Johnson’s winless streak at MIS moves to 24 starts

Joey Logano holds a lead in to turn one during the Pure Michigan 400 on Sunday at Michigan International Speedway. He went on to win the race.
Joey Logano holds a lead in to turn one during the Pure Michigan 400 on Sunday at Michigan International Speedway. He went on to win the race.

BROOKLYN, Mich. — As his No. 48 Chevrolet limped through its final lap, Jimmie Johnson and his crew chief exchanged words.

“We were definitely going to be a contender,” Johnson told Chad Knaus over the radio.

Should have, could have, would have.

Less than 55 laps into the Pure Michigan 400, Johnson’s chances of winning his first race at Michigan International Speedway evaporated and the goose egg remained for one of the more prolific drivers on the Sprint Cup circuit. Now Johnson is winless in 24 starts at the Irish Hills superspeedway.

“The engine broke there,” Johnson told reporters Sunday in the garages. “I guess when we came in for a green flag pit stop something started then, and we made it a few more laps and didn’t really notice anything off. Then it finally dropped a cylinder or two down the backstretch.”

PHOTO GALLERY: NASCAR's Pure Michigan 400

Johnson knew he and his team were in trouble, and he went back to pit road.

“Unfortunately, it finally broke all the way and locked up,” Johnson said. “It would be nice to have salvaged something and get back out on the track, but the engine didn’t live long enough once it broke. These things break pretty quick and that was the end of it.”

Johnson clinched a spot in the Chase for the Championship last weekend by finishing eighth in the Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International and led three laps Sunday at MIS but did not finish the race.

The last time Johnson did not complete a race came in November’s 2012 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, when Johnson had an outside chance to wrestle the 2012 Sprint Cup championship from Brad Keselowski. Two problems ultimately kept Johnson from winning a sixth title: crew members did not put all five lugnuts on a tire, which meant Johnson had to repit, and mechanical failure with less than 50 laps left ended Johnson’s race.

Joey Logano crosses the finish line to win the Pure Michigan 400.
Joey Logano crosses the finish line to win the Pure Michigan 400.

PENSKE ON THE NO. 22 CAR: Roger Penske and Joey Logano confirmed that they had been in talks more than a year ago for Logano to drive the No. 22 Shell/​Pennzoil Ford in 2013.

“We had a rough time with the first two drivers we had in the Shell/​Pennzoil car,” said Penske, who owns Detroit-based Penske Racing. “I said, I wanted to make the right choice here. It was a year ago that he had a chance to meet with the Shell people and Pennzoil.

“We knew he was young, he had been a winner, and was focused and he wanted to race. I think those are the things that made the difference for us. We are investing in the future and we have two young drivers [in Logano and Brad Keselowski] we would match with anybody today. We are looking long-term."

Sam Hornish, Jr., a Defiance native, drove the No. 22 car for the second half of 2012 after NASCAR suspended AJ Allmendinger for violating its substance abuse policy. NASCAR reinstated Allmendinger after he completed its Road to Recovery program.

Hornish currently drives for Penske Racing on the Nationwide level, while Allmendinger has driven in IndyCar, Sprint Cup and Nationwide races this season.

Cars make their way into turn one during the Pure Michigan 400.
Cars make their way into turn one during the Pure Michigan 400.

NO UPGRADES: MIS president Roger Curtis said the track isn’t undergoing any current major renovations or upgrades. International Speedway Corp., the parent company that owns MIS and 12 other tracks in the United States, is currently in the middle of a $400 million upgrade of Daytona International Speedway.

“All of us as a sport are very supportive of that,” Curtis said of Daytona. “That’s our Super Bowl.”

Curtis said MIS will continue to consider technological upgrades, such as improving Wi-Fi and adding more hot spots, and will also continue refurbishing its restrooms.

He foresees a project to upgrade the garage area at MIS will take place either in 2017 or 2018.

GRAND MARSHAL: Carter Oosterhouse served as the race’s grand marshal. Oosterhouse is a Traverse City native and winery owner who hosts HGTV shows Carter Can and Red Hot and Green.

“As the grand marshal, I’m trying not to make a mistake in telling the drivers to start their engines,” the Central Michigan University graduate quipped.

Oosterhouse is married to Amy Smart, an actress who appeared in Varsity Blues, The Butterfly Effect and Starsky and Hutch. Smart is working with director Tyler Perry on Single Moms Club, which is scheduled to be in theatres in May of 2014.

NASCAR CONTEST: Fans can enter the NASCAR Contenders Live Sweepstakes for the chance to win prizes at​contenderslive. One grand prize winner will take home a 2014 Toyota Tundra CrewMax Limited, two tickets to NASCAR Contenders Live, two tickets and VIP passes to the Sprint Cup race Sept. 15 at Chicagoland Speedway, and $500 cash.

TIRE TROUBLES: While temperatures weren’t scorching, Goodyear Racing noted on its Twitter account (@GoodyearRacing) that the right front tires became problematic as the race wore on.

“Seeing several high temp issues on RF tires at @MISpeedway, including cars of @DaleJr, @KyleBusch and @jpmontoya on that last set of stops.”