Indianapolis. The Brickyard.
With those words, nothing else matters to the NASCAR community. Every driver and team knows what they are about to take part in.
Every fan knows they are in the presence of greatness and that they are about to see one driver become a NASCAR great.
The words "This is Indy" carries as much sentiment to everyone in NASCAR as the words "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind," does to Americans.
There is no such thing as points racing at the Brickyard, no one remembers or cares who finished second. It's all about crossing the yard of bricks, the finish line, first.
The major storyline heading into the 16th running of the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard was tires. The 2008 race was painful for both the teams participating in the race and all those watching it.
The tires were shredding and only lasted for the longest of 10-12 laps at a time. Caution after caution ruled the race. Drivers, owners, and everyone else all but ripped Goodyear a new one.
Immediately following last year's disaster, the tire company got to work. Over the last 11 months, Goodyear has held seven tire tests with 31 teams, logging over 13,000 miles around the 2.5 mile oval.
About 20 tire trends were tested as Goodyear made sure they would not be embarrassed again.
At race time a year later, mission accomplished.
Goodyear's biggest critics have been singing their praises and have slapped them on the back for a job well done. The only tire talk on Sunday would be which driver was going to be taking two or four tires on their pit stops.
The only car that had to move to the rear of the field was the rookie Joey Logano who had to make an engine change after practice on Saturday.
Shortly after 2 p.m. on Sunday July 26, 2009, 50-year-old polesitter Mark Martin led the field to the green flag at the 100-year-old Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Martin would lead lap one as Robby Gordon spun his No. 7 car in turn four after reporting oil on the track. NASCAR then black flagged Elliott Sadler because his car was smoking. Sadler went to the garage but did not have any oil trailing his car.
On the restart second place starter and 2000 Indianapolis 500 winner from the Indy Racing League, Juan Pablo Montoya took the lead from Martin who got loose in turn one and was also passed by teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Montoya then drove away to over a one-second lead.
Scott Speed radioed to his crew early on asking "Do you want me to worry about this smoke or not?" before pitting on lap 12 with right side damage to his car.
The top five through 20 laps were Montoya, Martin, Brian Vickers, hometown hero Tony Stewart, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. who was reporting that his car was just a little bit free.
Kyle Busch, on the other hand, was reporting that his car was pushing and that he may have scraped the wall twice.
Busch's teammate, Joey Logano, who was making his first-ever start at Indianapolis, was motoring through the field and by lap 26 he had moved up to 23rd behind Matt Kenseth.
Kevin Harvick, the 2003 Allstate 400 winner, was the first lead lap car to pit on lap 29 who was followed by the Snickers Toyota of Busch who did appear to have a scrap on his right rear quarter—panel.
Leader Montoya pitted on lap 32 and was so happy with his car his pit crew made no changes to the No. 42 Target Dodge, just four tires and fuel.
As green flag pit stops cycled through Denny Hamlin limped through turns three and four and back to pit road with what the Joe Gibbs Racing team deemed a transmission problem.
As Hamlin hit pit road, he put the window net down and took the No. 11 to the garage area.
It was later found that it was the driveshaft and that the shifter had broken off inside the car after the teams first pit stop. The team got to work on replacing the driveshaft.
Montoya retook the lead on lap 35 by over one second on Martin, Vickers, Stewart and Johnson.
Through the first 50 laps, 42 of which where led by Montoya, there was only one caution flag for the lap one spin by Robby Gordon.
The second caution though was just around the corner on lap 58 when Kyle Busch blew a right front tire and hit the turn three wall. Busch had reported that he was going to need a new set of eyeballs because the car was vibrating so much.
Busch went to the garage to join teammate Denny Hamlin.
All the lead lap cars hit pit road for their second pit stop of the day. Stewart was the biggest losers on this stop as he went from third to seventh. Montoya, Martin, Vickers, Greg Biffle, and Johnson were the first five cars off pit road.
Another right front went down on the No. 77 of Sam Hornish Jr., 2006 Indianapolis 500 winner, after he got loose on lap 69 and hit the wall.
At that same time, Michael Waltrip brought his Napa Toyota to pit road reporting that he was overheating.
Lap 80 marked the halfway point of the Allstate 400 but not much was different among the leader board.
Montoya held the top stop and ten laps later, Jeff Gordon began the charge down pit road for green flag pit stops.
Not surprisingly, Montoya got no changes on his pit stop and was cycled through as the leader. The only problems on the pit stops were Terry Labonte driving the No. 08 was too fast existing pit road and had to serve a pass through penalty.
With less then 50 laps to go, Montoya held a four-second lead over Mark Martin along with 104 laps led. But one final pit stop remained for all the leaders.
With 37 laps to go the leaders began to hit pit road, Biffle and Kasey Kahne were among the first ones down along with Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick. Harvick was having one of his best runs of the year pitting from a top ten position.
Montoya hit pit road with 35 laps to go and had an air pressure adjustment done to his car after telling the crew that it was loose. He would be penalized though for speeding on pit road and would curse NASCAR saying they ruined his day.
Montoya had led 116 laps up until that point but he was more concerned with saying that NASCAR had "screwed" him even though the pit road speeds are computerized and not made by a judgement call by a NASCAR official.
That put Mark Martin in the lead for the first time since lap 4 and with 35 laps to go Dale Earnhardt Jr., who had been running in the top ten all day long, blew an engine in a big way coming off turn four and his day was done.
Because of the extensive cleanup from Earnhardt Jr.'s engine, the race did restart until there was 25 laps to go and Martin's teammate Jimmie Johnson got around him to lead the race for the first time all day.
With less then 20 laps to go, the Hendrick Motorsports teammates, Johnson and Martin were left to fight it out for the right to kiss the bricks.
Michael Waltrip retired his car from the race with 13 laps to go. Montoya meanwhile had restarted 12th after his pass through penalty but lost a few positions and was only able to rebound back to the 12th position.
With 5 laps to go, Martin closed the gap on Johnson thanks to being able to put his car all the way on the bottom of the race track in a lower line then what Johnson was running.
But it wouldn't be enough as Jimmie Johnson held on to win his third Allstate 400 and became the first driver to win the race in back-to-back years.
Mark Martin finished second, points leader Tony Stewart finished third, Greg Biffle fourth, and Brian Vickers came home in the fifth position.
Kevin Harvick and RCR had a good day as Harvick came home sixth with the rest of the top consisting of: Kasey Kahne, David Reutimann, Jeff Gordon, and Matt Kenseth.
Juan Pablo Montoya finished 11th after leading the most laps.
"Damn that guy's fast," Johnson said in victory lane about Martin. "For an old guy, he had me worried."
Crew chief Chad Knaus said, "We changed an awful lot on this car this morning and relied a lot on our teammates...we knew if we could get out front near the end we could have a shot at it."
Jimmie Johnson led 24 laps in route to his third win at the Brickyard and now the No. 48 Lowes team gets to leave there with the best taste in racing: kissing the dirty, gritty bricks of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.