Home / Bryan Davis Keith / Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2019 FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan

Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2019 FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan

The Headline(s): Just like Martinsville, a Penske Ford proved all but impassable at the front of the field, though this time it was Joey Logano. And just like Richmond, though both Martin Truex, Jr. and Kurt Busch were able to catch the leader in the closing laps, none was able to get alongside the No. 22 car. Logano, in dominating fashion (and with a questionable final restart), led 163 of the 203 laps run Monday to score his second Cup win of 2019, his 23rd career Cup win and his 54th career NASCAR national series victory. Kurt Busch, Truex, Daniel Suarez and Kyle Busch rounded out the top five.

How It Happened: Though Logano started from the pole, it was the Toyota of Denny Hamlin that benefited from a huge push from the Fords of Brad Keselowski and Paul Menard, crossing over entering turn 3 on the first lap to take the race lead. By lap 4, Logano took the point back, and held the lead through a competition caution on lap 21. Though Aric Almirola was able to get alongside Logano for the race lead thanks to a scuffle with lapped traffic on lap 55, Logano prevailed, and would hold off perpetual runner-up Alex Bowman to win the first stage.

Though both Erik Jones and Truex teamed up on the lap 68 restart, both proved unable to pass Logano up front. The No. 22 would hold the lead through a lap 75 restart as well after Kyle Weatherman hit the wall in turn 2, and would stay out front until pitting under green for fuel to make it to the end of the second stage. While Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott would lead laps, they would also be forced to pit before the stage break, leaving Austin Dillon to hold off Kevin Harvick for the second stage win.

Using a two-tire strategy, Logano managed to take the lead back on pit road for the lap 128 restart, but on a bizarre looking restart, Elliott was able to slow Logano with a side-draft, allowing Harvick to go three-wide on the high side to take the race lead. Harvick was out front when the caution flew on the next lap for a Clint Bowyer wreck, and restarted the race on lap 135 as the leader. 

On the ensuing start, Logano took advantage of a Kyle Larson moment to retake the lead before a caution on the same lap when William Byron got loose and sent Austin Dillon into the wall. Restarting from the lead on lap 142, Logano stayed out front until pitting under green on lap 175, cycling the lead to Suarez, Keselowski and Byron before taking it back on lap 185. Logano managed to stay out front with a two-tire strategy, while Harvick, who had caught Logano under green before pitting on lap 175, took four, leaving the No. 4 unable to challenge the No. 22 in the closing laps. 

As both Kurt Busch and Truex drafted together to catch up to Logano, the race went into overtime after the yellow flew on lap 197 when Jones spun into the grass in turn 2. On the ensuing restart, Logano easily gapped both Truex and Kyle Busch, and though Kurt Busch rocketed to second in the final two laps, the No. 22 was not seriously challenged for the race win.

Why Should You Care: The package is what the package is at this point. For fans that prefer drafting over the comers and goers that come with tires that wear out, this weekend’s race ranks up there with Texas as one that, despite its lack of passing up front (and tires wearing out) was lauded by many as a show worth watching. For the rest of us, it looked like Richmond or even last year’s Xfinity Series race at Michigan, where despite what the intervals said, being close together didn’t translate into meaningful racing. 

Rather, though the lesser of two evils, NASCAR’s Monday evening show fell victim in multiple places to the curse word of the weekend: overregulation:

For context (and for those already intelligent enough to have given up watching Formula 1 races, at least in 2019), Sunday’s Canadian Grand Prix was decided by the race stewards, who by assessing a time penalty on Sebastian Vettel (who took the checkered flag first) for having the nerve to correct his car after overshooting a corner, handing Lewis Hamilton his fifth win of 2019, neutering what was building to be the most competitive battle for a race lead that F1 would have seen since Bahrain earlier this spring. Fans in the sold-out grandstands in Montreal could be heard openly booing as the race came to a close, long before Hamilton and his chief mechanic awkwardly tried to celebrate with Vettel and his Ferrari teammate by spraying them with champagne (find the video, it takes “playing with one’s selves” to a new extreme). 

Sunday was as blatant an example of officials making themselves the story instead of the racers as they come, but barely 24 hours later, NASCAR was doing everything they could to one up the FIA’s farcical efforts.

