Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2015 Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan

Who’s in the headline – While Kurt Busch took home the trophy and is now certainly locked into the Chase, the real headliner from Michigan was Mother Nature. Four red flags for rain and a total delay of 128:51 before the event was called, gave most attention of the weekend to the weather. Once the rain was taken from the equation it was Busch who put himself in position before the final deluge to snag the spotlight. Busch only led the final six laps, but that was enough to score his second victory of the year and ensure that he’ll be in the Chase after Richmond.

What happened – The threat of rain was present all weekend at Michigan. There were intense showers overnight and for much of the morning. The track was surprisingly dry enough for the race to start at the scheduled time, but unfortunately the decent weather lasted only to lap 13 before the first rain shower brought a red flag. The track was dried and the cars began circulating but before they were able to take the green again, the rains returned. The track was dried, yet again, and the event made it to the competition caution before the third red flag for rain flew. The race finally went green for an extended period of time and Kevin Harvick established himself as the class of the field. Unfortunately for him, he had a flat tire due to a valve stem knocked off by the front tire changer. A debris caution set up a restart on lap 130 that set up a dash for the lead as a huge storm cell was bearing down on the track. Kyle Larson‘s team made a gamble that the rain would arrive before he had to pit for fuel but he came up three laps short. Kurt Busch was in front when the monsoon arrived that put a weather shortened bow on the race.

Why you should care – There isn’t much to care about from this race. Carl Edwards was fast early but faded as the race went on and came home in 12th. Busch’s win gives him two triumphs for the year so he is locked into the Chase. Martin Truex Jr. continued his impressive run of top-10 finishes with his 14th to start the season. Trevor Bayne notched his first top-10 finish in 50 starts. Danica Patrick led laps for the first time this season before finishing 16th. Ty Dillon ran in the top 10 for much of the race before settling for a 14th-place finish. Other than that, the racing was horrendously aero-dependent, with only two on-track passes for the lead, which took place on laps two and three.

What your friends are talking about – Harvick is on a remarkable tear, something that few people have duplicated in the history of the sport. In his first 51 races with Stewart Haas Racing, he has finished in the top two 21 times. To save you the math, that is a 41% rate. Even more impressive, two out of every three races this season Harvick has come home in first or second. The champ is absolutely letting the competition know that the title is going to come through him again in 2015. Unfortunately he did not, however, have such a sterling result today, as a flat tire relegated him to a 29th-place finish.

Furniture Row Racing is reported to be mulling over a change in manufacturer, along with expansion to a second team. Considering the results they’ve posted right now, that would seem like an incredibly misguided idea. However, the opinion that the grass is always greener is prevalent in many sporting endeavors. FRR has courted other manufacturers before but stuck with the bowtie. If they secure a new investor, that might be the determining factor in whether they stay or go from the Chevrolet camp.

The suits in Daytona and the digit heads in Concord are talking about track specific aero packages. If there is one thing that the sport should have learned from the ridiculousness that is track specific tires from Goodyear it is that they should not do anything that is geared toward more rules and specifications that will further hamper the creativity of the race teams. Here is a better suggestion for the decision makers at NASCAR. Get the front of the freaking cars off of the ground. The lack of air flowing under the car is perpetuating the aero dependency issues that the cars are experiencing when they are not in clean air. This isn’t rocket science, it is stock car racing.

Speaking of the specs and rules that are applied to the cars, the inspection process is under fire again thanks to the reversal of the penalties for Jimmie Johnson‘s team and statements by Jack Roush about the laser platform that NASCAR uses for the inspection process. The platform has been inconsistent at times and when teams are being penalized for measurements that are down to thousandths of an inch, that is unacceptable. The entire process needs to be revamped and the sport needs to back off on the rules to let the teams have more creativity. It will allow teams to discover more advantages. Yes, the teams with more money will win more than those who don’t have it, but if you look now that is the teams the win most of the time anyway.

For the TMZ crowd, Patricia Driscoll is reported to be under investigation by the IRS and the FBI for mishandling funds from her charity. Truth be told, there are probably more charities than not who could be called out for some kind of improper use of funds. In reality, the foundation does a lot of good for the heroic men and women who serve our country. The focus should be on that work that Driscoll has done rather than the continued muckraking that has resulted from the situation with Busch.

