Biffle tops, Junior flops at Michigan
This race capsule is dedicated to Jason Leffler, his son, his family, and his friends. Our thoughts and prayers are with them all.
The Scoop: Greg Biffle notches career Cup win 19, career Cup Michigan win four, and the 1000th NASCAR victory for Ford Sunday. "The Biff" capitalized on a gruesome day for Hendrick Motorsports that saw Dale Earnhardt Jr. lose an engine after leading, Kasey Kahne cut a tire and crash while leading, and Jimmie Johnson (who had led earlier) cut a tire and hit the wall while chasing the leader Biffle in the closing laps. Other leaders during the day also saw misfortune. Kurt Busch started 2nd, led the race's first 21 laps, but then spun and hit the wall by himself on lap 30 to finish seven laps down in 35th. Jamie McMurray didn't pit at one point and led 21 laps, but brought out the final caution of the day when he blew a tire on lap 168. Earnhardt Jr. seemed poised to win this race for the 2nd-straight year when he beat Johnson out of the pits and took the lead on the lap 105 restart. Johnson fell back either from spinning his tires or trying not to beat his teammate to the start-finish line. But Johnson clawed back up to 2nd just in time for Earnhardt Jr. to lose a cylinder and eventually blow his engine. Pit strategy and a couple of slow stops set Johnson back again, but the No. 48 came within about 300 feet of a late race lead and possible 2nd-straight win, before that cut tire and 28th-place finish. Biffle led 48 total laps on the day, taking the lead for the final time from Joey Logano on lap 169. The win for the No. 16 team moved them to 8th in points. Kasey Kahne's misfortune sent him to 12th in the standings, his lowest placement in a while. Kevin Harvick finished runner-up in the race and sits solidly 4th in points. Martin Truex Jr. placed 3rd, Kyle Busch 4th, and Tony Stewart 5th. Stewart now moves into the top 10 in the standings, riding a streak of four-straight top 10s.
140 Characters or less: The Biff brings home 1000 for Ford in Motor City. Leaders fall by the wayside. Michigan is fast. #RIPLefTurn
Handsome Boy Modeling School Stud of the Race: Greg Biffle - Biffle has had a quiet season. Michigan is only the 2nd race he has led this season and first since Phoenix. Sunday wasn't just a fluke win for Biffle, though Johnson and Earnhardt Jr. would have made taking the win tough if not for their misfortunes. The 3M Ford led the most laps in the field Sunday and is coming off of a runner-up finish last week at Pocono.
North Korean Missile Dud: Kurt Busch - He started on the outside pole and has shown more and more speed each week. He seemed on the verge of a breakthrough win this weekend. But the slick Michigan surface swung the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevy sideways and into the wall. Busch fell from contention yet again.
Never Fear, Underdogs Are Here: Trevor Bayne - Let's tip the cap to the Wood Brothers for a solid 15th place finish - that's a good run for a small, part-time team. Another brim pull goes to Austin Dillon and the very part-time Richard Childress Racing No. 33 team for placing 11th.
You Can Comeback, But You Can't Stay Here: Kyle Busch - Busch was not a big player in the race, but came back from a speeding penalty to finish 4th. Penalties like that have derailed Busch in the past, but driver No. 18 drove back to the front and is looking solid week in and week out (when the engine doesn't blow).
Wheel of Misfortune: Jeff Gordon - Gordon couldn't even get going Sunday. Starting 29th, he had a long row to hoe to get to the front. Instead, Bobby Labonte, making his first start outside the No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing Toyota, spun the No. 51 Phoenix Racing Chevy and collected Gordon. It was lap 7. Labonte didn't finish and Gordon went to the garage for most of the race.
Head-Scratcher Crown of Thorns: Tires - Tires failed dramatically on Kasey Kahne's, Jamie McMurray's, and Jimmie Johnson's cars. Michigan's pavement is brand-new and the cars barely brake in the turns, so those three right-front tire failures seem surprising. Were teams aggressive on their setups or were this tire failures total happenstance? Who knows? But that problem ruined three teams' days.
Ghost Driver: Denny Hamlin - How about Hamlin's Chase chances being the ghost? Denny Hamlin's injury was a setback, but his strength before the injury made the idea that he could win a couple of races and get in the top 20 not too implausible. It is just about impossible now. Hamlin's No. 11, sporting the original FedEx scheme the late Jason Leffler ran in 2005, looked better than it ran. The handling was so off, the team gave up a bunch of track position to change a shock on one pit stop. They never recovered and finished a lap down in 30th. Hamlin, a former Michigan winner, now sits 26th in points, a gaping 85 behind Kurt Busch in 20th. Hamlin needs wins and extremely good runs to have any chance to continue the sport's 2nd-longest streak at making the Chase (seven-straight years behind Johnson's nine).
Georgia on My Mind: David Ragan rebounded from a poor run at Pocono to finish a respectable 25th at Michigan on the lead lap. Reed Sorenson placed a spot better in Saturday's NNS race at Michigan, ending the day 24th. Ken Butler III started his 2nd race for SR2 Motorsports, this time in the No. 00 Toyota. He start-and-parked after 21 laps and placed 34th.
Nationwide 140 or less: Regan Smith gets big points lead with Michigan win. Dillon falls short again, ticks off Logano. Wait... Kyle Busch didn't win?
Next: Both the Cup and NNS series hit the road courses. Sprint Cup races Sonoma in California Sunday at 3 p.m. on TNT and NNS runs Road America Saturday at 5 p.m. on ESPN. Both races should be very interesting - especially since Jacques Villeneuve is running the No. 51 Cup car.