The already far-diminished checklist of items for Jimmie Johnson to accomplish in his legendary NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career just got a little smaller.
Johnson took the lead with nine laps to go and held on over a hard-charging Kevin Harvick to win Sunday's Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway. It is the six-time champ's first-ever victory in 25 starcrossed Michigan starts and the 69th of his career. In addition, he becomes the first driver of the 2014 campaign to win three races, after his victories at Charlotte and Dover. Hendrick Motorsports has now won five-consecutive races dating back to Jeff Gordon's win at Kansas on Mother's Day Weekend.
Harvick, the pole-sitter, led a race high 63 laps but came up just over a second short of his third win of the season. Michigan native Brad Keselowski took third in his Penske Ford, ahead of Saturday's Nationwide Series winner Paul Menard. Kasey Kahne had the recovery of the day for his fifth-place finish, as he was collected in an early spin by Kyle Larson and sturggled with an ill-handling car for a large chunk of the day before coming on strong late.
Gordon was sixth, while Dale Earnhardt Jr's bid to win consecutive races for the first time in his career ended in seventh. Larson recovered from the incident on lap seven to record an eighth-place finish, while Joey Logano and Clint Bowyer in the highest-placed Toyota rounded out the top-10.
The race took some time to get going, as on lap one Brian Vickers slid out of the groove and slapped the wall in turn three. Vickers then nosed into the wall and slid across the banking into the infield grass, where he was clobbered by the Ford of Travis Kvapil. Vickers lost 88 laps awaiting repairs on his Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota, while Kvapil's day was done before it ever got started.
On the restart from that melee, Larson lost control exiting turn two and slid into the front of Martin Truex Jr's car. Kahne turned his machine sideways in the melee, but only Truex suffered any significant damage. The snakebitten Furniture Row Racing driver limped to a dismal 37th-place finish, four laps off Johnson's race-winning pace.
Other drivers to find trouble on Michigan's slick surface were rookies Alex Bowman and Brett Moffitt - making his second-career Sprint Cup start - and veteran Denny Hamlin. The latter driver collected Aric Almirola on his way into the outside wall, ruining a solid day for Richard Petty's No. 43 Ford.
It was an abysmal day for Roush-Fenway Racing, as their trio of drivers finished 20th (Greg Biffle, the defending race-winner and a four-time Michigan victor), 23rd (two-time MIS winner Carl Edwards) and 27th (Ricky Stenhouse Jr.). Roush cars entered the day having won 13 times at Michigan, but they were never a factor all race as Penske Racing continued to carry the banner for Ford. Keselowski's run was not enough to extend the Blue Oval Brigade's three-race winning streak at MIS, however.
Kyle Busch, who has had just one top-10 since winning at Michigan in August 2011, broke a left rear hub on his No. 18 Camry and was forced behind the wall at lap 82. He would return and complete the race in 41st, 31 laps in arrears to Johnson.
With his sixth-place effort, Gordon maintains the points lead by 15 over Johnson. Earnhardt is third, 23 back, with Matt Kenseth (24 back after a 14th-place finish) and Keselowski (47 down) roudning out the top-five.