There wasn’t a soul in the garage or the stands coming into Michigan race weekend that would dare question just how stout the powerplants in Roush Fenway Racing’s Ford Mustangs were, and that strength was on display in the Big Three’s backyard. As expected, Carl Edwards strolled to victory in his fifth consecutive top-two finish, with teammates Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Trevor Bayne also bringing home top-five results. Kyle Busch and polesitter Paul Menard were the other top-five finishers.
The Roush Fords combined to lead 101 of the 125 laps run Saturday (June 18) during a race that, typical of Michigan, was short on caution flags. What was different on the track this Saturday was both the importance and efficacy of drafting down the tracks sweeping straightaways, as two-car pairs could be seen working on the straights throughout the race. The event was also devoid of the tire failures that plagued the ARCA Racing Series event run at the facility the day before.
Reed Sorenson proved unable to recover from a mid-race pit road penalty and finished 11th, allowing Stenhouse to take the points lead heading into the road course race at Road America next week. Stenhouse leads Elliott Sadler by two points, with Sorenson four markers back.
What more can be said for the Roush Fenway Racing camp? Two sets of circumstances and two excellent results for the team’s Nationwide Series regulars. For Stenhouse, the points lead is finally his after a strong runner-up performance on Saturday that came with full sponsorship from Tender Ridge Angus painted all over the No. 6’s quarterpanels. Stenhouse was a top-five fixture all afternoon, leading three times for 38 laps and holding the lead from eventual winner Edwards until only nine laps to go.
As for Bayne, while he was not fortunate enough to have decals on his car this Saturday, Bayne and the No. 16 team battled through aerodynamic damage to score their fifth place finish; Bayne saw part of his front nose caved in after contact on pit road, and drove through the second half of the race with bearer bond slapped all over the car. Still, Bayne and team proved adept at adjusting their car, turning a top-10 entry to a top-five runner by race’s end. Solid momentum for a team that’s the defending race winner at Road America.
Sadler returned to the top 10 this weekend, finishing a solid eighth after suffering the same fate as teammate Menard, fading by race’s end. Still, the result was just what the No. 2 team needed from their driver, as it kept him within easy striking distance of the points lead. Kevin Harvick Incorporated has reportedly been doing a great deal of experimenting with their car construction in recent weeks, and even as the team is running tests during races Sadler is still scoring results that are keeping him relevant in the points. Funny, that strategy always seems to work for a guy named Jimmie in another series.
Jason Leffler recovered from being spun out on pit road on lap 40 to finish 10th, only the third time in 2011 he’s posted consecutive top 10 finishes. What’s more, Leffler led the way for Turner Motorsports’ NNS regulars and moved into a tie with Aric Almirola for fifth in points.
Speaking of Almirola, a 15th-place finish isn’t too shabby, but it’s underwhelming for a JR Motorsports No. 88 team that has had no shortage of success at MIS, including Brad Keselowski‘s 2009 victory. For one, Almirola posted a fourth-place qualifying effort but at no point on Saturday ran like he had a fourth-place car. Almirola also spun completely unassisted exiting turn 2 on lap 93 while running 12th, all but ensuring the No. 88 team would not be scoring a top 10 result this Saturday afternoon. It was another ho-hum chapter in what has been an underachieving season.
Sam Hornish Jr. was another driver that faded back from a top-five qualifying effort, but Hornish proved to be racy in the top 10 for stretches of the event. Problem is, much like his Cup career, the former open wheeler consistently found himself in troublesome situations. Hornish brought out the yellow flag on lap 56 after punting Justin Allgaier entering turn 3, and took himself out on lap 109 after slapping the turn 4 wall unassisted.
The resulting damage from contact with the fence relegated Hornish to a 24th-place result, his worst in Nationwide competition since Daytona, a disappointing end to a race in which he was carrying the title sponsor’s colors.
Sure, no one is going to remember Mike Wallace for his 22nd-place result at Michigan this Saturday afternoon, but after weeks of a sponsorship promotion, does anyone out there that’s not a Wallace fan know that the No. 01 car has been carrying the colors of the upcoming Cowboys & Aliens movie? Had this writer not read the press release regarding the arrangement, there’d have been no knowledge on my part of JD Motorsports’ having secured sponsorship for a few races.
Which begs the question; if an established Nationwide Series operation with a name driver can’t get any recognition for signing a sponsor deal with a major Hollywood production, what’s it going to take? Sci-fi fans out there, please be sure to buy a ticket to this film. Give their willingness to market in NASCAR some viability if ESPN won’t.
Oh wait, could the lack of TV coverage have something to do with the fact that it’s not a Disney-produced film? Refusing to let the competition compete on their stage is exactly what drove Verizon Wireless out of this sport and sent Allgaier packing last season, and apparently that environment is still alive and well. That’s the very definition of ugly for the Nationwide Series.
Underdog Performer of the Race: David Stremme. After a nearly month-long hiatus from his new Nationwide Series ride, Stremme picked up right where he left off with the No. 70 camp. Qualifying 10th, running top 15 all day and finishing 12th, Stremme showed no signs of rust after having spent the past few weekends starting-and-parking his No. 30 car on the Cup side. ML Motorsports and the No. 70 team were the highest finishing single-car team on Saturday, the only one to finish in the top 15.
Start-and-parkers occupied nine of the 43 starting positions in Saturday’s field, taking home $100,755 in purse money.
Cup regulars won Saturday’s race, scored six of the top-10 finishing positions, occupied nine of the 43 starting positions in the field and took home $165,493 in purse money.
193 of 639 starting positions occupied (30.2%)
13 of 15 trophies collected (86.7%)
Who You Didn’t See: Stories of the Drivers ESPN Didn’t Care to Cover
- Blake Koch scored his first top-25 result since Iowa, an improvement of eight positions over his first race on a 2-mile oval at Fontana earlier this season.
- Charles Lewandoski ran the distance for the second consecutive race in Key Motorsports’ No. 40 car, breaking a cycle of start-and-park weekends for the team. Lewandoski carried sponsorship this weekend from Precisionwerx.
- Morgan Shepherd and the No. 89 team attempted to go the distance at Michigan, but bowed out after completing 95 laps with electrical issues that went unmentioned during the telecast.
- Scott Riggs made his return to Nationwide Series competition with R3 Motorsports after scoring a top 15 for the team at Darlington last month. This return was short-lived; Riggs completed only 15 laps before the engine in the No. 03 car expired.
- Not sure the crowd really was 38,000 as it was reported, but it wasn’t near as bad as this writer would have expected for the Saturday race. The same could not be said for Sunday. A product of the actually recognizable cars being on the track Saturday? That’s a stretch, but it’d be nice if it was true.
- The drafting at MIS actually added a dimension to the race, which over 250 miles did not string out as much as many events at the facility have, even with long green-flag runs dominating the day. It’s a shame that the back of the field is racing so conservatively these days, get 43 cars doing the type of racing the top 10 were doing and Michigan might have something special to offer.
About the author
Richmond, Virginia native. Wake Forest University class of 2008. Affiliated with Frontstretch since 2008, as of today the site's first dirt racing commentator. Emphasis on commentary. Big race fan, bigger First Amendment advocate.
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