BROOKLYN, Mich. – Jimmie Johnson ended one long streak but continued another on Sunday.
Johnson’s series of heartbreaking defeats at Michigan Int’l Speedway came to an end when he won the Quicken Loans 400, his first-ever victory at MIS and the fifth consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win for Hendrick Motorsports.
It’s the six-time Sprint Cup champion’s 69th career victory, one that Johnson said he’ll savor for quite some time.
“We figured out every way to lose this race, and today we found a way to get it done,” said Johnson, who’d come painfully close to Victory Lane at Michigan in the past, only to endure close loss after close loss in his first 24 tries.
The No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet had run out of fuel with three laps to go while leading the August 2009 race, and blown an engine six laps from the finish in August 2012 while ahead of the field.
Johnson endured no such misfortune on Sunday. He led 36 laps in securing his third win in the last four races.
Polesitter Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Paul Menard were the top four, followed by Johnson’s three Hendrick teammates: Kasey Kahne, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Rookie Kyle Larson, Joey Logano and Clint Bowyer rounded out the top 10.
Johnson’s third triumph of the season moves him to first in the Chase for the Sprint Cup grid, with Earnhardt (two wins) in second.
Hendrick drivers now hold the top three spots in points. Gordon is 15 points ahead of Johnson, and 23 in front of Earnhardt.
Keselowski said his No. 2 Miller Lite Ford needed a bit more front-end speed to contend with Johnson’s car.
“I’m proud of our effort,” Keselowski said. “We’ve just got to keep digging. We’re getting seconds and thirds a lot. I’m proud of our consistency.”
Not every big-name driver had a good day at Michigan.
Wheel hub problems relegated Kyle Busch to a 41st-place result, his second finish outside the top 40 in the last three races.
Matt Kenseth’s 14th-place finish was the best of the Joe Gibbs Racing trio, considering Busch’s troubles and Denny Hamlin’s 29th-place result.
Verizon IndyCar Series driver Juan Pablo Montoya, who raced full-time in Sprint Cup from 2007-13, finished 18th in his first NASCAR start of the season for Team Penske.
It was a tough day for Ford, the winningest manufacturer in MIS history. Only Keselowski (second) and Logano (ninth) finished in the top 17 positions for Ford.
Johnson, however, could finally exhale after all the frustration of having not won at Michigan.
“What an awesome day (to win on Father’s Day),” he said. “Just an awesome, awesome performance.”