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Missed Opportunity at MIS

Jimmie Johnson’s 28th-place finish in the Quicken Loans 400 Sprint Cup Series race Sunday at Michigan International Speedway was not indicative of the performance the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS demonstrated. Johnson led only 18 of the event’s 200 laps, but his car was dominant. And if not for a flat right-front tire with only three laps remaining, Johnson may have collected his first win at the 2-mile oval.

Johnson had 93 passes under the green flag, more than any other driver on the track. He also turned the fastest lap of the field 39 times. Race winner Greg Biffle achieved that feat 22 times. Despite his speed, Johnson was unable to conquer Michigan International Speedway.

Johnson started the race from the 17th position but only moved to 15th by the time a competition caution flag waved on lap 20. Because he pitted during an early caution for four fresh tires, Johnson brought his Hendrick machine down pit road for fuel only and restarted 13th. From there, he showed the speed of his No. 48 Chevy for the first of many times throughout the race by charging to the lead on lap 64.

On lap 80, the field lined up for a restart following a debris caution. Johnson’s teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. beat Johnson off pit road, and the Lowe’s car lined up second. When the green flag waved, Earnhardt spun his tires and Johnson took the lead. Learning from a penalty just two weeks ago at Dover International Speedway, Johnson let off the gas and allowed Earnhardt to regain the top spot, which also enabled several other cars to pass Johnson.

“Yeah, he spun his tires and almost ran into the side of me trying to control his car,” Johnson said after the race. “I wasn’t going to get burned on that again, so I jumped off the gas and got drilled from behind. Then my tires were off the ground, and I can’t go. It’s an interesting scenario.”

Johnson fell into line in the 12th spot. Facing the second time he would need to climb through the field, he advanced to fourth on lap 97. Then Hendrick teammate Kasey Kahne suffered a tire problem and brought out the day’s sixth yellow flag. Johnson restarted seventh on lap 112 and once again began picking off cars. By lap 128, he was back in front.

A few laps later, Earnhardt’s engine expired, bringing out another caution flag. Johnson pitted for four tires. Unfortunately, other teams were on different pit strategies, and Johnson was one of few to take four Goodyears. With most cars taking only two tires, Johnson was forced to restart 20th with only 65 laps remaining and again began working through the field.

As before, Johnson made it look easy. He climbed to fifth when the race’s final caution flag flew on lap 167. With a few cars staying out, Johnson lined up 10th for a final 26-lap dash to the finish.

He moved six spots in the next six laps, running in fourth with 20 laps to go. He jumped to second on lap 191 and set his sights on race leader Biffle, less than two seconds ahead of him. Lap after lap, Johnson decreased the lead. By lap 196, Johnson trailed Biffle by just less than one second. It looked like Johnson might finally conquer Michigan International Speedway.

But as Johnson rounded the track on lap 197, the Lowe’s Chevy veered right and slammed against the outside wall. Johnson reported a flat tire and brought his machine to pit road for fresh right-side tires. He limped around the track for the final two laps and crossed the finish line 28th.

“Definitely disappointed for this race team, everybody at Lowe's and all my race fans out there,” said Johnson, who has won at every track at which the Sprint Cup Series competes except Michigan, Watkins Glen, Kentucky, Chicago and Homestead. “We had a great car coming through the pack multiple times. We just couldn't get it right on pit road with the strategy. Chad (Knaus) is being a little hard on himself about that right now. Good news is, we had an awesome race car, and we had a big points lead. I'm sure we lost a little today. I hate to miss an opportunity. I want those bonus points for winning races, and I feel like one got away from us today. But we will come back next week at Sonoma, make some right-hand turns and see what happens."

Biffle scored his 19th career Sprint Cup victory, his first of the season and his fourth at Michigan.

Kevin Harvick finished 2.989 seconds behind Biffle in the runner-up spot, while Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch and Tony Stewart rounded out the top-five. Matt Kenseth, Clint Bowyer, Carl Edwards, Joey Logano and Jeff Burton comprised the remainder of the top-10.

There were eight caution periods for 38 laps, with seven drivers failing to finish the 200-lap race.

Eleven races remain before the 12-driver, 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup begins Sept. 15 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill. Only the top-10 in points are locked into the Chase. Positions 11 and 12 in the Chase are wild cards, awarded to the two drivers between 11th and 20th in points with the most wins. If multiple drivers have the same number of wins, a driver’s point standing serves as the tiebreaker.

The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the Toyota/Save Mart 350k on Sunday, June 23 at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway. The race starts at 3 p.m. EDT, with live coverage of the road-course event provided by TNT beginning with its pre-race show at 2 p.m.

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Jeff Gordon
Denny Hamlin
Ryan Newman
Jimmie Johnson
Started: 8th
Finished: 1st
November 15th, 2015
2:30 p.m. ET on NBC
Kobalt Hot Pass