Michigan International Speedway, Brooklyn, MI — August 22, 2021
It’s great to have race fans back at MIS after running last year’s NASCAR weekend with empty stands and no campers in the infield. The Cup Series drivers are looking forward to the NASCAR Playoffs with just two races left in the regulars season. Today’s FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway and the Coke Zero Sugar 400 from Daytona next week.
The 14 drivers that have clinched a playoff spot are looking to build momentum for the playoff opener at Darlington Raceway in two weeks. Drivers on the outside of the playoff bubble are looking for a win to get in. Kevin Harvick(4), who always runs well at Michigan, needs 44 points to clinch his spot in the postseason if there is no new winner in victory lane today. He currently sits 15th.
Tyler Reddick(8) is the man on the bubble. He leads Richard Childress Racing teammate Austin Dillon(3) by 28 points for the final playoff spot. Dillon developed late trouble last week at Indy and finished well down in the running order, it will be difficult to make up the deficit with just two starts remaining. Of course, if a driver from the 17th to 30th position in the standings posts a win this week or next, all the clinch scenarios go out the window.
Cup Team Changes
“Team Penske has swapped spotters between Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski, a team spokesman confirmed to NASCAR.com. The change will begin Sunday at Michigan International Speedway and carry through the remainder of the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season.”
“Coleman Pressley will now spot for Logano and the No. 22 Ford Mustang crew, while TJ Majors moves over to Keselowski and the No. 2 team. Bob Pockrass of FOX Sports first reported the news.
No practice or qualifying puts Kyle Larson(5) on the pole for today’s race. Larson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Chase Elliott(9), starts beside him on the front row. Ryan Blaney(12) and Matt DiBenedetto(21) sit on row 2.
The Cup drivers will run 200 laps to make up the 400 miles around the 2-mile racing oval. Stages are 60/60/80 laps. Ford Mustang driver Kevin Harvick is the defending champion, he has 5 wins at the track the most of any active driver. Ford enters this weekend having won the last six consecutive NASCAR Cup Series races at MIS.
As expected, Kyle Larson held the lead into Turn 1. Larson held off a brief challenge from Matt DiBenedetto(21) in the Woods Brothers Ford Mustang. The competition caution brought the entire field to pit road after 20 laps. Only then did a new leader emerge as Denny Hamlin beat Larson out of the pits to take over the top spot. Larson ran second, Elliott third, Kurt Busch(1) in fourth.
Elliott took the top spot away from Hamlin on Lap 26 as five cars battled for 2nd with Hamlin, Kurt Busch, Larson, Joey Logano(22), and Reddick in a tight bundle.
Joey Gase(15) spun off of Turn 2, bringing out the first caution of the day for an on-track incident. Only a handful of drivers opted to return to pit road for additional service.
Elliott proved he is not going to roll over and give the race to his teammate Larson. Chase led the remainder of the Stage to take the win. Dillon signaled he is not going to give up the final playoff spot to his teammate. Running 2nd until Larson passed him on the final lap of the Stage, Dillon took third and the eight points to cut Reddick’s bubble advantage to 20 points.
Stage 1 Results
*Ford Mustang Drivers
Larson won the race off pit road this time, returning to the top spot. Logano returned to pit road the lap before the race went back to green so his crew could fix a loose lug nut. It was a costly mistake as Joey had to restart from the back of the pack.
Larson cannot pull away from his challengers. Dillon passed for the lead briefly as he looked to get into the playoffs by scoring a win. But, racing is so tight at the front of the field if you get out of line you run the risk of losing positions. Elliott took advantage of the battle for the lead to pass both Larson and Dillon.
Kyle Busch(18), DiBenedetto, Christopher Bell(20), and William Byron(24) joined the lead pack all looking for the clean air the man out front gets to enjoy.
Larson pitted on Lap 110, Elliott came in on the next lap. Kyle Busch stretched his stop to Lap 113 and he took the lead when all service stops were complete. Holding the top spot till the green and white checkered flag on Lap 120, Busch gets the Stage win.
Austin Dillon passed Brad Keselowski for the sixth spot and picked up two more points on Reddick who finished eighth. Dillon and Keselowski got together just past the start/finish line. Brad turned Austin, who darted into the outside wall destroying the #3 car and forcing Dillon into a must-win Saturday night at Daytona if he is going to make the playoffs.
