Jimmie Johnson looked as if he had already finished the hardest work. After starting at the back of the pack, he had moved up quickly, and when he passed Brad Keselowski for the lead on lap 191 of 200, his No. 48 Chevrolet seemed to be the superior car.
Then Johnson’s engine faltered with only six laps remaining. He lost the race – and the NASCAR Sprint Cup points lead – to Greg Biffle on Sunday.
“I got it turned around and was catching him, and then his engine failed,” Biffle said. “It was going to be a great race, no matter what. I felt like I could catch him, but we’ll never know. Passing him might have been a different story.”
Johnson started the race at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Mich., from the back because of an engine change, and he couldn’t hold on at the end. He finished 27th.
After Johnson’s mishap, there was a caution for oil on the track. Biffle held off Keselowski by 0.416 seconds in the green-white-checkered finish.
Biffle took over the points lead, while Johnson dropped from first to fourth. Matt Kenseth moved up a spot to second despite a 17th-place showing.
“I know that a lot of people don’t expect us to win the championship, and don’t expect us to compete for the title,” Biffle said. “I don’t care what they say or who they want to talk about, but we will be a factor when it comes down to Homestead. I promise you that.”
Kasey Kahne finished third in the 400-mile race, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Marcos Ambrose.
Pole sitter Mark Martin was sailing along in the lead for most of the first 65 laps before his race ended in scary fashion. Bobby Labonte went into a spin while Martin was coming up from behind, and Martin went sliding off toward pit road. His car crashed frighteningly into the end of a short, narrow barrier on the interior side of pit road.
The side of Martin’s car was essentially impaled by the end of the wall, just in front of the left rear tire and dangerously close to the driver’s seat. But in the smoky scene that followed, Martin was able to get out and walk away.
“I really feel that was a freak accident. I’m not sure you can ever completely fix something like that,” Martin said.
Johnson did not speak to reporters afterward. He was trying to become the first driver to reach four victories this season. Keselowski and Tony Stewart also have three, and drivers will earn bonus points in the Chase for the Sprint Cup for victories.
The Chase starts next month.
Ron Capps topped the Funny Car field in the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals in Brainerd, Minn., to take the season lead with one race left in the regular season, and Erica Enders raced to her third Pro Stock victory of the season and second in a row.
Enders is the first female driver to win at BIR since Shirley Muldowney won a Top Fuel title in 1982.
Morgan Lucas won the Top Fuel division, and Eddie Krawiec topped the Pro Stock Motorcycle field.