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Thinkin’ Out Loud: Pure Michigan 400

Thinkin’ Out Loud: Pure Michigan 400

Key Moment - On the penultimate restart of the day, Kurt Busch was alongside Joey Logano when the green flag flew. Busch laid it all on the line trying to get past the car of his former employer but broke loose and bounced his car off of the wall. His rear tire ultimately failed, bringing out the final caution of the race. That restart led to the dramatic moment of the race.

In a Nutshell - The majority of the race offered the teams a chance to invoke different fuel strategies to attempt to garner the best track position possible when it meant the most at the end of the race. When the laps wound down and all of the pit stops were completed, the two best cars of the day were still at the front of the pack. Jeff Gordon was faster than Joey Logano once the tires were up to pressure and the drivers got into a rhythm, but passing for the lead was non-existent on Sunday, so it all came down to the final restart. Gordon cleared Logano before exiting turn two and then proceeded to hold on for the victory.

2014 Michigan II CUP Joey Logano Jeff Gordon racing CIA

Joey Logano and Jeff Gordon led the way at Michigan (Credit: CIA)

Dramatic Moment - When Busch tried to make the move on Joey Logano and bounced it off of the wall, his tire went down and spread debris all over the back straight. The ensuing caution flag led to a restart where Gordon used all of his experience to work past Logano and secure the lead. From there it was all about driving in circles due to the aero dependence of the cars at Michigan.

What They’ll be Talking About Around the Water Cooler

Gordon and his No. 24 team are hitting on all cylinders. He appeared to have a car to beat at Watkins Glen last week before electronic gremlins knocked him out of contention. The week before, he was leading at Pocono when a pit strategy cost him the win. It has been a long time since the four-time champion has been this competitive week-in and week-out. If the team hasn’t peaked too early this season could be the best shot he’s had at a title since he scored his fourth in 2001.

Winning goes a long way in building confidence and allowing individuals to begin exceeding their own expectations. AJ Allmendinger and the No. 47 team followed up their Watkins Glen win with a 13th-place finish. If they are able to consistently run in that neighborhood when the Chase arrives, they might actually surprise the world and advance to the second round.

Roush Fenway Racing appears to have lost their way. Michigan used to be their playground and everyone else was just looking for a nut. Coming into this weekend they had used a test at the track to regain their lost advantage. Roush Yates engines brought a new package to the track with increased horsepower. When the checkered flag flew, Greg Biffle was the only Roush driver in the top 10, finishing, 10th. Brad Keselowski took a Roush Yates engine and bounced it off of the wall at 200+ mph and still came home two spots ahead of Biffle. Carl Edwards said all of the right things before the race and looked to be on task qualifying third. Unfortunately that was the highlight of the weekend for the No. 99 team as they dropped like a stone through the field when the green flag flew and ended the day 23rd.

During the post race driver interactions, Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Newman had a lengthy discussion about some contact as they were battling for tenth place. Johnson came on the broadcast and told Mike Massaro that anyone who has been around the series for any length of time knows that it is typical “Ryan stuff”. Newman is a hard charging driver who races hard every lap. Whether “Ryan stuff” refers to the driver not pulling over to let a faster car past or how he goes about battling, we’ll try and find out at Bristol next week when it could get quite interesting when the Nos. 31 and 48 get near each other.

For the second time in three weeks, NASCAR burned a large number of laps during the race circulating under caution. After the big one at Pocono the field was under caution for nine laps. While that isn’t a long time at Bristol, it is an eternity at a 2.5-mile oval. At Michigan, after Kyle Larson blew a right front and pounded the outside wall, bursting into flames, they burned 11 laps while they cleaned up the mass quantities of oil absorbing substance. NASCAR has been doing this long enough that they should be able to tell when they are going to burn more than five laps of caution on that big of a track. Throw the red flag and let the drivers race under green as much as possible.

NASCAR is holding a test Monday, August 18th, to test out the new engine configuration that is designed to reduce horsepower and hopefully increase closer racing and passing. After watching a race where cars were routinely over 200 mph on average in race conditions and unable to pass for the lead, anything that improves the possibility of passing on the track is a good alternative. Most of the drivers seem to be against the idea of reducing horsepower but if it improves passing during races on Intermediate race tracks they will need to suck it up.

Forbes magazine ranked the top earning female athletes and Danica Patrick came in fifth on the list. She makes $15 million annually with $7 million coming from salary and winnings. The other $8 million comes from endorsements for companies like Peak, Coca-Cola and Tissot.

