BROOKLYN, Mich. — Another Michigan mishap for Jimmie Johnson.
The five-time Sprint Cup champion crashed nose first into a wall in his No. 48 Chevrolet during a practice session Saturday. Johnson was evaluated and released from the infield care center, but the accident forced his team to prepare a backup car — and now he faces quite a challenge trying to win a Cup race at Michigan International Speedway for the first time.
‘‘I’m a little puzzled as to why I spun out going in because I’ve had great entry stability — even on that run I had great entry stability,’’ Johnson said. ‘‘To me it felt like I lost downforce just from the traffic scenario. I’m not really sure — either way we have a torn-up car.’’
Johnson qualified third Friday, but he’ll have to start from the rear now with the backup car.
Johnson is one driver who could afford a problem like this. He’s won four times this season, leads the standings by a whopping 75 points, and has already wrapped up a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Among the drivers jockeying for Chase position is Greg Biffle, who has won the last two Sprint Cup races at MIS. It should be a comfortable spot — but then Biffle analyzes the standings.
‘‘We are in the middle of the bees’ nest and we understand that,’’ Biffle said. ‘‘All we can do is get the best finishes we can the next four weeks.’’
Biffle is ninth in the standings, and he’s not the only one in a precarious position as NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup approaches. There are four races left before the Chase, with the top 10 drivers qualifying along with two wild cards.
Even defending Cup champion Brad Keselowski isn’t secure. He’s eighth, but only 12 points separate him from 12th-place Kasey Kahne. The gap between Keselowski and 16th-place Joey Logano is only 36 points, and Logano won the pole for Sunday’s race at MIS.
The two wild cards go to the drivers between 11th and 20th in the standings who have the most wins. That’s why Kahne, who has two victories, is in solid shape. Elsewhere on the bubble, Biffle, Martin Truex Jr., and Ryan Newman (14th place) have one win each. Keselowski, Kurt Busch (11th), Jeff Gordon (13th), Jamie McMurray (15th), and Logano have none.
Even though his spot is secure, Johnson is plenty motivated this weekend. MIS is one of only five tracks on the Cup schedule where he has never won. He’s 0 for 23 in Cup races in the Irish Hills.
‘‘Yeah, I do pay attention to the tracks I haven’t won at,’’ Johnson said. ‘‘It’s more on the front side going to the event and building excitement about racing at the track and wanting to win. When the race starts, it doesn’t go through my mind at that point.’’
Johnson has come close at Michigan. In August of 2011, he finished a solid second. The following June, he was fifth. Last August, he had to start from the back because of an engine switch. He was leading the race anyway with under 10 laps to go, but his engine faltered.
Earlier this year, Johnson smacked the wall in the final laps at Michigan. He was trying to chase down Biffle, but a tire gave way and he dropped all the way to 28th.
After Saturday’s crash, Johnson still wasn’t sure why his car spun out of control.
‘‘We are trying to figure out what really happened because I had no sign of loose and certainly spun out and crashed,’’ he said. ‘‘Loose was not in the characteristics of the car, and then I end up spinning out and going in. It would be nice to figure out why so we know.’’
At least Johnson’s latest problem at MIS came up before the start of the actual race. He was able to practice with the backup car a bit Saturday and remains confident heading into Sunday’s 400-mile, 200-lap run.
‘‘Very good backup car,’’ he said. ‘‘Went out and put down an eight- or 10-lap run there at the end that I would put up against anybody’s time.’’