Let’s start with the decision to throw a competition caution on lap 20. Just 24 hours prior, with the green flag slated to fly on Sunday, NASCAR said they would not throw a competition caution, deviating from a practice that’s lasted over a decade under the auspices that teams need to check tire wear once rain washes rubber off a track, making the racing surface green. Of course, leave it to Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. to get to the root of the matter.

Then, when the competition yellow flew on lap 21, only 16 cars in the field actually took four tires, none of which were in the top 10. Not only was the cause of “checking tire wear” completely undermined, but it rendered the first third of the first stage utterly meaningless. Consistently inconsistent.

Let’s fast forward to lap 117, when Keselowski was penalized for a “safety violation” on his stop. This was a rare instance of such a violation being shown on the broadcast, as most of these penalty calls in 2019 have befallen backmarker cars. This Sunday, seeing it in HD, revealed a penalty as trivial as the “uncontrolled tire” epidemic gripping pit road. See for yourselves (FOX actually had to clarify that the penalty was for the tire catcher’s hand touching the pit box):

The pit crew man in question never performs a function that gives the No. 2 crew the advantage of an extra man over the wall. Both the crew man and the tire in question never leave their designated pit box, nor do they ever obstruct the crew or car of any competitor. Which begs the question: Why is this rule in place? (Rewind back to Phoenix, I’ve been asking this question for months).

And then came the trigger-happy caution flags, not once, but twice. The lap 135 yellow for Austin Dillon’s wall contact came out despite video replays showing no evidence of debris on the track. Even more significant was NASCAR’s decision to throw the yellow for Jones’ spin on lap 197. Though the FOX crew was adamant that Jones would get stuck in the rain-soaked grass, video replay made it clear that Jones was never stuck and drove away under his own power … without dropping debris. That yellow flag robbed Logano and his crew of a lead they earned through pit strategy and a dominant car for no good reason. Fortunately, the No. 22 team had a car that was really that good, taming the overtime restart to claim a trophy that was rightfully theirs. 

Unlike Sunday, the right car won Monday. Though the margin of victory was a lot closer for NASCAR’s race than it should have been — and thanks, it turns out, to that inconsistent officiating — because on further review, it sure looks like they missed Logano jumping the final restart.

Drivers Who Accomplished Something

Despite losing eight spots on pit road after battling into the top five by the end of stage 1, Kurt Busch broke up the Team Penske/Joe Gibbs Racing party up front to equal his best finish of 2019, finishing runner-up for the second time this season. It’s not for lack of effort that the No. 1 team hasn’t won a race yet this year.

Kurt’s brother, Kyle Busch, had an equally impressive race, rebounding from 150 laps of irrelevance to score his ninth top-five finish of the season, and his third in a row at Michigan. The way the No. 18 team keeps proving able to fix their car late in the going (the story was the same at Kansas before they cut a tire late), the only real motivation for the team to run better earlier in races is to keep their driver (and his abuse) off the radio. That kind of motivation will have the competition running scared before too long.

Despite arguing that Logano jumped the start in overtime (and he may well have, but racers can’t rely on NASCAR to enforce a rule consistently, even if they drive a Gibbs Toyota), Truex still managed to finish third, carrying the flag for Toyota and proving one of only a handful of cars that could even get alongside Logano’s potent Ford on Monday.

With teammate Tyler Reddick setting the Xfinity Series on fire (he won Saturday at Michigan), Daniel Hemric is choosing an opportune time to show improvement on the track. Finishing on the lead lap 12th, the No. 8 team has now posted consecutive top-15 finishes — and finishes on the lead lap — for the first time in 2019.

Most notably, there was the Ford brigade, which took Edsel Ford’s pep talk on Thursday to heart with a dominant performance in the auto industry’s back yard. Ryan Newman posted an eighth-place finish in the No. 6 car, his first top 10 in the spring Michigan race since 2011, and a season-best finish on an intermediate oval. Suarez scored his first top-five finish since Texas, and in doing so had a car that was arguably the fastest in the field when getting pushed. 

