BROOKLYN, Mich. – Not much was going right for Jimmie Johnson at Michigan International Speedway.
After qualifying 30th, he fell even farther back in the pack at the start of the race.
When pit strategy helped Johnson bounce back to lead the race twice for 21 laps, bad luck reared its head once again as the shifter handle on the transmission of the No. 48 Lowe’s/Jimmie Johnson Foundation Chevrolet SS broke off.
“We put ourselves in a bad position with the shift lever breaking off,” Johnson said.
The next time Johnson visited pit road, the No. 48 crew handed him a vice grip to try to utilize as a shifter – but that didn’t work, and as Johnson's car had to be pushed out of the pit box, he lost a lap.
There was no quit in the No. 48 team, however.
“Once I could get the wire tie busted and get the boot down, I could see what was wrong and we were able to kind of adjust from there,” Johnson explained, as the shifter was fixed approximately halfway through the race. “[Car chief] Ron Malec dove into the right side window and we got it sorted out.”
From there, it was all about getting a lap back. Johnson continued battling through the field, getting into position for a free pass on multiple occasions before he was finally put back on the lead lap during a caution at Lap 167.
By that time, a top-10 finish was in his sights. And despite everything that went wrong early in the race, he took the checkered flag in ninth place.
“I think what they showed is they can battle back, figure out a way not to lose with the shifter broken in the car,” Hendrick Motorsports Owner Rick Hendrick said. “I think that's just [crew chief Chad Knaus] calling a great race and Jimmie not giving up. Hopefully we have all the bad luck behind us now. They'll be able to go to the next race feeling great.
“But we got some good races for them coming up. If we’ve got to have some things like that happen, I'd rather see them happen now than in the Chase.”
As for Johnson, he was proud of the No. 48 team’s ability to rally for a good finish, but he’s looking for more as the final three races of the regular season lead in to the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
“We have fast race cars and they keep saying we show it during the race, but the results haven’t been there,” he said. “This was a good recovery for today, but it’s certainly not we want to be.”