Ryan Truex was involved in a practice crash at Michigan that resulted in him being sent to a local hospital. CT scans came back negative. The ultimate diagnosis was a concussion for Truex, who must follow the NASCAR mandated guidelines to be cleared to race again.

A press conference is scheduled for Tuesday by Joe Gibbs Racing. While, at first blush, it would seem obvious that they are going to make the announcement that Carl Edwards will be joining the organization. The word from JGR is that the announcement is going to have impacts across four of NASCARs series. There are rumblings that Daniel Suarez will be moving to the Nationwide series in JGR equipment. It is also rumored that Darrell Wallace Jr. is going to be moving up to the Nationwide series as well.

The Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune

Kyle Larson is in contention to make the Chase on points, or at least he was until Sunday. After his pit stop for the competition caution he made contact with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and seriously damaged the left front of his car. His team managed to get the car race capable but then the Rookie of the Year leader lost a right front tire and pounded the outside wall right before the midway point. Larson’s car burst into flames and ground to a halt against the wall.

2014 Michigan II CUP Danica Patrick Kyle Larson racing CIA

Danica Patrick and Kyle Larson, before Larson’s day fell apart (Credit: CIA)

Since his win at Martinsville, Kurt Busch has had three Top 5 finishes. They were all third place finishes (Pocono (1), Daytona (2) and Watkins Glen). Aside from those three finishes he hasn’t had a run better than 12th. With 20 laps to go Busch was on the inside of the front row on a restart and got loose as he tried to work the air on Joey Logano. He bounced the car off of the outside wall at the exit of turn two and ultimately lost a tire. A race that looked to be a momentum builder for the run to the Chase turned into another disappointing finish.

Matt Kenseth came into the weekend looking at a strong finish all but locking him into the Chase if a repeat winner took home the trophy this weekend. Unfortunately he was rear ended by Aric Almirola when Danica Parick spun and collected Justin Allgaier and Michael Annett. His car backed into the wall and damaged the suspension to a point that the team had to take it to the garage to facilitate repairs. He ended up rejoining the race but finished 30 laps down in 38th place. That finish combined with Ryan Newman’s eleventh place finish and laps led chopped 28 points off of Kenseth’s advantage in the standings. While he’s still rather comfortable in his point position making the Chase, the comfort has been severely undermined.

The “Seven Come for Eleven” Award for Fine Fortune

Jimmie Johnson and his No. 48 team have struggled the last few races. Some of the struggles have been self-induced. Sunday he broke the gear shift lever off of his transmission. He came to the pits in fourth gear during a green flag stop and his team gave him a pair of vice grips to attempt to clamp on the piece that remained in the transmission but he was unable to affix it to the lever. They lost a lap during that attempted fix but fortunately for them, the Larson caution flew and afforded them the opportunity to ultimately replace the shifter and not lose another lap. Johnson then drove his way into position for the Lucky Dog, garnered it and went on to finish in the top 10, his first since June.

Brad Keselowski was able to stay out longer than most of the other cars on the lead lap as the race was winding down toward the final pit stops. On lap 168, Keselowski was leading the race and had a tire go down at the end of the front straight. Fortunately he was just turning into the first turn so the car did not travel far before contacting the wall. His team managed to keep him on the lead lap and the result was a run from 16th to eighth as the laps wound down.

When Keselowski put it in the fence Ryan Newman was in the Lucky Dog position. Newman made the most of that opportunity and raced his way into the Top 10. As Johnson was heading back toward the front after racing his way back onto the lead lap is when he came into contact with Newman, prompting their post race discussion.

Worth Noting

Jeff Gordon’s win was his third of the season. He’s tied with Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski and Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the most in the series this season.

Gordon has now won 91 races in his Hall of Fame career. He is 14 wins behind David Pearson for second on the all-time victory list. He is 109 away from Richard Petty for the top spot in that category.

Gordon last won three races in a single season in 2011. Prior to that he won six races in 2007.

This is also Gordon’s third career triumph at Michigan International Speedway

Kevin Harvick tied a NASCAR record with his fourth consecutive runner-up finish at Michigan. Dale Jarrett set the record at Rockingham.

Harvick’s runner-up finish is his seventh Top 2 result of the season.

Not only does Harvick have four consecutive second place finishes but he has six career Top 2 runs at Michigan.

