Jimmie Johnson wins in Michigan
NASCAR team owner Rick Hendrick congratulated Jimmy Johnson in victory lane for winning his first-ever Sprint Cup race at Michigan International Speedway (MIS) on Father’s Day, Sunday, June 15, but stood right next to crew chief Chad Knaus for the team trophy photos with his arm tight around his waist.
Johnson finally recorded his first Sprint Cup Series victory in the Irish Hills after Knaus made a critical call with 35 laps remaining in the race to change all four of his driver’s tires. Johnson left the pits in 16th place with all of his closest competitors still needing to pit one more time. The other teams chose to put on two tires and some replaced none, allowing Johnson to pass all the other drivers and take the lead for good with nine laps remaining.
“We’ve figured every way to lose this race but today we were able to get it done,” Johnson said after his 450th Sprint Cup Series race.
Johnson has had several opportunities to win at MIS but fuel problems had him literally running out of gas on the last laps several times, and three blown engines snatched away his hopes and dreams of lifting a trophy in the Irish Hills.
But this Father’s Day was just a little different for Johnson. He had a small lucky charm with him in the form of his nine-month old daughter, Lydia, who was born September 6, 2013. Johnson went on to win his sixth Sprint Cup championship last year. He also had his wife, Chandra, and daughter Genevieve there with him.
“We were really in a win-win situation because all of those other guys had to go to pit road to make it to the end,” Johnson said of pulling off his first MIS win. “Once I got an idea of how the race was unfolding I knew we were in the catbirds seat and we were able to take advantage of it.”
After finally winning at MIS on his 25th attempt, Johnson now has just four other racetracks (Kentucky Speedway, Watkins Glen International, Chicagoland Speedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway) where he has not won a Sprint Cup race. His Sprint Cup win in Michigan was the 69th of his career.
Johnson crossed the finish line 1.214 seconds ahead of runner-up Kevin Harvick, who was on pole position after breaking the track qualifying record speed (204.557) the day before. Johnson started the race in seventh place and led the pack for 39 laps.
“I mean the car was fast, we just wound up on the wrong side of the strategy,” Harvick said of his finish. “We finished second and that’s it.”
Harvick led a race-high 63 laps and recorded his 11th top-10 finish in 27 races at the speedway with his runner-up run. It was his seventh top-10 finish this season.
Michigan native Brad Keselowski started in sixth place and finished third after leading four laps.
The remaining top 10 finishers included Paul Menard, Kasey Kahne, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Larson, Joey Logano and Clint Bowyer.
NASCAR returns to MIS in August. The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Race Careers for Veterans 200 is scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 16, and the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race Pure Michigan 400 is set for Sunday, Aug. 17.