Jimmie Johnson longing to finally get Michigan monkey off his back
JUN 11, 2014 7:00p ET
Throughout his illustrious NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career, Jimmie Johnson has rung up championships and wins at a blistering pace while shattering records and making his mark as one of the sport's all-time greatest drivers.
But winning a race at Michigan International Speedway?
It's been harder than pulling teeth.
Michigan, a high-horsepower 2-mile facility visited by the Sprint Cup Series each June and August, is the only current track with two Cup dates and one of only five tracks period where Johnson hasn't been to Victory Lane.
"I do pay attention to the tracks I haven't won at," said Johnson, who is also winless at Watkins Glen International, Chicagoland Speedway, Kentucky Speedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway. "It's more on the front side, going to them and building excitement about the racing at the track and wanting to win. When the race starts, it doesn't go through my mind. It has when the opportunity slips by -- especially (at Michigan). We have been so close and that certainly enters my mind."
Be it because of fuel mileage, blown engines, wrecks or some other form of plain ol' rotten racing luck, the six-time Sprint Cup champion and Chevrolet driver has never broken through at MIS -- a D-shaped track situated roughly 70 miles southwest of General Motors headquarters in Detroit.
"We've had varying issues here," Johnson said. "The only consistent one has been fuel mileage. We've worked hard to improve the car. Then we've worked hard on improving my driving style. It seems like we cover that gap, then we have a mechanical (problem). We blew a tire (in June 2013). There have been lots of reasons why."
Maybe, just maybe, Johnson's big breakthrough will come in Sunday's Quicken Loans 400 when he'll be seeking his third overall victory in the past four Sprint Cup Series races.
"It seems like we run well at Michigan and then something usually happens to us, so we have been chasing a win for what seems like forever," said Johnson, the reigning series champ and a 68-time winner in NASCAR's top series. "There are always a lot of Chevrolet guests out at the track since its right down the road from Detroit, so it would be nice to see a Chevy in the winner's circle for them.
"Hoping we can pull off a win at Michigan soon for this Lowe's team, check it off the list and have a great celebration. So we are looking for a solid run this weekend."
In 24 starts at Michigan, Johnson has four top-five finishes, nine top-10s and has led 586 laps. He is the only active driver in the Sprint Cup Series to have a career average starting position (8.9) inside the top 10 here, where he finished a career-best second in August 2011.
While Johnson has been close to victory on several occasions at MIS, the Hendrick Motorsports driver's last few visits have been far from pleasant with finishes of 40th, 28th and 27th in his last three starts.
If there's any good news, it's that Johnson comes into the weekend on a roll after winning back-to-back races at Charlotte Motor Speedway and Dover International Speedway. Falling short in his bid for a third consecutive triumph, Johnson rallied from a pit-road incident last Sunday at Pocono Raceway to finish a solid sixth.
But he'd like nothing better than to finally get the Michigan monkey off his back and go to Victory Lane -- especially on Father's Day.
"I'm so thankful for everything my dad (Gary Johnson) has done and the man he raised me to be," said Johnson, now a father of two girls. "Just a lot of fun memories and then to have it flip and experience it and have your children look at you. My daughter, Genevieve, is at an age now where she gets it and she knows itâs a special day.
"We just went through Mother's Day and had a total blast watching her get ready for mom and make her a poster. She is really big into art and stuff so I'm sure she will make me a poster or something on Sunday. I'm just thoroughly enjoying being a dad."