Joey Logano’s third place finish was his fourth podium run of the season. He also has four consecutive finishes of sixth or better.

This was Logano’s second career Top 3 at MIS.

Austin Dillon won the Rookie of the Race award with a 22nd place finish.

Four spots are left in the Chase field and there are only three races until the cutoff. As a result at least one driver will make the Chase on points.

The differing pit strategies put drivers out of sequence very early in the event. As a result the lead changed hands 20 times during the event but there was only one on track pass for the lead during the event. Most of the exchanges took place during green flag stops while several occurred on restarts.

What’s the Points

Points don’t matter as much as wins. The 12 race winners are listed below, along with the four drivers who would make the Chase on points at this juncture of the season.

Winners:

Daytona Pocono and Pocono (2) – Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Phoenix and Darlington – Kevin Harvick
Las Vegas, Kentucky and New Hampshire – Brad Keselowski
Bristol and Sonoma – Carl Edwards
California – Kyle Busch
Martinsville – Kurt Busch
Texas and Richmond – Joey Logano
Talladega – Denny Hamlin
Kansas, Indianapolis and Michigan (2)– Jeff Gordon
Charlotte, Dover and Michigan – Jimmie Johnson
Daytona (2) – Aric Almirola
Watkins Glen – AJ Allmendinger

Drivers making the Chase on points who do not have wins:

5) Matt Kenseth
9) Ryan Newman
10) Clint Bowyer
11) Greg Biffle

All 12 winners are more than 144 points ahead of David Gilliland who is in 31st position in the point standings. Provided they all attempt to qualify for the remaining races they will all be qualified for the Chase for the Cup.

Overall rating (On a scale of 1-6, where 1 is a stinker and six is the finest of brews and a instant classic.)

Michigan International Speedway offered multiple racing grooves for years but lost that feature when it was repaved two years ago. Rough Winters and age have caused the surface to lose a little grip so the lanes in the corners are now over two wide. The result was a glimpse of Michigan racing of old. Throw in a large number of fuel strategies and the race actually afforded some intrigue. Unfortunately the aero dependence of the cars made it basically impossible to pass a car on track for the lead. As a result we’ll give the race three cold Monkey Mouth IPAs from Grand River Brewery.

What’s Next

After running at the fastest track on the circuit the schedule now turns to the second shortest track. The last great coliseum, Bristol Motor Speedway, hosts the annual Night Race. Tempers are guaranteed to flare and sheet metal will be bent. We could see a different winner or you may see a repeat from one of the 12 drivers already locked into the Chase. The coverage starts at 7:30 PM Eastern on Saturday August 23rd. It can also be heard on your local PRN affiliate and NASCAR Sirius XM radio.

About Mike Neff

Mike Neff
What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Sprint Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Thursday with Tech Talk. Mike works as track announcer for Millbridge Speedway and East Lincoln Speedway, local bullrings based outside of Charlotte, and pops up everywhere from Athlon Sports to SIRIUS XM Radio.

34 comments

  1. For once this year, I did watch a good chunk of a race. Can’t blame Newman for being upset with JJ, Totally used him up at least once trying to pass, not to mention several bumps in the left rear quarter panel. Maybe he was counting on Newman not wanting to go ‘all Indiana’ on him after the unfortunate and sad Ward/Stewart incident.
    What was JJ doing when they showed his in car camera near the end of the race? it looked like an upshift into 3rd gear motion several times, but that makes no sense.
    I kind of think Harvick should have gotten some credit for helping Gordon get the lead at the end.

  2. I used to like Ricky Craven, now he is an unabashed shill for anything HMS, just like they all are. Ricky acts downright euphoric in speaking anything HMS, he needs to get a room. It is amazing for instance what does not get reported and deserves to be, and what is twisted as something fantastic, when a HMS driver does it. Hard fought accomplishments of others, not mentioned. Dania clearly caused that wreck and mums the word on that from the paid shills too. The big elephant in the HMS room in regards to Gordon is Ray E., I find it very interesting. What the hell was up with Kurt Busch spilling all that debris, he knows better than to driver around like that, I found that suspect. And I agree with the above poster, JJ was flat out wrong and full of himself, again the paid shill glossed over his arrogant words with a chuckle and cutesy comment. Any other driver their bias would be showing big time and would have no problem providing us with their two cents.

