Who’s in the headline
Mother Nature ran the show on Sunday (June 10) at Michigan International Speedway and, in the end, dropped the curtain early on the race. Clint Bowyer used a two-tire stop after stage two and then some valiant driving when the race resumed hanging onto the point. The rain came shortly after the restart and it ended the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Firekeepers Casino 400 with Bowyer out front. Ryan Blaney made a late charge to the lead to grab stage one while Kevin Harvick was the first driver across the line at the end of stage two.
Rain delayed the start of the race over two hours but when the green flag flew, it was Kurt Busch dominating from the pole position. He led through the first two yellows – one competition caution and the other for contact between Darrell Wallace Jr. and David Ragan. Busch continued to lead until lap 47 when Blaney took the lead and held it through the end of stage one. The finish to the stage was questionable, at best, as a caution flew for a spin by Matt Kenseth on lap 57. He limped around the apron to avoid destroying his car with the four flat tires, and as he rolled through turns 3 and 4 with a safety truck behind him, NASCAR gave the field one-to-go after stating it was a quickie yellow. Kenseth lost a lap as the field came back around. In fact, the run to the end of the stage began before he could get back up to speed and catch the field.
Stage two was Harvick’s as he led 48 of the 60 laps. Mike Bugarewicz, crew chief for Bowyer, made the call to take two tires under the caution after stage two and beat Harvick out of the pits. When the green flew, Bowyer held off Harvick for the lead on the lap after the restart and stayed there until the caution flew for Ricky Stenhouse Jr. spinning off the bumper of Kasey Kahne four laps later. Under that caution, the skies opened up and the race was shortened due to rain.
Why you should care
While the odds of 17 unique winners are incredibly thin this year, two victories lock a driver into the playoffs barring a missed attempt at qualifying for a race. With Bowyer’s second win of the season, he joins Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. in the group with more than one win this season. Stewart-Haas Racing swept the podium for the first time in team history with Bowyer topping Harvick and Kurt Busch. While the other teams might be making gains, the Fords and specifically SHR appear to be the ones to beat at this point of 2018.
What your friends are talking about
After Saturday’s race at Michigan, with the All-Star aero package, the discussion around the track was utilizing it in the MENCS. Last week Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer, stated that the package could be utilized at three tracks this season. Drivers are not in favor of it, however because they feel like it introduces too much luck into racing. Mark Martin even chimed in on Twitter this week stating his opposition to the idea.
I have kept my opinion to myself so far but have to agree 100% with @keselowski As a driver I would be crushed if our racing was reduced to a majority of restrictor plate races. That’s not what the best stock car racing in the world should be. https://t.co/6xKZSmued5
— Mark Martin (@markmartin) June 9, 2018
Reduced horsepower and more drag make for great racing but hopefully, the sanctioning body can come up with a solution better than plates.
Rusty Wallace and Walt Czarnecki are the latest inductees into the Team Penske Hall of Fame. The Hall inducts two people each year who are drivers, employees or partners who’ve made a significant impact on the team and its history. Roger Penske and Mark Donohue were the first two inductees in 2016; Rick Mears and Karl Kainhofer were in the 2017 class. The Hall inductees are enshrined at Team Penske headquarters in Mooresville, N.C.
We beat this horse all the time but Sunday marked another ridiculous example of a competition caution. The rain before the race led NASCAR to call for one on lap 25. The sanctioning body continues to claim it’s for safety to allow teams to check tire wear. However, at least one-third of the field chose to take just two tires. If NASCAR is going to allow teams to not change all four tires on competition cautions it simply needs to eliminate them.
NASCAR threw a caution with three laps to go in the first stage for a spin by Kenseth; after that, their actions were questionable at best. After one lap of caution, before Kenseth could make it back to the pits, they called for one to go. Whether it was because of approaching weather or due to race control feeling he took too long to get back to the pits, it was simply a poor choice to call a quickie yellow. Not only did it put Kenseth a lap down, there were also safety trucks on the track as the field was coming to green. It’s yet another example of safety not always being a priority when outside factors (stage endings, weather) come into play.
Who is mad
Ragan has been having a solid year in 2018 for Front Row Motorsports. He was working his way through the early portion of the race but, unfortunately, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Wallace got out of shape underneath Ragan and tapped the left rear of Ragan’s car, backing him into the fence and ending his day. For a small budget team, being taken out by someone else’s mistake makes for a tough pill to swallow.
