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thumbnail 17BMS1mt1548By the sounds of Jimmie Johnson's radio after he took the checkered flag at Bristol Motor Speedway, it would be easy to assume he had just won his first race.

It wasn't. The Food City 500 will go down as the 82nd win of Johnson's legendary career, but Johnson was still excited. Screaming at the top of his lungs, Johnson let out an, "(expletive) yeah!" among other things. His burnout, on both the front and backstretch, was just as impressive as ever.

So, what exactly is it that can make Johnson excited after 82 wins and seven championships?

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"Well, there's two parts to it," Johnson admitted. "One, this is what we work so hard to do, and I truly feel like NASCAR drivers are the best drivers in the world, and anytime you can ring the bell and win one of these shows, you've done something. You really have.

"Then the second piece – which probably led to some of the profanity – was this place, personally, to win here and to run that competitive all day means a lot to me. I've loved this racetrack from afar, made my first laps here in 2000 in a Busch (Series) car, and was like, 'Where am I? What's going on? How do I get around this racetrack?' And it's been a journey since 2000.

"I know we won here one other time, but I think from a consistency standpoint, this is the best we've ever been, and I've been looking and trying to figure this place out. I've come here with the identical racecar that Jeff Gordon wins with, and I run 15th. That's where a lot of that emotion came from is more in the personal category today and getting that win."

johnson2With 82 career wins, Johnson sits seventh on the all-time wins list. He is now one behind Cale Yarborough for sixth on the list and two behind Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison for fourth. While Richard Petty's 200 wins have always been viewed as insurmountable, David Pearson sits second on the list at 105.

Johnson has been adamant in the past that no driver, including himself, will break the 100-win mark. That's something he continues to assert even as he continues to close in.

"From watching Gordon (who has 93 career wins), he had a 13-win season one year," Johnson said. "It just seems too far out there that I don't think that the 100 is achievable. I hope I'm wrong, I really do. I would clearly love to do that. But again, I've always felt that that's just a such a big number and, with as competitive as our sport is, the new twist with stage racing and what it's done to our series, that's going to be a hard number to get to."

Of course, the ever-over-achieving Chad Knaus, Johnson's crew chief, is looking at 100 and beyond.

"I think we can win every race," Knaus said. "Now, the likelihood of us winning every race is pretty slim. But in all actuality, the ability to go out there and win every single race is there. Yeah. I don't see why not. Why not 150, right? Honestly, from what I've seen out of this team, and what I've seen out of the ability of Hendrick Motorsports and Jimmie, I don't think there's really too much that can't be reached."

The number of wins Johnson accumulates before his career might remain to be determined, but as far as continuing to be excited on the radio...

"My wife won't let my children listen to me, either," he laughed.

17BMS1mt1533Having spent the day clawing his way toward the front at Bristol Motor Speedway, Clint Bowyer finally found himself in second place when the Food City 500 win was on the line. The only problem was that it was inside 12 laps to go and leader Jimmie Johnson was nowhere in sight.

bowyer2"Sucks," Bowyer deadpanned when asked what his mindset was when getting to second.

But what a feeling to have considering the position Bowyer has been in the last few seasons. Monday, he earned his second top-five finish in eight Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races this year. Before this season, the last time Bowyer had scored a top five was at Bristol in 2015.

How long has it been since Bowyer finished second in a race? One has to go all the way back to the spring race at Richmond in 2013. So even though Bowyer knew he wasn't likely to win the Food City 500, his intensity level did pick up seeing a victory so close.

"You're watching your lap times, and you're adjusting everything you can possibly adjust," Bowyer said. "From a track bar adjustment to adjusting your line on the racetrack, just trying every little thing you can possibly do. It was like if I could gain on him one lap and then he'd gain on me the next, and then it just kind of fell by the wayside. Kind of realized it was a second-place day."

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Winless since 2012, Monday was the closest Bowyer has come to victory lane in quite some time. Nearly losing a lap early and being busted for speeding on pit road (Lap 326 of 500) didn't derail him, although Bowyer acknowledged you can't let winning opportunities slip away. Racing a seven-time champion, however, Bowyer knew Johnson wasn't going to open the door by making a mistake, and he wasn't going to wish ill-will on him either.

"It's Jimmie Johnson," Bowyer said. "You try everything you possibly can, like I said, and I was starting to do some pretty desperate things with brakes and my line and stuff like that, and then you just realize – your mindset quickly changes, and you're like, 'All right, let's put it in perspective here, we've come a long way, it was a long day, and second place is probably a good run for us, and we should be happy with that. We shouldn't hang our head about it.'"