And then there was Penske. Capping a massive weekend for the Penske organization that saw Josef Newgarden score Team Penske their fourth IndyCar victory in the last five races Saturday night in Texas and their Indianapolis 500-winning team visit the White House, Logano led more than three-quarters of the race distance to score Penske’s first trophy at Michigan since 2016. Coupled with Blaney scoring his first top-10 finish since Bristol and Keselowski rebounding from 29th after the “safety violation” to finish sixth despite racing overtime on old tires, the Mustang truly owned the Motor City, even on a Monday.

Drivers Who Accomplished Nothing

Though also in a Ford, Harvick’s masterful drive was derailed by a similar pit gaffe that cost Kurt Busch early in the race. Like Kurt Busch, Harvick recovered on the track. Unlike Busch, however, Harvick’s crew insisted on changing four tires under green when pitting on lap 175, despite four tires proving to be an advantage to no one at any point Monday. Harvick’s team cost him this Monday (more on that later).

At the back of the Ford brigade, Front Row Motorsports had far from a banner day. David Ragan hit the wall multiple times and tore up all ends of his Ford, the last car in the field still running at the finish. Michael McDowell finished outside the top 25 after battling vibration issues in the second half of the race. And carrying the banner was rookie Matt Tifft, who finished 24th on the lead lap, but incurred yet another pit road penalty doing so.

Bowyer’s day. Enough said.

Bubba Wallace had a top 20 run going before cutting down a tire around lap 150. Wallace’s 28th-place finish was his seventh consecutive result outside the top 20.

Weatherman’s first Cup race of 2019 resulted in a 36th-place finish when he wrecked on lap 70. That he wrecked was bad news enough for the Rick Ware Racing team. For the rest of us that had to work Monday and couldn’t be in the stands …

Insights, Opinions and Fake News

There was no replay shown of what happened to Weatherman. Earth to FOX: How the hell do you not have a video replay of a crash … in a Cup race … with the smallest field of cars entered since 1981?! We’re talking a broadcast network with an Emmy-winning crew having literally the same same problems that MAVTV had telecasting ARCA races last year — fail.

While on the topic of the media, the question again has to be broached following a rain delay that saw NASCAR have to run a Monday evening race to make room for FOX’s Women’s World Cup coverage: In the era of 21st century technology, is it time to accept the limitations (and safety enhancements) that are inherent to today’s race cars, put some form of rain tires on the cars and let the drivers figure out how to contest NASCAR races as scheduled? For one, running races on time as scheduled would prevent Mike Joy from lying (albeit white lying) to viewers that the decision to wait until 5:30 ET on a Monday to run the rescheduled race was to let the rain clear out rather than to let FOX carry out its soccer contract.

But more importantly, given just how hard it’s proving to sell tickets to get fans into the grandstands for races these days, every effort needs to be made to make sure those fans get to see the events they travel to. Tickets don’t come with DVRs and video replays, and once the event is missed it doesn’t come back. And while it was encouraging to see as many hearty fans turn out as did in the Irish Hills Monday, that any had to leave Sunday night to return to their lives without seeing the Cup guys do battle is a problem, and one that can be solved.

On a more minor note, while it was quickly rectified by the team at Sirius, the satellite station’s dedicated NASCAR channel went offline for several minutes to regularly scheduled talk show programming in the middle of green flag competition at Michigan. Again, the folks at Sirius fixed it quickly and were communicative through social media in what was being done to resolve it. This isn’t meant to criticize them. It’s just another example of a hiccup that comes from delaying major events, and this was from an outlet exclusively dedicated to NASCAR racing. On this one front, Formula 1 does have NASCAR beat.

One more note for NASCAR media viewers. I can second the concerns of this race fan with regard to the RaceView app, and in this day and age, this can easily be fixed. It should be — give the sponsors willing to paint cars in 2019 their just due, even if it’ll look awful fuzzy in RaceView.

While the “package” has delivered excellent races in several instances this year (Atlanta, Kansas and Charlotte come to mind), in numerous other occasions now (Texas, Richmond) making the cars race closer together (and closer to the leader) is not translating into actual passing or racing. In the case of Pocono, it didn’t even do that. But in the case of Texas, Richmond, Pocono and Michigan, NASCAR is coming back for second dates in 2019. Give the drivers slightly softer tires and another 150 horsepower when we come back in the summer. I’d wager all four races will turn out better for it (well, maybe not Pocono).  

