Race Weekend Central

The Big 6: Questions Answered After the 2015 Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan

Looking for the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How behind Sunday’s race? Amy Henderson has you covered each week with the answers to six race-day questions, covering all five Ws and even the H… the Big Six.

Who… gets my shoutout of the race?

Think that a win due to a rain call is somehow less of a win? It’s not. No matter the circumstances (and NASCAR can’t control the weather), racing is about taking a strategy and making it work on that day, under the circumstances that happen. And that’s exactly what Kyle Larson and his team were trying to do. Sure, Larson fell just short of the victory, and his team’s fuel gamble cost him a better finish than the 17th place he ended up with. But in a day where drivers and teams are criticized for not doing everything it takes to win, Larson and the No. 42 bunch gave everything they had. Had the rain come just five minutes sooner, Larson would have had his elusive first win. That didn’t happen and his tank ran dry, but at the end of the day, in a sport where too few teams take gambles any more, Larson took a big one, and that’s to be commended.

What… beyond the drivers’ control affected the action?

The issue that several teams struggled with at points during the race, so much so that it generated a good bit of talk on the broadcast, was the trash that affixed itself to the front grills of several racecars. A piece of paper may not seem like much, but if it cuts off airflow to the radiator for too long it can spell disaster in the form of an overheated engine. Luckily for the numerous drivers who found themselves with something stuck to the grille, it didn’t come to that, but a tweet from a frustrated No. 21 team summed up how much refuse was out there.

Where… did the polesitter and the defending race winner wind up?

Kasey Kahne won the pole and led the field to green, but Carl Edwards led the first lap. Kahne led the second one, but that was the only time he saw the top spot. Kahne did run inside the top 10 for the first half or so, but strategy did not play into the hands of the No. 5 team, and he fell to 15th when the deluge came. Kahne has never lived up to expectations since he signed with Hendrick Motorsports, and his recent contract extension was a bit of a surprise in the offseason.

Jimmie Johnson won this race a year ago, but his luck at Michigan has been terrible more than it’s been good, and this week was no exception. Johnson started eighth but fell out of the top 10 within 10 laps and never found his way back. Adding injury to insult, Johnson got caught in the middle of an accordion on the restart when the rain finally took a hiatus, which caused enough damage to the No. 48 to ensure he’d never be a factor. Johnson finished 19th.

When… did it all go sideways?

To give credit where it’s due, NASCAR has done a very good job with its rain calls this season, getting races in on the scheduled dates and run to completion. This week, though, the sanctioning body made the wrong call. Knowing from the start that teams would most likely be racing to halfway and not the finish, NASCAR should have postponed until Monday morning, ahead of a forecast of scattered afternoon showers and storms. Fans got treated to a race of just 138 of 200 scheduled laps, a full 124 miles short of the advertised distance. Of the 138 laps that were completed, 38 were run under caution, so fans who did sit through the rains were treated to just 100 laps of racing. The race should have been called when they couldn’t go more than a handful of laps at a time early. Fans didn’t get to see a real race, and that’s not acceptable.

NASCAR says that if Kyle Busch wins a race, he can have a pass into the Chase provided he’s in the top 30 in points. That should be easily doable for Busch, but it hasn’t proven to be so. Busch hit the wall hard on an ill-advised wet restart, leaving him in 43rd place with a net gain of one point for the day. With every car he’s racing for the top 30 gaining on him this week, Busch simply can’t afford to make more mistakes. He’s talented enough not to, but reward demands risk, and racing hard enough to win requires taking a lot of them. Busch walks a fine line these days.

Why… did Kurt Busch win the race?

It’s easy to say that Busch won because he got lucky; the rains came at an opportune time for the No. 41 team. And while that’s part of the truth, it’s certainly not all of it. There is no such thing as “only” a rain win. Busch and his team simply had the best strategy for the circumstances, and at the end of the day, that’s what wins races, rain-shortened or not. Whether or not Busch would have won if the race went the advertised distance is a moot point. It didn’t, and there is little room for the “what-ifs” and other speculation. Busch won the race because he was in the right position when it counted. The shortened event might not have been what fans deserved to see, but that in no way invalidates Busch’s accomplishment.

How… did the little guys do?

Furniture Row Racing; Martin Truex Jr. (No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevy): Truex certainly didn’t dominate the day the way he has in the last four races, but when the rains came, he was running a strong third. And with Kevin Harvick trapped in 29th, it was a huge points day for the No. 78 as Truex moved within 15 points of the overall lead. Truex also becomes the first driver since 1969 to record 14 top-10 finishes in the first 15 races of the season. Underdog no longer, this team isn’t just a threat to win races, it’s a threat to win the whole shebang.

