With the new high drag package creating some high anxiety, here is what was surprising and not surprising in the Pure Michigan 400 from the speedway nestled in the Irish Hills.
Surprising: With Matt Kenseth’s win in the No. 20 Dollar General Toyota, his manufacturer reigned supreme in Michigan. And with the trip to Victory Circle, Toyota received the Michigan Heritage trophy, initiated in 2013 to celebrate the winning vehicle manufacturer.
Toyota gets to hang onto that coveted trophy until the next race at Michigan International Speedway in June 2016. This was Toyota’s fifth Cup win at Michigan and the manufacturer’s ninth win of the season.
Winning Coach Joe Gibbs summed it up best as far as the partnership he has enjoyed with the manufacturer, with his Toyota team winning five out of the last six races.
“Well, the first thing is it’s a team sport all the way,” Gibbs said after the race. “We’ve got great partners, thanks to Toyota, all the hard work they’ve done over the last year and a half.”
“You really need to enjoy it because about 10 races back, we were struggling trying to get there, and you just hope now that we’ll be able to hold some momentum here and head into the Chase.”
Not Surprising: To tinker or not to tinker, that has been NASCAR’s question and the sanctioning body provided some answers after the Michigan race.
As for the high drag rules package used at MIS for race day, Steve O’Donnell, Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer, acknowledged that it did not achieve the passing at the front goal as evidenced by the dominance of the No. 20 car.
NASCAR, however, decided not to do any further tinkering, especially with any rules package changes during the Chase for the Championship.
“We’re going to stay with the 2015 package,” O’Donnell said. “We’ve seen some good things with that package. A lot of work has been done by the race teams already leading up to the final 10 races and feel like that’s the best decision for the sport.”
“Excited about the Chase, excited about the package and what’s to come in the Chase, especially when you look back to last year.”
Surprising: Kyle Busch not only overcame having to start in the rear due to a practice crash in his No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota but also demonstrated his best ‘Carnac the Magnificent’ skills with his prediction that there would be a crash in the first lap of the race.
Busch was so convinced of his prediction that he hung back almost half a lap from the field during the start of the race, only to have David Ragan spin, fulfilling Busch’s prediction.
Busch went on to finish 11th, moving himself up to 29th in the point standings.
Not Surprising: For the driver who came in runner up, yet again, the Pure Michigan 400 was a one-off in his opinion.
“I would say we didn’t really learn anything today,” Kevin Harvick, the driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s/Budweiser Chevrolet, said. “Not only is this racetrack nothing like what we race on in the Chase, it’s just kind of a unique animal, and then you have the rules package.”
“Today was really just about trying to win a race, and it’s really not going to lend itself towards anything that we do in the last 10 weeks.”
Surprising: Martin Truex Jr. is not only locked into the Chase but he continues to break records in his quest for the Championship. The driver of the No. 78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet finished third, scoring his 16th top-10 finish in the first 23 races of the 2015 season.
This tied a team season record, set in 2013 when Kurt Busch piloted the No. 78 for the Colorado-based race team.
“It was a good day for everybody on the Furniture Row team,” Truex said. “We had a good car from the get go. We made some adjustments throughout the race, but overall the No. 78 was a fast hot rod.”
Not Surprising: Team Penske drivers may have had a rocky start with their splitters being confiscated by NASCAR prior to the race, but both Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski recovered to both finish in the top-10.
“My team did a good job and we executed fairly well,” Logano said after finishing seventh. “We had a couple bad restarts but a good one there at the end to make up for it. I would say we finished about where we deserved.”
“We made the most of our day in every way we could,” Keselowski said after his ninth place finish. “We just needed to be faster, for sure, especially down the straightaways.”
Surprising: Dale Earnhardt Jr. was the best of the Hendrick Motorsports drivers, finishing in the 10th position. Teammates Kasey Kahne, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson finished 15th, 17th and 39th respectively.
In fact, the driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet had a miserable day, cutting a tire down early in the race, overshooting his pit stall, and spinning through the grass which destroyed the front end of his race car.
Johnson finished an uncharacteristic 10 laps down.
Not Surprising: There was no doubt that Aric Almirola felt like a winner with his top-15 finish. The driver of the No. 43 Armour Ford overcame a stomach virus as well as a 30th place qualifying position to take the checkered flag in the 14th spot.
Almirola also won in the point standings and now sits just 23 points behind competitor Clint Bowyer in the battle for the final playoff spot.
“We may have finished 14th today, but it felt like a win after the weekend we had,” Almirola said. “Everyone worked really hard to get the car where we needed it.”
“We made the best out of our situation and made up some good ground in points. We started the year with a goal to be consistent and just scored our 12th Top-15.”
Surprising: One young gun showed the field that having fun and performing can indeed go hand in hand. Austin Dillon, in his No. 3 Dow Chevrolet, had a career best finish in fourth place and yes, also had a little fun along the way moving from the back to the front.
“We had some circumstances where we had to start at the back and had to figure out a way to get our track position back,” Dillon said. “Slugger (Labbe, crew chief) and the engineers did a good job coming up with a plan.”
“The first 20 laps was no fun for us because we had to ride around and try and stay in front of the leader, but we saved gas and decided to not come down pit road on that first competition caution for fuel, and it worked out,” Dillon continued. “It showed that our car was fast enough to stay up there.”
“We pitted, drove back up to where we needed to be, and it was a fun day for us, the Dow Chevrolet was fast, and I felt like I passed a lot of cars, also, getting into fourth.”
Not Surprising: With his mentor Buddy Baker being laid to rest after losing his battle to cancer, Ryan Newman did him proud, scoring his eleventh top-10 finish, in spite of some damage incurred after a collision with the race car of Clint Bowyer. The finish was essential to the driver’s championship hopes and he moved up to the 12th spot in the standings.
“I am so pleased with this top-10 finish,” Newman said. “It was an awesome team effort. It was a good day for us and a good points day for us.”
“I’m looking forward to Bristol and I just found out that it will be my 500th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start. I had no idea, so I’m hoping it will be another good weekend for us.”