Jimmie Johnson Extends Hendrick Motorsports’ Season Dominance At Michigan

by June 15, 2014

Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images

BROOKLYN, Michigan – Jimmie Johnson visited Victory Lane for the first time in his career at Michigan International Speedway after winning the Quicken Loans 400 Sunday afternoon.

The win was Johnson’s third in the last four weeks, marking his 69th career victory. In fact, Johnson has now won at every track on the schedule except for Kentucky Speedway, Watkins Glen, Chicagoland Speedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway. Hendrick Motorsports has now won the last four races.

“We are getting stronger as the No. 48 – there is no doubt about that,” Johnson said. “I think it is obvious that Hendrick Motorsports produces fast race cars. They build fast engines. It doesn’t matter if it is Stewart-Haas, or the Hendrick organization. We’re winning a lot of races, and running up front. So, we just have to do the best that we can to get stronger as the Chase gets closer, and make sure we are on our game when the Chase gets here.”

The action started early on Sunday. As the field rounded turns three and four for the first time, several cars got out of the groove, including pole sitter, Kevin Harvick. Brian Vickers got a little higher and crashed his No. 55 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota Camry in turn four. As he slid down the track, he collected Travid Kvapil, bringing out the first of eight cautions.

Brian Vickers said, “It’s frustrating. I wish I knew — the car just came around going into (turn) three. I was trying to back the corner up and was taking it easy and just got loose and it just came around from me. I saved it all the way up to the wall and I thought I had it saved and ultimately it just came around and I lost it. I don’t know what happened. The car just came out from under me.”

Travis Kvapil said, “I feel horrible. We started last and had plenty of time. I saw it and was getting slowed down and was creeping down by the grass. It was almost like a situation where I was going too slow, instead of just driving through the wreck. Once I got to the grass I couldn’t go any lower. The car wouldn’t turn in the grass and he just kept coming down and it peeled the right-front off of it.”

As soon as the field went back to green, Kasey Kahne and Kyle Larson spun down the backstretch to bring out the second caution. Martin Truex Jr. was involved as well. Kahne was able to rally back to finish fifth, his second top-five of the season. Larson’s rear bumper had to be removed following the accident and it seemed to make his car even faster. Larson finished eighth, his seventh top-10 this season.

“I’m sure it was somewhat of an advantage from what my crew members said,” Larson said. “I’ve never had that happen before. I think, even if we had our rear bumper, we still would have had a good Target Chevy today. I just made one too many mistakes. I spun off (turn) two there, and feel really bad for whoever got collected in that. I know the No. 78 (Martin Truex, Jr.) was racing me hard all day, so I’m sure I ruined his day. But I hate it for him. But yeah, we got in the top-five and fought hard to get in the top-five and then I spun on pit road with less than 50 laps to go and had to work hard from there again. So, we got back to eighth, which was a good finish, but we probably would have finished a little bit better.”

As the race came down to fuel mileage which is typical in the Irish Hills, no one had anything for Jimmie Johnson and crew chief, Cad Knaus. Kevin Harvick who led 63 laps, most of any driver on Sunday came up just short to finish second. Frustration was certainly evident after the race.

Brad Keselowski was proud of his team’s efforts after a third place finish. He led the Ford banner on Sunday which is kind of uncharacteristic considering Roush Fenway Racing is usually almost unstoppable at the speedway. However, the highest finishing Roush Fenway Racing driver was Greg Biffle all the way back in 20th. Keselowski gave his opinion of the state of Penske Racing versus Hendrick Motorsports after today’s race:

“I don’t really think there is anybody in the wings,” Keselowski said. “I think the way this year’s package has kind of come together, where we’re at now is where we’re gonna be for the remainder of the year. You might see some small gains from some teams, but I don’t see anything significant coming. I think right now the Penske cars are probably the best when it comes to balance track-to-track. The Hendrick cars are probably the best anywhere it takes power to run and these tracks are certainly one of those, and Kevin Harvick, his team is probably the fastest week-in and week-out, so I don’t really see that changing for the duration of the season.

“I think what you’re going to find in the development cycle has been kind of found by this time in the year. Maybe there’s a little bit more left on the table, but not enough to take a team that’s not there to be there. That’s just kind of my experience, but we all have a little bit of work to do because it’s pretty obvious the Hendrick engines are way ahead of everyone else. Usually, that’s not something you catch up with in one season as far ahead as they are right now. They’re probably a full season ahead of everyone, so we’ve got work to do to get there.”

Paul Menard who won Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race at the speedway was able to back it up with a fourth place finish on Sunday. The finish was only his second top-five of the season. The other came at Las Vegas Motor Speedway back in March when he finished third.

“It was a good Father’s Day weekend,” Menard said. “I had my daughter in Victory Lane yesterday, and my Dad is here today,” Paul Menard said. “Two top-fives. This car has been really good since we unloaded. It had pretty good speed. We just lost a little track position during the race, and Slugger (Labbe, crew chief) and Justin James made a good call to do the pit strategy the way we worked it out. It all worked out at the end. Really good car. Good clean air. The clean air at the end made a difference.”

Kasey Kahne’s fifth place finish was certainly a statement. He’s the only Hendrick Motorsports driver who hasn’t reached Victory Lane this season. However, he feels that his team will be there come Chase time. Kahne sits 19th in the point standings with only two top-five and five top-10 finishes.

“Probably not all of them,” Kahne said when asked if the finish would silence all the critics. “And they probably don’t all need to be silenced after one good run. We were way too bad the first 14 or 15 races and hopefully this will get us going and we can get strong from here and make some points up and get in the Chase. That’s all we can really shoot for at this point.”

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will turn left and right next weekend in the Toyota Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on Sunday, June 22. The race will be live on TNT and the Performance Racing Network at 3 p.m.

Quicken Loans 400 Top-10 Results:
1.) #48 Jimmie Johnson
2.) #4 Kevin Harvick
3.) #2 Brad Keselowski
4.) #27 Paul Menard
5.) #5 Kasey Kahne
6.) #24 Jeff Gordon
7.) #88 Dale Earnhardt Jr.
8.) #42 Kyle Larson
9.) #22 Joey Logano
10.) #15 Clint Bowyer

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Top-10 Driver Point Standings:
1.) #24 Jeff Gordon
2.) #48 Jimmie Johnson -15
3.) Dale Earnhardt Jr. -23
4.) #20 Matt Kenseth -24
5.) #2 Brad Keselowski -47
6.) #99 Carl Edwards -75
7.) #22 Joey Logano -83
8.) #42 Kyle Larson -83
9.) #4 Kevin Harvick -90
10.) #18 Kyle Busch -91