Home / Beth Lunkenheimer / Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2019 Consumers Energy 400
(Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2019 Consumers Energy 400

The Headline(s): Last week at Watkins Glen International, Chase Elliott repeated as the defending Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series winner at the road course. This week at Michigan International Speedway? Kevin Harvick, who won the 2018 edition of this race, scored his second 2019 win in four weeks in what turned into a fuel mileage race.

Denny Hamlin made a late charge through the field but didn’t have enough time to challenge Harvick for the win and ended up with his fifth straight top-five finish, something he’s never previously accomplished in his career. Kyle Larson rebounded from an early speeding penalty to finish third, while Martin Truex Jr. and Daniel Suarez rounded out the top five.

How it Happened: Brad Keselowski started on the pole and remained out in front of the field until lap 40 when Hamlin, who started 14th, took over the top spot in a thrilling three-wide pass with a debuting Spencer Boyd on the bottom. A round of green-flag pit stops saw a plethora of drivers out in front of the field until it cycled through with Truex, who started at the rear of the field, in front of Joey Logano. With just a handful of laps remaining, traffic ahead of the leaders tightened up the advantage, allowing Hamlin and Truex to swap the lead before Truex took the stage one victory.

Following pit stops during the stage break, Keselowski retook the lead and utilized the outside lane to block a charge by Hamlin on the restart. This time it was Truex who ended Keselowski’s time out front, as he took the lead from the driver of the No. 2 Ford on lap 82, but quickly lost it again when he bobbled a little. That, combined with the leaders catching Boyd, who was already multiple laps down, allowed Hamlin to briefly take second before Truex took the position once again.

Truex once again took the lead on lap 91 with a pass all the way down on the apron, while Keselowski dropped to the back of the top five within a couple of laps of losing the top spot.

Once he got back in dirty air, Keselowski told his team he had to lift any time he was behind another car because he was too loose in the low lane on the track. Meanwhile, Keselowski retook the lead during a round of green-flag pit stops before making his own stop. Once the field cycled back through, Truex, who made his second fuel-only pit stop of the day, took the top spot once again.

A flat right-rear tire sent Keselowski spinning to bring out the caution with just a handful of laps remaining in stage two. The good news for Keselowski was that he managed to keep the car off of the outside wall and only clipped the infield grass, protecting the No. 2 from significant damage.

The caution set up a one-lap dash to the end of stage two where the inside line prevailed on the restart for the first time all weekend, giving Kyle Busch the stage win — thanks in large part to a strong push from teammate Erik Jones — and Keselowski the free pass. The end of the stage was also marred by an accident that involved Aric Almirola and Richard Childress Racing teammates Austin Dillon and Daniel Hemric.

Kurt Busch took the lead during the stage two break, following differing pit road strategies, but lost it to Logano on the restart. Back-to-back restarts following a pair of cautions saw Logano’s lead challenged momentarily before he prevailed. He held onto the lead until a round of pit stops under yellow with 50 laps remaining allowed teammate Ryan Blaney to take the top spot as Team Penske restarted 1-2-3. Blaney held the lead for three circuits before Logano took it once again until 18 laps to go, when Harvick moved to the front and wasted little time pulling away from the field to his second win of the season as multiple drivers ran out of fuel.

Why You Should Care: Harvick’s second win in four races can only mean bad things for the rest of the field. He and crew chief Rodney Childers struggled to find victory lane in the first half of the season, and now, with the playoffs looming after just three more races, the duo is heating up.

That’s not to say that these two wins are guarantees that Harvick will be one to beat when the playoffs do begin, but it does mean that he’s got 10 more playoff points he didn’t have earlier in the season that he’ll be able to take with him throughout the championship battle. It’s a turn in the right direction for a pairing that’s five wins and six top fives behind where it was at this point last year.

“We really got off on the wrong foot as far as where we needed to be on the cars, and it’s been kind of an uphill battle really all year to get where we needed to be,” Harvick said on NASCAR Victory Lap. “The cars have been running a lot better as we’ve gotten into the last two months. I’ve been nursing a shoulder injury the last two months to try to make sure I made it through Watkins Glen. I hurt it throwing a baseball to [Keelan].

“We’ve had a lot of things we had to overcome to get to this point. It’s kind of like last year. We started off on fire, we won eight races and didn’t win the championship. In the end, you want to win that championship, and hopefully, we’re peaking at the right time.”

It wasn’t all unicorns and rainbows for the No. 4 team, though. An unscheduled pit stop on lap 32 for a cut tire put Harvick behind a bit, however, a green-flag pit stop cycle allowed him to cycle back to sixth by the end of stage one. Then, during stage two, he had to make an extra stop under the second caution after his pit crew didn’t get all four wheels on tight.

