Michigan International Speedway, Brooklyn, MI — August 8, 2020
Race one, the Firekeepers Casino 400, kicks off the NASCAR Cup Series doubleheader today at Michigan International Speedway. The cars are scheduled to take the green flag at 5:02 pm in a shorter than normal race for MIS. The race distance will be 312 miles or 156 laps around the 2-mile speedway.
Stages are set for 40/45/71 laps, Joey Logano won last year’s race and he starts on the pole today with Denny Hamlin beside him on the front row. Ford Performance has four consecutive wins at the track. Three Ford Mustangs start behind the Logano and Hamlin. Kevin Harvick, Aric Almirola, and Brad Keselowski, all have had good runs over the last several weeks with Keselowski pulling out the win last week at New Hampshire.
Four cars will move to the rear of the field prior to taking the green. The 6 and 17 from Roush Fenway Racing were penalized for modifications to the spoiler, Ryan Newman and Chris Buescher will start from the back. Jimmie Johnson and Joey Gase will join them for failing inspection twice.
The Choose Rule
The NASCAR All-Star Race introduced us to the “Choose Cone.” NASCAR officials announced Thursday that all three national series will use a ‘choose rule’ for restarts except at road courses and the superspeedways of Daytona and Talladega. The procedure was in place last evening in the Henry Ford Health Systems 200, which produced some interesting restarts.
Logano drove off into Turn 1 with the lead but reported to his crew that he had a bad vibration in the car right from the start. Hamlin fought back to nose ahead on Lap 15 but Logano was back out front by the time the competition caution waved on the next lap.
The leaders opted to stay out, including Logano whose issue apparently was not worthy of inspection.
At the choose cone, Logano went high into the preferred lane and Hamlin took the lower lane. It was the correct choice for Hamlin as he drove into the lead in Turn 1 on the restart. The fastest car on the track belonged to Kevin Harvick as he drove to the front as his car seemed to handle well regardless of lane choice.
Both Martin Truex Jr. and Tyler Reddick had tire troubles and pitted for new Goodyear rubber, both lost a lap in the pits. Hamlin easily stayed in 2nd, Harvick won the Stage pulling away from the field.
Stage 1 Results
|10||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.|
Hamlin, first off pit road, leads Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Ryan Blaney, and Kurt Busch back to the green flag on the restart. Hamlin and Harvick tried to drive away as they edged out front in Turn 1. Blaney used a big run to draw the field up to the leaders and then blew by on the high side.
Harvick could drive up to Blaney’s bumper, making the pass was another matter. He waited for Blaney to make a mistake. As those two battled for the lead, Hamlin pulled up to join the fight as the race neared the end of Stage 2.
With nine laps to go, Harvick caught Blaney behind a lapped car and slid by into the lead on the low side. With five laps to go, Hamlin passed Keselowski on the high side taking the air off Brad’s spoiler as they raced for the 3rd spot. Keselowski was able to rescue the car from going sideways, the loss of momentum allowed Erik Jones to slip by into 4th.
Harvick took the Stage 2 win, can he make it a sweep by dominating the Final Stage?
Stage 2 Results
The Final Stage
The first car off pit road, Harvick is positioned exactly where he wants to be. His car seems to respond to clean air. This Stage will require a pit stop before its conclusion, that may be a factor.
The fight for the lead goes four-wide out of Turn 4 with Harvick, Hamlin, Jones, and Keselowski top to bottom on the track. Jones wiggles and loses momentum as Harvick drives down the front stretch in the lead.
John Hunter Nemechek brings out the first accident-related caution of the day as he spins in the tri-oval off the front bumper of Chris Buescher.
Drivers again go three and four-wide on the restart. Harvick with a push from fellow Ford Mustang driver Brad Keselowski quickly separates the duo from the scramble behind them.
Nemechek again spins just past the entrance to pit road with a flat right rear tire and the caution waves again. He drives the wrong way on the track to get to pit road to avoid circling the track with a flat and causing further damage to the car.