In the gap Sunday between the rain delay at Michigan beginning and before the Canadian Grand Prix turned into grand larceny, NASCAR Twitter was ablaze over Hailie Deegan scoring her third career K&N West Series win, a victory she took by spinning out teammate Derek Kraus on the white flag lap. Having watched the replay, Deegan raced hard but not dirty. Kraus definitely opened the door for rough play by forcing a pass on Deegan several laps prior. That doesn’t change the fact, however, that Deegan has still yet to win a race on asphalt without using her bumper. The real story to come here is not that Deegan used force to win, it’s how the “you go girl” universe of fans following her react when the shoe’s on the other foot and a male driver dumps her for a win. The way she’s competing, that day will be here sooner than later …

In closing, speaking of being here sooner than later, FOX’s commentary booth has got to get off this Truex vs. Logano rivalry they’ve been pushing all year long. Yes, Truex owes Logano one after the way the fall race at Martinsville went down, but the idea that Truex is going to play his return the favor card in a regular season race at Michigan when he’s already locked into the playoffs implies an IQ that’s lower than his car number. And while I still find Truex’s attitude petulant more often than not, the man is not an idiot. Idiots don’t win Cup championships. If this turns into anything (and it may not, as returning the favor opens the door for Logano to open a new account in retaliation), it won’t be on display ’til the fall. NASCAR on NBC, take note.

Participation Trophies

Best Paint Scheme: Corey LaJoie. There are few drivers in the Cup field that could pull this scheme off. LaJoie is one.

Detective Dignam Shield of Shame Award: Harvick. Anyone that’s seen The Departed remembers how Detective Dignam chews out the camera guys during their first attempt to bust Jack Nicholson’s Frank Costello, proclaiming “I’m the guy that did his job. You must be the other guy.” That’s pretty much what Harvick had to say about his crew after screwing up both stops and strategy calls Sunday.

The Crown: NASCAR’s OEMs. We’re gonna get serious in this section to close out the weekend. Toyota came into Daytona guns blazing, mocking both Ford and General Motors by reminding them “we’re staying in the car business” as they raced their Camrys against Mustangs and Camaros, and had new partner Bob Leavine openly chastizing Chevrolet for their lack of support of the No. 95 team … and swept the podium in the Daytona 500 to boot. Sick of getting run off the race track, GM bigwigs told their drivers to work as a team and put a bowtie in victory lane or else, and emphatically won Talladega as a result. This Sunday, Edsel Ford put his big guns around a table, broke bread and demanded a trophy. Logano responded by spanking the field to win just outside the Motor City. With corporate sponsorship ever dwindling, OEM support is perhaps more important to race teams these days than ever before in the modern era. When they speak, their drivers are listening — and delivering.

How It Rated: Since the Blue Oval Brigade won the race, we’ll keep this in Ford terms. Fans showed up to the rental car counter at DTW wanting a Mustang and getting a Fiesta. Just not the type that one shows up for, waits 24 hours in the rain for, then drives back home for work in the middle of the night for. Shame the Cup cars aren’t trekking to Newton, IA this weekend … they could use a boost.

What’s the Point(s): Kyle Busch, Logano, Elliott, Keselowski, Hamlin and Truex have locked into the playoffs by winning races in 2019. If the playoffs started today, Harvick, Kurt Busch, Blaney, Bowman, Almirola, Bowyer, Suarez, Byron, Larson and Jimmie Johnson would point their way in. Johnson currently holds a three-point lead over Newman for the final playoff spot.

Dust Off the VCR: The Cup Series gets a rare weekend off before the final race of FOX’s stand in 2019, with the big leagues returning to action two weeks from now at Sonoma Raceway. I’ll be taking the off weekend to check out the Natural Bridge Speedway for the first time (weather permitting), and would encourage all our loyal readers to take the off weekend to support a local short track. No packages to worry about there!

