Johnson tops the fast and mum Harvick at Michigan
Flag to Flag: Some races are flat dominated by the eventual winner, while others are won on a fluke by an unlikely driver or by a driver whose car comes to life at race's end. Sunday's Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway saw none of that. A revolving door of leaders on different strategies was the name of the game and Jimmie Johnson went to Victory Lane for the first time in his career at the two-mile track. The race should have been Kevin Harvick's (2nd), who laid down the fastest pole-winning speed since Bill Elliott's all-time 212 mph effort in 1987. Harvick led the most laps (63) and would have been a winner, had he taken four tires instead of two on the final pit stop. Harvick, who has two wins, three poles, is 9th in points, and is routinely the car to beat most weeks at the track, was right ticked off after the result. His post-race press conference consisted of two questions and two brief responses. "Happy" Harvick wasn't. Instead, Johnson was the driver to finally take a winning toast at Michigan. He's lost races in the worst kinds of ways in the past at Michigan: late engine failures and fuel mileage have been the biggest culprits. Despite eight cautions and a surprisingly raucous field. the race came down to stretching fuel mileage and picking the perfect time to make that final pit stop and take zero, two, or four tires. No. 48 crew chief Chad Knaus' choice to take four tires on that final stop allowed Johnson just enough advantage to pass some faster cars and build an advantage over Harvick and others. But Johnson's win wasn't a surprise. He led four times for a total of 39 laps, has won three of the last four races, and Hendrick-powered motors took six of the top eight finishing spots. Hendrick Motorsports has also won the last five races. Dominant. Several wrecks slowed the day, including Brian Vickers (42nd) spinning on lap 2, nosing the outside wall and then sliding down the track and into the path of Travis Kvapil (43rd), who nailed the No. 55. Both went to the garage and returned to the race later. Lap 8 saw Martin Truex Jr. (37th) tangle with Kasey Kahne (5th) and Kyle Larson (8th). The heavy winds made for tricky aerodynamics on the racecars and some other drivers just also lost the handle and spun, including Alex Bowman (40th), Brett Moffitt (34th), and David Ragan (38th). Denny Hamlin (29th) and Aric Almirola (31st) also collected each other and got minor damage for the race's final crash on lap 123. Tony Stewart (11th) objected to something Larson did on the track and gave him a shove on a restart. Johnson passed Joey Logano (9th) for the lead on lap 92 and according to Logano on his team radio, shot him a bird as he passed by. Johnson apparently had been complaining on his channel about how Logano was racing him just before that and the No. 22 was none too impressed with Johnson, with Logano saying, "He better put that finger back on the steering wheel. This race isn't over yet." Maybe not, but Johnson finished eight spots ahead of Logano. The top 10 finishers were Johnson, Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Paul Menard (has Richard Childress Racing's only two top 5s this season), Kahne, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Larson, Logano, and Clint Bowyer. Gordon leads Johnson in the points by 15. There have been 10 different winners in the Cup Series this season and all are in the top 12 in points except Kurt Busch, who is 26th. Right now, the four winless drivers that would make the Chase are Matt Kenseth (4th in points), Larson (7th), Ryan Newman (11th), Menard (13th), Bowyer (14th), and Greg Biffle (15th). These next 11 races before the Chase will be something to watch for sure.
RaceTweet: Johnson gets Michigan monkey off back, wins. Hendrick is on fire. Roush Fenway and Joe Gibbs Racing are ice cold.
Handsome Boy Modeling School Stud of the Race: Kevin Harvick - This guy. The only mark against him Sunday was how rude he was to the media afterwards...which has nothing to do with his on-track performance. Harvick led the most laps, was lightning fast in both qualifying and race trim, and was two tires short of his 3rd victory of the year. Crew chief Rodney Childers took the blame for the strategy call and Harvick took the loss hard. He finished 2nd in both MIS races in 2013 and in the June race there in 2012. I need to remember that for my fantasy racing roster for the August race.
North Korean Missile Dud of the Race: Roush Fenway Racing - RFR is in turmoil. Carl Edwards, the team's most decorated and marketable driver, is most certainly leaving for greener grass in 2015 after RFR and Ford threw the kitchen sink at him to stay in 2012. They lost their only championship-winning driver, Matt Kenseth, two years ago to Joe Gibbs Racing. Greg Biffle has shopped around to different teams, though he likely will stay. And while Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Trevor Bayne are talented drivers, they are going to have a hard time getting better with the RFR race setups so out of whack. Michigan is both Jack Roush and Ford's home state and Sunday marked the first time since 2000 that a Roush car did not finish in the top 10 there. Stenhouse Jr. got right-front damage early and finished 27th. Edwards never was a factor all weekend and finished a lap down in 23rd. Biffle hovered around the 20th spot most of the day and finished there. RFR has been making internal changes and has really been struggling with the new rules package, but the good news is that Edwards has a win and is 6th in points and Biffle is 15th in points, so technically in the Chase...for now.
