Key Moment - On lap 150, caution period pit stops took place for the last time. Jimmie Johnson, Paul Menard, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jamie McMurray stayed out. They would pit with 35 or so laps to go and run the remainder of the laps to the finish. That strategy paid off in top 7-finishes for all five drivers, including the win for Johnson.
In a Nutshell - Michigan’s racing surface hasn’t aged enough yet for Goodyear to bring tires other than those suitable for Fred Flinstone’s family sportster. The result was that most everyone in the race ended up running 100 laps on their left side tires. That opened the window for teams to do mostly two tire stops with a couple gas only stops thrown in. In the end, the fuel strategy put Jimmie Johnson in a position to come in well before the end of the race for his final stop. He took four tires and used the fresh granites to run some lap times that were faster than teams who ended up on a run that had them pit much closer to the end. With the final 48 laps staying green, that strategy allowed Johnson to stroll to his third win of the season.
Dramatic Moment – With NASCAR’s propensity to throw late race cautions to add excitement, the drivers on the pit strategy that had them stop with 34 laps to go had to be nervous that the yellow rag was going to fly and make them face a late restart. Fortunately NASCAR let the race play out and the teams who played strategy were rewarded with good finishes.
What They’ll be Talking About Around the Water Cooler
In 1982, Bobby Allison ran the Daytona 500 for DiGard. Early in the race his rear bumper was torn off by Cale Yarborough and Allison proceeded to lead 147 laps en route to the victory. Sunday Kyle Larson lost the lower section of his rear bumper cover due to a very early race mishap. Once that was gone he was able to run from 37th to the top 6. Whether the improved air flow out from under the car made it faster or not is up for debate, but it did cause longtime fans to reminisce about Bumpergate from over 30 years ago.
100 laps on left side tires. New surface, hot surface, gravel road or broken glass, tires should not last 100 laps on a Cup series race car, ever.
Kyle Larson is a great racing talent but he’s also still a rookie. Listening to the Rookie of the Year contender during his post race interview, he even admitted that he made rookie mistakes. He spun in the first 10 laps of the race and sped on pit road but still managed to wrangle a top-10 finish. When the checkered flag flies on his career, he will probably be one of the best drivers we’ve seen come through the sport, but for now he’s still learning how this Cup series racing thing works.
Kasey Kahne is hearing the rumblings. He even admitted after the race that one or two good runs are not going to be enough to quiet the critics. Even though he had a top-5 finish at Michigan Sunday, he was a lap down and had to get a Lucky Dog just past the midway point. With Jeff Gordon sounding like he’s not retiring any time soon, Kahne has to be hearing the approaching thunder that is Chase Elliott rolling towards his ride.
Speaking of Kahne, he was asked about the incident at Pocono with Kyle Busch during his media availability at Michigan. He acknowledged that Busch sent him and email and then a text to confirm he received it. Kahne said he doesn’t care to talk to Busch anymore. Don’t look now but there might be a slap fight coming in the near future.
People are still actually asking Danica Patrick about the possibility of driving for Gene Haas F1 team. For the sake of all that is holy will people please just shut up about it. She won ONE IndyCar race. She’s won ZERO Cup races, ZERO Nationwide races and hasn’t looked close to doing any of those things any time soon. We all know the F1 effort is going to suck out of the box but let’s not handcuff them any worse than they will be.
Speaking of F1 potential drivers, Eddie Cheever, III, son of Eddie Cheever, Jr., the former American F1 driver has changed his focus to running in the NASCAR Euro Series. He says that, if the sponsors and opportunities line up, he’d love to be a Cup driver.
Carl Edwards turned down a contract offer from Richard Childress Racing. While it seems like Edwards is probably going to end up elsewhere in the garage, it appears that going to a team with fewer top 5s than the one he currently drives for is not on his agenda.
Roush Fenway stinks right now. They have had one top 5 and two top 10s among their three drivers since Talladega. Those were both scored by Carl Edwards with a sixth at Kansas and a fourth at Charlotte. The Roush Brigade is almost always a big threat when the series heads to Michigan, and this weekend they had one car on the lead lap at the end of the race, and that was Greg Biffle who ended up as the last car on the lead lap after taking the Lucky Dog with 87 laps to go. The pressure is mounting on the organization from multiple angles, with the Biffle and Edwards contract situations and the overall lack of performance. There is no doubt that the folks at RFR are working hard to get speed into their cars, but, at this point in time, it is nowhere to be found.
Kurt Busch is now 104 points ahead of 31st in the driver standings. Hopefully that will finally put a halt to the inane discussions that Busch might fall out of the top 30 and forfeit his spot in the Chase.
The struggles continue for the Truck series to attract fans to their races. The national touring series of NASCAR had not raced at Gateway since October of 2010. The fans were so excited about the return of the Trucks that they bought at least HALF of the tickets on the front straight. Forget about the massive stands in the corners. The best racing, whenever they race, of the three national series and the fans simply don’t show up. The fans in the Lou who didn’t bother driving across the river missed out on a tremendous finish. Just like Rockingham, if NASCAR doesn’t come back to your neighborhood St. Louis, you don’t have anyone to blame but yourselves.
Sad to hear of the passing of Junie Donlavey this week. While he was far from a big money, power owner in the Cup series, he was one of the nicest people you could meet in the sport. Donlavey’s kind hearted nature resulted in many of the biggest names in the history of the sport piloting his well known No. 90 during his lengthy ownership career. Donlavey owned 863 cars that ran races in the Cup series but only visited Victory Lane one time. In 1981, Jody Ridley took his car to the Winner’s Circle at Dover. The racing community in heaven picked up another good one this week.