With everything he's gone through, being satisfied with running well but coming up short is still a hard balance for Bowyer.

"It's called racing," Bowyer said. "Been that way my whole life, since I was about five years old. You struggle and struggle and struggle for a year and a half here, and hell, next thing you know you're being greedy about second. That's just the way racers are wired and the way it's always been.

"Having a ton of fun and working hard and seeing the results is gratifying for this race team. We need sponsorship on the side of this car rather than the boss (Gene Haas and Haas Automation), and good runs like this and positive momentum and mojo is a good way to do that."

17BRI1jh 04660A week off and an extra day at Bristol did nothing to break Jimmie Johnson's momentum.

Grabbing the lead from Kevin Harvick on Lap 480 of 500 in Monday's Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway, Johnson stayed out front for the final 21 laps and beat Clint Bowyer to the finish line by 1.199 seconds.

The checkered flag was Johnson's second at the .533-mile short track, his second straight this season and the 82nd of his career in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, leaving him one victory behind Cale Yarborough for sixth on the career wins list – and two behind Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison.

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"That's just mind-blowing," said Johnson, who started 11th and led three times for 81 laps but didn't get to the front for the first time until Lap 394. "I wouldn't be here without (owner Rick) Hendrick's support. Thanks to him and to Jeff Gordon for believing in me.

"For Hendrick Motorsports to make this job kind of a family environment for all of us to thrive in has been a perfect environment for me and (crew chief) Chad Knaus and for the consistent group of guys behind me through all these years has led to the environment to win 82 races, or whatever it is, which is just insane.

"I'm truly humbled. I'm excited to win back-to-back races. I'm excited to win at Bristol. I guess we'll be at Indy testing for the next two days (at a Goodyear tire test), and we'll show up at Richmond and try again."

Bowyer passed Harvick, his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate, on Lap 485 to post his best finish since running second at Richmond on April 27, 2013.

Harvick held third, followed by Matt Kenseth and Joey Logano. Polesitter Kyle Larson came home sixth after leading the first 202 laps, but the driver of the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet had to recover from a Lap 421 penalty for speeding on pit road.

The second-place run was bittersweet for Bowyer, who is looking for his first win since the fall Charlotte race in 2012. The driver of the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Ford had visions of victory after he passed Harvick, but he couldn't run down the seven-time champion in the last 15 laps.

Harvick got the lead by staying out on old tires when the rest of the contenders, except for Denny Hamlin, came to pit road under the final caution on Lap 465.

"I thought our Jimmy John's Ford was the fastest car," Harvick said. We just needed track position. I think we showed how fast it was there on no tires and kind of able to hold our own... A good weekend, and we'll just keep going."

Notes: Dale Earnhardt Jr. fell out of the race in 38th place when oil on his tires from a broken oil cooler launched his No. 88 Chevrolet into the Turn 1 wall after a restart on Lap 218... Kyle Busch, one of the pre-race favorites, blew right front tires on two separate occasions. The second instance knocked Busch out of the race on Lap 384, after he had climbed back into the top 10. He finished 35th... Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Erik Jones ran in the top 10 all afternoon until a cut tire and subsequent contact from AJ Allmendinger's Chevrolet damaged his No. 77 Toyota. Jones salvaged a 17th-place finish as the second car one lap down.

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Josef Newgarden hopes that getting a first Penske win under his belt at Barber on Sunday will help to speed up his integration with the team.

Newgarden capitalized on a puncture suffered by teammate Will Power to secure his first win since joining Penske from Ed Carpenter Racing at the end of last season. The 26-year-old said that he hadn't feel any particular pressure to get off the mark with his new employer, but conceded that winning in just his third start as a Penske driver will make it easier for him to focus on other things in the races ahead.

"It's nice to get it out of the way," he said. "There's always expectations in racing. It's not like I felt any more pressure. I think I felt the same pressure you always feel: 'Hey, look, if you're not getting it done, what are you doing in the race seat?'

"Whatever team you're with, it's nice to get [the first win] out of the way early. You feel like you've accomplished something, then you can focus on the next accomplishment for the season.

"I feel like it's gone pretty well so far, [and] I only think it's going to get better. We need some time to understand what I need out of this team, and that just takes experience together. You have to run race weekends, run at the track. The more you do that, the more you build up a rapport. I'm happy we were able to get something pretty big out of the way at the start, and hopefully now we can continue to try to repeat it."

Newgarden's Barber victory makes him the fastest first-time Penske winner among the team's current lineup. Helio Castroneves made his first trip to Victory Lane with Penske in his seventh start with the team at Detroit in 2000 (BELOW), Will Power won at Edmonton in 2009 on his fifth race with Penske, and Simon Pagenaud was making his 19th appearance in Penske colors when he won at Long Beach in 2016.

