Jimmie Johnson finally captures 1st Sprint Cup win at Michigan

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It’s not like Michigan International Speedway had been a house of horrors for Jimmie Johnson.

Prior to today’s Quicken Loans 400 at MIS, Johnson had earned four Top-5 and nine Top-10 finishes there, plus 586 laps led.

But he had never been able to break through for a win in the Irish Hills.

That problem has now been corrected.

Fuel strategy played a role in the late stages, but after pitting from the lead with 36 laps to go, the race stayed green and enabled Johnson to cycle back to P1 with nine laps left.

From there, the defending Sprint Cup champion managed to hold off Kevin Harvick for his third win in the last four points races and Hendrick Motorsports’ fifth consecutive points race win.

With Michigan now crossed off his list of tracks he’s yet to win at (a list that now only has Chicagoland, Homestead-Miami, Watkins Glen and Kentucky), Johnson also assumes the top seed on the provisional Chase Grid.

“We have figured out every way to lose this race, and today, we were able to get it done,” Johnson said to TNT in Victory Lane.

Johnson also made sure to recognize today’s Father’s Day holiday.

“For so many years, my Dad was here and I wanted to win this race with him here – I know he’s up in Upper Michigan with my two brothers racing off-road trucks – so Dad, we did it finally,” he said.

“And as a father – what an awesome day. It just tickles me deep. I’m so proud to be here.”

Also relieved over the outcome was Johnson’s crew chief, Chad Knaus, who has seen lots of heartache at MIS alongside his driver.

“It seems like we’ve had that opportunity [to win] here in the past, and with less than five laps to go, we’ve had issues of some form or fashion,” he said.

“…We’ve had to work the pit strategy correctly today. There were a lot of opportunities out there to do some leap-frogging. It was pretty awesome and a lot of fun.”

Harvick came home second after leading a race-high 63 laps, while Michigan’s own Brad Keselowski picked up a third-place finish at his home track.

Also pulling off strong days were Paul Menard in fourth and Kasey Kahne, who rallied from an early incident with Kyle Larson to finish fifth. Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Larson, Joey Logano and Clint Bowyer completed the Top 10.

NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES AT MICHIGAN – QUICKEN LOANS 400
Unofficial Results
1. Jimmie Johnson, led 39 laps
2. Kevin Harvick, led 63 laps
3. Brad Keselowski, led 4 laps
4. Paul Menard
5. Kasey Kahne, led 1 lap
6. Jeff Gordon, led 36 laps
7. Dale Earnhardt Jr., led 1 lap
8. Kyle Larson, led 2 laps
9. Joey Logano, led 29 laps
10. Clint Bowyer
11. Tony Stewart, led 1 lap
12. Jamie McMurray, led 4 laps
13. Kurt Busch, led 16 laps
14. Matt Kenseth, led 2 laps
15. Ryan Newman
16. Justin Allgaier
17. Danica Patrick
18. Juan Pablo Montoya
19. Trevor Bayne
20. Greg Biffle
ONE LAP DOWN
21. Michael Annett
22. A.J. Allmendinger
23. Carl Edwards
24. Casey Mears
25. Marcos Ambrose
TWO LAPS DOWN
26. David Gilliland
27. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
28. Cole Whitt
29. Denny Hamlin
30. Austin Dillon
THREE LAPS DOWN
31. Aric Almirola
32. Reed Sorenson
33. Josh Wise
34. Brett Moffitt
35. Landon Cassill
36. J.J. Yeley
FOUR LAPS DOWN
37. Martin Truex Jr.
38. David Ragan
FIVE LAPS DOWN
39. David Ragan

40. Alex Bowman, Lap 169, Accident
41. Kyle Busch, Lap 169, Running
42. Brian Vickers, Lap 110, Running
43. Travis Kvapil, Lap 23, Accident

Fernando Alonso likes NASCAR country, but he’s not leaving F1 any time soon

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Jimmie Johnson strolled into the Charlotte Convention Center and did a double-take when he saw Fernando Alonso hanging out in a hallway.

“What’s he doing here?” NASCAR’s seven-time champion wondered.

Alonso made the trip to North Carolina to make an appearance at NASCAR’s annual preseason media tour. No, a ride in NASCAR is not imminent, but the two-time Formula One champion is about to embark on his first major sports car race .

Alonso will race this weekend in the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona for United Autosports, the sports car team owned by his McLaren F1 boss, Zak Brown. It was Brown who paved the way for Alonso to compete in last year’s Indianapolis 500, and he is helping the Spaniard knock prestigious races off his wish list.

Alonso spent about 10 minutes chatting with Johnson, and the duo was eventually joined by sports car aces Scott Pruett and Joey Hand, who were brought to the NASCAR event by IMSA to help promote the Rolex, and then Cup champion Kevin Harvick.

The meet-and-greet with Alonso was a thrill for Johnson. Alonso was equally impressed.

“The first time I heard his name it was probably 2003 on the NASCAR video game,” Alonso said Tuesday. “I used to choose him, not knowing him, just because of the car. I remember playing with another friend of mine, he likes a chocolate company I will not name now, and he was choosing that car and I was choosing Jimmie’s car.

“But that was the first time I heard of him, and obviously the success that he has in the years in motor racing, he became a legend of our sport, and massive respect.”

Johnson said he’s always been a fan of Alonso’s and spent some time telling Alonso how well he ran in the Indianapolis 500 last May. Alonso led 27 laps and seemed to be in contention for the win until his engine expired 21 laps from the finish.

“He handled himself so well, really did a great job, and I think brought a lot to the table,” Johnson said. “He brought worldwide attention to motorsports and it was really good for us here stateside.”

While in NASCAR country, Alonso was asked about potentially trying a stock car someday. It’s not something that could happen soon, he said, but it is something he’d like to at least attempt.

“Right now, it looks quite far. The driving technique and the experience all those guys have, it’s difficult for me to achieve that level,” Alonso said. “I will never know until I try, so I would like one day to test a car and after that, driving the car, I will know how enjoyable it will be in racing.

“Outside (watching), the races are great because they are all in a group, it is not predictable at all and until the last lap, you don’t know what is going to happen. We love watching from the outside, but I don’t know from the inside.”

Alonso has so far only had three days of testing at Daytona in the sports car to adjust to a closed cockpit, as well as driving at night and in traffic. Trying different series has been a thrill for him, and he’s still eyeing a way to get Le Mans on his schedule.

“It’s one thing that I would like to do, I would like to compete in the best races in the world, and Le Mans and is one of the top races,” he said. “If that day will be this year or not is still to be discussed, but maybe yes.”

More AP Auto Racing: https://racing.ap.org/