A third-place finish in Sunday’s Crown Royal 400 at the Brickyard sure appeared to put Jimmie Johnson in a great mood.
Told in his post-race media availability at Indianapolis Motor Speedway that the finish officially clinched a berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup playoffs for him, Johnson laughed.
Then he joked: "Dude, we can take off. That’s it. See you guys (in the media) in wherever the first one is (in the Chase), Chicago?"
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He wasn’t done with the kidding.
"I feel really sick," he added. "I think I’m concussed."
That, of course, was a well-intended jab at his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Dale Earnhardt Jr., who has missed the last two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races while battling concussion-like symptoms. Earnhardt will sit out this weekend’s event at Pocono Raceway as well because he has not yet been medically cleared to race again.
Four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon subbed for Earnhardt at Indy, finishing 13th, and will sub for him again at Pocono.
Johnson, meanwhile, always figured to be a lock to get into the Chase by virtue of his two wins earlier this season at Atlanta and Fontana.
But it didn’t become official until Sunday’s third-place run guaranteed it. Now, no matter what happens the rest of the season (hint: even if Johnson were to get hurt and sit out races a la Earnhardt), the driver of the No. 48 Hendrick Chevrolet will finish in the top 30 in the driver points standings.
On a more serious note, Johnson said he was glad to break an uncharacteristic streak of six consecutive races in which he had failed to finish in the top 10. It was his best finish since also finishing third in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway back in May.
Johnson said the final restart, a second attempt at a green-white-checkered overtime finish, worked in his favor.
"For us it really worked to our benefit," Johnson said. "I think I restarted in seventh and ended up third when it was all said and done."
Johnson freely admitted that he had nothing for Indy race winner Kyle Busch, who led 149 of 170 laps in his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. But Johnson was one of the drivers who actually took advantage of four restarts over the final seven laps of regulation and the two overtime attempts.
"I knew I had a good race car," Johnson said. "I never really had a chance to see what the 18 had. I just heard lap times and obviously knew he was very fast.
"But we were sitting there on new tires compared to the leaders (at the end), and those restarts really worked in our favor."