAR or IndyCar — but Johnson prefers to take one thing at a time. Next on his list is a sixth Cup title.

“I’d love to be a five-time winner here, but I’d also like to win a sixth championship this year,” said Johnson, who string of titles was ended at five straight by Stewart last year. “That’s the thing that’s on my mind right now.”

Each previous time Johnson has won at the Brickyard, he has gone on to win the series championship — in 2006, 2008 and 2009.

Busch had an exceptional car, but it was no match for the rocket ship of Johnson, who put Chevrolet in the Indy winner’s circle for the 10th straight year.

“If it wasn’t for the 48, we were probably in our own zip code on the rest of the field,” Busch said. “But Jimmie Johnson was in his own country today, so we couldn’t keep up with him.

“He was really, really fast, and you could see it, too, on the restarts, when he could make it through the corners and he just put his car anywhere he wanted and would just slam on the gas pedal and take off from me. His car was down and digging.”

Racing side-by-side with Trevor Bayne on Lap 132, Joey Logano spun his No. 20 Toyota, bounced off the No. 47 Camry of Bobby Labonte and wiped out the No. 17 Ford of Kenseth, who was running near the outside wall, trying to slip past the wreck.

“The farther you got back (in the field), the dumber people drove, and it got us in some bad spots,” Kenseth said.

Carl Edwards’ first race with new crew chief Chad Norris went awry nearly from the outset. Edwards started second and contested the lead with Denny Hamlin for half a lap, but lost power and slowed on Lap 12 and brought his car to pit road.

By the time the No. 99 crew had the issue straightened out — after a green-flag pit stop followed by another under yellow on Lap 42 — Edwards was four laps down and effectively out of contention — not the sort of effort he needed in a winless season with a Chase position on the line. Edwards finished 29th.

The disappointing result left Edwards 12th in the standings and 61 points behind 10th-place Clint Bowyer (15th Sunday) with six races left before the Chase field is set at Richmond.