Yellow Flag Pit Stop
As the field comes around, with 49 laps to go, everyone enters the pits for fuel and possibly tires. It is outside the window to complete the race on a tank of gas. However, as we saw last week at New Hampshire, these drivers can stretch the fuel economy when they need to.
The race restarted with Kyle Busch on the outside and Harvick on the inside. Busch had teammates Erik Jones and Martin Truex Jr. lined up behind him. Harvick had Austin Dillon in his rearview mirror. The Joe Gibbs Racing trio lined up tight on each other’s bumpers and pushed Kyle to the lead. Harvick got no help from Dillon. Proving he had the dominant car, Harvick refused to yield to the trio and drove around them to reclaim the top spot.
With 26 laps to go, Nemechek wrecked again to bring out the caution and give crew chiefs a tough decision. Pit or stay out? The caution laps will help the fuel mileage dilemma. Logano and Blaney were the only two of the leaders that opted to pit.
It does not seem to matter if Harvick starts on the inside or outside of the front row. It’s the clean air that seems to feed his car. Harvick takes the top lane and the three JGR cars follow him. Chase Elliott goes to the inside and ends up on the front row from 5th place.
When the race restarts with 18 laps to go, Elliott drives away with the lead. Elliott holds on until the caution displays again with 14 laps to go when Ryan Preece gets loose and hits the wall.
With the choice, Elliott takes the outside lane and Harvick follows. Kyle Busch dives low and joins Elliott on the front row with teammate Denny Hamlin behind him. The race restarts with 9 laps to go and Busch drives into the lead.
Harvick passes Elliott on the outside and pulls up onto Busch’s Bumper. As Harvick dives to the inside to try and take the lead, Busch moves down to block. The cars almost touch and they are close enough for the air to be taken off Kyle’s spoiler. Busch bobbles and almost hits the wall as Harvick drives to the lead. Kyle drops to the 9th position, seemingly out of contention. Busch has a different view of the incident.
Then Cole Custer spins and backs his car into the wall in Turn 3, bringing out the 8th caution of the day with 7 laps to go. NASCAR displays the red flag to clean up the oil dropped by Custer’s car.
After a 5 minute and 45-second delay the cars fire back up to attempt to finish the race. Taking the green flag with 3 laps to go, the outside row is Harvick followed by Elliott, Hamlin followed by Bubba Wallace on the inside. Wallace goes three-wide as the cars head to Turn 1. It proves to be a bad move for Wallace and Hamlin as they get swallowed up by the outside line as Harvick pulls away clear.
Christopher Bell, Austin Dillon, and Ryan Newman made contact bringing out another caution and sending the race to overtime.
For the green-white-checkered finish, Harvick and Elliott go to the outside. Keselowski and Hamlin line up on the inside. Harvick and Keselowski run door-handle-to-door-handle through Turns 1 & 2 and down the backstretch. Just before entering Turn 3, Harvick gets a big bump from Elliott and surges ahead. He takes the white flag with Keselowski closing, but the #2 car as nothing for Harvick who was clearly the best car all day. The 1-2 finish is Ford Performance’s 5th straight win in the backyard of the manufacturer.
They will line them up and do it again tomorrow afternoon.
Playoff Point Standings
Harvick is running away with the regular-season Points Championship and is now tied with Hamlin at five wins each. Aric Almirola and Kurt Busch are still solid. Kyle Busch strengthened his hold on 13th spot adding points to put him 111 above the cut line. Clint Bowyer and Matt DiBenedetto remained virtually in the same spots both over 40 points clear.
William Byron, still on the bubble, sits 16 points ahead of Erik Jones who cut his deficit by 15 points with an 11th place finish. Tyler Reddick and Jimmie Johnson are still within striking distance, 19 and 22 points back respectively.
Five races remain before the playoffs, with one race coming tomorrow afternoon. Will the deck be shuffled as we close in on the regular-season finale at Daytona on August 29th.
|7||Martin Truex Jr.||682||1||In-Win|
|Playoff Cut Line|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
Results of the Firekeepers Casino 400 from Michigan International Speedway
|3||19||Martin Truex Jr.||0.427||161|
|32||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||76.289||161|
|36||38||John Hunter Nemechek||-34||127|