BROOKLYN, Mich. – In the final seconds of his first victory at Michigan International Speedway, Jimmie Johnson could finally relax a bit.
“About 200 yards before the finish line, I knew if the car exploded, I’d still slide across the finish line,” Johnson said after the Quicken Loans 400.
Johnson and his No. 48 Chevrolet made it through the last few laps with a comfortable lead, and the six-time series champion won Sunday for the first time in 25 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts at MIS.
“We’ve figured out every way to lose this race and today we were able to get it done,” he said.
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Johnson outlasted Kevin Harvick, who started from the pole, by 1.214 seconds for his third victory in four races at NASCAR’s top level. He also won in Concord, N.C., and Dover, Del.
It was the fifth victory in a row for Chevy and Hendrick Motorsports. Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. also have won during the streak.
Kasey Kahne of Enumclaw was fifth, his best finish since a third-place effort May 10 in the 5-Hour Energy 400 at Kansas Speedway. Greg Biffle of Vancouver, Wash., was 20th of 43.
Johnson improved from fourth to second in the season standings, 15 points behind leader Gordon.
Johnson had finished among the top five four times previously in Michigan, including a second in August 2011. He lost in August 2012 when his engine faltered with six laps remaining.
“It was a long time coming,” crew chief Chad Knaus said. “We’ve raced very well up here, and we haven’t been able to close the deal on quite a few occasions.”
Johnson had led at some point in 15 previous Cup races at the track.
“It’s good to see Jimmie, after leading so many laps here, close the deal,” team owner Rick Hendrick said. “We’ve run out of gas, broke motors, blown tires.”
Johnson led after 164 laps Sunday before stopping to pit and giving up the lead. He was back in front with about 10 laps to go after a cycle of pit stops by other drivers.
“We really were in a win-win situation,” Johnson said. “Those guys still had to come to pit road to make it to the end.”
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It was the trio’s third victory in the world’s most famous endurance race. Audi has won 10 of the last 11 races at Le Mans.
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