Who is mad – Harvick led almost half of the laps on Sunday. Unfortunately for him, a flat tire derailed his trip to Victory Lane. Harvick came to the pits for what was going to be his penultimate pit stop, assuming the race went its prescribed distance. After returning to the track he almost immediately had a flat right front wheel due to a valve stem being knocked off by his tire changer. Harvick has been plagued by this phenomena more than any other driver on the circuit. With all of the engineering minds involved in this sport, you’d think someone could come up with a way to protect the stems so that an errant pit gun would not be able to break them off.

Kyle Busch just needed to average a little better than mid pack to make the Chase, assuming he would be able to win a race, once he got back behind the wheel. In the four races since he’s been back he’s scored a single top-10 finish along with a 36th- and now a 43rd-place finish. Busch was running in the top 10 all day until the race went back to green after the second red flag and a rain storm broke out in turn 4. Busch broke loose, corrected and the car turned hard into the outside wall, ruining another solid run. At this point, Busch is going to have to be in the top 10 for most of the remaining 11 races before the Chase if he is going to make it in.

David Gilliland was the second driver out of the race on Sunday, taken out in an accident on lap 64. Gilliland wasn’t exactly in contention to win the race, but he did complete 12 more laps than Kyle Busch. Finishing 42nd, one would think that they’d win a couple bucks more than the driver coming home in 43rd. However, a quick glance at the results reveals that is not the case. Gilliland won $68,070 while Busch, out of the race earlier and credited with 43rd, banked $101,561. The prize money in NASCAR still takes an astrophysicist to calculate. One thing is for sure, when the winner at Pocono takes home less money than the runner-up you can hardly be surprised when 43rd makes over $33K more than 42nd.

Larson has not been having the kind of year he enjoyed during his rookie season. He’s 18th in points and is going to have work to do to make the Chase. A win would not guarantee him a spot in the Chase but it would be quite close. Chris Heroy took a gamble when the race went under caution for the next to last time Heroy left his driver on the track because he knew there was rain in the area that looked like it would hit the track soon. Larson managed to hang onto the lead when the green flew but after five laps he had to pit for fuel. A mere three laps later the skies opened and the deluge that ended the race hit the track. One more lap under that caution or a few drops sooner and Larson wins the rain-shortened race.

Who is happy – Bayne finished ninth on Sunday. The folks at Roush Fenway have not been contending for many wins this season, in fact they had two top fives and three top 10s coming into today’s race. Bayne’s struggles have been even greater. It has been 50 races since Bayne scored his last top 10, which was at Talladega in the spring of 2012. His last non-plate top 10 was a ninth at Las Vegas that same spring. Prior to today that was the only top 10 on a non-plate track in Bayne’s career. The struggle has been real for the 2011 Daytona 500 champion so today’s finish, rain aided or not, has to feel good.

Michael Waltrip Racing switched up their crew chiefs coming into this weekend’s event. Clint Bowyer is their flagship driver and his results have been below his standards this season. Billy Scott had to be feeling some pressure since he’d managed just one top 10 so far this season. When the race was called and Bowyer’s car was sitting in 10th it had to be a relief for Scott. It is far from a total turn around at MWR, but it is a great maiden voyage for the new pairing.

When the checkered flag flew

Kurt Busch’s win was his 27th career win in 519 starts in the Cup series. The win is Busch’s third career triumph at Michigan. That is tied for the second most wins at any track with Atlanta and Loudon. Bristol is the most with five. The victory is Busch’s second of the season which ties him with Harvick for second in the series this season. Johnson leads with four. Busch is 26th on the all-time wins list. He is one behind Rex White for 25th.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished in the second position for the first time this season. It is Earnhardt’s second top-two finish of the season after his victory at Talladega. Earnhardt’s runner-up was his 27th of his career which ties him with White for 28th on the all-time list. This was Earnhardt’s third career top two at Michigan. The other two were wins.

Truex Jr. came home in third on Sunday. It was his third podium of the season and second in a row. This was Truex’s fourth career top three at Michigan. Truex has 21 career podium finishes. That ranks him 76th on the all-time list, tied with Jim Reed. Truex has 14 top-10 finishes in the first 15 races of the season. That has not happened in the Cup series since 1969 when it was accomplished by Richard Petty.

Brett Moffitt came home in 33rd to claim the rookie of the race.