Kyle Larson was gunning for four straight wins at Michigan but it wasn’t meant to be and that started with qualifying. Larson’s No. 42 team simply missed the setup and he had to start way back in 27th. Larson made waves through the field early, finishing the first stage in the second position. Unfortunately, he spun off of Turn 4 on lap 86 and dug his splitter into the infield when sliding into the grass. It didn’t kill the nose for Larson but it certainly damaged the car. He was never the same, having to battle back from a lap down but never getting back into contention as the rain shortened the event and killed his chance at four wins in a row.
Who is happy
Menard’s team made a strategy call to keep him out during stage two and stretched fuel to the end of the stage. He ended in fifth place and exploited that track position to claim it when rain ended the event. Menard has shown some moments of promise with the No. 21 Wood Brothers team this season. He very well could point his way into the NASCAR playoffs if he continues to pull off finishes like he did Sunday.
Chase Elliott has been strong at Michigan during his short career. He was running OK on Sunday when he suffered a flat tire at the end of stage one right before the final restart. His team managed to keep him on the lead lap by changing the tire and getting him out before the green-and-white flag flew. Elliott rode that good fortune to a ninth-place finish at the end of the day.
When the checkered flag flew
- Clint Bowyer took home the trophy at Michigan for his 10th career victory in his 448th career start. It was Bowyer’s second victory of 2018 and first at Michigan.
- Reaching double digits means Bowyer is now ranked 59th on the All-Time list, tied with Donnie Allison and Sterling Marlin.
- Kevin Harvick ended the race in the runner-up position for the eighth top-two run at Michigan in his career. Harvick has seven top-two finishes in 2018.
- In his career, Harvick has finished second 52 times in his career which puts him 10th on the All-Time list.
- Kurt Busch rounded out the top three for his second top-three run of the year. Busch has six career podium runs at Michigan.
- For his career, Busch has finished in the top three 84 times. That ranks him 31st on the All-Time list.
- William Byron finished 13th to claim the Rookie of the Race award. For the year, Byron has won the Rookie of the Race eight times. Darrell Wallace Jr. has won it seven times.
Austin Dillon, Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Bowyer, Kyle Busch and Joey Logano are the six race winners 15 races into 2018. Assuming there are 16 or fewer unique winners in the regular season, they will be locked into the playoffs based on winning a race. Harvick, Busch, Truex and Bowyer are locked into the playoffs thanks to two victories, assuming they attempt the remaining races in the regular season.
The drivers who would qualify for the playoffs and their associated playoff points (race winners are bolded):
1) Kyle Busch – 25
2) Kevin Harvick – 26
3) Joey Logano – 7
4) Brad Keselowski – 4
5) Clint Bowyer – 10
6) Martin Truex Jr. – 13
7) Kurt Busch – 2
8) Denny Hamlin – 1
9) Ryan Blaney – 4
10) Kyle Larson – 0
11) Aric Almirola – 0
12) Jimmie Johnson – 0
13) Chase Elliott – 0
14) Erik Jones – 0
15) Alex Bowman – 0
18) Austin Dillon – 5
What is in the cooler (one to six beers where one is a stinker and six is an instant classic)
Rain shortened races suck but with that said, Sunday’s race was rather entertaining. Kurt Busch looked strong early with Blaney chasing him down. In the end, there was a pass for the lead under green.
Later on, Harvick was the car to beat again but Bowyer did it thanks to pit strategy and aggressive driving. The racing throughout the field was intense. As a result, we’re going to give this one four cold Monkey Mouth IPAs from Grand River Brewery.[poll id=”27″]
Where do you point your DVR for next week
Next week, the MENCS takes a break before heading to the west coast for the first road course race of the season. In the meantime, the Camping World Truck and XFINITY series will have a doubleheader at Iowa Speedway. Trucks are on FOX Sports 1 Saturday at 7 p.m. ET while the XFINITY Series is on FOX Sports 1 Sunday at 5 p.m. ET. Both races are also available on the Fox Sports Go app. You can hear both races on your local MRN affiliate, www.motorracingnetwork.com and 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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