Stage 2 Results
*Ford Mustang Drivers
The Final Stage
Not everyone pitted during the Stage ending caution, handing the lead back to Larson. He was followed by Byron, DiBenedetto, Kurt Busch, and Blaney. They will take advantage of the fuel from their late pit stop in Stage 2 and try to make it on one more stop.
Drivers that did stop during the caution will have enough fuel to easily make it on one more stop and some extra should the race go to overtime. That may not be necessary as storm clouds are moving towards the Speedway from the North off Turn 3.
Byron was the first to pit with 45 laps to go, he was running 2nd at the time. Larson pitted with 41 to go, with Blaney following him down pit road. Kurt Burch came in a lap later for his final service.
Drivers that pitted at the end of Stage 2 moved to the top of the leaderboard. Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr.(19), Kyle Busch and Reddick.
Kyle Busch pitted out of the lead with 32 laps to go. He overshot his pit box and had to back up to get serviced costing the 18 car valuable seconds. Byron is the driver set to inherit the lead once all stops are completed. Larson, Hamlin, and Kurt Busch are all vying for the position as drivers continue to cycle through the pit road.
Keselowski and Christopher Bell(20) pit with 26 laps to go and the Top 4 hold a 3.5-second advantage on their closest competitor.
The yellow flag waved at Lap 180 as a small shower passed over the track. Blue skies on both sides of the single dark patch indicate it should be a short delay with the track surface not holding any water.
Pit road opened but all the leaders stayed on the track. Some drivers outside of the Top 10 chose to take new tires in the hope it would help them improve their position. With 1 lap to go to the restart, Kurt Busch drops low to take the bottom lane next to Byron when the green drops with 14 laps to go.
Before the completion of a green flag lap, Logano spun mid-pack. Bell and Ryan Newman got caught up in the mess with the three drivers sustaining damage to their cars. Logano was forced to retire from the event as his mangled machine could not be repaired in the allotted time.
Byron, Hamlin, Larson, and Blaney are the Top 4 to receive the one-to-go signal, with Blaney choosing to move to the bottom line for the restart. The green flag drops with 8 laps to go.
With a push from Kyle Busch, Blaney drove to the lead. No one could get to Blaney’s bumper as he effectively blocked both lanes and drove off with the surprise win.
The 7th consecutive win at the track for Ford Performance in the manufacturer’s backyard. Edsel Ford was on-hand to receive the Manufacturer’s Trophy and return it to Dearborn.
When Austin Dillon crashed out of the race he was credited with a 36 place finish. His teammate, and current driver on the bubble for the final NASCAR Playoff spot, is Tyler Reddick. After running most of the latter stages of today’s race in the Top 10, Reddick experienced a tire issue and hit the wall in Turn 3 just a few laps short of the checkered flag.
Reddick limped his car back to pit road but lost positions to everyone still on the track, he finished 29th. With the points that Dillon accumulated in the first two Stages of the FireKeepers Casino 400, Austin actually gained 3 points heading into the last race of the regular season. He still has a chance to catch Reddick for that final playoff spot in Saturday’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 from Daytona International Speedway.
|1||Kyle Larson||1004||In Win(5)|
|2||Martin Truex Jr.||789||In Win(3)|
|3||Alex Bowman||674||In Win(3)|
|4||Kyle Busch||838||In Win(2)|
|5||Chase Elliott||820||In Win(2)|
|6||Ryan Blaney*||787||In Win(2)|
|7||William Byron||833||In Win|
|8||Joey Logano*||772||In Win|
|9||Brad Keselowski*||729||In Win|
|10||Kurt Busch||643||In Win|
|11||Christopher Bell||595||In Win|
|12||Michael McDowell*||497||In Win|
|13||Aric Almirola*||436||In Win|
|14||Denny Hamlin||976||In Points|
|15||Kevin Harvick*||756||In Points|
|NASCAR Playoff Cut Line|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
For Additional Photos of Today’s Race Follow the Link to https://www.facebook.com/journalist.steve.s.sports.editor.thelascopress/
Results of the FireKeepers Casino 400 from Michigan International Speedway
|10||19||Martin Truex Jr.||2.339||200|
|12||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||2.716||200|