BROOKLYN, Mich. — If Jimmie Johnson ever gets to feeling confident in his role as NASCAR’s dominant driver, well, there’s always Michigan International Speedway to knock him down a few pegs.
The track in Michigan’s Irish Hills is one of just five on the Sprint Cup circuit at which Johnson has never won. The string of misfortune at MIS continued for Johnson on Saturday while practicing for Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400 when he crashed his No. 48 Chevy during.
Johnson, this season’s points leader and a five-time Cup champ, will start from the rear of the field in a backup car.
“We have a torn-up car and we will have to work hard to get this one ready to go,” Johnson said.
Johnson has been competitive over the years at Michigan. His best finish was second in 2011 and he has three other top-fives to go with that. He’s led 583 laps in 23 races.
But he’s never quite figured out the 2-mile D-shaped track, which is one of the fastest on the circuit and was repaved in 2012 to make it even quicker.
“We’ve had varying issues here,” said Johnson, whose 75-point lead over Clint Bowyer has already clinched him a spot in the Chase. “The only consistent one has been fuel mileage. We’ve worked hard to improve the car. Then we’ve worked hard on improving my driving style. It seems like we cover that gap, then we have a mechanical (problem). We blew a tire last spring. There have been lots of reasons why.”
Johnson has 64 career victories – eighth all-time – and they’ve come on all manner of tracks. He’s won 46 times on superspeedways (plus five restrictor-plate races at Daytona and Talladega), 12 on short tracks and on one road course.
But Michigan – along with Watkins Glen, Chicago, Kentucky and Homestead – hasn’t been one of them.
“I do pay attention to the tracks I haven’t won at,” said Johnson. “It’s more on the front side, going to them and building excitement about the racing at the track and wanting to win. When the race starts, it doesn’t go through my mind. It has when the opportunity slips by – expecially (at Michigan). We have been so close and that certainly enters my mind.”
But Johnson was ordinary at Michigan in June. His 28th-place finish is his worst of the season. And although he was fast in qualifying Friday – one of five drivers exceeding the 213-mph barrier – and was fastest in Saturday’s “happy hour” qualifying before wrecking, he still doesn’t sound comfortable.
“The track is so different than it’s been in the past,” he said, referring to the repave in 2012. “In the spring race, we were able to get to the front, but then I ran the right-front tire off the front of the car and hit the wall.”
The car Johnson will drive Sunday is the same one he drove in June at Dover, where he finished 17th after dominating much of the race.
He’d like to finish the job at Michigan.
“I really look forward to the day I’m able to pull into Victory Lane here,” he said.
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