Harvick restarted the final 48 lap green-flag run in seventh, and with confidence in the amount of fuel he had to make it to the finish, he sliced his way to the lead, which he held for the final 18 circuits.

Sure, you can make the argument that the only reason Harvick was in the discussion was that it turned into a fuel mileage race or fortunate timing on an early cut tire that allowed him to pit without damaging the car or losing a lap. Either way, the fact of the matter remains that it’s a second victory for a duo that no one but the No. 4 team and its fans wants to see heating up at this time of the year.

Drivers Who Accomplished Something

Last weekend, Kyle Busch took the point lead from Logano for the first time since June, and for a while, it looked like Logano might take it back for this race. But a late-race failure to get enough fuel in the No. 22, combined with dry fuel cells for multiple drivers on the white-flag lap, allowed Busch to climb to sixth in the final running order. And despite Logano scoring four more stage points than Busch, the differential between the two when the checkered flag flew was enough to allow the latter to increase his lead atop the standings, which would mean a difference of five playoff points heading into the championship battle in just a few races.

Larson suffered a speeding penalty during a stage one round of green-flag pit stops. And while he nearly went a lap down, the No. 42 Chevrolet had enough speed to allow Larson to remain ahead of the leaders on the tail end of the lead lap until the yellow flew for the end of the stage. Despite not being in the mix for a trip to victory lane, Larson, who ended up third, walked away with his fourth top five in the last seven races, compared to just one in the first 16. But perhaps what’s more important is that, despite failing to find victory lane since 2017, Larson now sits a somewhat comfortable 55 points ahead of 16th-place Clint Bowyer with just three races remaining to set the playoff field.

“I guess if you’re going to get a speeding penalty, the first run of the race is the time to do it,” Larson said. “I was surprised when they said I was speeding because I hadn’t hit a red light at all until after leaving my pit stall. That was the only time I hit a red. I was conservative on my lights the rest of the day, and maybe I don’t know if we just misjudged a little bit or maybe I just was a little too fast.

“Our race was good. Our car handled really well, so I was happy about that. And, we had a great points day. So we saved just enough fuel there at the end to get to the finish line and now we’re well above the cutline. So I’m happy about our day.”

Meanwhile, Suarez may have been the biggest winner when it comes to points on the day. Coming into the race, he sat 18th in the standings and 23 markers below the cut line. But trouble for both Bowyer and Jimmie Johnson, who were above the cut line, heading into Michigan, combined with a sixth-place finish, allowed Suarez to move to 17th in the standings and within just six points of 16th-place Bowyer.

Ryan Preece quietly took advantage of other drivers who ran out of fuel on the white-flag lap to home a seventh-place finish. It’s his best finish outside of Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway in 28 Cup starts, and while fuel mileage contributed heavily to his result, it’s still a confidence booster for the rookie.

“It was a good day,” he said. “Expectations wise, it was a top 20 or 15 would be fantastic. Well, we ended up with a top 10, and we made the car better and better every lap. It was good. We had a good racecar. Track position, like fuel, helped, but we were still going to end up anywhere from 12th to 10th, so it was a good day.”

Drivers Who Accomplished Nothing

Truex may have walked away with a fourth-place finish in his 500th career start, but with four wins already this season, a top five means little for a driver who’s already locked up his spot in the championship race. The driver of the No. 19 Toyota started at the rear of the field after failing pre-race inspection twice, made quick work of the field after the green flag flew and was inside the top 10 within seven laps. A later restart deeper in the field didn’t prove as fruitful for Truex, as he wasn’t able to work his way through the field nearly as well. At the end of the day, he walked away with a single playoff point after a stage one win on a day where he had one of the strongest cars.

Just days after fielding questions about his run-in and disagreement with Ryan Blaney over their contact at Watkins Glen, Johnson entered Michigan tied for the 16th and final playoff spot. Already in a precarious position and amid the turmoil of a midseason crew chief change, the No. 48 team needed a solid race, and instead, Johnson hit the wall early and went three laps down making initial repairs after the tire carcass wrapped around the axle.

Another flat tire a short time later sent the No. 48 back to pit road, this time caused by a fender brace, sent him down pit road once again. For the remainder of the race, Johnson simply logged laps en route to a 34th-place finish, eight laps down. Though it’s better than the last-place finish it could have been if he had retired when the initial incident happened, Johnson lost ground in the playoff standings and now sits 12 points below the cut line with just three races remaining in the regular season. And for a No. 48 team that’s been locked out of victory lane since 2017 and has just eight top 10s in 23 races, it’s certainly not the position it wants to be in.

Instead of taking advantage of Johnson’s misfortune, Bowyer ended his day in the garage. After struggling with handling for a good chunk of the day, contact with Paul Menard sent the driver of the No. 14 Ford hard into the outside wall to a 37th-place finish. And while he remains inside the top 16 in the standings, he sits a slim six points ahead of 17th.

