While Kevin Harvick capped off an eventful NASCAR Cup Series doubleheader weekend at Michigan International Speedway with back-to-back victories, Kyle Busch and Aric Almirola kept themselves in guaranteed spots for this year’s Playoffs after both notched top-10 results on Sunday, August 9, at the Irish Hills. To go along with their results from the first Michigan race on Saturday, August 8, and the stage points they collected during the two Michigan races, both left the Irish Hills satisfied with their runs as they continue to set their sights towards the postseason and an opportunity to win the 2020 Cup title.
A day after having a potential shot of winning evaporated following the slightest of contact with eventual winner Harvick, Kyle Busch started Sunday’s race in 16th place and with vengeance. When the green flag waved, Busch wasted no time working his way towards the front. Following the first five laps, he had worked his way into the top 10 as he was running in seventh. Late in the first stage, the Las Vegas native made his way into the top five as he was scored in third. Ultimately, he would retain third place when the first stage concluded as he collected a chunk load of stage points towards the Playoffs. Following a stellar pit stop under the stage break, Busch emerged with the lead for the start of the second stage. At the start of the second stage, Busch, who led four laps, was quickly overtaken by Harvick for the lead. Nonetheless, Busch remained towards the front as he grabbed another third-place result in the second stage along with more stage points.
Following a pit stop under the second stage break, Busch restarted in second place for the final stage. For the remainder of the race and under the final 65 laps, he kept his No. 18 M&M’s Fudge Brownie Toyota Camry within the top 10 and battled for a top-five spot alongside teammates Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. When the checkered flag flew, Busch settled in fourth place, one spot higher than his fifth-place result on Saturday. Even though his winless streak of this season extended for another week and to 22 races, Busch’s 10th top-five result of this season kept the reigning Cup champion 140 points above the top-16 cutline with four regular-season races remaining until the 2020 Cup Playoffs commences.
“At the end of the day, we slowed down a little bit on the long runs,” Kyle Busch said on NBCSN. “That’s just what we had. We got about all we could get out of the day. I felt like [Harvick] was the best car, [Brad Keselowski] was second best, [Hamlin] at the end showed up and was pretty fast, but [Truex] and myself were really even. That’s about all we had. Great day again for the M&M’s Fudge Brownie Camry. We come to Michigan not normally looking for top-five days, but this has been two good days. Hopefully, we can keep some momentum rolling and get ready to go next week [at Daytona], turn right and turn left. Yesterday and today, the car drove great. Best driving car I’ve had here at Michigan…We stayed consistent with many of the things that we were doing from yesterday just to have a good solid effort of it today and not screw anything up.”
Compared to Busch, Aric Almirola had an up-and-down weekend at Michigan that ended up on a positive note. A day after finishing 16th, Almirola, who was scheduled to start in fifth place, dropped to the rear of the field in a backup car. Throughout the first stage and the first 40 laps, he methodically carved his way through the field and was scored in 19th. Starting 16th in the second stage, he cracked the top 10 throughout the run under green. By the time the second stage concluded, he finished eighth and collected a handful of stage points.
Starting 11th in the final stage, Almirola flexed his muscles as he made his way into the top five. Under 50 laps remaining, however, Almirola and his No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang emerged with the lead under caution through miscommunication when he had meant to pit with the leaders. For the ensuing restart, he led nine laps before he was overtaken by Harvick. While the run progressed, Almirola remained well inside the top 10, but needed a caution to complete the race with a shot of winning. A caution for debris under 20 laps remaining saved Almirola from pitting under green and falling a lap behind. When he pitted, however, he fell back near the top 20 while most of the leaders elected to remain on track. For the remainder of the race, Almirola benefited from the four fresh tires and fuel to charge his way back to the top 10. He had a shot in overtaking Joey Logano for fifth place in the final laps, but he was unable to navigate his way around Logano as he crossed the finish line in sixth place. Almirola’s 13th top-10 result of this season has the Floridian 158 points above the cutline and in a stable position of making his fourth postseason appearance.
“We overcame a lot today,” Almirola said on NBCSN. “We had to start in the back with a backup car, drove literally from 32nd all the way up to sixth and then, had that miscue on pit road about what we were doing for pitting. Led some laps there, which was nice but I knew that we were in trouble ’cause everybody else could make it on fuel and we couldn’t. So, we pitted, got four tires on [the car] and drove from 22nd back up to sixth again in about 12 laps. Really proud of [crew chief Mike] Buga [Bugarewicz] and all the guys on this team. Yesterday was not a very good day. It was a learning experience and a character-building experience. We learned so much from that and [prepared a] completely different racecar and a different mentality for today, back to what we’ve been running the last couple of months and we’ve had a lot more success on this. Excited to go these next few weeks and get ready for the Playoffs. I don’t know what to expect for next weekend at the Daytona road course but nonetheless, we’ve got a great car, great team and we’re excited about the Playoffs when they come.”
Almirola and Busch, along with their fellow Cup competitors, will return on Sunday, August 16, for the inaugural NASCAR Cup Series race at the Daytona International Speedway road course layout, which will occur at 3 p.m. ET on NBC.