Who’s in the headline – We often speak of horses for courses and interestingly, Kyle Larson has established that he is the horse to ride on two-mile racetracks. For the third time in a row, he was victorious at Michigan International Speedway, although during this race, he was not nearly as dominant as he’d been in the previous two events. Larson made an aggressive move on the last restart of the event, split Furniture Row Racing teammates Erik Jones and Martin Truex Jr. heading into Turn 1 and never looked back over the final two laps. Brad Keselowski led almost all of the opening stage for the win in stage 1, while Truex asserted himself in stage 2 for the triumph. Larson came within one spot of pulling off a very unique weekend sweep. His car owner, Chip Ganassi, gave Larson permission to run the Knoxville Nationals on Saturday night after winning a qualifying race on Wednesday night. It is against Larson’s contract to run sprint car races on the night before a Cup Series race.
What happened – Keselowski started on the pole in the hopes of becoming the first Michigan driver to win at Michigan International Speedway and led all but four laps in the first stage. He led 103 of the first 110 laps, but only managed to lead two laps the remainder of the race. Truex led the final 14 laps of the second stage and 43 more laps in the final stage, but lost the lead on the final restart to lose the race. Larson only led the final two laps to grab the win. The big wreck of the day was Kasey Kahne clipping the front of Daniel Suarez’s car at the exit of Turn 2, bouncing off of the wall and ending both of their days. The only other incident on track was Michael McDowell getting together with Paul Menard bringing out the final caution and a red flag.
Why you should care – Larson was the point leader for some time early in the year, but a penalty dropped him back into the pack. Truex owns the playoff lead and is poised to grab the 15-point bonus for the regular season leader after Richmond Raceway next month. If Larson can figure out how to win at intermediate tracks ahead of Truex, it will most likely be a battle between those two at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Matt Kenseth had an unfortunate flat tire or other mechanical issue that dropped him to a 24th-place finish, last on the lead lap.
What your friends are talking about – Silly season continues to be wide open in 2017. The departure of Kenseth from Joe Gibbs Racing was announced weeks ago. Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s retirement has been public knowledge for months. Paul Menard moving to the Wood Brothers while Ryan Blaney heads to Team Penske came on the heels of Kurt Busch not having his option picked up by Stewart-Haas Racing. The latest shoe to drop for this year’s driver shuffle is Kasey Kahne, who will not be back in the No. 5 car in 2018. William Byron‘s impressive run through the XFINITY and Truck series has influenced team owner Rick Hendrick to end the contract of Kahne a year early. There are still some question marks hanging over 2018, and a couple of these drivers looking for work are going to wind up in seats. Pay attention because this year’s driver seat shuffle is crazy.
Kevin Harvick commented on his radio show this week that the fact the Most Popular Driver in the sport hasn’t won championships has stunted the growth of the sport. Earnhardt fans took it personally, although it was just an opinion. NASCAR’s most popular driver brought thousands of fans to the sport, but had he won championships at the Cup level, it would have certainly been bigger. That said, there are a myriad of decisions and choices that have been made over the years that have had a far greater impact on stunting the growth of the sport.
After a month of running on tracks with just asphalt on them, we are back to VHT, PJ1, sticky stuff or whatever you want to call it. Bristol Motor Speedway will be treating the track with the grip enhancer again for the race next weekend. Bristol was the first track to utilize the substance in the Cup Series last summer. The technology is advancing, which means we will be seeing more of this in the future.
More Saturday qualifying is heading your way. Steve O’Donnell, executive vice president and chief racing development officer, said, “I think the key for us is to really create some fun activities for the fans with more driver access on Fridays if we can.” Shortening the weekend for the teams is nice for the support members but O’Donnell needs to stay true to his word and create more driver availability for fans that are not part of corporate hospitality. This sport has gotten away from that accessibility and that has hurt the sport in general.
Gene Haas, co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing, feels optimistic that Busch will be back in the No. 41 car next season. Keeping Busch in the fold is dependent on sponsorship just like most every other driver in the series. Haas is waiting patiently for a response from his sponsors so that he can make it official that Busch will stay with the organization.
In a very interesting development for Darlington throwback weekend, Derrike Cope is actually going to run a throwback scheme that he raced when it was originally on his car. Cope will pilot a Mane and Tail throwback scheme that he drove in 1994 for Bobby Allison Motorsports. There aren’t many opportunities for a driver to run a throwback scheme that they drove the first time around.