He may have been making his Cup Series debut at Michigan, but Boyd didn’t make any friends on the track Sunday. Multiple times, he found himself right in the middle of a battle for the lead, despite being multiple laps down. Later, he spun on his own and backed the No. 53 Ford into the outside wall, ending his day on the spot with a 38th-place finish. That’s not exactly the kind of debut race about which you want to tell future potential sponsors or teams.

Participation Trophies

Best Paint Scheme:

Instead of a paint scheme this week, it’s Truex’s firesuit commemorating his 500th career Cup Series start. After all, it’s hard to stop looking at a firesuit made to look like a tuxedo.

Fuel Mileage Failure Award: Team Penske

While several drivers ran out of fuel on the white-flag lap, it was Team Penske that took the biggest hit. Restarting 1-2-3 for the final green-flag stint to the checkered flag, the word from all three teams focused on saving fuel. For Logano, there was a small hope he had enough fuel to go the distance, but Blaney’s and Keselowski’s crews failed to get the cars full under their stops. Logano ended up heading down pit road with just three laps remaining, taking all three of Penske’s cars outside of the top 15 on a day where they combined to lead 121 of 200 laps. Logano was the highest-finishing driver of the trio in 17th, while Keselowski and Blaney ended up 19th and 24th, respectively.

Let’s Forget It Ever Happened Award: Aric Almirola

Aric Almirola triggered a wreck that collected Austin Dillon and Daniel Hemric. Ultimately, all three drivers were able to continue on, though Dillon ended up 13th, thanks in large part to those who ran out of fuel, while Hemric ended up 26th on the day. Meanwhile, Almirola was held an additional two laps after too many crew members were over the wall working on the heavily damaged No. 10 Ford. He ended up 33rd, seven laps down.

How it Rated: It certainly wasn’t quite as exciting as the Gander Outdoors Truck Series race on Saturday (Aug. 10), but then again, Cup almost never is. With that said, it was one of the best Michigan races in recent history, and while it’s far from the best one this season, the ability of multiple drivers to run down and pass for the lead without the assistance of green-flag pit stops means it wasn’t exactly a boring parade either. Solid but not spectacular, for sure.

What’s the Point(s): Alex Bowman, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Elliott, Hamlin, Harvick, Keselowski, Logano and Truex have locked into the playoffs by winning races in 2019. If the playoffs were to start today, Blaney, Almirola, William Byron, Kyle Larson, Erik Jones, Ryan Newman and Bowyer would make the championship battle on points.

Up Next: The Cup Series heads to Bristol Motor Speedway for a Saturday night showdown. Coverage of the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race begins at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN; the race can also be heard on your local PRN affiliate and SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.

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About Beth Lunkenheimer

Beth Lunkenheimer
Content Director Beth heads up management of our 30-person staff, acting as Tom’s main assistant with technology and personnel while working as Frontstretch’s Truck Series expert. The author of Truckin’ Thursdays and the coordinator of the site’s pre and post-race coverage, she also runs a periodic charity column that spotlights when NASCAR gives back. A childhood transplant to Texas, Beth is a 13-year writing veteran who has contributed content to BRANDT and Athlon Sports, among other outlets.

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11 comments

  1. Avatar

    Shame on Todd Gordon and Paul Wolfe, they literally HANDED a win away…AGAIN! That should have never happened. The two guys with the most laps led, and to Harvick of all creeps? Come on..ROGER..talk time! TEAM PENSKE what the fluck is goin’ on? Educate us!

  2. Avatar

    How about Austin Dillon, he was fastest in practice said an article on here. Did he get points for that for the playoffs !!!

  3. Avatar

    The race was OK. I didn’t think it was that great, but on the sliding scale that applies to expectations at Michigan, it was better than average.

    Looking at the contenders, the real sleeper may be Hamlin. Not only has he won 3 races but he has been showing up with fast cars consistently every week. I have never really liked him and traditionally he has always choked in the end, but he might just surprise everyone this year.

    Glad to see that some drivers ran out of fuel. It’s a rip off when everyone is saving fuel and the announcers keep talking about fuel and no one actually runs out of fuel.

    • Avatar

      bill b – you know hamlin will self-destruct when it comes to the playoff, or whatever they’re being called.

      • Avatar

        Yeah, I know Janice. I didn’t say I’d bet my own money on him, just pointing out that he’s been showing up with consistently fast cars every week. While Ky Busch, Truex, and the Penske twins as well as Harvick have had some inconsistent races.

  4. Avatar

    so if you fail inspection twice, your start at back of field. do you ever pass inspection? truex sure cut through that field like a hot knife through stick of butter.

  5. Avatar

    The driver’s side rear tire is the left rear tire. Kes spun when the right rear went down.

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