Who’s in the headline – For only the fourth time this season, a driver led the most laps in a race and went onto Victory Lane. Kyle Larson started on pole, led the most laps and finished the deal to grab his second-career victory at Michigan International Speedway. Martin Truex Jr. looked like he could have swept the race, taking the first two stages of the event. But as the laps wound down, Truex found himself in the wrong lanes at the wrong times and could only muster a sixth place finish.
What happened – Larson started on pole and led the first 34 laps of the event, which spanned two cautions. One was for debris and one was a competition caution because we always look for a reason to throw one of those. Lap 35 saw Truex grab the top spot and drive off to the Stage 1 win. Stage 2 was clean and saw green flag pit stops. Larson led most of it, but Truex chased him down and passed him for the lead a second time to grab his second stage victory and 10th of the season.
The final stage saw the intensity ratchet up and the end result was a large wreck on the back straight that ended with Danica Patrick taking another hard hit into a wall through no fault of her own. The final restart from that incident saw Larson out-duel Denny Hamlin into Turn 1, riding the high line to the lead and the triumph.
Why you should care – Larson leads the standings this season and appears as though he might be on the verge of the breakout season that many have felt was coming for a couple of years. Chase Elliott finished second at Michigan for the third consecutive time. You have to think that one of these days he’s going to get that final position at the 2-mile oval in the Irish Hills.
Truex continues to be the king of the stages, winning his ninth and tenth of the season, racking up more and more playoff points that should set him up for a great shot at the title come the playoffs.
What your friends are talking about – Amazingly, in the current form of the sport where stage racing has resulted in a dramatic reduction of phantom debris cautions, NASCAR could not help itself again this weekend. With a large question mark hanging over the field as to whether drivers were going to make it to the finish on fuel, a yellow for debris, which was never shown on television, flew with 20 laps to go. That afforded everyone who wanted to the opportunity to pit and make sure they had gas for the distance. For those who didn’t, they were still able to save and ensure they had a legit shot at making it to the end as well. As much as we’d like to think the people calling the race don’t do that kind of thing, it happens to often to be a coincidence.
Speaking of cautions, we once again got to see the foolish competition caution thanks to a brief shower on race morning. We again had multiple teams take two or no tires when the purpose of the caution is for teams to check tire wear from a ‘green’ racetrack. It comes up in this column all of the time, but it needs to.
Either require a four-tire change on competition cautions or eliminate them. There is a rumor that a race that goes green for the first 50 laps loses 25 percent of its viewing audience. That is part of the reason that the slightest bit of rain between the final practice and the green flag results in the competition caution being displayed.
Jimmie Johnson and Lowe’s have both extended their contracts with Hendrick Motorsports. One of the longest running sponsorship agreements between one driver and company, Lowe’s has agreed to another 38-race sponsorship package that will run through 2018. Having your livery on the side of a seven-time champion most certainly provides a lot of value for the home improvement warehouse. The interesting part of Johnson’s deal is that it goes through 2020. Way back when, Jeff Gordon had a lifetime deal with only four championships. You’d think that Mr. H would give Johnson the same deal with his seven titles. Perhaps he’s waiting for the current champ to pass Gordon’s career victory total.
GMS Racing could potentially be making the move to Cup in 2018. The defending Truck Series champion organization and the current point leader in the series, which also fields two XFINITY teams, is looking at a run at Cup. Team owner Maury Gallagher says that he understands that XFINITY cars can be converted to Cup cars with some minor modifications. He acknowledges that his organization is building up an inventory of new chassis that would afford them the ability to make the transition easily to the next level. He claims that provided they’d be willing to work with GMS, Hendrick Motorsports would provide engines and equipment. Spencer Gallagher may be the driver, though, there are also some unsubstantiated rumors that Kasey Kahne could be in that seat should they make the move.
In a fantastic display of restraint by NASCAR, they announced that they will not specify the brake packages that teams run. After some scary incidents at Pocono Raceway and Kansas Speedway, NASCAR considered specifying which brake package teams would have to run. Fortunately they announced that they would leave brake decisions in the hands of the teams. Crew chiefs and drivers alike were very pleased to hear that decision. In a world where teams have minimal opportunities to choose what they would like to run on their cars, brakes are still wide open. Thankfully they will get to keep making those choices for the near future.
Michigan only had 37 cars take the green flag. That is the lowest number in decades. Since the enactment of charters, the total number of cars starting races has fallen short of the maximum of 40 more and more. In 2016, there were four races that had 39 cars start. In 2017, there have only been five races with 40 cars. The continued loss of starters is troubling from the perspective that no new owners are coming into the sport and the old guard owners are just that, old. The GMS story is a positive one indeed, but it isn’t going to abate the continuing lack of full fields.