    • Remember Craven drove for HMS years ago. Probably does affect his commentary. Of course there’s also Rusty and Brad and DW and Mikey — NASCAR’s TV broadcasts ALL have the same problem with bias issues due to active ownership in the booth.

    • I rarely hear Ricky Craven ever speak negatively about anyone. He always seems to give whomever is being discussed the benefit of the doubt and somehow put a positive spin on things.
      However, with that being said, he still does a better job of commentating/analyzing then most of the other talking heads.

      • Nope, Ricky does not talk bad about anyone. Ricky used to be unbiased as they could possibly be. Now he has a glow and is long winded in his praise commentating on anything HMS. He does not afford that same care or thought for other teams and drivers when speaking of equal accomplishments. One example, he had a perfect opportunity to discuss Jimmie’s arrogant statements regarding Ryan Newman, he glossed over it with a chuckle and a cutesy comment. A non HMS driver would have gotten his critical “professional” opinion. Just one of many I am noticing this year.

        • Hey, I root for JJ to have a problem every week, but at least he gave an interview. The real wuss is Ryan Newman declining to be interviewed.
          Maybe that’s why. The minute anyone gives an interview or says anything critical, fans of other drivers immediately categorize it as whining. Of course when it’s their driver complaining it’s not whining it justified critique. LOL

    • KB;
      The silence surrounding Princess Sparkle Pony’s wreck was deafening. I wondering if media is “encouraged” to refrain from saying anything that might be construed as negative. After all, her presence has driven up track attendance and boosted TV ratings. Can’t kill the goose who laid the golden egg.

      • ..and in some print the headlines read “Danica involved in crash”. Laughable, shoddy, misleading headline. SHE CAUSED IT!

        • Maybe I’m biased against The Princess but, other than qualifying, I’ve seen very little improvement with her ability to race and make her car better.
          I will say she’s learned how to play the game of attrition better. Don’t try to win, just try to stay one lap down or less, let the other drivers wreck each other, and get a top 25 finish by default.
          Whenever she tries to push her car to the limit and run with the big boys she usually has an issue that results in a subpar finish.

  3. I think JJ is getting an ego problem. He is the one that slammed Newman, not once, but twice. The
    replays after the race failed to show JJ’s second attempt at the 31, hitting him again. I like the fact that Newman is a real racer. Too bad ESPeeN didn’t show the 88 & 11 but they can only show the leader in close up the last 5 laps of the race. If NA$AR red flags a race they take a chance on missing the 3rd rerun of Sports Center.

    • “getting” an ego problem? Nah, he didn’t just get it, he has had it for several years. JJ is good but I keep hoping that he and cheater chad will fall flat on their faces at the end of the season.

  4. “…designed to reduce horsepower and hopefully increase closer racing and passing.”

    Do you really believe that reducing power is going to do that? The passing problem is an aerodynamic issue, and reducing horsepower is going to do nothing about that. If anything it will make it worse. If everyone has 800hp now and you reduct so that everyone has 700hp, how is that going to change the racing in any visible manner?

    • I don’t think anyone but NASCAR and their lame engineers believe that reducing HP will increase the passing. It is all NASCAR math and I agree with you – if they are all running the same package, then it won’t help the aero problem at all.

      Just the usual lame attempts by NASCAR to fix what they broke.

      • Nascar REALLY doesn’t get it.
        They are going to try to fix the problem with even more controlling rule packages?
        Really?
        And by using drivers in the test that.. we’ll some aren’t exactly running where drivers who know what a car is supposed to feel like should be.
        Them guys sure do look smrt.

  5. I’m a very happy person this morning with Jeff’s win at Michigan. They ran a great race so obviously I enjoyed it – even though the field was spread out. I doubt very much that changing the HP for the engines is going to do much. I think it’s funny when people say, well, whatever they have to do — well, this is NASCAR being involved and personally I’d like them to quit making everything about parity and equal. That’s a good part of the problem as it is – all the cars running the same speed – blah!

    “Ryan Stuff” yeah, Ryan is hard to pass, always has been. Funny to hear JJ whining about it loudly and in public after the race. Makes him look kind of small IMO.

    So we had Joey whining about losing the race to Jeff, Hamlin being annoyed at Jr and Newman & JJ annoyed, plus quite a few wrecks where fortunately no one was injured. If they are all this mad at one another on a big track, Bristol has the potential to possibly and I say possibly, be interesting.

