BROOKLYN, Mich. (USA TODAY) – Jimmie Johnson scored his first Sprint Cup victory at Michigan International Speedway, playing the strategy perfectly for his series-leading third victory of 2014.
The six-time series champion pitted from the lead under green with 35 laps remaining. The race stayed green the rest of the distance, and Johnson cycled back into the lead with a comfortable margin and held on at the 2-mile oval, where he had been close to a win several times before.
Only four tracks remain unconquered by Johnson in NASCAR's premier series: Chicagoland Speedway, Homestead-Miami Speedway, Kentucky Speedway and Watkins Glen International.
"We finally got one!" Johnson radioed crew chief Chad Knaus.
"Yeah, I never thought we'd get one here," Knaus said.
Johnson's celebration in victory lane marked the fifth in a row for Hendrick Motorsports on a special day for the two-time dad.
"We've figured out every way to lose this race and today we were finally able to get it done," Johnson said.
"For so many years, my dad was here at the track, and I wanted to win this race for him. He's in upper Michigan this weekend, so dad, we did it -- finally. And as a dad, it tickles me deep to win today. I don't want to get old but I look forward to that day."
Knaus said from atop his pit box post-race:
"It seems like we've had the opportunity here in the past, and with less than five laps to go, something always seemed to go wrong. We had to work the pit strategy correctly today, and it was the right call. Today was a lot of fun."
Pole-sitter Kevin Harvick finished second, followed by Brad Keselowski, Paul Menard and Kasey Kahne, who rebounded from an early crash.
"It was tough earlier. I was just kind (of) floating everywhere -- in the back of the pack, just floating. We got on a good strategy, and we were able to run up front. Hopefully this can get us going -- get some points here, get a win, and get into the Chase," Kahne said.
Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Larson, Joey Logano and Clint Bowyer rounded out the top 10.
The race got off to a choppy start as the first full circuit under a green flag wasn't completed until the 12th lap. A stiff wind blowing across the track seemed to contribute to handling problems as drivers entered the turns.