Crash in practice sends Jimmie Johnson to backup car

BROOKLYN, MI - AUGUST 17:  Hendrick team members work on the damaged car of Jimmie Johnson (not pictured), driver of the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet,  after an incident during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 44th Annual Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway on August 17, 2013 in Brooklyn, Michigan.  (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

BROOKLYN, MI – AUGUST 17: Hendrick team members work on the damaged car of Jimmie Johnson (not pictured), driver of the #48 Lowe’s Chevrolet, after an incident during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 44th Annual Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway on August 17, 2013 in Brooklyn, Michigan. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

BROOKLYN, Mich. — Jimmie Johnson’s quest to win a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Michigan International Speedway suddenly got significantly more difficult.

Roughly 22 minutes into Saturday’s final practice at the two-mile track, Johnson spun in traffic entering Turn 3. His No. 48 Chevrolet SS nosed hard into the outside wall in Turn 4, damaging the car beyond repair.

The team immediately rolled out a backup car and began preparing it for Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400. Because the car change occurred after Friday’s time trials, Johnson will give up the third-place starting position he earned during qualifying and drop to the rear of the field for the start of the race.

Johnson’s primary car came to rest in the infield grass, the splitter buried in the turf. After a quick trip to the infield care center, the five-time champion was back in his garage stall, describing the wreck to crew chief Chad Knaus and lending moral support to the team.

There was one minor complication. Johnson’s primary chassis, which raced at Michigan in June, sported decals of sponsor Lowe’s. The backup chassis, which raced at Dover in June and served as backup at Indianapolis in late July, was wrapped in KOBALT Tools colors.

But that was the least of Johnson’s worries. Of more concern was determining why the car stepped out into the third corner.

“It just got loose,” said Johnson, who was third fastest in Saturday’s first session and fastest in Happy Hour (before the car change). “It was definitely unfortunate, because that was a very fast race car. We always bring fast race cars to the track, and we’ll get this one (the backup) tuned up.

“I’m noticing that we’ve got the wrong paint job on it. So we’ll figure something out — I’ll either change driver suits, or we’ll put a wrap on it. I just hate that I’m putting this work load on my crew guys, but they’re ready for the challenge, and we’ll be just fine come Sunday afternoon.”

Between practice sessions, the track got warmer, and handling characteristics of the cars tend more toward the loose side.

“That’s definitely part of it,” Johnson said. “I’m a little puzzled as to why I spun out going in, because I’ve had great entry stability, and even on that run I had great entry stability. I got a little close to the 27 (Paul Menard), but then again, it’s not like I was right on him. To me it felt like I lost downforce just from a traffic scenario, but I’m not real sure.

“Either way, we’ve got a torn up car, and we’ll have to work hard to get this one ready to go and hopefully make a couple of laps before the session’s up and take it from there.”

In fact, Johnson’s team had the backup car for action with enough time left in Happy Hour to run 10 laps.

SHORT STROKES

On a cool race track in a session that started at 8:30 a.m., Kevin Harvick was fastest in Saturday’s first practice, posting a lap at 202.577 mph. Kasey Kahne, who qualified 31st on Friday, showed considerable improvement in race trim relative to the rest of the field. Kahne’s best lap (202.338 mph) was second quickest…

Country music superstar Luke Bryan will drive the pace car, a Ford Fusion Energi Hybrid, for Sunday’s race. The Academy of Country Music’s entertainer of the year is promoting his latest album, “Crash My Party.” Bryan’s face is part of the paint scheme on the hood of Brad Keselowski’s No. 2 Penske Racing Ford this weekend, but, with a place in the Chase on the line, that’s one party the defending NASCAR Sprint Cup champion definitely doesn’t want to crash.

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