Support Frontstretch on Patreon

About Bryan Keith

Avatar

Check Also

Who’s Hot & Who’s Not in NASCAR: Debris in the Wind

Kansas isn’t exactly known as a state full of scenic beauty, unlike its neighbors Colorado, …

17 comments

  1. Avatar

    Off Week for Father’s Day–Not a bad thing.

    At least Hailey Deegan is providing highlights and water cooler talk. Get the top three series on more bullrings where scrapping with a teammate for a win matters. That’ll cure the sport

  2. Avatar

    I just wanted to say that’s an awesome picture of Logano’s car.

  3. Avatar

    NASCAR had 4 cameras that were watched by a bunch of people on that restart. They said the restart was good. All clean. Besides the lead driver controls the restart. Truex and the other whiner just got snookered. End of story. Marty likes to stir the pot. He throws the breadcrumbs out for the Hansel and Gretel types with a word or two of “unfairness” or whatever The Whiner King is unhappy about that second, and poof…controversy created. Mission accomplished. Funny, have not heard someone whine about a “restart” in like forever….SMH.

    • Avatar

      I thought the rule was that as long as the second place car wasn’t ahead of the leader when they reached the restart zone anything after that was legal. I thought the restart was fine and Joey got the jump on The Whiner In The 19.

      • Avatar

        I agree completely and maybe I don’t understand what you are saying but I did not mean second as in second place I meant it as “in a second”, as in Marty always blames Logano for his loss, and then throws out intentioned crumbs for the simple of mind folk that hate the look of Logano and it triggers them. Mad Marty is a smug, whiney, entitled spoiled manipulator, 3rd place what 2 or 3 car lengths behind Yurt? And he was robbed? Logano dominated. He always seems to feel he is on the track, somehow the win was his and he was robbed, him not be a factor at all be damned. He is sick in the head, imo. His logic is so flucked up, it is embarrassing. My opinion of course. Glad people are seeing his whining, been going on for years…long before he drunk his own Kool Aid. Nasty SOB. IMO.

  4. Avatar

    I hate to say this, but I really have no desire to watch any of the remaining Cup races this year thanks to this package. Restrictor plates ain’t racin’! Cars having so much downforce/drag they never have to lift off the gas and drive the car through a corner is not interesting to watch.

    As for Joey jumping the start, I don’t think it mattered (besides, the leader technically controls the start, within reason). He clearly had the best car and was able to move back to the front from within the top 10 pretty much at will. Even though I’m not a fan of Joey, the best car won – he had the field covered all day.

    Can’t wait for the trucks at Eldora, sad I have plans and will miss the Iowa race. Still have Gateway, Bristol, Martinsville, and a couple others that should be good. Looks like it will be NGOTS for my NASCAR viewing the rest of the year. Haven’t watched much Xfinity, maybe I’ll give a few of those races a peek.

    Hopefully NASCAR fixes this abomination that is the current car, gets the program straight, and makes the Cup series interesting to watch again. I’ll come back and give them another chance. I want the racing and the programming to be good again, but it just isn’t right now.

    • Avatar

      Jeremy – you made ma laugh …..”nascar fixes this abomination”….

      • Avatar

        That’ll be the day, right? If history is any indicator, they’ll change it and actually find a way to make it worse…

      • Avatar

        I was thinking it is Brian’s version of the Frankenstein monster, which is appropriate given the title sponsor. It should end up the same way.

  5. Avatar

    The 2019 package did not work at this track. It kept any one car from driving away to a substantial lead but none of those cars could pass the leader so all it produced was a high speed parade. Clean air was king as it has been for the last decade. What’s worse is that it seemed if someone got a run and dropped down, they couldn’t complete the pass and ended up losing a position or two. That doesn’t exactly provide an incentive to even try to make a pass. Also as alluded to in the article, I am one of “those fans” that like tire wear to be a factor and tire management to come into play and that did not seem to be the case. I really did like the 5PM start time even though it irks me that if, as stated in this article, the reason was because there was a conflict with soccer coverage.

    I thought Logano jumped the final restart, as did the guys in the booth, but it is hard to tell exactly where the restart zone ended. Why didn’t FOX have the green “restart zone” graphic up on the most important restart of the day? Talk about dropping the ball.