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alonso seatFernando Alonso will have one of the most decorated race engineers in the paddock to oversee his Indy 500 debut as Andretti Autosport technical director Eric Bretzman has been assigned to the Spaniard for the month of May.

Bretzman, who moved from Chip Ganassi's organization to the Andretti squad during the offseason, earned his stripes as Scott Dixon's engineer where the two combined to win 34 IndyCar races, three championships and the 2008 Indy 500 during a 12-year span.

"Eric is going to be engineering Fernando's car, and he's been such an awesome addition all year," Andretti Autosport COO Rob Edwards told RACER. "We're only three races in, but we've come out of the blocks a lot stronger than we were a year ago and he's had a huge amount to do with that. A year ago, Craig Hampson would have been doing the extra car, but he's got a full-time job now, so using Eric means we can keep it all in-house."

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In addition to engineering Alonso's Andretti/McLaren Honda program, Bretzman (BELOW) will also juggle his role as technical director for the team during its expansion to six cars for the 101st Indy 500.

"Obviously the balance there for us is all of his other roles and responsibilities, but he's going to have a very capable supporting cast on the car to help with the workload," Edwards said. "It's a natural extension of what we're doing for the rest of the year with people we have already."

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With Alonso spending his Monday at the Andretti shop in Indianapolis to have a seat made (BELOW) and meet with more of the staff that will look after his effort, the team also confirmed the engineer for its sixth entry for Jack Harvey. Run in partnership with Michael Shank Racing, Harvey will have Zach Eakin to steer his rookie Indy 500 campaign.

"Zach came through the relationship we have with Mike Shank, and he was part of the original plan to run Stefan Wilson," Edwards added. "Stefan and Zach worked together last year at Indianapolis, and through the various shuffling that has gone on, it seemed logical to keep that piece in place."

Edwards expects Bretzman and Eakin to quickly blend into Andretti's deep pool of race engineering talent.

"Eric and Zach have some familiarity from working together in the past at Ganassi," he said. "In terms of building continuity over a short period of time, it made good sense to go with people who knew each other already."

Working with Alonso will return Bretzman to an IndyCar timing stand for the first time since the end of the 2014 season. After being shifted to Ganassi's NASCAR program in 2015, he spent two seasons away from open-wheel and watched as his race engineer brother Ben earned the 2016 IndyCar title at Team Penske with Simon Pagenaud. Through their respective drivers, the friendly family rivalry will resume next month at Indianapolis.

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lepage 170423 bhm 6285It was an expression I've seldom seen in the 49 years I've spent around Roger Penske. The man whose cars have now won 188 IndyCar races and 14 championships was downright giddy after Josef Newgarden's victory at Barber Motorsports Park.

"He kept Scott Dixon behind him for what, the last 20 laps?" said The Captain of his first-year driver. "I mean, that's impressive isn't it? He made a great move to get around Dixon and then held him off.

"What a job that kid did. That was Scott Dixon."

Newgarden's first of what figures to be many wins for Team Penske illustrated why he got hired to replace Juan Montoya and why the 26-year-old native of Hendersonville, Tenn. has been a force on any track the past couple seasons.

new2Starting seventh because he gambled on scuffed red tires in qualifying and just missed the Fast Six, Newgarden opted for black tires at the green flag and promptly blew past James Hinchcliffe and teammate Simon Pagenaud before the first pit stop.

He leapfrogged Helio Castroneves and Dixon on that stop and found himself in second behind polesitter Will Power. As the third race of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar series headed into the stretch it was Power, Newgarden and Dixon separated by a couple seconds.

A caution with 22 laps left brought that trio into the pits one last time and Dixon's crew got him out second between the two Penske Chevys. On the restart, Newgarden dived inside the four-time IndyCar champ at Turn 16 and snatched second place.

JGS 9356 1"I like passing people there – I got Hinch earlier and I think with Scott I might have surprised him a little bit," said Newgarden. "It got him a little off-line and I was under him."

Following the podium celebration Dixon tipped his hat. "I usually keep it pretty tight around there but I was loose and he was really good in those last few corners, so it was a great move on his part."

Of course that only made one of the best performers of the past 25 years more intent on reclaiming the top spot and he had twice as much push-to-pass in his arsenal. But the young man who was allowed to hone his craft and mature thanks to Sarah Fisher, Wink Hartman and Ed Carpenter, did the unthinkable and kept Dixon behind him. And when Power punctured a tire and had to pit with 14 laps to go, Newgarden reaped the reward.