Harvick, Logano, Keselowski, Johnson, Hamlin, Kenseth, Kurt Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Edwards and Truex Jr. all have wins in 2015. Harvick, Johnson and Kurt Busch are locked into the Chase assuming they attempt the rest of the races or receive an exemption should they miss any events thanks to multiple wins.

The drivers who are currently eligible for the Chase after 15 races without wins and their standing in points:

7) Jamie McMurray
9) Kasey Kahne
10) Jeff Gordon
12) Paul Menard
15) Aric Almirola
16) Ryan Newman

Takin’ it to the Bank

With 15 races in the books, Cup winners this year have pocketed $5,701,444, while the last-place finisher has taken home $1,295,337.

In the Xfinity Series, it has been $1,001,135 for the winners and $196,096 for last place after 13 races.

After eight Truck races, the winner has $447,411 and the last loser has banked $83,684.

What is in the cooler – Rain interrupted and shortened races are always a tough call on the rating front. Make it four red flags and it is really tough, even for the ADD crowd that NASCAR is trying to market to these days. A cornucopia of pit strategies mixed into a race with a mind blowing two on-track passes for the lead (not going to count when Harvick passed Patrick right as she pulled onto pit road for her pit stop) both of which took place in the first three laps. The fans who stuck it out deserve something, so we’ll give it two lukewarm Monkey Mouth IPAs from Grand River Brewery.

Where do you point your DVR for next week – For the second time in 2015 the Cup Series is off for a weekend. The Xfinity Series will be running at Chicagoland on Saturday, June 20th and the Camping World Truck Series will be running on Friday June 19th at Iowa Speedway. The Truck race kicks off at 8:30 on FOX Sports 1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR radio channel 90, while the NXS race takes the green at 9:30 on FOX Sports 1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR radio channel 90.

About the author

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 Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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Bill B

There is nothing worth commenting on about this race. And for once, it’s not NASCAR’s fault. It never really felt like the race got started.


I watched the beginning of the race then went out to mow (before it rained here) during the red flag, came back, more rain, more red flags. I agree, Bill B, the race never felt like it got started.

While I like Kyle Larson, I wouldn’t have been happy if he had lucked into a chase spot by playing rainshower roulette, but that is the way the chase game is played these days – even though personally I think it stinks.


Baseball has a term for what we saw on Sunday- a getaway day. It seemed like someone in the NASCAR hierarchy must have had off-week vacation plans that started today.
The goal should be to determine if the entire scheduled distance can be accommodated, not hoping to get to halfway in bits and pieces. Granted, since it was Michigan we may have missed out on a third on-track pass for the lead but that’s about it.
Finally, how is possible that a whole debris field on the back stretch can not be picked up during a 30 minute rain delay? IIRC, one of the caution periods was extended for this very reason.

Carl D.

The only thing I’ll say about this race is that at least someone running near the front won the race. Kurt didn’t have the best car but he had a car that was capable of winning if things played out in his favor which is what happened.

The situation with Driscoll’s charity is unfortunate. It may be a great charity that does wonderful things, but the publicity form mishandling funds will hurt it’s fundraising ability. Whether or not other charities are guilty or not is irrelevant; the public has a right to know whether it’s charitable donations are being handled responsibly. I hope the authorities find nothing improper, but if they do, then they should be commended for doing their job.

Bill B

I agree Carl.
While NASCAR and many fans may like the fact that a lightning bolt can strike and allow someone to win a race that wouldn’t have a prayer in hell otherwise, personally I want a driver that was in the mix to win for most of the race to actually win the race. Especially now that entry into the chase only requires one win.


when i saw that huge dark cloudy area during pre-race i knew rain would be a factor.

i just kept switching channels, and every time i’d turn on the race it was raining again.

at end, seemed like chris meyers and idiot waltrip had insider info on that call of the race cause they kept talking about kurt busch and the win. yes i know the rain was coming down in buckets and it was almost 7 pm.

i was wondering why it was posted all over the place that dale jr was going to germany this week. duh…vacation. don’t recall them taking week off in june. maybe na$car will figure out some more rule changes to mess things up even moreso.


Glad we missed most of this one thanks to a cookout. A quick check of twitter around 3:00 revealed that they had run 26 of 50 laps under caution thanks to rain. Blah.