Congratulations to Kyle Larson and his girlfriend Katelyn Sweet who are expecting. The couple is anticipating the birth of their child in December of 2014.
The Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune
Travis Kvapil is running for Frankie Stoddard’s small FAS Racing team. They are old school racers who are chasing the dream, making it to the track on duct tape and bailing wire. Kvapil was caught up in the lap one incident of Brian Vickers. He eventually completed 23 laps, but his car was severely damaged in the incident and the repairs will be significantly expensive for a limited budget team.
Austin Dillon was poised for a strong finish as the laps wound down at Michigan, but his final pit stop opened a Pandora’s box of issues. The team went for fuel only but the car would not come up to speed. He returned to the pits twice, the second time removing a mangled right rear tire. The team ended up under the car massaging the wheel well with a sledge hammer before he returned to the track to finish 30th, three laps down.
Kyle Busch has been struggling to compete for wins over the last few weeks, and it has been evident by his radio exchanges that he’s a bit on edge. Michigan didn’t do anything to help that as Busch broke a left rear hub on a restart early in the race. His team replaced it and he returned to the action far behind the pack. He eventually had another failure, went back to the garage before coming back out and finishing the race in an effort to be listed as running at the finish. Busch haters are going to remind him that karma is a bitch, but it might just be the calm before the storm if Busch gets hot during the run to the Chase in August and September.
The “Seven Come for Eleven” Award for Fine Fortune
Paul Menard has been carrying the flag for the RCR camp this season, and for the second time this year he finished in the top 5. Those are the only two top-5 finishes for RCR after 15 races this year. Menard utilized pit strategy but also had a car strong enough to stay near the front when the strategy unfolded. Perhaps this year will be different and Menard won’t fade as the weather continues to heat up.
Michael Annett finished the race as the first car one lap down in 21st place. As Bono Manion has told Frontstretch in the past during Tech Talk, they are not a team capable of running in the top 5 or 10 this season yet, but they are making strides. Finally completing races will go a long way toward getting them up to that next level.
Justin Allgaier was in the same boat as Annett. He’s been running very well in many of the races this season only to have bad luck befall him as the laps wound down. While he was top 10 with 20 laps to go and slid back a little, he still came home in one piece and managed a 16th-place finish.
Jimmie Johnson won his 69th Cup race this Sunday at Michigan in his 450th career start. He is now seven race wins behind Dale Earnhardt on the All-Time win list in the eighth spot.
The victory was Johnson’s first ever at Michigan International Speedway. Johnson now has wins in all but four of the active tracks on the Cup schedule. The venues left for Johnson to check off are Chicago, Homestead, Kentucky, and Watkins Glen.
Johnson has three victories this season, the most of anyone on the circuit. Those three triumphs have come in the last four races.
Johnson’s win is the fifth consecutive for Hendrick Motorsports. It is the third time the organization has pulled off that accomplishment. They did it twice in 2007, including one string of six consecutive wins.
Kevin Harvick’s runner-up finish was his fifth top 2 run of the season. It was also Harvick’s third consecutive second-place finish at Michigan and fifth top-2 run at the two-mile oval in his career.
Brad Keselowski’s third-place run was his third career podium finish at MIS in 10 career starts. It is the sixth time this year that Keselowski has finished in the top 3. It is the second time this year that he’s run top 3 in three consecutive races having started the year with three straight.
Kyle Larson finished the race as the highest placing rookie, thanks to his eighth-place run. Larson has finished in the top 10 seven times this season in his 15 starts.
With 10 laps to go at Michigan, Juan Pablo Montoya was running fourth.
What’s the Points
Points don’t matter as much as wins. The 10 race winners are listed below along with the six drivers who would make the Chase on points at this juncture of the season.
Daytona and Pocono – Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Phoenix and Darlington – Kevin Harvick
Las Vegas – Brad Keselowski
Bristol – Carl Edwards
California – Kyle Busch
Martinsville – Kurt Busch
Texas and Richmond – Joey Logano
Talladega – Denny Hamlin
Kansas – Jeff Gordon
Charlotte, Dover and Michigan – Jimmie Johnson
Drivers making the Chase on points who do not have wins:
4) Matt Kenseth
7) Kyle Larson
11) Ryan Newman
13) Paul Menard
14) Clint Bowyer
15) Greg Biffle
Overall Rating(On a scale of one to six beer cans with one being a stinker and a six pack an instant classic): The wide racing surface and sweeping corners of Michigan International Speedway used to offer up racing grooves from the top of the track to the bottom. Since the repave in 2012 is has been confined to the bottom of the track, although the groove is now at least two lanes and nearly three lanes wide. The high speeds and aero dependency of the cars is making it more difficult to pass than it has been in the past but there were three on-track passes for the lead. Throw in tires that allowed teams to run the entire race on two or three sets of left side tires and the myriad of strategies at play during the race added quite a bit of excitement. In the end a repaved race track where the asphalt hasn’t aged enough to allow Goodyear to bring a tire that wears out quickly and you have a little more than a snoozer. Without the bogus debris caution at the end to bunch up the field we’ll at least give this one two cold Out O’ Town Browns from Shed Brewing Company.
Next Up: Tired of only left turns? Looking for people driving through the dirt? You’re in luck!! The series heads to Sonoma, California for the first road race of the season. The twisty turny circuit of Sonoma Raceway will bring some additional drivers into the mix for wins and could offer up an opportunity for a driver who isn’t normally in contention for a Chase position that chance to stamp his dance ticket. The coverage starts at 3:00 PM Eastern on TNT for the third race of the six race Summer Series. PRN will provide the radio coverage along with Sirius XM radio.