"Tough deal for Will – he led most of the race and was really strong but it's happened to all of us," said Newgarden. "You've got to seize your opportunities."

In the litany of stars that have graced The Captain's roster since he went full-time IndyCar racing in 1971, few have seized it as quickly. It took Pagenaud 19 starts to get that first win, Paul Tracy 17, Mark Donohue 16, 11 for Tom Sneva and Montoya, seven for Rick Mears and Castroneves, five for Gil de Ferran and Power. Al Unser Jr matched Newgarden in winning on his third start back in 1994. Only Danny Sullivan (start number two, the 1985 Indy 500) and Sam Hornish, who won his 2004 debut, have made R.P. smile quicker.

Newgarden scored a podium in his second start and a win in his third – and first time out for sponsor Fitzgerald Glider Kits. I've been saying for four years he's the Penske Perfect driver because of his sponsor-perfect demeanor, media savvy, fan friendliness and prodigious talent.

"I think he's got a great future," said Penske as he skipped (OK that's an exaggeration) off towards Victory Lane.

But what a great start.

Noteworthy at Barber...

16C 3260 1• As first impressions go, Fernando Alonso wowed the IndyCar paddock and press corps with his honestly, openness and sense of humor. The two-time world driving champion gave one of the most entertaining press conferences since Alex Zanardi, mingled with the fans on the grid and repeatedly gave the Indianapolis 500 his ringing endorsement. "It's the greatest race in the world and I'm looking forward to being part of it," he said several times.

• Spencer Pigot was having another fine race when he spun out while running eighth in ECR's Fuzzy's Chevy. The 2015 Indy Lights champ started 17th and made some nifty passes just like he did at St. Pete and was pulling away from veterans Tony Kanaan and Sebastien Bourdais when he made a mistake. "And it wasn't even for position, it was a lapped car, so I feel terrible for my crew," said Pigot, who may run Phoenix if J.R. Hildebrand's broken hand isn't sufficiently healed.

• A.J. Foyt missed Barber and won't be at Phoenix as he recovers from his stem cell surgery but Super Tex is on the mend and definitely will be in Indy next month.

Dec08 lead.001This is the 20th installment in RACER's ongoing 25th anniversary celebration during which we share the 25 most important issues from our first quarter century.

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"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times" was a fair summary of the period in which RACER's 200th issue came into being. The gratification felt by the staff at reaching this milestone was tempered by the weight of the challenges everyone was facing in December 2008. The depths of the Great Recession included particularly hard hits to the U.S. automotive industry and so, inevitably, to professional motorsports – and to the media entities that covered them.

Underscoring how much the racing world had changed over the course of our 200 issues, the cover story of the issue detailed the 100 most significant moments in racing since the magazine's launch in May 1992 – and 100 more moments we wanted to happen in the years ahead. How'd we do? Like with all such wish lists, there were some good predictions, some bad.

Dec08 4A best of times/worst of times scenario also was in play for Tony Stewart at the end of 2008. Tom Jensen related how the then two-time NASCAR Cup champion had walked away from the Joe Gibbs Racing he had helped build into a powerhouse to take up co-ownership of Gene Haas' team, which had previously failed to muster much of a challenge. But Stewart would prove the long-term wisdom of his decision by winning a third title with Stewart-Haas Racing in 2011, and helping put in place the ingredients to keep the team a regular contender after he had retired from the cockpit.

Dec08 2For Target Chip Ganassi Racing at the end of '08, it was more a case of going from strength to strength. Having just cleaned up in the IRL with Scott Dixon, the team doubled up for 2009 by recruiting Dario Franchitti – who had preceded Dixon as winner of both the Indianapolis 500 and series title – from Michael Andretti's team. Jeff Olson related how the instant rapport between the two aces helped create an IndyCar superteam before it even turned a wheel.

Dec08 3The flip side of all the uncertainty facing racing at the end of 2008 was that the ultimate owners of the sport – the fans – were more in control than ever before, as we related in our annual look at the sources of power and influence in the sport. While motorsports sponsorship was coming under increasing pressure from corporate belt-tightening, the expansion of TV options and the first glimmerings of internet streaming were making more racing available to more people to view and choose from. That presented both promise and peril to all the interested parties, as Andrew Crask detailed in "Changing Times"

Dec08 5

RACER, of course, was feeling the effects of these changes too, which would lead to some significant new twists and turns in the years ahead.

Image47Two-time Formula 1 world champion Fernando Alonso visits with RACER's Robin Miller to discuss his upcoming debut at the Indy 500.


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