Key Moment – Mark Martin was playing a fuel strategy that needed one more caution flag to play out in a victory at Michigan. Unfortunately for him there wasn’t one and he had to come to the pits with two laps to go, surrendering the lead to Joey Logano.
In a Nutshell – Joey Logano was the fastest car in practice and qualifying, led the most laps, and crossed the finish line first in Michigan. Between qualifying and Logano winning, the race saw Jimmie Johnson rebound from a practice crash to put himself in contention for the win before his engine blew up. Dale Earnhardt Jr. looked to be a factor until lap 135 when he blew a right front tire and had to head to the garage for repairs. Kurt Busch once again was a factor but came up two spots short while Greg Biffle came up a bit short in his attempt to win three races in a row at Michigan.
Dramatic Moment – On the final restart of the race, Joey Logano went three wide into turn one to get past Kevin Harvick, then battled Kurt Busch through the next two laps before securing the second spot on the track in order to be the leader once Mark Martin ran out of gas.
What They’ll be Talking About Around the Water Cooler
The track at Michigan hasn’t aged enough for the folks at Goodyear to provide a tire that will wear out so the aero dependency of the Gen-6 car was once again the biggest factor in the race, resulting in two on-track passes for the lead, including the one where Logano passed Martin as he ran out of fuel. After the promise that the Fontana race showed early this season, the latest version of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series car has turned into an even more aero dependent beast than the original COT. Hopefully the folks at Goodyear are going to be on the right track with this combination tire they’re going to bring to Atlanta, or we may be in for a very long period of less than heart pounding racing.
Speaking of tires, there is no doubt that tires failing and sending cars into the wall, no matter how safe or soft, is not what most fans want to see. That said, getting to the point where the tires don’t wear out for the entire length of a race is ludicrous. While no one actually accomplished it, there were multiple teams that had said they could go the entire distance of Sunday’s race without changing the left side tires on their cars. No matter what people in charge of the sport are trying to do, the thought of not changing tires cannot be in the best interest of the sport.
Like the Chase or hate the Chase, it is down to brass tacks time over the next three weeks. Clint Bowyer and Carl Edwards look to be primed to lock in their Chase positions after Bristol. Anyone who is 96 points ahead of 11th place after the checkered flag falls on Saturday night will be guaranteed to be in the Chase. Bowyer and Edwards are 113 and 103 points ahead of 11th . Provided they don’t have a horrendous result at Bristol, they will be able to roll the dice and go for wins at Atlanta and Richmond to try and secure bonus points for the Chase. Kevin Harvick should be able to lock in as well if he has a decent run. He is currently 90 points ahead of 11th which isn’t far from the magic 96 point number.
Rumors are circulating that Mark Martin is going to fill in for Tony Stewart for the remainder of the season. With Brian Vickers signing on with Michael Waltrip Racing for a full-time ride, he is primed to run out the string in 2013 in preparation for the 2014 season. Martin continues to hang on like a bad rash after going through the whole last lap with Rusty Wallace about a decade ago. If the rumors are true it is disappointing that SHR didn’t choose to reward Scott Riggs for his efforts for the organization throughout the years or reward a developing driver who would benefit from some Cup seat time like Justin Allgaier or perhaps Johanna Long. Hopefully Martin will give them whatever it is they’re looking for.
Speaking of rumors about Stewart-Haas Racing, the juiciest rumor of Sunday night is that Kurt Busch has been offered a full-time ride at SHR. With Furniture Row Racing being a satellite operation for Richard Childress Racing and the owner of RCR seeming to always have a warm spot for the elder Busch in his heart, it seemed like RCR was where he would end up. It goes without saying that the SHR haulers at the track in 2014 could be quite the center of entertainment between the boss, Kevin Harvick and Busch all having a penchant for momentary lapses in judgment in front of television cameras. Makes you wonder how long it will be before Kyle Busch ends up in the ranks at SHR as well.
After Saturday’s race at Mid-Ohio, it seems as though more fans are clamoring for additional road course races. Ten years ago, people would have begged for more root canals before they would have asked for more road courses. Unfortunately, the racing has become so uninspiring on ovals, and the sanctioning body has shown they aren’t going to add more short tracks so road courses are the only chance left for fans to see good ol’ fashioned trading paint. Bill France Sr. must be turning over in his grave.
Speaking of the Nationwide race, AJ Allmendinger is two for two in the series this season. It will be interesting to see if he makes it back to the Cup level or if he’s going to stick with running in the less popular IndyCar and GrandAm events.
James Buescher cracked the win column on Saturday at Michigan in the Camping World Truck Series. The defending champ is sitting third in points and is still within striking distance of the series title if Matt Crafton stumbles over the next 10 races. The win ties him for wins with Crafton, Jeb Burton and Ty Dillon, the other three drivers in the top four in points for the series. Buescher is trying to become the first back-to-back champion in the series. Don’t count him out.
The Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune
Jimmie Johnson may have secured the first spot in the Chase but his weekend we anything short of celebratory. He wrecked his car on Saturday and had to go to a backup. After starting from the back of the field he’d raced his way up to a point where he was certainly in contention to win the race, and his motor failed. Whether the No. 48 team was trying something or not, in the end it wasn’t a good weekend for Johnson and the momentum from the regular season is slipping away if he can’t turn it around in the next two races.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. looked strong early in the race, led twice for 20 laps, and was working his way back to the front of the pack when his right front tire suffered a rapid deflation, sending his car into the wall and ending his hopes for winning the race. In the end he crossed the finish line in 36th and lost another spot in the top 10. He is now 20 points ahead of 11th heading into the last three races of the regular season. Fortunately for Earnhardt he’s heading to three tracks where he has had success during his Cup career.
Kyle Busch started the race in 10th and worked his way to second at one point during the race. He was struggling as the laps wound down toward the last quarter of the race and was running 13th when he spun in turn two on lap 157, backing his ride into the fence. After some pit road repairs he attempted to get back in the fray but spun again on lap 174 and doing further damage to the back of his car. Busch has had a lot of success at most of the tracks on the schedule, but Michigan continues to be a tough venue for him.
The “Seven Come for Eleven” Award for Fine Fortune
Due to the fact that he had to pit from the lead with two laps to go, most people would think that Mark Martin had a foul fortune day. However, if you look at the whole picture, his day was setting up to be very bad and almost came full circle to a win. Martin started outside of row two and dropped like a stone through the first 40 laps, ending up in 29th position. When the caution flew on lap 107, Martin was the first car a lap down and received the Lucky Dog. From there he played strategy and came within five miles of taking home the trophy.
Paul Menard started 20th, moved forward slightly during the first half of the race, then made a jump into the top 10 for the second half of the race, clawing his way all of the way to fourth at the end of the race. While Menard’s chances of making the Chase are still relatively slim, this weekend went a long way toward keeping him alive until Richmond rather than eliminating him.
Kasey Kahne had a tire trying to fail during the race but made it to pit lane before it failed completely. The result was the best finish for the Hendrick contingent on Sunday, coming home in seventh position. That save also kept Kahne in the top spot in the Wild Card standings for the Chase and only four points out of the top 10.
- Joey Logano has run 170 races in his career; Sunday’s win at Michigan is his third. That ties him for 92nd on the all-time wins list with Elliott Sadler and Brian Vickers, among active drivers.
- Logano’s last win came at Pocono in June of 2012. It had been 44 starts since that victory.
- Logano won from the pole on Sunday, the second time in his three career wins that he has done that.
- This win was Logano’s fifth top 10 at Michigan but his first top 5.
- Kevin Harvick’s runner-up finish was his second consecutive second-place finish at Michigan. This was Harvick’s fourth top 2 finish at Michigan and his fifth top 5 at the two-mile oval in his career. It is also Harvick’s fourth top 2 and sixth top 5 of 2013.
- Kurt Busch’s third place finish was his third top 3 of 2013. It was his fourth top 3 at Michigan and sixth top 5 of the season.
- Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. flattened the side of his car during the race at Michigan but still managed to stay on the lead lap and won the Rookie of the Race again this weekend.
- Marcos Ambrose set the qualifying record at Michigan last Summer and ended up starting 26th this weekend. He managed to rebound to a sixth-place finish this time around; he finished fifth last August.
- Top 10 finishers by manufacturer –
Ford – 4
Chevrolet – 5
Toyota – 1
What’s the Points?
Jimmie Johnson done blowed up early and came home in 40th position. While he still leads the points, Johnson is no longer a full race ahead of second place. Clint Bowyer is still in second, without a win, but is only 41 points in arrears to Johnson. Carl Edwards only has one win but he’s still sitting third in the points after his 10th place finish on Sunday. Kevin Harvick’s second place finish keeps him in the fourth spot in points, 64 in back of Johnson. Kyle Busch’s long day didn’t drop him out of fifth place and he’s now 107 points behind the leader.
Matt Kenseth jumped over Dale Earnhardt Jr. to grab the sixth spot in points 125 behind Johnson. Earnhardt is now 134 points behind Johnson and sitting precariously in seventh. Brad Keselowski’s 12th place finish has him still sitting in eighth, 146 back. He’s two points ahead of Kurt Busch, who rides his third place finish back into Chase contention in ninth. Greg Biffle came home ninth in the race but dropped back to 10th in the points, 150 behind Johnson.
Kasey Kahne moved up to 11th in points and is first in the Wild Card standings by both points and wins. Martin Truex Jr. dropped two spots to 12th but still holds the second spot in the Wild Card race thanks to his win. Joey Logano is now 13th and breathing down the neck of Truex for that second Wild Card spot.
Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans, with one being a stinker and a six pack an instant classic) — For those people who are hard core fans of parades, Michigan was setting up to be the perfect Sunday for them. However, somewhere along the way, the racing gods reached won and touched eight different drivers on the shoulder and made them spin. Thanks to those eight cautions, and one for debris, we had 10 starts on Sunday that allowed Michigan to still show the multi-groove racing it can provide, although not as much as it once did thanks to the yet to fully age repaving job. The vast number of starts and associated crazy racing, along with the inevitable fuel mileage questions at the end of the race resulted in the race getting three fresh cans of Pabst.
Next Up — The ticket that used to be the toughest in all of NASCAR to get is now just another race. The Night Race at Bristol is next Saturday night starting at 7:30 PM Eastern on ABC and PRN.
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