INDIANAPOLIS — Jimmie Johnson's defense of his 2006 win of the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard came to a scary end Sunday.
Johnson was collected in a crash on Lap 45 that damaged his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. After repairs in the pits, the El Cajon native returned to the race but soon blew a left front tire and crashed into the Turn 3 wall, his car catching fire.
After the car stopped, Johnson quickly jumped out of the cockpit.
"The flames had me nervous there inside the car and I lost some eyelashes and the side of my face got pretty hot," Johnson said. "That's the first time I've had flames inside the car."
He finished 39th and dropped to ninth from seventh in the points.
Another year, another shutout here for owner Roger Penske's NASCAR Nextel Cup team.
Penske's Indy car teams have a stellar 14 victories in the Indianapolis 500, but his Cup drivers have yet to win the 14-year-old Brickyard 400.
Ryan Newman started third, but his day soured early when his Dodge spun and hit the wall, requiring extensive repairs. He finished 42nd in the 43-car field.
"It was a pretty good lick into the wall and it ended our day," Newman said.
Penske's other driver, 2004 series champion Kurt Busch, started sixth but was never in contention for the win and finished 11th. The back panel of his Dodge also was knocked off when he collided with Clint Bowyer coming out of the pits.
Kurt's younger brother Kyle Busch finished fourth after saying that he still hasn't decided which team to join for 2008.
Hendrick is releasing Kyle Busch after this season to make room for Dale Earnhardt Jr. That's made Busch one of the sport's hottest free agents, and he's been talking to teams such as Joe Gibbs Racing, Dale Earnhardt Inc. and Richard Childress Racing.
"We haven't signed anything and we are not really that close to signing anything quite yet," Busch said. "We are still talking to a few teams, we haven't quite narrowed it down to just one."
The 22-year-old Las Vegas native also said there was no timetable for his decision. "It is a career-defining choice," he said. "I still might be able to move one more time, but I would like to make it the last time."
Matt Kenseth finished 10th to remain one of the most consistent drivers without a victory in the Brickyard 400. "We were able to steal some spots and finish it, but we ran just terrible," he said.
Kyle Petty finished 32nd in his 800th career start.... David Gilliland of Riverside started 38th but moved into the top five at one point before ending the race in 17th.... Pole-sitter Reed Sorenson, a 21-year-old teammate of Juan Pablo Montoya, finished fifth.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
Nextel Cup standings through 20 out of 36 races. Following the 26th race of the season, all drivers in the top 12 will earn a berth in the Chase for the Championship.
*--* Pl Driver Points Behind 1 Jeff Gordon 3,076 -- 2 Denny Hamlin 2,705 371 3 Matt Kenseth 2,699 377 4 Jeff Burton 2,633 443 5 Tony Stewart 2,624 452 6 Carl Edwards 2,582 494 7 Kevin Harvick 2,488 588 8 Kyle Busch 2,479 597 9 Jimmie Johnson 2,469 607 10 Clint Bowyer 2,405 671 11 Martin Truex Jr. 2,335 741 12 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 2,217 859 13 Kurt Busch 2,204 872 14 Ryan Newman 2,158 918 15 Jamie McMurray 2,104 972