Michigan International Speedway: June 18, 2017, 6:30 pm
Kyle Larson (42) has three Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series wins. Two of them at Michigan International Speedway. The victory helped Kyle Larson regain the regular season points lead from Martin Truex Jr. (78) by five points. The battle for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regular season championship played out on the track at MIS today. If the first two stages of the race were 30 laps instead of 60. Larson, who won the pole, would have stretched that lead.
Martin Truex Jr. loves stage racing. He started second beside Larson at the drop of the green flag. Truex lost the drag race to turn one and Kyle Larson led the first 34 laps of the race. Then the tires gave up and Truex passed him. It was Truex’s ninth stage win of the year. After pit stops Larson regained the lead, exiting pit road first.
In stage two Larson, as he did at the beginning of the race, opted to start on the outside of the front row. He held the lead for 47-laps before, again, being passed by Truex. Making MIS the fourth track this year that Truex won stages 1 and 2 back-to-back. Larson also lost the second spot to Kyle Busch (18). He dropped to third just before the green and white checkered flag ended stage two.
It’s Go Time
The 80-lap final stage shuffled the leaderboard as both Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Larson started behind the front row. Kyle Busch (18) drove to the lead and looked to be in position for that elusive first win of the year. Then, in a replay of Dover, a caution 21 laps from the finish started the mayhem. The Joe Gibbs Racing team again had to choose track position or tires. As Larson and Truex proved, clean air was most important. Busch stayed out, so did the next 14 cars in line. Both Team Penske Fords, well back in the pack, pitted for four new Goodyear tires.
At Michigan International Speedway late race restarts often breed trouble. Clint Bowyer (14) gets bumped to the high side and scrapes the wall. Another caution and once more everyone not involved in the scuffle opts for track position by staying out. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (88) is making a late run for the top 10. Rookie Daniel Suarez (19) is in the mix, so is rookie Bubba Wallace Jr. (43). Ryan Blaney (21), last week’s winner has moved up to third. The race is now an all-out sprint as the green drops with 10 laps to go.
On the restart Larson powers to the lead with a push from Blaney. Unfortunately, Blaney gets loose and cars stack up four wide. Kevin Harvick (4) gets into Blaney cutting down a tire on the 21 car. Earnhardt is included in the skirmish, he backs off and drops to 20th. When Blaney slows, Suarez hits the brakes. Bubba taps Suarez sending him into Danica Patrick (10) who wrecks hitting the inside wall. Bubba Wallace, plowing his way to the front moves up to 11th. Blaney stops for new rubber. But, he gets penalized for too many men over the wall. The drive through penalty sends him to the rear of the field. Earnhardt exits the pits in 24th.
Kyle Larson Drives to the Finish
The final restart with five laps to go has Larson leading, Denny Hamlin (11) in second. Hamlin is looking for a repeat of Saturday’s Xfinity race. Where on the final lap he passes 19-year-old young gun William Byron for the win. Chase Elliot (24) runs third, with Joey Logano (22) making a late charge to fourth. Kyle Bush has dropped to fifth, Jamie McMurray (1) holds sixth, Truex seventh. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (17) is in eighth, Truex teammate and Michigan native Erik Jones is ninth. Kyle’s brother Kurt Busch (41) rounds out the top 10. Larson pulls away for the finish, igniting a wild victory lane celebration.
Of note: Earnhardt recovers from his late pit stop to finish 9th. Bubba, still being schooled by the Cup veterans, falls to 19th.
What Happened to the Fords?
It was not a good day for the Blue Oval drivers. After having as many as five Fords in the top 10 at times during the race. Logano brings his Fusion home in third. Happy to finally post a top five finish, Logano commented. “We had a 10th place car and finished 3rd, that’s not a win, but we stopped the bleeding….. We still have work to do, but we made solid steps in the last couple of weeks.” Stenhouse finished eighth, the only other Ford in the top 10.
Fords still hold seven of the 16 playoff spots, heading into Sonoma next week. Daytona follows on Saturday, July 1st. The King, Richard Petty, turns 80 on July 2nd. Expect the party at the World Center of Racing to be fit for NASCAR royalty.