We did get home in time to catch the final 20 laps or so before the rain came and it looked like business as usual up front. 4, 88, 20, 41, 48 then everyone else in their dust. Bad break for Harvick really cost him, but once they leave Richmond in September no one will notice or remember what happened yesterday, because the points system is a sham.

Speaking of which, how stupid was it for the FOX booth to be singing the praises of this wonderful championship system when the 42 stayed out to “earn” a spot in the chase had the rain come 5 laps sooner? How ridiculous is it that we’re talking about the driver 19th in points being in contention to win the title? But I digress.

Had a blast at Tri-County for the CARS tour, Steve Wallace and the boys put on a hell of a show that I’m going to make sure to see again this year.


I’m uber-jealous that you’re able to attend CARS tour. ProCup used to come to Montgomery, Alabama but that’s as close as it got for me. :(


It was a great show, and I think the fact that no one in the field had ever run at Tri-County was a big factor. There were two solid grooves, and it was a night full of side-by-side action. Was very happy to make it to one of their races finally. Checked the schedule, and they’re gonna be in Concord later this year, which is good news for me as I live about 10 miles from the track.


These drivers have all been the recipient of a win in a rain shortened race.

Jeff Gordon
Tony Stewart
Joey Logano
Brad Keslowski
Michael Waltrip
Matt Kenseth
Jeff Burton.

Baseball will call a game after 5 – 1/2 innings.

Congrats to Kurt Busch, and his team, for having themselves in a position to take advantage and win.

Now, people, would you please stop crying.

Bill B

I don’t think a lot of people have a problem with a proven winner being handed another win by circumstances (rain, fuel mileage, etc.). However when a driver that hasn’t ever won, or maybe has only won once in a lengthy career, gets handed a win by circumstances, it’s a little harder to accept as legitimate. Now more than ever since it means they will get a golden ticket to the championship playoffs.
Looking at your list, the only person I would have a problem with backing into a win MIGHT be Waltrip as he never won a race that wasn’t an RP race which, we all know, has a high crapshoot factor. I have to admit that I wasn’t pleased when Logano won his rain-shortened race because it was his first which kind of cheapens it IMO.

Carl D.

If a driver has at least a top 10 car and runs near the front then I don’t have a problem with them winning a rain-shortened race. However, when a mid-pack car that was never a threat steals a win by staying out and hoping for rain, then I have a problem accepting that as a legitimate win.


Don’t forget Aric Almirola last year at Daytona. Originally scheduled to be Saturday night, they got it going on Sunday the 4th and rain ended it with 46 laps to go.

Matt McLaughlin

You can add to that list Richard Petty, Bobby Allison, David Pearson and Cale Yarborough (In fact the King got credited with a win after a storm took out the lights during a night race….Allegendly NASCAR let the race go another three laps because the flagman had already run off to seek shelter. Not that anyone would have seen the red flag anyway.

It came down to Mother Nature’s game of musical chairs. Someone had to win. Kurt has been leading a ton of laps anyway. In fact I felt that the reason it took NASCAR so long to call the race was they were thinking, “Oh Hell, not the guy we suspended earlier this season again!”


Didn’t DW and Geoff Bodine win their Daytona 500s on fuel mileage? ?

Matt McLaughlin

Bodine won his after Earnhardt Sr. ran out of gas with three go in 86. Dale then blew the engine leaving the pits he was so pissed.

Waltrip stretched his fuel mileage while Schrader and Earnhardt (again) had to pit late. That actually handed the lead to Alan Kulwicki but Alan got a flat with four to go. DW cruised on to the win. If I’m not mistaken that’s the race where some reporter asked him how much gas he had left in the tank and DW said “I don’t knoiw but for five bucks I’ll drink it.”

Fed Up

Wasn’t it raining on the other cars when Kyle wrecked?

In regard to Driscoll, if the accusations are true, she should be prosecuted to the max for stealing funds designated
for our service personnel. A person can’t get any lower than that.


yes, it was raining when Kyle wrecked. Not sure who the genius was in race control who decided to start the race at that point. Maybe it was Brian France. Seems like the kind of call he’d make.

Matt McLaughlin

You might want to discount a driver who just wrecked and said it was raining as a case of sour grapes. But the race leader at the time Kevin Harvick also came on the radio to say it was pouring on the restart and wondering who had allowed the race to go green.

