Race Weekend Central

Running Their Mouth: 2011 Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan

Best Quote

“I won eight races last year, I’m pretty sure that I’m capable. Mike Ford (crew chief) is capable and the team itself. You know, you look at every driver’s career who were second to Jimmie Johnson — these kind of years happen. It hasn’t happened to me in five years. This is the first time where I’ve struggled and we’re struggling to find the balance of the car that I want.

“Mike is struggling to find what I need to put what he needs to put in the car for me to run well. It’s just a part of it. Kyle Busch won eight races, failed to make the Chase the next year. It’s just part of learning. I’m not going to make any excuses and I’m not going to sugarcoat it because it’s on me to try to get better at this one.” – Denny Hamlin, finished 35th, on his Chase chances

At this stage of the game, Hamlin’s team has been bleeding like the proverbial stuck pig, hemorrhaging good finishes and points at an alarming rate. The next three races for Hamlin and crew chief Ford could either make them or break them. They’ve been fortunate so far that the teams ahead of them have either had their own troubles or are lacking a win, but if Hamlin can’t get things turned around fast, he’s looking at missing the Chase for the first time in his career. Such would be a dramatic reversal a year after nearly ousting King Jimmie from his throne and winning eight races.

Most Controversial Quote

“I will be perfectly honest, at this point of the deal, if we are going to run this bad, it really doesn’t matter whether we make the Chase or not because we are going to be occupying a spot in the Chase that somebody else that actually can run for a championship is going to be trying take because our stuff is so bad right now, we’re wasting one of those top-12 spots right now.” – Tony Stewart, finished ninth, on his Chase chances

Stewart was in no mood to sugarcoat things for the media after Sunday’s race (Aug. 21). Granted, he got another top-10 finish, but Smoke was never a factor for the win. Stewart’s definitely feeling frustrated at this point in the season, as he and crew chief Darian Grubb are feeling a huge amount of pressure on them coming down the stretch. In the past, Stewart has run well at tracks such as Bristol, Atlanta and Richmond, so the next three weeks could be the telltale sign of whether this team is going to be a legitimate threat come time for the Chase… or even a part of it.

Funniest Quote

“To be a championship contender, we need to make that next step. We’ve made a step forward, kind of the specifics of which I’d probably rather not go into details of. I think that you can see it with our team, obviously. You can see that Penske Racing has what I feel is two equally competitive teams.

“I’m not sure exactly what happened to Kurt [Busch] today. I know he ran real strong the early, middle section of the race. It has gone down to a matter of getting everything to click. Hate to get into any specifics of the other reasons. (Jimmie Johnson offers “please do”) I’d have to kick my dog and I like my dogs (smiling). I’m not going to go into those parts. But pretty happy with the growth.” – Brad Keselowski, finished third

For a lot of drivers, being injured in a crash can mean a decline in skills. It seems like ever since his practice crash at Road Atlanta, Keselowski has become as superhuman as Chuck Norris, running in the top three each of the last three races. Keselowski is finally beginning to show that he is worth the hype that was bestowed upon him when he first broke onto the NASCAR scene. Now, with the team all but secure in the Chase, this could very well be the darkhorse team to watch if they can keep this momentum going.

Crew Chief Quote

“It’s great. Kyle Busch is the most competitive guy I’ve ever worked with. He beat himself more than he should have last week. A better car won. We had the [No.] 9 (Marcos Ambrose) beat on pit strategy, but he was the better car, but Kyle still took it personal so this is good vindication for Kyle.

“What about Interstate Batteries — our founding sponsor at Joe Gibbs Racing. Finally got a win for Norm Miller, it’s been so long. When I started at Joe Gibbs Racing, Interstate was the only primary sponsor we had. To be a crew chief with the Interstate Batteries Camry today is such an honor – thank you Norm, appreciate it man.” – Dave Rogers, race-winning crew chief

Kyle Busch had been in position last Monday at Watkins Glen to beat Ambrose, but ultimately, Ambrose zipped past Busch on the final restart and rolled to a popular victory. Busch took the loss hard, but crew chief Dave Rogers picked up his driver’s fragile psyche, motivating and willing him into coming back with an impressive win at Michigan. Making it all the more impressive; Busch and Co. held off five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Johnson in the process.

Best of the Rest

“Same as the last four weeks in a row — three or whatever it’s been. Man, you know it’s so awesome to finally win here at Michigan and get Toyota in victory lane here at Michigan. It feels good being so close to Detroit and everything. I can’t say enough about Norm Miller and everybody at Interstate Batteries. This was a flawless Camry and everybody at Joe Gibbs Racing — all these guys on this team.

“The guys at JGR engine room gave me a great motor today — great power and great fuel mileage. I think it was running 260 there with about 10 to go for about 10 laps or so and I was like, ‘Man, I hope we make it.’ I had trash on the grill or something. I can’t say enough about Sprint being in the Sprint Summer Showdown. Hopefully, we get a chance at Atlanta to run up front there and win the thing and bring home some extra money for charity, for a fan and for all of us here at JGR.” – Kyle Busch, race winner, on the last restart

“I don’t know if we ever stopped focusing on winning but I agree you can take some more risks and take more chances in this position. I hear we moved up even another spot in the points. I just love the consistency and solidness of this team right now and the position that we’re in to go get those wins. We’ve got one more before we can qualify for that Sprint Million and we really want to make a fan a millionaire out there and get a million for our charity as well. Hopefully we can get that done at Bristol.” – Jeff Gordon, finished sixth

“We had a good car. We had a couple of bad sets, well, I don’t know whether they are bad sets of tires, but I put them on my car and they drive like crap. Then I put on another set and it will drive good. I don’t know how to explain that. I’ve been doing that all my life. I ain’t got an explanation for it yet. I had some awesome runs where the car was really fast, then I’d put on some tires and couldn’t drive the car. So, you tell me. I don’t know.” – Dale Earnhardt Jr., finished 14th

“That was frustrating. We had a good car and we were top 10 a lot of the day. We just kept getting tighter and tighter. We had a hole in the grill. That really hurt us and we ended up turned around in the pit there at the end, so that hurt us too. It was just a very frustrating day.” – Marcos Ambrose, finished 27th

“It’s just so typical of how a lot of our races on this type of track have gone lately. We’re good for about the first 15 laps in a run and then the handling goes away. We started really tight, adjusted on it and it went too loose, so loose that I got into the wall about a third of the way into the race. We were lucky not to cut down a right-front tire before it happened.” – Kurt Busch, finished 34th

“It was a very tough race. I thought we would have a Ford in victory lane. I thought one way or another we would win this thing. I don’t know what was wrong with it. It was running on seven cylinders, it felt like it was running on seven cylinders. We changed a bunch of stuff and then it was fixed. It wasn’t something mechanical, it was probably something with some electrical connection or a coil or something.

“My Aflac guys did a good job. We were prepared for this race to go bad. We were going all out to win this thing and we were prepared for something but we weren’t expecting that. We weren’t expecting a failure like that.” – Carl Edwards, finished 36th

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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