INDIANAPOLIS - It would be hard to believe that there was a happier NASCAR Sprint Cup driver than Jimmie Johnson after he won the Brickyard 400 on Sunday, but there was.
And it was the second-place finisher Kyle Busch.
The 2012 season has not been kind to the 27-year-old sort-of-reformed NASCAR bad boy, so he was celebrating his second place as if it were a victory.
His on-track antics this year are way down — to almost zero — but his on-track performance is also down and that is something that has been eating away at the driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.
This is a driver who has averaged about five wins a season in the past four Cup years when he was being called on the NASCAR carpet more times than the goo from Stanley Steamer.
Heck last year he was suspended for two races and still managed four victories.
So far this season, however, Busch has pretty much behaved and has been rewarded with just one win at the spring race at Richmond International Raceway.
Even though he admitted he had nothing left at the end of the Brickyard 400 to challenge Johnson, nobody else did either.
“The rest of the field has a whole lot of work to do, I can tell you that,” Busch said of the No. 48 team’s dominance.
But he was still ecstatic that his No. 18 JGR squad ran as well as it did.
“It feels like a win for us,” Busch said. “I wanted to do a burnout, but I’ll save that for when we really do collect the checkered flag.
“It feels so good to actually run well and finish well. We’ve been needing to do this for so long — we’ve run well, we’ve just never been able to close out the deal.”
The statistics for the past five races show just how bad Busch was struggling coming into Indianapolis: Michigan 32nd, Sonoma 17th, Daytona 24th and New Hampshire 16th.
The lone bright spot — if you can call it that — was a 10th-place finish at Kentucky a month ago.
“I’m a lot happier today than I’ve been in the last two months, Busch said on Sunday. “Just so many frustrating days.”
He said that the streak of bad finishes was taking a toll not only on him but the whole No. 18 JGR crew.
“We’ve had a lot of frustrating days — we’ve had the last eight frustrating weeks,” Busch said. “It’s been really hard on us and hard on our team.
(The Brickyard) was a great run for us and I really appreciate all these guys — (crew chief) Dave Rogers and all these guys on this M&M’s Camry — to give me a good piece to qualify well and run up front like that and to just come out of here with a solid day.”
The second place on Sunday also moved Busch back into contention for a spot on the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship, moving him from 13th to 11th, 55 points back of 10th place Clint Bowyer, with a couple of tracks coming up where Busch traditionally does well.
“All in all, I am just excited about the opportunity to get going to Pocono and Watkins Glen,” he said.
NASCAR bosses have given the thumbs up to all four of its Sprint Cup manufacturers who will bring new cars to the track starting with the Daytona 500 in 2013. After extensive testing at wind tunnels of the 2013 Ford Fusion, Chevrolet SS, Dodge Charger and Toyota Camry, NASCAR Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton said on Monday that all have met the criteria set out for them to start on track testing.
DANICA OUT OF CONTROL
It has not been a good week for Danica Patrick.
On Saturday she wrecked the No. 7 JR Motorsports Chevrolet in the Nationwide Series Indiana 250 and then on Monday she wrecked the No. 14 Stewart Haas Racing Chevrolet during Sprint Cup tire tests at Michigan International Speedway.
She was filling in for team owner Tony Stewart at the test when the engine blew sending her into the wall at the two-mile oval. Patrick was not injured but did not return to the track.
NASCAR and Goodyear asked for testing at the Brooklyn. Mich., track after the June race there saw qualifying and practice speeds reach more than 200 m.p.h. In fact, pole-sitter Marcos Ambrose set the fastest lap of 203.241 m.p.h.
That was the fastest lap run in NASCAR since Bill Elliott ran 210.364 m.p.h. in 1987 at Daytona International Speedway.
More than 20 drivers are participating in the test, preparing for the Pure Michigan 400 on Aug. 19.
The June race at Michigan was won by Patrick’s Nationwide Series boss Dale Earnhardt Jr., breaking his four-year winless skid.