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:
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.