Who is mad – Patrick can’t catch a break. Once again, she was making a late-race move to improve her position when an incident began among other competitors on the back straight. As she moved below drivers who were slipping backwards, one turned left, bounced off of Patrick’s car, and sent her hard to the inside wall. For the fifth time this season, Patrick’s finishing status was listed as crash. Unfortunately, most of those have not been Patrick’s fault, but the finishes still hurt her season average. In a year when she’s being put under a microscope, Patrick needs some good luck for a change.
Clint Bowyer had another strong start at Michigan but he didn’t get the finish that he had hoped for. After top 10 finishes in the first two stages, he was in position to finish in the top 10 of the race when he wound up in the wall to bring out a caution with just over 10 laps to go in the race. Bowyer has managed two top-five finishes this season, but hasn’t had a top 10 in the last four races. While he may be happier than he was behind the wheel in 2016, his results aren’t what he’d like to see. We’ve seen Bowyer run well on road courses in the past. Perhaps Sonoma can turn his luck around.
Who is happy – Hamlin managed a third top-five finish of the year at Michigan. The Joe Gibbs Racing brigade has been struggling this year but seems to be getting their act together of late. Hamlin’s fourth-place effort is his second top-five finish in the last four races. He didn’t lead a lap but restarted on the front row for the final green flag of the race and gave Larson all he could through Turn Nos. 1 and 2. If the JGR camp can continue to harness the speed they’ve found, Hamlin should have a very good shot to break his way into the win column soon.
Jamie McMurray struggled at the beginning of the race on Sunday. He thought he had a tire going flat, but his team was unable to find an issue. The team continued to work on the car and McMurray clawed his way forward, finishing the race in the fifth position. He was the highest finishing driver who did not have a top ten in the first two stages. This was McMurray’s second top five in the last six races, finishing second at Talladega Superspeedway.
When the checkered flag flew:
In his 127th career start, Kyle Larson scored his third triumph of his career.
Larson’s victory was his second of his career at Michigan.
His win is his second of 2017.
The triumph ties Larson with Bill Blair, Robby Gordon, Dick Linder, Frank Mundy, Elliott Sadler, Gwyn Staley and Brian Vickers for 94th on the All-Time win list.
Chase Elliott came home in the runner-up position for the third time in four career starts at MIS.
The second place run was Elliott’s best finish of the season.
Elliott’s finish is his third second of his career, all at Michigan. That total ties him with 18 other drivers, including Brett Bodine and Kenny Wallace.
Joey Logano rounded out the podium at Michigan. It is his third top three run of the season.
Logano has four top three finishes in his career at Michigan.
This was Logano’s 47th podium finish of his career. He and James Hylton are tied for 47th on the All-Time podium list.
Erik Jones ended up 13th but was the highest finishing rookie to garner Rookie of the Race honors.
Fifteen races into the season there have been 10 different winners this year. With 12 races left before the playoff cutoff, if there are eight new winners, someone with a win will not make the playoffs. That said, there most likely won’t be 17 unique winners. For now you have Jimmie Johnson with most wins of the year with three. Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr., and Kyle Larson with two wins, Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Austin Dillon, and Ryan Blaney with one each. In the ten winners Joey Logano is not eligible for the playoffs by virtue of his triumph being considered encumbered at Richmond. Logano will have to win again to make the playoffs based on a victory.
The remaining eight drivers in points and their position:
- Kevin Harvick
- Kyle Busch
- Chase Elliott
- Jamie McMurray
- Denny Hamlin
- Clint Bowyer
- Joey Logano
The drivers who have scored playoff points so far this season and their total:
Martin Truex Jr – 20
Jimmie Johnson – 15
Kyle Larson – 13
Brad Keselowski -12
Ryan Blaney – 8
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – 5
Ryan Newman – 5
Kurt Busch – 5
Austin Dillon – 5
Kyle Busch – 4
Kevin Harvick – 3
Chase Elliott – 2
Denny Hamlin – 2
Joey Logano – 1
Matt Kenseth – 1
What is in the cooler (one to six beers where one is a stinker and six is an instant classic)
For ages, Michigan has offered multiple racing grooves for drivers to customize their racing lines based on what their cars needed to go fast. Since the repaving of the track in 2011, the groove has still not widened out. Drivers went three and four wide on restarts but, when the field strung out a little bit, the racing groove was barely two grooves wide. That said the race had four on-track passes for the lead. Drivers with faster cars were able to work their way forward from the back of the pack and the driver who had the strongest car all day ultimately drove away to the victory. In the end that earns four ice cold Monkey Mouth IPAs from Grand River Brewery.
Where do you point your DVR for next week – We have the first required right turns of the season at Sonoma Raceway, Sunday June 25. Coverage begins at 3:00 p.m. ET on FS1. It can also be heard on your local MRN affiliate, www.motorracingnetwork.com or SiriusXM NASCAR 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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