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Jimmie Johnson continued his strong mid-season surge in form by claiming his third win of the year after beating Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski to the chequered flag in the Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway on Sunday afternoon.

It's Johnson's first win at Michigan in 25 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races here, and overall was his 69th victory in 450 career starts putting him into eighth place on the all-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series wins list. Michigan also marks Hendrick Motorsports' fifth consecutive victory in 2014, the third time in the team's history that it has achieved that sort of sustained success during a season - the record being a run of six wins in 2007.

"Just so happy to do it, we've always talked about winning here and have been so close," Johnson said of his maiden Michigan success. "We have figured out every way to lose this race [in the past] and today we were able to get it done."

The race had struggled to get underway, with Brian Vickers spinning out on the first lap and collecting Travis Kvapil on the way, and then Kyle Larson getting loose and hitting the wall at the restart on lap 7 after contact with Martin Truex Jr. which also caught up Kasey Kahne.

"I wish I knew," said Vickers when asked what had triggered the initial incident. "The car just came around going into 3. I was trying to back the corner up and was taking it easy and just got loose and it just came around from me. I saved it all the way up to the wall and I thought I had it saved and ultimately it just came around and I lost it."

"I saw it and was getting slowed down and was creeping down by the grass," contributed Kvapil. "It was almost like a situation where I was going too slow, instead of just driving through the wreck. Once I got to the grass I couldn't go any lower. The car wouldn't turn in the grass and he just kept coming down and it peeled the right-front off of it. The car is hurt pretty bad."

"When luck is not on your side, there's not much you can do," said Truex of his own misfortune a few laps later. "We were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. It's disheartening because we felt that we had a potential top ten car but didn't get a chance to show it. When you have an accident that early it sure makes for a long day - I mean, a very long day."

Fortunately after those two early incidents the race did finally get properly underway, running under green for the next 66 laps including the first round of pit stops until a debris caution allowed the field to pit under yellow. Polesitter Kevin Harvick and fellow front row starter Jeff Gordon had shared stints in the lead during this spell, but Gordon's Hendrick Motorsports team mate Johnson won the latest race off pit road to lead Joey Logano, Harvick and Gordon to the green flag for the restart on lap 79.

Logano got the better jump to claim the top spot, and Johnson wasn't able to best him until lap 92 after which he was able to build up a two second lead before David Regan spun out on the backstretch on lap 103 to bring out the fourth caution of the afternoon, during which Harvick was able to wrest the lead from Johnson on pit road.

After that, the race entered a new troubled stop-start phase with Alex Bowman hitting the wall on lap 110 shortly after the restart and Brett Moffitt getting loose while tangling with Casey Mears and spinning through the infield grass on lap 114. At the next restart attempt Aric Almirola and Denny Hamlin spun out after contact from Hamlin on the rear left of the #43 Richard Petty Motorsport car, all of which left the pit stop strategies in disarray with everyone reacting in the moment as best they could.

Kevin Harvick stayed off pit road to lead at the restart on lap 128 but was immediately passed by Logano, while Brad Keselowski quickly moved up to third place having been one of those to make a fuel-only stop under the latest caution. Harvick by contrast was having to watch his fuel consumption if he was to make it to the finish on only one more stop, while Logano fell back after some debris blocked his front grille for a spell leading to overheating concerns.

There was only one further brief caution during the afternoon which came on lap 149 and lasted for four laps. Although it was far outside the limits of being able to make the finish without a further stop, Keselowski was among those to come in and he beat Clint Bowyer, Kyle Larson, Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano off pit road after all opted for two tyres. Meanwhile Jamie McMurray, Jimmie Johnson, Paul Menard, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. all prioritised track position and decided to stay out and leave their final pit stops until nearer the chequered flag.

Johnson and Menard pushed to the front at the green flag and stayed there until it was time for their deferred pit stops on lap 165, in range of making it all the way to the finish line. Among those to have stopped under the earlier caution, Harvick made good progress before getting caught up in traffic and then suffering from a vibration that forced him back onto pit road again on lap 168. That was eight laps earlier than Keselowski, who was in for his final stop on lap 175.

As the race got to within 20 laps of the chequered flag, Johnson was the leading car on track who could make it all the way to finish without a splash-and-dash but he was down in 15th and somewhat hostage to fortune in terms of an ill-timed yellow coming out. The minutes ticked by and the laps counted down as one-by-one the cars in front were all forced to come in for their final stops, and finally on lap 191 Johnson popped to the front after Matt Kenseth pushed his fuel too far and ran dry and he headed to the apron and limped for pit road. The #48 had more than two seconds in hand over Harvick and Keselowski, and once the white flag came out Johnson knew that he was home free with his maiden win at Michigan thanks to the uninterrupted trouble-free final green flag stint of almost 50 laps.

"As those laps wound down at the end, I was just wondering what was going to happen, and fortunately nothing did," admitted a relieved Johnson in victory lane afterwards. "About 200 yards before the finish line I knew if the car exploded, I'd still make it across the line - that's when I finally relaxed."

Johnson is the first driver this season to clinch three wins, and his place in the 2014 Sprint Cup Chase had already been secure even before this weekend. Now, he's just having some fun and picking up wins where they had previously been elusive: with Michigan off the list, the only current venues where Johnson is yet to try out victory lane are Kentucky Speedway, Watkins Glen International, Chicagoland Speedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway.

"We are getting stronger as the #48, there is no doubt about that," said Johnson. "I think it is obvious that Hendrick Motorsports produces fast race cars. They build fast engines. It doesn't matter if it is Stewart-Haas, or the Hendrick organisation. We're winning a lot of races, and running up front.

"We just have to do the best that we can to get stronger as the Chase gets closer, and make sure we are on our game when the Chase gets here," he added.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano all have two wins apiece so far in 2014 and will join Johnson in the Chase, while Jeff Gordon, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards and Kurt and Kyle Busch all look increasingly likely to get play-off places, provided they attempt to qualify in the remaining races between now and the September visit to Richmond and finish in the top 30 in the points.

Currently Jeff Gordon leads the point standings by 15 points over Jimmie Johnson. It was a bad day for Matt Kenseth who drops out of second place in the standings after finishing in 14th place, while his Joe Gibbs Racing team mates also hit problems - Hamlin finishing two laps off the lead in 29th place after his clash with Almirola, and Kyle Busch mired in 41st place after a left rear wheel hub issue stranded him the garage for 30 laps.

Both men drop four places in the standings as a result of their Michigan misfortunes this weekend, while Paul Menard moves up four positions after finishing in fourth place ahead of Hendrick pair Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon.

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