Sprint Cup

Familiar outcome for NASCAR points-leader Johnson at Michigan

dscott@charlotteobserver.comAugust 18, 2013 

— It’s a good thing Jimmie Johnson’s already got a spot sewn up in this season’s Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Otherwise, what happened during Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway might have really ticked him off.

As it was, Johnson was frustrated after his engine blew on Lap 54, forcing him to leave the race at a track where has never won. He would ultimately finish 40th, his lead in the standings trimmed to 41 points over Clint Bowyer.

So does it feel like Michigan is just a bad place for Johnson?

“It does,” he said. “It’s going to make it all the sweeter when we are able to win.”

Michigan is one of just five tracks on the Cup circuit where Johnson is winless. But after arriving with a 75-point lead – enough to secure him a spot in the Chase, which begins Sept. 15 at Chicago – he had reason to be optimistic.

On Friday, he qualified third, making him think he might break his 23-race winless streak at MIS.

Then things began to unravel. Johnson’s No. 48 Chevy was fastest during Saturday morning’s practice, but it spun and hit the wall. That forced Johnson to start at the rear of the field Sunday in a backup car.

Johnson quickly moved up in the field. But then the engine gave way. He drove to the garage, where crew chief Chad Knaus told him it was unrepairable.

“Coming down the back straightaway I felt it drop a couple of cylinders and knew we were in trouble,” said Johnson. “So I brought it to pit road and unfortunately it finally broke all the way and locked up.

“It would be nice to have salvaged something and … (gotten) back out on the track, but the engine didn’t live long enough once it broke. These things break pretty quick and that was the end of it.”

It was a familiar ending at Michigan for Johnson.

“When I look back, most of it is self-inflicted,” he said. “Even though it’s an engine failure, we will be able to trace back why and what. Human hands are on these things assembling them and it could be in that or it could have been a simple parts failure. The bulk of the stuff has been human error. I’m not overly concerned.”

Johnson said he didn’t think his team was trying anything different in the engine to prepare for the Chase.

“Not that I am aware of,” he said. “You know, this track is hard on engines and these guys will figure out what went on there. Days like (Sunday), I am thankful for the big points lead that we have and the bonus points we have been able to accumulate to get us to this position for the Chase. It happens and I hope to get all this stuff out of the way now, although I hate losing momentum going into the Chase.”

Three races – Bristol, Atlanta and Richmond – remain before the Chase begins.

“That momentum is key rolling into the Chase,” said Johnson. “I’m not overly concerned. I hate having momentum not work in our favor late in the regular season. That momentum is key rolling into the Chase. That is the biggest downfall to me.”

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