Germain Racing; Casey Mears (No. 13 GEICO Chevy): Mears picked up four spots in the first 13 laps. Like several others, Mears and Co. tried to play the fuel-mileage game around halfway and ran as high as third as a result. When the last round of rain came, it was just a handful of laps too early for Mears to cycle back into the top 10, and he wound up a still-solid 13th. Mears and his team traded compliments after the race.

Circle Sport; Ty Dillon (No. 33 Nexium Chevy): Once again, the No. 33 was a Richard Childress Racing effort this week, and Dillon had a strong day, finishing ahead of his more experienced older brother for the second week in a row with his 14th-place effort. Allowing Childress to run the car a few times a year brings owner Joe Falk some extra resources, so it’s a win-win situation for both RCR and the team.

JTG Daugherty Racing; AJ Allmendinger (No. 47 Kroger/Hungry Jack Chevy): Allmendinger finished 23rd, about where he ran for most of the day. A late-race brush with the wall didn’t seem to hurt the No. 47 as Allmendinger ran his fastest lap of the race afterward. Still, the team can’t quite seem to recapture the magic it had in 2014, though with two road courses coming up, it can still capitalize on Allmendinger’s skill at turning both ways.

Wood Brothers Racing; Ryan Blaney (No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford): The weekend got off to a great start for Blaney, who started fifth. He was able to run there early but got shuffled back through pit stops. His team was one of several who had issues with debris on the grille, but it wasn’t the cause of Blaney’s fade. Blaney finished 24th. The team looks competitive at times and is capable of putting together some good races.

HScott Motorsports; Michael Annett & Justin Allgaier (No. 46 Pilot Flying J Chevy & No. 51 Switch Hitch Chevy): The team had a pair of top-30 finishes in Michigan, with Allgaier finishing 27th and Annett 30th. For some teams, uneventful might not be the adjective to define its race, but that was exactly what the doctor ordered for the HSM group after some difficult times.

Hillman Smith Racing: Landon Cassill (No. 40 Carsforsale.com Chevy): It wasn’t Cassill’s best day, but it certainly wasn’t his worst either. Running as high as sixth as teams played the strategy game, the team acknowledged that it is making gains and turning a few heads each week.

Front Row Motorsports; Brett Moffitt & Cole Whitt & David Gilliland (No. 34 Dockside Logistics Ford & No. 35 Speed Stick Ford & No. 38 Love’s Travel Stops Ford): The whole FRM crew struggled at Michigan, with Whitt and Moffitt finishing 32nd and 33rd, respectively, though unscathed. Gilliland wasn’t so lucky and tangled with Mike Bliss on lap 64, suffering heavy damage after getting into the wall. He was able to drive away but had to go to the garage early, finishing 42nd with too much damage to continue.

Phil Parsons Racing; Josh Wise (No. 98 Ford): Wise had a par-for-the-course day, finishing 34th. The team is still learning how to adjust its cars for full races and probably getting everything it can out of the equipment, so from that standpoint, they’re doing alright.

BK Racing; JJ Yeley & Jeb Burton & Matt DiBenedetto (No. 23 Dr. Pepper Toyota & No. 26 Maxim Toyota & No. 83 Burger King Toyota): The good news is that all three teams qualified for the race and all three finished, something that hasn’t been easy for them this year. The bad news is that the trio were the lowest-finishing drivers who didn’t have some kind of major incident. Burton finished 37th, Yeley 38th and DiBenedetto 39th.

Go FAS Racing; Bliss (No. 32 Skuttle Tight/Corvetteparts.net Ford): Bliss got loose on lap 64 and got into Gilliland. Eight tires are better than four, and while Bliss was able to right his ship, Gilliland suffered extensive damage. Bliss fared a little better in the exchange but not much, finishing two laps down in 40th.

Tommy Baldwin Racing; Alex Bowman (No. 7 Racing-Rewards.com Chevy): Bowman found himself off the pace early after getting tagged by Greg Biffle and slapping the wall, and lost two laps in the pits. He was able to get one of those back when the caution flew for rain a few laps later. Unfortunately for Bowman, he cut a tire with one to go as the field finally went back to green after a bout with rain and had to go to the garage for repairs. He turned a few more laps and was running at the end in 41st.

About the author

Amy is an 18-year veteran NASCAR writer and a five-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found filling in from time to time on The Frontstretch 5 (Wednesdays) and her monthly commentary Holding A Pretty Wheel (Thursdays). A New Hampshire native living in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.

Share this article

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Sorry that was a hot mess, and not in a good way. Kurt DID GET LUCKY, yes you can say that sometimes. 100 laps of actual racing…shameful. Everybody was robbed, including Kurt!

Carl D.

I was glad to see that Kyle Busch wasn’t hurt. The cars were very fast and Kyle hit that wall hard. Fortunately for Kyle, this time he hit a safer barrier.

Tommy T.

Never have figured out what the best bet is when faced with intermittent rain. I have missed races because I could not stay over until Monday and sat through rain delays after rain delays. Rain and racing sucks.

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com