    • Gee, I didn’t see “whining” from Logano, I saw a guy upset with not winning, seeing he was up front for 86 laps (most led). I would think that would be understandable. Stop gloating, he was actually gracious about it. Guess you missed Jeff “whining” about how Logano raced him in the car audio? Logano also indicated Gordon had the better car on the long run and that was the better car won. Logano and Jeff actually said the exact same thing how Gordon won and why. Watch the replay of their interviews, again..almost verbatim.

    • I thought Logano was a gracious as any guy who just lost a close race on the last restart could be.

      • I’m a 24 fan and I didn’t think Logano was whining either. Of course he was disappointed, he had a shot at winning the race and lost it with 17 laps to go. I thought he gave a great interview having just lost the race.

        I also didn’t think Gordon was whining about Logano f-ing around on the restarts (not that they all don’t do that on restarts to some degree). I read somewhere that NASCAR did warn Logano at to watch his resarts. I can’t prove whether that’s true or not.

  6. Bias aside, that was about as good a Michigan race as you could have hoped for. Areo made it near impossible to pass for the lead, but there as some good action in the pack. Hopefully, the test today will find something because if you get a good package a Michigan it will probably work at the other intermediates.

    On the brightside of the “NASCAR Decline”, headed to Bristol this week. It’s nice that you can actually buy tickets to this race now. I guess the ticket scalpers in Bristol aren’t happy.

  7. Maybe Johnson should talk to Montoya about what “racing” means. And a few others as well.

  8. Dale Jr, and/or his team cost Larson a chance to be in the chase yesterday. When Jr pulled out and into the front end of Kyle’s car it knocked the front end out of line, and later the front blowout was a result of that. Someone was stupid on Jr’s team, again.
    ESPN went out of their way to NOT say Danica started that wreck, and for sure they didn’t mention she took 7 cars and sent them to the garage while she gained positions on the track due to her causing the wrecks. Then she just drove around until other cars had problems and headed to the garage. She is a driver not a racer for sure.

  9. end of the race was good. i watched bits and pieces.

    not sure what “ryan stuff” means. i figured johnson was upset cause ryan wouldn’t give him all the track area that he needed to pass him. ryan was up in the top groove to start with.

    was interesting to see gordon use side draft to get around logano. i think that confused logano cause he lost a few positions after gordon passed him.

    personally, i think speeds are too high at this track. over 200 mph and tires were blowing…..was just lucky no one got seriously injured, except for ryan truex during the race weekend. glad ryan will be ok. i still remember when ernie irvan almost lost his life twice at michigan.

    congrats to gordon. another win for the over 40 guys.

    princess had a top 20 finish.

  10. I give it a forty. As in, Forty laps into the race, after almost falling asleep on the couch twice, I called it a day and moved on the rest of my Sunday. BTW, ESPN did a terrible job of showing the Danica crash. I don’t think it was ever shown how the 20 or 43 substained damage.

  11. Considering Michigan is usually boring as hell, this race at least had some interesting moments. Overall I’d say, all things being equal, most of the races this year have been a little better than the last several years. I don’t think cutting the horsepower is going to do anything with regards to passing. I’m betting the aero issues still produce the same type of racing.

    No rating this week because Jeff won and my opinion is skewed. I love not being able to cast a vote.

    While Ryan was mad at Jimmie I don’t see Ryan doing anything in the form of a payback at Bristol. He is too dependent on points to take any chances with revenge. On the other hand, if Johnson really wanted to make a point he could take Ryan out of the chase very easily.

    I also heard that Hamlin and Earnhardt weren’t happy with each other but I never heard or saw any reason why.

    Oh well, three more weeks left (before the NFL season starts…LOL).

  12. I may give it a two since it didn’t end up as a fuel mileage race. I think my expectations are so lowered at about 2/3 of the tracks now that anything short of falling asleep or finding yard work to be more appealing is enough to keep it from being a one.
    Looking ahead to Bristol and to show the depth of NASCAR’s decline: What was once the most anticipated race of the year is being bumped off the ABC affiliate in NASCAR’s backyard (Charlotte) for a Washington Redskins preseason football game.

    • Yep and the Bristol race is also being bumped off the ABC affiliate in Harrisburg PA for a Baltimore Ravens preseason game. Going to be some upset race fans in south central PA.Thing is there is an ABC affiliate in Baltimore broadcasting the game also and the two are only about 100 miles apart. Nascar is losing to NFL preseason. WOW!