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What, me worry? Not Cup leader Johnson

INDIANAPOLIS -- Jimmie Johnson's charmed Nextel Cup season hit a snag Sunday at the Brickyard 400.

But the Cup leader wasn't exactly angry or devastated over the fact his motor blew up, ending his outing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway prematurely.

After all, the points system that made his "Did Not Finish" on Sunday just about meaningless is the same system that is sure to rob him of a chunk of points six races from now.

Because NASCAR freezes the field of title contenders after 26 races and resets their points to separate each from one another by only five points, Johnson knows he's likely to lead the points standings by five points no matter what he does heading into the Chase.

"You have to look at it and think if there was a day that you wanted this to happen," crew chief Chad Knaus said, "today's the day."

And he's right. Sure, Johnson's points lead did take a daunting 135-point hit, but he's still in control right now -- and if he was due bad luck this year, best get it out of the way now when it doesn't hurt so much.

That's why, entering the Brickyard weekend, Knaus said the team was going to try some new strategies and setups from now through Race No. 26 -- when the points will be reset. He figures if the team's going to lose most of its lead anyway, why focus on protecting it? He wants to be ready to throw some wrinkles into the team's game plan over the final 10 races.

"Here's the situation -- we've got to look at the rules and use them to our advantage," Knaus said. "Everybody thinks losing all of our points at the end of the 26 races and going back to nearly zero is a disadvantage. We're taking this time to experiment and to find new race cars we think we like and new chassis setups and new aerodynamics packages.

"We (went) to Indianapolis with a new aerodynamics package that we want to try at a high-speed race track. If it works, great. If it doesn't, who really cares? It doesn't really matter."

Johnson was insistent that the 48 team's desire is as fierce as ever. But even he appeared calm and unaffected by the day's sour turn.

"You can look at it either way," he said. "We have a nice cushion, and it would have been nice to have that under the old system. Now it all resets here in a little bit anyways, but we don't want to have failures, period. We want to be out there competing for every win, so we're more disappointed in that than anything."

Johnson's disappointment was compounded by how high his expectations were coming into this event.

He knew that his teammate and car co-owner Jeff Gordon was the favorite, going for (and getting) four Brickyard victories. And he knew that his previous outings at Indy left some things to be desired. But coming out of Pocono with a win, and drawing from some successful test sessions, Johnson and Knaus were confident they could kiss the bricks here.

"I definitely felt like I could win here after having success at Pocono," he said. "It's too bad it didn't happen."

Johnson was pretty certain it wasn't going to happen soon after the race began. He started out battling an ill-handling race car that didn't seem to be willing to make up its mind between being too tight or too loose.

On lap 31, Johnson spun in turn three. He was lucky he didn't make contact with anything or anyone, but the mishap punted him to the tail end of the lead lap.

Then, on lap 88 he radioed Knaus. He could tell the motor was coughing -- it was about to die.

"We were going to maybe salvage a top 15 and come out of here with some points," Johnson said. "But, unfortunately, the motor didn't want to go any further and it locked up tight.

"It was just kind of a bad day for us. We didn't have the car that we needed. I was real loose in and spun out on my own once. I almost had it turned around a couple of other times. I'm glad we didn't hurt the race car, but it's a bad deal that we're out of the race."

The words came from a calm and upbeat Johnson. A couple yards away, Knaus was talking to a crew member, smiles on both of their faces. This was not a team smarting from blowing up at the Brickyard 400.

Then again, this is a team that is just waiting for its mighty points lead to be mostly stripped from it: A situation Johnson is ready to accept but knows he won't be happy about.

"For us, it's not going to be good," he said. "You might want to get all your smiles and good photos out of us now because with 10 to go, it won't be the same."

Rupen Fofaria is a freelance writer living in Chicago and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at rfofaria@espnspecial.com.