Jimmie Johnson scored a first Sunday. After years of bad luck in the Irish Hills of Michigan for the first time in his storied career Johnson scored a win at Michigan International Speedway winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup series Quicken loans 400. Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports crew played their pit strategy perfectly as Johnson took the lead with ten laps to go and never looked back. The win marked his third win of the season and third in the last four weeks.
Kevin Harvick, who started from the pole, finished second for the third consecutive time at Michigan, Brad Keselowski was third, Paul Menard fourth, and Kasey Kahne who had spun earlier, rallied to finish fifth.
The winning move came on a round of stops on lap 165 when Johnson came in under green and took four tires. Several others stayed out led by Kurt Busch, Keselowski was second, Clint Bowyer third, then Kahne and Logano.
It would take until ten laps to go before those leaders pitted and Johnson cycled through to the lead and eventually the win.
Harvick took an early lead from the outside lane at the start of the race. But prior to completing a lap Brian Vickers got into the wall in turn 3; he slid down the track and was hit hard by Travis Kvapil bringing out the first caution.
The green came out on lap 7 and again trouble happened as Kyle Larson got loose and spun exiting turn 2 sweeping up Kahne who was hit from behind and brought out the second caution. The restart came on lap 12 and Harvick was able to jump back to the lead followed by Aric Almirola. Jeff Gordon soon caught Almirola and quickly took over second. By lap 19, Gordon had caught Harvick and was able to power by for the top spot. By lap 27, Johnson had slid into third.
Green flag stops started on lap 38. Harvick came in on lap 42, Gordon followed on lap 43. When the cycle completed Gordon was again in the lead by almost two seconds over Harvick. Gordon held the lead until lap 57 when Harvick was able to get by and retake the point.
The third caution came out on lap 72 for debris. The leaders came in for stops; the top 6 took only two tires, Johnson led off pit road, Joey Logano was second, Harvick third, Gordon was fourth, Dale Earnhardt Jr. fifth. The restart came on lap 79. Logano was able to move to the lead from the inside, Johnson settled into second. By lap 87 though Johnson had caught Logano and by lap 91 was challenging for the lead. On lap 92 he powered by Logano exiting turn 4 to retake the lead. Behind Gordon reeled in Logano and was looking for second. Johnson had stretched out to 1.5 seconds.
The fourth caution came out on lap 104 when David Ragan went for a solo spin exiting turn 4. The leaders all came in for stops. Harvick won the race off pit road as the top 10 all took only two tires. Johnson was second, Earnhardt Jr. third, Brad Keselowski was fourth, Jamie McMurray fifth.
The green flag came out on lap 108 with Harvick moving ahead on the outside; Keselowski went to second. Two laps later Alex Bowman hit the wall exiting turn 2 bringing out caution number five. The restart came on lap 114; the sixth caution came out prior to completing a lap when Brad Moffitt spun between turns 3 and 4. The leaders stayed out and the restart came on lap 120 with Harvick again moving to the lead. The seventh caution came out two laps later when Almirola and Denny Hamlin crashed in turn 3. Hamlin was just behind Almirola when he spun and swept up Almirola.
Harvick was the only one of the top eight to stay out. Those who did come in took fuel only. On the restart, Logano was able to move from the inside lane and to the lead. Harvick fell into second, Matt Kenseth took over third. Harvick caught Logano on lap 142 and got by to retake the lead. Logano said he had trash on the grill and needed to get behind someone.
Caution eight came out on lap 147 for debris. Some of the leaders came in for stops. Keselowski led off pit road, Clint Bowyer second, Larson third, Kurt Busch fourth and Harvick fifth. Larson had to return though after NASCAR nailed him for speeding on pit road. McMurray led has he, Johnson, Paul Menard, Earnhardt Jr. and Gordon stayed out and occupied the top five. Keselowski led the group who had pitted in sixth. Larson restarted 19th.
The green flew on lap 143 and Johnson was able to rocket by on the inside line and into the lead. Menard and McMurray dueled for second. Earnhardt Jr. was fourth. Green flag stops started on lap 165 as Johnson gave up the lead to pit. The stops cycled through and those who were off sequence from earlier made up the lead group led by Kurt Busch. Keselowski was second, Bowyer third, then Kahne and Logano.
On lap 174 Keselowski pitted for a splash of fuel. Bowyer came in from third with 18 laps to go for his fuel stop. On track Kahne was able to get by Busch for the lead. Kahne came in for his stop two laps later handing the lead to Kyle Larson who pitted a lap later. Those who were in the group who needed to put began to drop off the track for fuel.
With ten laps to go, Kenseth was the last of the last group to pit. Out front, Johnson was back in the lead by over four seconds over second place Keselowski. Harvick was third but with five to go got by Keselowski for second. Johnson would not be denied though and cruised to his third victory of the 2014 season and the 69th of his career.
Gordon finished sixth, Earnhardt Jr. seventh, Larson eighth, Logano ninth with Clint Bowyer rounding out the top ten.
The series heads to the first road course of the season Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma California for next Sunday’s Toyota Save Mart 400.