Brad Keselowski(2) and Joey Logano(22) sit on the front row for the Pure Michigan 400. The race today at Michigan International Speedway is very important for both drivers. Keselowski is from Rochester Hills, Michigan and has never won at his “home track.” Logano won at MIS last year and needs another win here this year to make the playoffs.
Other drivers, like Dale Earnhardt Jr.(88) and Clint Bowyer(14), have reasons of their own for emphasizing their performance today. A win for either Earnhardt or Bowyer would punch their ticket to the playoffs.
Earnhardt cannot qualify on points and is in a must-win situation if he wants a chance to earn his first NASCAR Cup Series Championship in his final season of driving in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. He would also like to quiet Kevin Harvick(4) who earlier in the week insinuated that NASCAR’s popularity has been negatively affected by Earnhardt’s lack of wins.
Bowyer currently sits one position and 28 points outside of the last playoff spot held by Matt Kenseth(20). Should he fall further behind in the points chase, Bowyer will likely find himself in circumstances similar to Earnhardt. Having to win to qualify for a playoff spot.
Stage One Acton
Keselowski jumped into the lead as the green flag waved. Harvick passed Logano to take second and Logano dropped in behind the 4 car to hold down the third spot. Keselowski built a six car length lead and the pair ran that way for the majority of Stage One. Harvick threatened the lead when they began passing lapped traffic. But, Keselowski held him off. Green flag pit stops on laps 40-46 did little to change the running order. Chase Elliott(24) took the third spot from Logano, dropping Joey to fourth.
Kyle Busch(18) and Erik Jones(78) pushed the fuel window the farthest. both stopped on lap 46, behind the other lead lap cars. With 10 laps to go in the Stage, Martin Truex Jr.(78) and teammate Erik Jones(77) passed Logano prior to the green and white checkered. The lead cars finished the Stage in that order. With Logano in sixth, Kenseth in seventh, Kyle Busch(18) eighth, Kyle Larson(42) ninth, and Denny Hamlin(11) in 10th.
Bowyer Loses Points and Track Position
Bowyer finished out of the top 10 and lost four more points to Kenseth by way of the 20 car’s seventh place finish in Stage 1. Then, Bowyer was too fast off pit road and will start Stage Two at the rear of the field. Along with Kyle Busch who pitted too soon after the caution, before pit road was opened.
The second Stage started the same as the first. Keselowski to the lead, but with rookie Daniel Suarez(19) tucked into second. Just ahead of Harvick. A total of 29 cars were on the lead lap as the green flag waved to begin the stage. Stage Two ran entirely under the green flag and Truex Jr. took the win while Keselowski finished second. Setting up the weeks fastest cars at the front of the field for the final stage.
The Final Stage
Daniel Suarez tapped the rear of the number 5 car of Kasey Kahne going down the backstretch on lap 139. Sending both cars into the wall and out of the race. The resulting caution allowed the field to change tires and add fuel. However, with 60 laps remaining driver’s will have to make another stop for gas.
The race restarted on Lap 147 with Furniture Row Racing drivers Truex Jr. and Erik Jones on the front row. Keselowski took the green flag in 10th. As cars jockeyed for position Bowyer had his fender dented causing a tire rub. The tire went down on lap 152 causing Bowyer to pit and lose a lap to the field.
Drivers began pitting around lap 160, as soon as they were in the fuel window. Keselowski came off pit road behind Truex and Jones. Quickly passing Jones, he set out to run down Truex who was set to become the leader after pit stops cycled through. Unable to make time on Truex, Keselowski fell back into the clutches of Jones and dropped behind Truex’s teammate.
Then with 14 laps to go, Joey Logano blew a tire on the backstretch. With debris strewn across the track, NASCAR waved the caution. Exactly what the driver’s who were stretching their fuel run wanted. Having not completed cycling through the field, those driver’s pitted for fuel and fresh tires. Truex and Jones stayed out. Keselowski, having nothing for the two driver’s in front of him, pitted for fresh tires.
Driver’s and crews scrambled, with some teams opting to stay out while others pitted jumbling the field. Keselowski took the green flag on lap 191 in 10th. Truex immediately drove away from the field on the restart, followed by Jones.
Race to the Finish
Michael McDonald(95) and Paul Menard(27) crashed on lap 195 bringing out another caution. The cleanup of fluid on the track pushed the race into overtime. The first opportunity for driver’s to compete under a green-white-checker finish since moving the overtime line to the start-finish instead of the middle of the back stretch.
Again Truex and Jones restarted on the front row. But this time Kyle Larson, one of the drivers who took fresh tires on the caution caused by Logano, lined up behind them. At the drop of the green, Larson surged forward making it three-wide into turn one. Exiting turn two Larson had the lead and never relinquished it. The third win in a row at Michigan International Speedway for the Chip Gannasi driver who swept both this year’s races at the 2-mile track in the Irish Hills.
Truex finished second, Michigan native Erik Jones took the third spot. Ryan Newman(31) finished fourth and Trevor Bayne(6), the only Ford in the top 10, rounded out the top five. While the Fords dominated all weekend, the finish disappointed the guys from Dearborn.
Kurt Busch came in 11th, Aric Almirola(43)12th, Kevin Harvick 13th, and Ryan Blaney(21) 15th. Keselowski finished a disappointing 17th and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.(17) 18th. Other notables. Danica Patrick(10) 22nd, Clint Bowyer 23rd, and Joey Logano 28th.
The standings remain virtually unchanged. With Larson having won previously in the year, three playoff positions still remain available to qualify on points. Bowyer lost ground on Kenseth due to the four points Matt earned with his finish in Stage One. Even though Bowyer finished 23rd, while Kenseth placed behind him in 24th. Kenseth is now 31 points back from the final playoff spot.
Post Race Interview
We asked Kyle, “When you took the lead, looked in the rear view mirror, and saw them running four wide behind him. Were you wishing the overtime line was still in the middle of the backstretch?”
“Anytime on one of those restarts you can get the lead you want the race to end as soon as possible. But I do think it’s better for the fans that they have changed it back to the way it used to be.”
Kids Drive NASCAR reporter Titus Smith asked Kyle Larson, “How many push-ups can you do?” Kyle responded, “Probably 40, but I am not going to do any right now. I don’t know if that is good or not. I’m sure Danica can do more, so it’s probably not good.”
Kids Drive NASCAR
Kids Drive NASCAR is a program that introduces young people to the types of jobs that are required to run the sport of Stock Car Racing. It was my privilege during the race to sit next to Titus Smith, a reporter for the Scholastic News Kids Press Corp. Titus, his mom Lakeshia, brother Jeremiah, and Jon Schwartz NASCAR Managing Director Integrated Marketing Communications watched the race from the press box as Titus developed the story line for his report. Read Titus’ article at the following link. (Pending Publication, 11-year old Titus is exempt from news filing deadlines.)
That wraps our live coverage of Michigan International Speedway for another year. Follow the Lasco Press next week as we report live from Bristol Motor Speedway, “The Last Great Colosseum”, on Friday and Saturday nights.