INDIANAPOLIS -- Dirt and grit never tasted so good.
Jimmie Johnson hoisting the checkered flag following the Brickyard 400 is becoming old hat for the 33-year-old. Johnson outlasted Mark Martin to capture his third Brickyard victory and moved up into second place in the Sprint Cup standings.
"I hope the fans enjoyed that race," Johnson said in victory lane. "I can't say enough about this race team and all of Hendrick Motorsports and that battle with my teammate Mark Martin. Damn, he was fast."
Johnson seized the lead on lap 137 after a strong restart and held the top spot for the remainder of the race. In eight races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Johnson has four top-10 finishes, including his three wins.
Martin was better than Johnson in the second turn, but Johnson had the advantage in the fourth turn and was able to hold off his charging teammate. Martin was looking for his first win at the historic speedway.
Now sitting in second place in the standings, three-time series champion Johnson believes his team is in prime position to make a push and carry that momentum over into the Chase
"We're doing things right," Johnson said. "The last four or five weeks we've had a shot at winning races and just came up a little short the way things have been shaking out at the end. I feel we've got our form.
"We've led a lot of laps in the last 10 races," he continued. "Probably the most of anyone and now that we're getting close to the Chase, we're going to buckle down and focus on the fourth (championship)."
Two-time Brickyard winner Tony Stewart finished the day in third and extended his points lead to 192. The finish marked Stewart's seventh top-10 finish in 11 starts at the Brickyard. Stewart ran in the top 10 throughout the day, but never challenged the leaders.
Adjustments were the name of the game Sunday, but for the Old Spice team, they proved elusive. One slow pitstop, along with not being able to find the right adjustments, kept the No. 14 car behind the leader.
"We never could get it to rotate the center of each corner. Like I said, every time we made an adjustment, we either didn't make it respond. It didn't respond or else it made the exit too free or the entry and exit to free," Stewart said.
"We never could hit on exactly what it wanted to enter the center. We just messed the entry and exit up," he added.
Juan Pablo Montoya, who won here in the 2000 Indy 500, led the most laps, but a late pit lane speeding violation on lap 125 doomed the Brazilian's chances of adding a Brickyard victory to his name. Montoya slid back in the pack and finished the day in the 11th position.
"It kind of sucks," Montoya acknowledged. "But it is what it is. I thought I wasn't speeding. I was on the lights every time. It is what it is. We haven't had to deal with that before."
As the races before the Chase cutoff rapidly fly past, solid finishes are key. Kyle Busch began the day in 10th place in the points standing, but a blown tire on lap 58 led to a 38th place finish and to him dropping outside the top-12 in points. Before returning to the race, Busch commented on the prospect of dropping out of the top 12.
"I think it's pretty self-explanatory that we're trying to fight for a spot in the 'Chase' and this is obviously frustrating because I don't know if it was our cars, the tires or what," he said.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. was constantly in the top-10 all afternoon, but a blown engine late in the race resulted in a 36th place finish. Following the race, the No. 88 driver was quick to point the finger at the possible source of the problem.
"We haven't had engine problems, so I assume it was driver error," he said. "I broke the valve train on the last pit stop and a couple of the pieces dropped to the bottom of the motor. They rattled around and must have blown the engine."
Inaugural Brickyard winner Jeff Gordon had two reasons to smile on Sunday. Not only did the driver have a top-10 finish, but he moved into second place in owner's points for the season following Johnson's victory.
Last year's race was mired in controversy as the IMS chewed up the best Goodyear had to offer. The race was forced to use mandatory cautions for safety, resulting in multitudes of disgruntled fans angrily stomping to the gates following the lackluster race.
Goodyear vowed to bring a tire to the 2009 race that would perform and they didn't disappoint. The tire maker buckled down, utilizing seven track tests, 30 drivers and a total of 14,000 miles to deliver a tire that help produce just three caution flags and 14 caution laps.
The crews and drivers mount up and head to Pocono next Sunday at 1 p.m.