Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud – Joey Logano Slips and Slides to Dominant Michigan Victory

Who’s in the headline – Joey Logano was winless in 2016 until Sunday. He broke out of that slump in dominant fashion. Logano led 138 laps of the 200 in the race. Chase Elliott was right there with him for the last 2/3 of the race but Logano was simply too strong. Logano becomes the 10th different driver to win a race at the Cup level this season.

What happened – Logano started on pole but it was Martin Truex Jr. who grabbed the lead to start the race. Logano wrested the top spot away from him on lap 11. From there, outside of green flag pit stops, it was Logano’s race. Elliott was competitive at the end but all-in-all, it was a complete No. 22 day Sunday.

Why you should care – It seems to be all that we talk about these days, but the aero package was the focus again this weekend. The experimental package this weekend changed the racing at Michigan, but it didn’t make a difference at the point. Since the repave Michigan has been two grooves at best. This package make it four. It was almost back to old Michigan, which wasn’t expected for another four or five years. It made the cars more of a handful for sure, and will be interesting to see at Kentucky when they try it again. Similar to Charlotte, sometimes one team hits on it at a track on a given weekend and the Penske Racing No. 22 team did this weekend. Elliott’s team was close and made the Penske guys work for it in the end but it was still their day. In the pack the racing was again better than it has been. We’ll see what the sanctioning body thinks after Kentucky but they deserve credit for trying to make things better.

What your friends are talking about – Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims, friends and families, along with all Americans, after the tragedy in Orlando. We hope that God will bring healing to everyone after such a horrific incident.

Daniel Suarez became the first Mexican-born driver to win a NASCAR National Series race on Saturday when he took the checkered flag first in the XFINITY series. Suarez is an alumnus of the Drive for Diversity program which will give the sanctioning body the right to thump their chest. The D4D program takes a lot of slings and arrows but it does have some success and has brought people into the sport, not just drivers, who would have probably not made it were it not for the program.

Kyle Larson’s car failed post race laser inspection. He was already without his crew chief, Chad Johnston, who was serving a one race suspension this weekend thanks to a loose or missing lug nut at the end of the Coca-Cola 600. Penalties will certainly be coming this week but it is yet to be seen what and to whom.

The top three finishers, Lognao, Elliott and Larson, made up the youngest top 3 in the history of NASCAR Cup racing. Their average age is 23. The previous youngest was in 1951 when the average for the top three was 24.7.

With Logano taking the win, there are now 10 unique winners in the Cup series this year. With 11 races left before the start of the Chase, there is still a possibility of more than 16 unique winners. If that happens it will be quite interesting to see how the talking heads spin it after claiming for two years that anyone who wins a race is in the Chase.

Roush Yates Engines have been around for 13 years and have been a force to be reckoned with since their very first year. Logano’s win on Sunday marked the 100th win for RYE in the Cup series.

Brad Keselowski is fired up at Jeff Gordon after some comments directed at his team during the Pocono race weekend. The two met this week to talk about the situation and air their differences. Unfortunately there were TV cameras present so it is hard to say if there was any true openness on the part of either participant. Keselowski’s beef is that he thinks it is wrong for Gordon to have an ownership stake in a team and criticize other teams. It is interesting that it never came up with Michael Waltrip in the booth considering his obvious connection to ownership of a team. There may be more to the story based on Keselowski’s long perceived slight by Hendrick Motorsports that saw him move to another organization after being the apparent replacement in waiting for Gordon’s seat some years ago.

Who is mad – Dale Earnhardt Jr. was unusually terse after the incident that took him out of the race on Sunday. He complained about the fact that there is too much talk about aero packages. This came after he was vocal about a lack of practice time for Cup teams on race weekends. Sitting in 11th place in points without a win might be adding some pressure to the situation. In the end winning fixes everything, and Earnhardt has been knocking on the door quite a bit this season.

Jimmie Johnson was the first driver in the series with two wins to lock himself into the Chase, assuming he attempts the remainder of the races through Richmond. Since that point things have been a bit rough for the six-time champion. In the last seven races he has four finishes of 22nd or worse and another two of 17th and 16th. Everyone assumes that the No. 48 team is exploring packages for the Chase and will flip the switch before Richmond but it still has to bother Johnson. He went from the lead of the race to in a wreck in 63 laps. We’ll see what the team does by Richmond but these difficult runs have to be grating.

Clint Bowyer can’t wait for this season to end. He has two top 10 runs this year, zero laps led and an average finish of 23.0. That is the worst average finish for him by more than three spots over any previous year of his career other than his solo start in 2005, which is still a position better than this year. Justin Allgaier continues to look like a better driver every race that the HScott Motorports entry struggles.

Who is happy – Tony Stewart loves a race car that slides around and has to be driven. When NASCAR announced this rules package you had to think he would excel with it. Sure enough he came home with a seventh place finish Sunday after starting third. Stewart is still looking to get into Victory Lane and qualify for a Chase berth but he’s beginning to run out of time. He’s got to be looking forward to Kentucky.

Elliott set another personal best on Sunday coming home in the runner-up position. He struggled on a couple of late race restarts that might have propelled him into his first Cup win but his consistent runs and overall success is very special.

Keselowski continued a stretch of top 5 runs that includes three and a top 10 streak that is at seven races. That is a recipe to keep any driver in a good mood. He is already locked into the Chase but he is showing that he will also be a factor for much of it with this kind of consistency.

When the checkered flag flew: Joey Logano won his 15th race of his career in his 271st start.

Logano is tied with Ernie Irvan for 52nd on the all-time wins list.

This was Logano’s first triumph of 2016.

Logano has two career victories at Michigan International Speedway.

Chase Elliott finished second for his best career finish.

This was Elliott’s first career top 5 run at Michigan.

Elliott has six top 5 finishes in 2016.

Elliott was the highest finishing rookie in the race to claim Rookie of the Race honors.

Kyle Larson crossed the line in third for his third top 3 run of the season.

The third place run was Larson’s best career effort at MIS.

Larson has nine career top 3 finishes which ranks him in a tie for 102nd on the All-time list.

Kevin Harvick leads the points, as irrelevant as that stat might be.

Currently locked into the Chase thanks to multiple wins, and assuming they attempt to run the remaining races before Richmond, are Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski. Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth, Martin Truex Jr., Kurt Busch and Joey Logano will be locked in assuming there are fewer than 7 winners in the next 11 races. The remaining drivers who would make the Chase based on points and their point position:

  1. Chase Elliott
  1. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  2. Austin Dillon
  1. Jamie McMurray
  2. Ryan Newman
  3. Ryan Blaney

What is in the cooler – After another dominating run for one team it is hard to give the race much of a rating but the racing overall was good and there was at least some drama thanks to the late race restart. As Intermediate tracks go, and Michigan is just an oversized Intermediate, it was an ok show. We’ll give it three cold Lake Rat American Ales from Grand River Brewery.

Where do you point your DVR for next week – After an 11 week run the Cup teams take off their second week of the year. The Trucks and the XFINITY series head to Newton, Iowa for a doubleheader of their own. Trucks are on FS1 and MRN on Saturday the 18th at 8:30PM. The XFINITY boys will be on FS1 and MRN on Sunday the 19th at 1:30PM. Both times are Eastern.

About the author

Frontstretch.com

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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