Never Fear, Underdog is Here: Juan Pablo Montoya - Montoya is not really an underdog, but his unceremonious exit from NASCAR seemed like goodbye and good riddance. His new relationship with Penske, however, has led him back for two races this year and Montoya did an admirable job in the No. 12 Ford. With little speed all weekend and a poor 27th starting spot, Montoya came from a lap down, drove into the top 10, and eventually finished 18th. All in all, that was not a bad effort. Justin Allgaier also did a great job for Harry Scott Motorsports, piloting the No. 51 to 16th - he ran at or near that position all day.
Wheel of Misfortune: Austin Dillon - Dillon had run just behind Larson inside the top 15 most of the day and was one of the leaders before cycling around after his final pit stop. But it wasn't the last stop of the day for the No. 3 team. Dillon had to pit again with a cut tire, but the team only changed two and it was the wrong side. So they had to pit a third time and changed the right side tires. Dillon fell to 30th at race's end.
You Can Comeback, But You Can't Stay Here: Kyle Larson - He got hit and spun on lap 8. Losing the rear bumper cover may have helped the No. 42 in traffic some drivers said and Larson was able to drive back into the top 10. A pit road speeding penalty cost Larson again, but again he drove through the field and finished 8th. The rookie is 7th in points and a good candidate to make the Chase, even if he doesn't win a race.
Ghost Driver: Marcos Ambrose - Ambrose was a Michigan pole-sitter last year, but that meant little Sunday. The No. 9 was invisible most of the day, running in the same obscurity as fellow Ford driver Carl Edwards. He finished 25th, another disappointing run for a driver in a contract season. This leaves his future with that team in some more doubt.
Head-Scratcher Crown of Thorns: Kasey Kahne - This doesn't really go to Kahne himself, but to all the talk about Kahne's contract after 2015. I've read multiple places that Kahne's future could be in the air, given his sponsor, Farmer's Insurance, re-upped for three more years, but Kahne has not been signed yet. The driver himself even says that Hendrick Motorsports officials haven't approached him about an extension yet. But isn't it a bit early? Sure, Kahne signed his contract to drive the No. 5 in 2010 - almost two years early. But deals often get done the season they end - not a year and a half before. Kahne likely didn't get his deal signed in conjunction with Farmer's, because Farmer's only re-upped for a limited schedule and not as many races as they have done these past three seasons. The reason for that is likely the addition of Nationwide Insurance, a competitor of theirs, to teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s team long term. Sure, Kahne should feel some pressure. He has only a few wins and never has been a true threat for the championship. But, this is a four-car team and having all four tops spinning at full bore at the same time is a tough task. Kahne and his team have struggled this year, but are we really pushing him out of the door? Just because 18-year-old Chase Elliott is having a whale of a year in the Nationwide Series does not mean that he needs to be in a Cup car in 2016. Wouldn't it be great if Elliott got a few years to marinate in the Nationwide Series, win a couple of championships and a dozen or two races, and then replace Jeff Gordon in a few years? Kahne is extremely talented and has never broken out like he should have, but let's not cast bad light on him so quickly and at the same time rush a youngster into a ride.
Georgia on My Mind: Sunday was rough for both Georgia drivers at Michigan. New dad (and congrats by the way) David Ragan had a poor first Father's Day in the No. 34 Ford, getting a lap down early, pitting an additional time under green for a loose wheel, and then spinning by himself after the halfway point. He finished 38th. Reed Sorenson had a new sponsor on board the No. 36 Tommy Baldwin Racing Chevy in Theme Park Connector, but the roller coaster stayed mainly low for Sorenson, as he placed 32nd. Interestingly enough, Ragan is 33rd in points and only three points ahead of Sorenson in the standings. Each has an almost identical average finish (Ragan's 31.5 to Sorenson's 31.7), which just goes to show what a long and dry first 15 races its been for both. Nationwide Series driver Chase Elliott has gotten back on track after problems a few weeks ago at Charlotte, finishing 5th at Dover two weeks ago and 6th at Michigan on Saturday. The Charlotte finish really hurt him, though, as he sits 3rd in points, 20 behind leader and teammate Regan Smith. Ryan Sieg was impressive in Saturday's NNS race, placing a solid 13th and on the lead lap in the No. 39 behind race winner Paul Menard. Saturday's Camping World Truck Series return to Gateway Motorsports Park saw John Wes Townley, who finished 4th in the ARCA race at Michigan, drive his No. 5 truck to 8th. Darrell Wallace Jr. won that race. Townley is now 7th in points, 27 markers behind leader Johnny Sauter.
Next: Time to do some right hand turns for the Sprint Cup cars, as the series travels to Sonoma Raceway in California on PRN at 2:00 p.m. Sunday.