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.
I love this track and winning here for everyone at @fordperformance & @team_penske! Our 22 @shell @Pennzoil team took us from the pole to the 🏁 #TeamJL #NASCAR #FireKeepers400 pic.twitter.com/GmjoOGW5Hk
— Joey Logano (@joeylogano) June 11, 2019
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:
Absolutely ridiculous call by @F1 stewards.
All racing officials – stop officiating this sport into oblivion. The advent of tech allowing more angles and information doesn’t need to be used to micro-manage the sport. It should only be used to allow fans better access.
— Parker Kligerman (@pkligerman) June 9, 2019
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.
Confirmed via Ricky Stenhouse’s radio — No competition caution. “Trying to get to halfway, huh?” Stenhouse asks. #FireKeepersCasino400
— Eric Young (@tsuperspeedway) June 9, 2019
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):
Safety Violation: Brad Keselowski (pass-through penalty) pic.twitter.com/zd2WJr92r5
— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) June 10, 2019
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.
— Cale Grimes (@calegrimes) June 11, 2019
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.
— #NASCARSalutes (@NASCAR) June 10, 2019
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.
The paint schemes change so much from week to week that they can’t keep up with it on NASCAR RaceView. This is an under appreciated issue in the sport. How is the casual fan supposed to keep up? #NASCAR
— 🇺🇸JDA4USA🇺🇸 (@jeffanderson42) June 10, 2019
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.
Best Paint Scheme: Corey LaJoie. There are few drivers in the Cup field that could pull this scheme off. LaJoie is one.
Car covers are coming off! pic.twitter.com/OQKqxlmK0d
— Go Fas Racing (@GoFasRacing32) June 9, 2019
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.
"I just drive."
"I don't know."
"I did my job." pic.twitter.com/4jv46C0iaE
— Matt Weaver (@MattWeaverAW) June 11, 2019
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!