The Irwindale Event Center will close after January 2018. The racetrack that was once the shining star of local short track racing and one of the first forays of Toyota into NASCAR will be turned into a commercial/residential development. The limited number of local race tracks in the Los Angeles area will most likely prevent anyone from the region ever winning a National Championship in the Whelen All-American series after this year. Trevor Huddleston will be the last chance for a Southern California champion.
Who is mad – Kenseth was in the mix for a shot at the win, restarting in third position for the overtime finish, but his mechanical issue in the middle of one and two relegated him to a horrible finish. Kenseth has been unable to put together a race that culminates in a win this season and is still on the bubble for the playoffs. The 2003 champion wants to go out on a high note from JGR and just seems to be continually snake bitten.
Keselowski finished the first two stages in first and second, respectively. His car was fast all weekend but his positioning and pit strategy put him on the inside line for the final two restarts and it resulted in a 17th-place finish at his home track. Keselowski has been bemoaning the speed that the Toyotas are displaying and it just might be getting in his head.
Who is happy – Ryan Newman was nowhere to be seen for 200 laps on Sunday. Over the course of the final two restarts, he threw it on the high side and passed close to a dozen racecars. He managed to keep himself in position and came home with a fourth-place finish. Newman has a spot in the playoffs, but has not been contending for wins very much since his Phoenix victory in March. The momentum of quality finishes heading into the playoffs could carry Newman beyond the first round provided he can find some speed to finish in the top ten over the next three races.
Chris Buescher missed a top 10 by one spot last weekend at Watkins Glen International. He was sitting in tenth for the final restart when the chaos unfolded in turn one. Buescher made the right moves as Kenseth washed up the track and that resulted in a sixth-place finish for the JTG Daugherty driver. It is his best finish in the No. 37 car. He had two top-five finishes last season, one of which was in the night race at Bristol. Don’t be surprised to see Buescher have back-to-back solid finishes.
When the checkered flag flew:
Kyle Larson’s won Sunday at Michigan for his third victory in a row at the track in his 134th career start.
This was Larson’s third triumph of 2017.
Larson’s victory is his fourth of his career which ties him for 78th on the All-Time win list with 17 other drivers including Glen Wood, Ken Schrader and Parnelli Jones.
Martin Truex Jr. came home second for the fifth top two of the season and third straight top three.
Truex has three top two finishes at Michigan in his career.
The top two gives Truex ten second-place finishes in his career. He ranks in a tie with Greg Biffle and Jeremy Mayfield for 66th on the All-Time list.
Erik Jones tied his career best finish of third on Sunday.
The podium finish is Jones’ best career run at Michigan and second such finish of the year.
Jones is tied for 196th on the All-Time podium list with 45 other drivers including JJ Yeley, Ryan Blaney and Aric Almirola.
Rookie of the Race was Jones. That is his ninth such win of the year. Daniel Suarez has eleven and Ty Dillon has three.
Twenty three races into the season there have been fourteen different winners this year. With three races left before the playoff cutoff the possibility of a driver with an unencumbered win not making the playoffs as been eliminated. You have Martin Truex Jr. who has the most wins of the year with four. Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Larson with three wins, Brad Keselowski, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., have two wins, Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch, Austin Dillon, Ryan Blaney, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Kasey Kahne, and Kyle Busch each have one. In the fourteen 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 three drivers in points and their position:
- Chase Elliott
- Jamie McMurray
- Matt Kenseth
The drivers who have scored playoff points so far this season and their total:
Martin Truex Jr – 35
Kyle Larson – 18
Jimmie Johnson – 16
Kyle Busch – 14
Brad Keselowski -14
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – 10
Kevin Harvick – 8
Ryan Blaney – 8
Denny Hamlin – 7
Ryan Newman – 5
Kurt Busch – 5
Austin Dillon – 5
Kasey Kahne – 5
Chase Elliott – 2
Matt Kenseth – 2
Joey Logano – 1
Clint Bowyer – 1
Daniel Suarez – 1
What is in the cooler (one to six beers where one is a stinker and six is an instant classic)
The majority of Sunday’s race was a typical aero dependent, single groove two-mile snoozer. The 40 lap run up to the penultimate caution flag threw a few different strategies into the mix. The final restart added quite a bit of excitement to resurrect a boring race. A great finish does not a great race make however, so this one only ranks three cold Lake Rat American Ales from Grand River Brewery
Where do you point your DVR for next week – The Cup series heads to eastern Tennessee for the only race whose name is ‘The Night Race’. Coverage of the race at Bristol begins at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC. It can also be seen via streaming on NBCSportsLive. The race can be heard on your local PRN affiliate, www.goprn.com and SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.