From oil pan issues for the cars of Joe Gibbs Racing to the end of probation for driver rivals Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick, the Irish hills of Michigan once again saw plenty of action for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
[media-credit name=”CIA Stock Photo” align=”alignright” width=”265″][/media-credit]Here is what was surprising and not surprising from the 43rd annual Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips 400 at Michigan International Speedway.
Surprising: It was surprising that Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 FedEx Office Toyota, did not win last weekend at Pocono Raceway, a place that he had ‘owned’ for so many races in the past. But it was also surprising the Hamlin, who has been battling engine failures and other bad luck so mightily this season, finally put that behind him and took the checkered flag.
This was Hamlin’s first win of the 2011 season, although he has had six top-10 finishes to date. His previous win was sixteen races ago when Hamlin was the victor at Texas Motor Speedway in November 2010.
“We finished,” Hamlin said. “We got it done. It’s a big Father’s Day.”
Not Surprising: Since it was Michigan, Jack Roush’s backyard and Ford’s playground, it was not at all surprising that two drivers from that racing stable did well, scoring top five finishes.
Matt Kenseth, behind the wheel of the No. 17 Crown Royal Ford, driving as hard as his car would go while not wrecking on the final lap, finished in the runner up spot. His RFR teammate Carl Edwards, piloting the No. 99 Aflac ‘Now Hiring’ Ford and winner of the Nationwide race the day before, finished fifth.
This was Kenseth’s 15th top-10 finish in 24 races at Michigan International Speedway. This was also Kenseth’s eighth top-10 finish in 2011.
“We had a really fast car and thought we were going to have a chance to win,” Kenseth said. “I got back to Denny (Hamlin), but I could not get back around him. I tried everything I could, but I just could not figure out how to do it.”
For Edwards’ part, he just really wanted to win the Cup race, vowing to head all the way to the top of the grandstands just as he had in the Nationwide race, if he did. While he scored fifth instead of first, Edwards did extend his Chase points lead to 20 points over second place.
Surprising: Continuing with the Carl Edwards theme, it was most surprising to see the driver, who is usually most professional and an excellent spokesperson for the sport, call NASCAR out after the race.
“Track position is so important,” Edwards said. “Sadly, down force is such a big factor in these cars and I am really hoping that NASCAR will take the opportunity in 2013 to take down force away so the fans can see the guys race race cars and not race down force. That would be cool.”
Not Surprising: Neither oil pan troubles nor physical ailments could stop Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 Snickers Toyota, from his appointed rounds. After complaining of nausea and pain in the center of his chest, Busch drove forward from his 24th place starting spot to finish third.
“He just had a little stomach ache,” Dave Rogers, crew chief, said. “We gave him some Tums in a bottle of water and it took care of it.”
Busch’s crew did have Scott Riggs standing by if needed, but when Busch was leading at the half-way mark of the race, there was no way he was ever going to get out of his car, not matter how poorly he felt.
“Kyle is pretty dedicated to this race team,” Rogers said. “He’s a pretty tough kid so I didn’t think he would get out.”
“I didn’t feel that bad,” Busch said. “It felt like I was running a 400 mile marathon running on my feet instead of in a race car.”
Although Busch has never won at Michigan International Speedway, this was his fourth top-10 finish in 13 races in the Irish hills. Busch’s third place finish mirrored his third place finish the previous week in the Pocono race.
“It wasn’t going to be a great day but we turned it into a good one,” Busch said. “Overall I’m happy with today; happy with the finish. If you finish third in the last 10 races every single race, you might win this thing, so we’ll take it.”
Surprising: The primarily poor performance of the Hendrick Motorsports team was fairly surprising. Five-time champion Jimmie Johnson spun on lap 8, bringing out the first caution of the race.
Johnson, driving the No. 48 Lowe’s/Kobalt Tools Chevrolet, finished 27th and lost the second spot in the Chase standings, falling to the fifth position.
Johnson’s teammate, four-time champion and winner of last weekend’s race, Jeff Gordon, also did not fare very well in the Irish hills. Gordon, this week driving the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet, started 31st and finished 17th, falling one spot in the points to the 12th and final potential Chase spot.
What was most surprising, however, were the harsh words HMS driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr. had for his teammate Mark Martin. The driver of the No. 88 Amp Energy/National Guard Chevrolet made perfectly clear that he was not happy with being squeezed into the wall by the driver of the No. 5 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet.
“He just come on up and drove us into the fence,” Junior said of his teammate Martin. “He ran us flat in the wall.”
“I think we will get it sorted out,” Martin said in rebuttal. “I made a mistake.”
Dale Jr. finished 21st, his first finish out of the top-10 this season. Junior was, however, able to hold on to his third place in the points standings.
Mark Martin actually finished top-10, the best of all of the Hendrick Motorsports cars. He climbed one position in the points to 14th, just 20 points behind his teammate Jeff Gordon in the last Chase position.
Not Surprising: The majority of the Richard Childress Racing entries had a very good day at Michigan. Paul Menard, who has been struggling of late, had a terrific run, bringing his No. 27 Pittsburgh Paints/Menards Chevrolet home in the fourth position.
Clint Bowyer also had a good day in the Irish hills. The No. 33 Cheerios/Hamburger Helper Chevrolet finished in the eighth spot.
Finally, ‘the Closer’ Kevin Harvick overcame adversity and a brush with the wall to finish 14th in his No. 29 Budweiser Chevrolet. Harvick leapfrogged over Dale Junior to lay claim to the second spot in the point standings.
Surprising: One of the best surprises of the day was the terrific run by young Landon Cassill, piloting the No. 51 Security Benefit/Thank a Teacher Today Chevrolet for Phoenix Racing. Cassill finished 12th, the best finish ever in his Cup career, tying the best finish for Phoenix Racing this season.
“That was a great day all around,” Cassill said. “We lost some track position early but fought back all day. We had a good break at the end.”
Not Surprising: With Hall of Fame inductee Bud Moore on his race car in celebration of the US Army’s 236th Birthday, Ryan Newman had an ‘Army Strong’ day, finishing sixth.
“It was a good finish for us,” Newman said. “We fought back hard.”
Newman’s teammate and owner Tony Stewart also had a favorable race result. The driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet finished the Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips 400 in seventh.