Jimmie Johnson scored his first win at Michigan International Speedway this past June. It was his first win at the track after many frustrating starts. When the NASCAR Sprint Cup series returned Sunday Johnson was hoping to repeat that success. For a time during Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400 it looked as though Johnson would find more frustration. At the end of day however, Johnson rallied back to score his 11th top ten finish at Michigan.
It didn’t look promising Friday as Johnson qualified 30th. Then Sunday he pitted under the first caution on lap 5 while most of the field stayed out leaving many wondering just what he and crew chief Chad Knaus were up to. Johnson restarted 41st and it looked like he had a long day ahead. Johnson stayed out on a competition caution on lap 21 giving him valuable track position. He would take the lead from Ryan Newman shortly after the restart, and hold onto the top spot until he pitted under caution on lap 38. He restarted 21st and was soon back up to 14th. He was able to get back to the lead as the rest of the field pitted under green on lap 69.
On lap 48, Johnson radioed his crew that the gear shifter in his Chevy had broken. When he pitted from the lead on lap 76 the crew handed Johnson a pair of vice grips, but due to not being able to shift Johnson took an agonizingly long time leaving pit road. He fell to 25th and lost a lap. On lap 99 during a caution Johnson pitted again and the crew was able to effect repairs.
“Somebody handed me some tools and I didn’t have a lot of success getting that fixed,” Johnson said. “They had some contraption with a vice grip to try to figure that out, and it fell off before I even got back to pit in under caution. So, once I could get the wire tie busted and get the boot down, I could see what was wrong and we were able to kind of adjust from there. And Ron Malec dove into the right side window and we got it sorted out.”
Unfortunately, Johnson was hit with two pit road penalties for pitting too soon and for having too many men over the wall. He restarted 26th when the dust settled but was still a lap down. He was finally able to get back on the lead lap with 31 to go. From there Johnson knew he was running out of time and began a furious charge towards the front. With 11 laps to go Johnson was 11th and battling Newman to get inside the top 10. The two fought for position making contact on several occasions. With two laps to go, Johnson was able to get past Newman and secure a ninth place finish.
After the race, Newman confronted Johnson and the two exchanged words.
“Oh, it was just normal ‘Ryan Newman stuff’,” Johnson said smiling. “Anybody who has watched this sport long enough or has been in a race car out there understands the frustration that comes along with racing Ryan. Just normal Ryan stuff. And I don’t want to take away anything from what this awesome race team did. Granted, we put ourselves in a bad position with the shift lever breaking off and was able to rally back and get ourselves a good finish. It was unfortunate we didn’t get any further up in the field, but we still salvaged a lot today.”
Newman had no comment on the incident preferring to talk about his 11th place finish.
“We had a good car,” Newman said. “Really struggled down the straightaways but had a good car. The strategy was good, just got off on the cautions there. It was a good comeback for the WIX Filters Chevrolet just not the end result that we were capable of there.”
At the end of the day, Johnson remained seventh in the championship standings after a few weeks filled with struggle. With his three wins he’s still locked into the season ending championship Chase.
“Yeah, we still had these obstacles,” Johnson said. “That’s the thing we’ve got to figure out within the next few weeks. The clock is ticking and we’re running out of time on that front. But we have fast race cars and they keep saying we show it during the race, but the results haven’t been there. This was a good recovery for today, but it’s certainly not we want to be.”