By that point NASCAR and FOX had decided they WERE going to get that race to the halfway point come hell or high water. They got the high the high water and the hell with Kyle.

Matt McLaughlin

Forgot, I think Harvick’s actual comment was “They can see the sky right?” (Resisting the temptation here to say where race officials heads might have been where they couldn’t….) Cue up the Eagles, cause you can see the sky but still not see the light….


Agreed, Matt. It wasn’t a case of sour grapes, there were a lot of drivers saying it was raining. I didn’t hear Harvick’s comment but that is priceless.

yep, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.


Brian made the call from a bar somewhere. I’ll bet the TV wasn’t showing the “race.”

Matt McLaughlin

I found it interesting during rain delays early in the race the FOX Hax were saying how quickly the Air Titans would have the track dried. But there at the end when they all clearly wanted to get off the air and get out of there there was no way those Air Titans could get the track dried before dark.

It’s interesting to note that the Air Titans are Toyotas (and you might have noted by a few acres worth of decals on them) . While a Toyota power-plant motivates the truck itself, the real business of track drying is done by small block Chevy engines in the bed. Guess those DOHC Toyota engines just can’t withstand continuous high RPM operation like the SBC Chevy designed and released in 1955, a mere 60 years ago. While the Chevy engines perform Like a Rock, I guess the Toyota engines would flame out like….dare I say it….Like a Wok.

Carl D.

You’re going to PC hell for that one, Matt. Save me a seat.


yeah, the change in tune was amazing as that last rain delay came into play. Plus, of course, FS1 had something else to broadcast at 7 p.m. so NASCAR had to be “done”.

That’s a fun fact about the air titans, Matt. I didn’t know that.


i know when i flipped back at the end of the race, the “show description” for fs1 said something about a day in the life of stewart/haas racing. i think they went to fight club or baseball or soccer after that.


I am disappointed the 10 didn’t when. If she had won through a combination of fuel mileage and a rain shortened race the comments here would be great.

Bill B

You are 100% right about that. LOL.
It may have also pushed a few people on the fence about NASCAR over the edge as the last straw broke their back.

Tim S.

Her biggest success came in a fuel-mileage gamble, so such a scenario would have at least not been too far-fetched. As both Waltrips have proven, any shill can win a rain-shortened event.


Truth be told if Patricia Driscoll was taking donated money for our service members and using for her personal expenses she should spend time jail. She deserves the the presumption of innocence. If she is found to be guilty of stealing from the very people she professes to advocating for I hope people like you do not condone it by saying everybody steals. I can assure you as a veteran myself that everyone that advocates for service members is not cheating. Sounds like you know her and you are already trying to justify theft and fraud because everybody else does.it. I hope she is found innocent because the damage of this will without a doubt negatively impact future donations not only to.AFF but all charities!


Didn’t watch the race because I was in the hospital with mom but I always like to read this column to get the scoop and read the comments but I have to comment on something you wrote that is unbelievable. First, I couldn’t care less about the Busch/Driscoll saga but with regards to Driscoll misusing charitable organization funds you wrote: “The focus should be on that work that Driscoll has done rather than the continued muckraking that has resulted from the situation with Kurt Busch.:

Are you freaking serious? Like I said, I don’t care about the Busch/Driscoll issue other than to say I’m against domestic violence but if the allegations are true and she actually did misuse funds you have the audacity to make a statement to focus on the good deeds she has done. You sir have no integrity. I don’t care how much good she did (and it doesn’t sound like that much) a thief is a thief (alleged thief currently). Dude you have serious problems. And you need to have a copy editor proof read your work before you post: you have one too many occurrence of the word “that” in your sentence … very poorly written.


Once again set the DVR. Tuned in after scheduled start time and saw rain/red flag. Decided to extend time (extra 2 hours or so) on the DVR since dark clouds were everywhere. Tuned in again to see the last laps before the downpour put an end to it. Went back to the beginning and blitzed through stopping at interesting points (Kyle hitting wall, Harvick’s tire stem). At one point I saw Truex in the booth with Meyers and Mikey during delay but couldn’t bring myself to stop and listen to what was being said. Like many I find it hard to listen to those two.What did interest me was how Truex could be there next to someone who once threw him under the bus. I commend Truex for being able to do that. I’m was curious about what may have been discussed but not enough to listen. Deleted the recording.


Great to see Matt’s comments in the forum.

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