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Jimmie Johnson was hoping to reverse what has been a string of bad luck at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn during Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. The 2-mile track is one of five where Johnson has yet to win. Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International, Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill., Homestead-Miami Speedway and Kentucky Speedway in Sparta are the others.
Unfortunately, his string of frustrating finishes continued as an engine problem relegated Johnson to a 40th-place finish. As was the case in his past few races at Michigan, the result didn’t match Johnson’s on-track performance. He qualified third for the 200-lap event and was fastest in final practice until the team was forced to pull out the backup car midway through the session when Johnson smacked the SAFER Barrier after driving through what appeared to be oil. The No. 48 Lowe’s crew got the backup car ready so quickly that Johnson actually turned a few laps before the end of practice.
Going to the backup car meant Johnson had to start Sunday’s race at the rear of the field, forcing crew chief Chad Knaus to revise the team’s strategy. The plan was playing out perfectly as several early cautions allowed Knaus to make a few adjustments and put on fresh tires. By lap 26, Johnson made his way into the top-15. He led lap 43 while the field was cycling through pit stops and he eventually pitted three laps later. Not long after he rejoined the action, Johnson radioed that he felt there may be something wrong with the engine. Knaus called him to the pits to try and diagnose the problem and, after nothing apparent was found, he resumed racing. The next lap, however, he was forced to pull into the garage as the problem persisted and the No. 48 Kobalt Tools Chevy was retired for the day in 40th place.
“Yeah, we were just putting ourselves in position for later in the race with those early stops,” said Johnson, who has four top-five finishes and nine top-10s in 24 starts at Michigan. “Then we had an issue there with the engine as I came out of the pits and got back up to speed and we dropped a couple of cylinders. We were trying to get it figured out and see what would happen. On my way into the pits, it finally locked up and that’s the end of it. Unfortunate day, but I’m happy that we have had such a strong opening part of the season and we have points on our side and some wins on our side, so we are not in jeopardy of anything going into the Chase.”
His 40th- place finish was his fourth finish of 25th or worse in the last five races at Michigan.
“Definitely an unfortunate thing, but we had plenty of speed in the car and I think we were going to be a factor with this Kobalt Tools Chevrolet,” Johnson said.
Joey Logano won the Pure Michigan 400 to score his third career Sprint Cup victory, his first of the season and his first at Michigan.
Kevin Harvick finished 1.018 seconds behind Logano in the runner-up spot while Kurt Busch, Paul Menard and Clint Bowyer rounded out the top-five. Marcos Ambrose, Kasey Kahne, Jeff Burton, Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were nine caution periods for 34 laps with six drivers failing to finish the 200-lap race.
With round 22 of 36 complete, Johnson continues to lead the Hendrick Motorsports contingent and the rest of the NASCAR field in the championship point standings. His 813 points place him 41 ahead of second-place Clint Bowyer and 154 ahead of 11th-place Kahne. Dale Earnhardt Jr., is seventh with 679 points, 134 out of first and 20 ahead of 11th. Kahne is 11th with 659 points, 154 out of first and four behind 10th. Jeff Gordon is 14th with 637 points, 176 out of first and nine behind 10th.
Three races remain before the 12-driver, 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup begins Sept. 15 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill. Only the top-10 in points are locked into the Chase. Positions 11 and 12 in the Chase are wild cards, awarded to the two drivers between 11th and 20th in points with the most wins. In the event of multiple drivers having the same number of wins, a driver’s point standing serves as the tiebreaker.
Kahne, who is 11th in points, is the first wild card via his two wins. Martin Truex Jr., holds the second wild-card spot as he is 12th in points with one victory.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the Irwin Tools Night Race Saturday, Aug. 24, at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway. The race starts at 7:30 p.m. EDT, with live coverage provided by ABC beginning with its pre-race show at 7 p.m.