Sunday's motors: Johnson’s playoff run ends as Harvick captures 2nd Brickyard
Indianapolis — Kevin Harvick’s nearly flawless run Sunday ruined any chance of Jimmie Johnson executing his in-and-in playoff strategy.
A crash with 55 laps to go made it official: Johnson’s perfect postseason record is over.
On a day Harvick won the pole, led all but 42 laps and raced to his second Brickyard 400 victory, Johnson pulled his familiar No. 48 car through pit road and parked it in Gasoline Alley — without a playoff spot for the first time since NASCAR introduced the format in 2004.
“I think our car had good pace. Just these restarts are so crazy with this rules package,” the seven-time Cup champion said after being released from the infield medical center. “Everybody’s trying to get everything they can and we came out on the bad side of the deal there in turn two.”
The result: Clint Bowyer and Ryan Newman claimed the final two spots in the 16-driver field, and Daniel Suarez fell four points short of becoming the first Mexican-born driver to make the playoffs that begin next weekend in Las Vegas.
Harvick beat Joey Logano by 6.118 seconds.
Johnson wasn’t the only driver having trouble Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Defending race winner Brad Keselowski (Rochester Hills) wound up climbing out of the cockpit on his knees after his car and Erik Jones’ touched, sending Keselowski sideways into a tire barrier. Neither driver was seriously injured. Two-time race winner and regular-season champion Kyle Busch parked his car on pit road after blowing an engine.
Johnson started the day 18th in points, two spots and 18 points below the cutline and was still down 12 points when the third and final stage began. Then came an eight-car melee that ended Johnson’s long-shot effort.
It started with Johnson and William Byron running side-by-side through the second turn. Johnson’s car spun in front of Kurt Busch, sending both into the outside wall.
“I’m not stoked by the situation at all,” Johnson said, referring to the streak. “I am impressed that we have been in 15 consecutive playoffs. I’m not sure anybody else has done that. So, our record doesn’t stink. We wish we could have kept it going, but life goes on.”
It was one of six crashes in a race that had 48 of 160 laps run under caution.
Harvick’s No. 4 Ford was the best car on the 2.5-mile oval. He won the pole in the morning, led 118 laps in the afternoon and crossed the famed yard of bricks first. Harvick also won the race in 2003.
“This is awesome. I kept telling myself get the baby girl a ropy,” Harvick said. “Good weekend to come, so she doesn’t know what’s going on, just a lot of noise but pretty special.”
Denny Hamlin finished sixth and was the top finisher for Joe Gibbs Racing, which was trying to become the first team to sweep NASCAR’s four biggest races in the same season.
Leclerc wins Italian Grand Prix
Charles Leclerc hadn’t even reached his teens the last time Ferrari won the Italian Grand Prix.
Only a week after achieving a first Formula One victory in Spa, Leclerc ended the storied team’s lengthy wait for victory at its home circuit.
The noise from the passionate Ferrari “tifosi” (fans) was deafening as Leclerc roared to the finish line at Monza. It grew even louder when he became the team’s first driver to step onto the top spot of the iconic podium since Fernando Alonso in 2010.
“It really means so much to me,” said Leclerc in Italian, as he spoke above a sea of red as thousands of Ferrari fans wearing that color chanted his name and waved flags. Flares were lit, red, white and green ticker tape unleashed and giant Ferrari flags unfurled.
“It was already a dream come true at Spa (Belgian GP), winning here is 10 times more,” said the 21-year-old Leclerc, who was only 12 when Ferrari won in 2010. “I don’t have words.”
Leclerc, who started from pole position, roared in delight as he crossed the line 0.8 seconds ahead of Valtteri Bottas and 35.1 seconds ahead of championship leader Lewis Hamilton.
“In the last two laps I started to believe that the win was possible. I let all my emotions on the radio, I don’t think anyone could understand what I said,” said Leclerc with a laugh.
Leclerc’s credentials were tested to the maximum by Hamilton but the five-time world champion ended up playing second fiddle to the sport’s rising star.
“Charles did a great job,” Hamilton said. “He came under a lot of pressure from Valtteri and I.
“I did the best I could, but following so closely for so many laps, the tires just went off the cliff. It was not our day.”
Hamilton hounded Leclerc, especially after pitting at the end of lap 19 and emerging on medium tires.
Leclerc pitted a lap later and although he managed to come out in front of Hamilton, he was on hard tires.
Shortly afterward, Hamilton almost got past but Leclerc held him off in a move that ended with the Mercedes on the grass. Leclerc was given a black and white warning flag for that but no penalty.
Another defensive move from Leclerc later in the race had Hamilton saying on team radio: “Some dangerous driving going on here.”
Max Verstappen was given a five-second penalty for a similar move last year at Monza. When Hamilton was questioned about it, he replied tersely: “I guess the stewards woke up on a different side of the bed this morning, I don’t know.”
Any hope Hamilton had of snatching victory slipped away with 11 laps remaining as he made a mistake at the first corner, ending up on the escape road and allowing Bottas to take second.
With that, Hamilton gave up his pursuit of Leclerc and instead pitted for fresh tires in order to set the fastest lap and get the bonus point.
Bottas took over the attack on Leclerc and, on fresher tires, kept gaining but locked up with two laps remaining, paving the way for an emotional win for Leclerc, who recorded the first victory of his F1 career at last weekend’s Belgian GP.
“The race felt a lot longer than 53 laps but the moment I crossed the finish line to now is just pure happiness,” Leclerc said.