Jimmie Johnson has had many wins in his prolific career, but Sunday's victory in the Quicken Loans 400 marked the first time he's triumphed at Michigan International Speedway.
This is the 69th career win for Johnson and his maiden one in Brooklyn, Michigan, leaving him with just four tracks on the NASCAR schedule that he hasn't yet conquered. The driver's team tweeted what he had to say afterward about the breakthrough:
Kevin Harvick qualified on the pole and led 63 laps to Johnson's 39, yet he was forced to settle for second place.
Another past Sprint Cup Series champion in Brad Keselowski started sixth and managed to record a third consecutive top-three finish. Keselowski's Ford continued its strong run in a race in which Hendrick Motorsports continued to reign supreme, per NASCAR Stats:
Veteran driver Jeff Gordon is still perched at the top in the Chase for the Cup after a stellar sixth-place effort in the Quicken Loans 400. Johnson moved up to second, while last week's winner, Dale Earnhardt Jr., secured third, ahead of previous No. 2 Matt Kenseth and the 2 car of Keselowski.
Here is a look at the latest Sprint Cup standings, followed by analysis on several notable finishers from Saturday's action and an updated schedule.
|2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Driver Standings|
|3||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||514||-23||2|
Analyzing Notable Drivers
With six Sprint Cup Series titles under his belt, there isn't much left for Johnson to accomplish. For whatever reason, a win at Michigan had always alluded him until Sunday, and it was evident that the win meant a lot to NASCAR's premier driver.
Johnson has now won three races this season, which is more than anyone else can boast. He also didn't leave any doubt about the outcome, finishing well out in front of Harvick before pulling into Victory Lane and being showered by the confetti.
Kentucky Speedway reminded fans just how consistent and amazing Johnson has been throughout his days behind the wheel:
Just when it seemed the driver of the 48 would regress in defense of his latest championship, he responded with rare form. This was the third win in his last four starts, suggesting Johnson still has plenty to do before he even considers walking away from the sport.
Numerous lead changes occurred down the stretch, but in the end, a familiar car crossed the finish before everyone else. Next week's race is at Sonoma Raceway—one of the many venues Johnson has won at, with that one coming in 2010. Based on how hot he's been over the past month, it would be unwise to count him out.
It has to be somewhat frustrating that Keselowski can't close the deal, but he kept himself in the top five in points with another stellar showing Sunday.
After two runner-up finishes, Keselowski appeared determined to do one better in Michigan. Unfortunately, he couldn't take command and wound up well off Johnson's winning pace. At least he doesn't seem to be dwelling on yet another close call.
"We just needed a little more out of our Miller Lite Ford Fusion to run with them big motor cars," said Keselowski, per FoxSports.com's Tom Jensen. "We were way behind them, but we just have to keep digging."
Keselowski has to be encouraged by how well his team is managing his vehicle and the preparation he's done. Sunday saw the pit crew log the fastest average time. That means the car is being managed and maneuvered extremely well, and Keselowski is doing just about everything save for winning.
What helps is that the driver of the 2 car generally has a positive outlook and plenty of momentum to carry forward for the remainder of the season. As long as he keeps knocking on the door, more victories should come for Team Penske's star.
One of the most decorated drivers in the modern era, Gordon continues to stay on the grind. His Hendrick teammate in Johnson wound up getting it done for Hendrick Motorsports, but Gordon's trademark No. 24 car also led 36 laps.
After the race, there was some disappointment evident in the way he described finishing in sixth:
Gordon has to be pleased, though, with how his season is shaping up overall to date. The last time he even came close to winning the Sprint Cup Series championship was 2009, when he finished third. Since then, he's lurked outside of the top five and still hasn't managed to win a title since 2001.
Here's a big silver lining to the somewhat underwhelming result in Michigan: Gordon has won five times in the Toyota/Save Mart 350. No one else has had more than two victories, so the 24 has to be a big favorite to take home the checkered flag.
Still, with the way Johnson and Keselowski are running, they will offer some serious competition as Gordon looks to maintain his advantage. Johnson is charging hard and is the worthiest challenger to be sure. The fact that this trio is in the headlines so often lately is great for NASCAR, as three of the sport's most recognizable drivers are performing at their respective peaks in the middle of the season.
It will be fascinating to watch whether Gordon can hang on. If Keselowski can win his second title in three years, though, he'd obviously bolster his profile a ton. Johnson seems determined to successfully defend, which would allow him to continue cementing himself as perhaps the best driver of all time.
|2014 NASCAR Schedule After Quicken Loans 400|
|Sunday, June 22||3 p.m. ET||Toyota - Save Mart 350||TNT|
|Saturday, June 28||7:30 p.m. ET||Quaker State 400 Presented by Advance Auto Parts||TNT|
|Saturday, July 5||7:30 p.m. ET||Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola||TNT|
|Sunday, July 13||1 p.m. ET||Camping World RV Sales 301||TNT|
|Sunday, July 27||1 p.m. ET||Crown Royal Presents You Hero's Name Here 400 at the Brickyard||ESPN|
|Sunday, August 3||1 p.m. ET||GoBowling.com 400||ESPN|
|Sunday, August 10||1 p.m. ET||Cheez-It 355 at The Glen||ESPN|
|Sunday, August 17||1 p.m. ET||Pure Michigan 400||ESPN|
|Saturday, August 23||7:30 p.m. ET||Irwin Tools Night Race||ESPN|
|Sunday, August 31||7:30 p.m. ET||NASCAR Sprint Cup Series August Atlanta Race||ESPN|
|Saturday, September 6||7:30 p.m. ET||Federated Auto Parts 400||ABC|
|Sunday, September 14||2 p.m. ET||NASCAR Sprint Cup Series September Chicagoland Race||ESPN|
|Sunday, September 21||2 p.m. ET||Sylvania 300||ESPN|
|Sunday, September 28||2 p.m. ET||AAA 400||ESPN|
|Sunday, October 5||2 p.m. ET||Hollywood Casino 400||ESPN|
|Saturday, October 11||7:30 p.m. ET||Bank of America 500||ABC|
|Sunday, October 19||2 p.m. ET||Geico 500||ESPN|
|Sunday, October 26||1:30 p.m. ET||Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500||ESPN|
|Sunday, November 2||3 p.m. ET||AAA Texas 500||ESPN|
|Sunday, November 9||3 p.m. ET||Quicken Loans Race For Heroes 500||ESPN|
|Sunday, November 16||3 p.m. ET||Ford EcoBoost 400||ESPN|
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