    Really odd that they chose an off week before FOX’s final race. Common sense and logic would dictate that the off weekend be between FOX’s last race and NBC’s first race… a natural breaking point. There must be some reason,,,, are the soccer finals next Sunday?

    • Avatar

      They have actually had this strangely timed off week between Michigan and Sonoma in most of the last five seasons.
      The 5pm start created a lot of firestorm because the real reason for it was not disclosed. Some broadcast partners and/or their talent pitched the story that it was because of rain expected at the normal rain day start time of 11AM local time. Before social media, maybe this gets covered over. There’s too much information available now to pull the wool over people’s eyes.
      A tribute to those fans who stayed. A little surprised there were a few non stage/competition cautions. Normally a Monday race before an off week can turn even a good race bad (see Martinsville Spring 2018).

    • Avatar

      The 5 pm start was nice, some left work early to see the race yesterday. I suppose they are giving drivers Father’s day off? MI race use to be on Father’s day till a few years ago, which is a bummer.

  6. Avatar

    didn’t see much, but what i did see, i thought logano jumped the final restart.

    watch out for sonoma race. it will be the dw farewell day.

    and speaking of dw, what was that honda thing he was driving around on the track that they showed on sunday. looked a bit like a port-a-potty on wheels. i did notice the numerous times the honda logo was displayed.

    • Avatar

      My driver won, but the racing (or lack thereof) ducked. Arca, xfinity, cup…all had the same result. No passing.

  7. Avatar

    Also would like to add that I was OK with them calling the caution for Jones. His left rear tire blew out (possible tire debris on track) and the route he took to get out of the grass was against traffic. Imo, anytime a vehicle is turned around facing oncoming traffic, the caution should be waved for safety.

  8. Avatar

    The Michigan race was a train, just follow the leader. Was there racing behind the leader, absolutely, but that is not the complaint. The complaint is still clean air. Austin Dillion winning stage to is a classic example of this imo. Harvick was clearly the fast car, had closed up to a car length of Austin, I believe it was Truex who was 3rd and closing in quickly wiping off nearly a second on the leaders over the last 2 laps so it was clear Austin was slower than the cars he was in front of, but just like we have seen over and over, you can get there but you cant pass. Its a shame, my confidence in NASCAR’s sanctioning body is so low anymore that while I hope they get the next generation car right, I can see a scenario where they keep this crap and actually increase the drag. These cars use to be skating around and on the edge every lap, now they are glued to the track with track position being key. Like you stated, the package is what it is at this point. I just hope they get the new generation stock car right, but like I said…I have 0 confidence in them doing so.
    We all want them to raise the cars and flare out the wheels, however, this allows air to then travel under the cars leaving them more vulnerable to flip, this is the biggest reason I see NASCAR not returning to how these cars use to handle 🙁
    As for Deegan, is contact just not allowed at short tracks anymore in this PC era? Joey gets boo’d for moving Martin, Deegan gets blasted on every social outlet for moving her teammate for a win. That was an awesome finish and a classic short track move and her teammate tried to shut the door and spun himself out. Speaking of Martin…anyone actually think he will ever payback Joey? He had a chance at Homestead and didn’t, therefore, I don’t think it is in his blood. I am still disappointed that Joey didn’t move him at Richmond for the win….I would bet you if this stupid chase for the championship* didn’t exist he would have moved him.

    • Avatar

      Agreed about Deegan. If you saw the full replay, (not the 8 second version from Nascar that only showed the spin) you saw her have a fender under her teammate going into the corner. He tried to shut the door and she didn’t lift understandably going for the win. He spun himself.

      I said it before and I will say it again. Nascar will not get back its popularity until the networks get their sh*t together. Missing crashes and important incidents on the track is simply unacceptable. Those watching at home have no incentive to watch again nor go to the racetrack when its presented in such a poor manner that these races are currently.

      I would love to see these guys race in the rain, pushing the cars to the limit to see how fast they can go around the track in the rain without spinning out. But if the speeds are slow because of it, all in the name of having the race start at the scheduled time, it will have people flipping out about that too. Why would Nascar give the crazies on the internet something else to complain about. I’m also not sure if the crowd would be all that big sitting in the rain for 4 hours or even 5 (given how slow it would take them to do the full 400 miles).