Kyle Busch was doing “The Michigan Rag” at Michigan International Speedway in the Pure Michigan 400 Sunday, taking the late-race lead from Jimmie Johnson on lap 188 and holding Johnson off again on a green-white-checkered finish to capture his first career triumph at Michigan.
“Awesome!” Busch responded post-race. “Certainly it feels good to win here at Michigan. We’ve been trying so hard to do it. Our teammate [Denny Hamlin] has been able to do it but we haven’t.”
Greg Biffle led the field to the green flag with a pole-winning speed of 190.345 mph and led until the race’s first caution on lap 29 for debris. After pit stops cycled through, Biffle was back up front and led until the race’s second caution of the day, when Bobby Labonte got loose in turn one for a solo spin on lap 53.
Kyle Busch would take the lead on lap 98 and lead for the first time of the day until the third caution of the day fell on lap 104 for debris. After some of the teams took two tires on the pit-stops, Kasey Kahne briefly took the lead until Matt Kenseth motored past him. The lead was traded between Kenseth and Jeff Gordon back and forth until the race’s fourth caution of the day came out for the stalled vehicle of Dave Blaney inside of 35 to go. Jimmie Johnson’s proverbial “golden horseshoe” came in handy again as he pitted before the caution and didn’t lose a lap, giving him prime real estate as the race leader.
The race went back to green and Jimmie appeared to check out on the field, but Kyle Busch slowly reeled him in until passing him at lap 188 and driving away. But with three laps to go, the race’s final caution came out after Kurt Busch blew a tire and hit the turn 1 wall, bunching the field together for one last restart. Busch would use the side-draft on Jimmie Johnson to win the race by 0.568 seconds.
Johnson would have to settle for second. “Just good hard racing.” Jimmie said after the race. “I certainly with we could have finished one spot better with the Lowe’s Chevrolet today, but, the way the race started and how we were at the beginning. We were so loose. We got the car underneath me with some great call by Chad Knaus on pit road. Great pit stops today and got the car underneath me where I could go racing. Once I got to the front and got clean air, my car was loose again, it was the first time I was in clean air and I just didn’t have a pit stop or two to really work on the car and make it lead. I kind of lost a little to Kyle and hung on to second.”
Michigan native Brad Keselowski had yet another stellar showing with a third place finish on the day. “We were decent today.” Keselowski reflected post-race. “Probably not as good as we needed to be to run with the [Nos.] 48, the 24, 18, those guys but probably a fifth to 10th-place car. Just executed really well. Had some good restarts. Had some good moves in traffic. Good pit stops, good strategy. Found our way up into the top five there with 75 to go. Just a really solid effort. We need just a little bit more speed. Seem to be executing fairly well with our team. I’m proud of that.”
Mark Martin and Ryan Newman rounded out the top five. Sixth through tenth were Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne, Clint Bowyer, Tony Stewart, and Matt Kenseth. Stewart had this to say after the race: “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.”
Chase contenders Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards each had problems on the day, with Edwards having electrical issues and Hamlin damaging his car in an accident. “It was a very tough race.” Edwards reflected post-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.”
Said Hamlin of his struggles, “We were fighting the car all day, from tight to loose and back and forth. Our car just really struggled on corner entry on being loose. I was in a pack of cars there and tried to enter the corner with a little bit more speed and just got too loose and got into the wall.”
The average race speed was 150.898 mph, with 5 cautions for 21 laps and 20 lead changes among 10 drivers. The announced attendance was listed at 81,000 fans, down over 20% from 2010 numbers.
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