Despite a yellow flag on the 23rd lap, when Lloyd Ruby hit the wall—nearly involving Rutherford in the process—Johncock stayed in front until Al Unser grabbed the lead for good. Rutherford, meanwhile, was beginning a long day of slides and pit stops to change and re-change right-side tires.
On Lap 87 Johncock's right front tire all but blew out. He eased into the pits for a change and lost a lap. But by Mile 105 he had moved back into second, and seven laps later Rutherford slid to a stop in his pit with a smoking, grease-dripping engine. Off came his helmet, slammed so hard on the pavement it bounced three feet in the air; off came the balaclava, thrown just as hard toward the spreading drops of oil under his Offy engine; and out came the tears from the women of the McLaren crew.
In the Patrick pits, out came the crossed fingers. Johncock got the word of Rutherford's retirement over the radio from George Heuning, Bignotti's heir apparent.
Heuning: "Just stay where you are and we've got the championship."
Johncock: "Tennnn-four. But you're going to have to let me know if they're coming up behind me."
From that point it was simply a matter of counting down the laps.
Johncock had one question left before the finish: "How many laps left?"
The answer was "five." It was an easy five as Johncock maintained a six-to-eight-second lead over Andretti.
As he rolled to a stop, Johncock's car was swarmed. His balaclava came off slowly, covering his face for a while; the victory wreath went over his shoulders upside down. But no one seemed to notice. Another thing wasn't noticed: after his first national championship in 21 years of racing, Johncock didn't seem to want to hide.