DW: Michigan was all about teams 'adjusting to the adjustments'
Sunday's race at Michigan International Speedway proved to be quite interesting.
As has been documented 1,000 times and probably by now, 10,000 times, NASCAR initiated a new aero package to be run last Sunday and again at Kentucky Speedway. This experiment by NASCAR with taking away even more downforce is happening at two tracks with a lot of grip. So if you are going to try something where you take even more downforce away, both Michigan and Kentucky with its brand-new surfaces are great places to do it at.
I told you last week that I had my doubts about the size of the spoiler they were going to run at Michigan. We haven't run a two-and-a-half-inch spoiler ever that I can remember. I started my Cup career in 1972 and I can't remember ever having a spoiler that small. So that in and of itself made me a little skeptical as we headed into the weekend.
Sure, the cars looked a little edgy. When you are in a Cup car doing 216 miles per hour down the straightaway and then down to about 175 mph in the turns, obviously you are lacking something. That something was grip. We saw it time and time again where cars would get a little loose or go up the hill and get into someone. Those were things I was concerned about but quite honestly, it wasn't as bad as I thought it could be.
The credit goes to the drivers. They adjusted to the adjustment very well. Naturally some adjusted to it better than others.
Obviously Joey Logano and his No. 22 team nailed it. They won the pole and then come Sunday Joey led 139 of 200 laps to finally get his first win of 2016. He actually made it look pretty easy.
Something that I thought was pretty funny and ironic was found in our top three finishers Sunday. As mentioned, Joey won, with Chase Elliott coming home second and Kyle Larson third. Can you believe the average age of the three was only 23 years old? That was a NASCAR record.
I've said this before, but I think we are seeing a changing of the guard. Our sport goes through this about every 10 years. On top of what we saw Sunday, you had 24-year-old Daniel SuÃ¡rez win his first career NASCAR Xfinity race to become the first Mexican-born driver to capture a NASCAR win in one of our three top touring series.
If that wasn't enough youth-movement for you, 18-year-old William Bryon won Friday night at the NASCAR Camping World Truck series race at Texas Motor Speedway. He becomes the youngest Truck Series winner at Texas and the second-youngest winner overall. Chase Elliott holds that record in the XFINITY Series. So our sport has a very bright future ahead of it.
Joey's teammate Brad Keselowski came home in fourth place Sunday. That marked his sixth straight top-10 finish. So the Team Penske Fords are running strong with this new package.
The best Joe Gibbs Racing could muster was a sixth place by Carl Edwards. Like I mentioned last week, this time last year it was Chevrolet dominating the sport and up until a couple weeks ago it was Toyota dominating things this year.
If you look at the rule changes that were made after Charlotte, even though they were subtle, I think it's had a bigger effect on the Toyotas than maybe the other manufacturers. At least on the surface it looks like the tweaks in the rules have slowed the Toyotas down while helping level the playing field for the Fords and the Chevrolets. I don't think that's a bad thing.
How about our man Smoke? Watching Tony Stewart all weekend was just fun. They unloaded fast on Friday. He was fast all weekend. He qualified third and finished seventh. That was his second top 10 of the season since coming back from his back injury. He's going to have to put together a string of runs like that between now and the checkered flag at Richmond in September if he hopes to make his final Chase.
Remember, Stewart has to not only win a race but finish in the top 30 in points. Sunday's seventh-place finish helped him move to 35th in the points. Needless to say, Tony was ecstatic about the new aero package and why wouldn't he be since it's the best run he's had all year.?
Austin Dillion finished right behind Tony. It was another great run for that young man. He started eighth and finished eighth. That was his seventh top-10 finish of the season and he moved into 12th spot in the points.
It was also good to see Jamie McMurray have a great run Sunday. He started 14th and brought his Chevrolet home in ninth. While that was only his third top 10 of the season, I think we are seeing the Ganassi organization as a whole turn the corner this season.
I mean it's been a while since we have seen Kyle Larson and teammate Jamie McMurray both finish in the Top 10. They both seem to consistently getting better. I think you are seeing the fruits on the labor from back at the shop and in the front office.
Remember that my brother Michael Waltrip's former partner Rob Kaufman bought into Chip Ganassi Racing last year. So while the teams are getting their cars better, I think maybe Rob's influence is also playing a role in the decisions they make which is leading to more consistent overall performance. It's good for them but it's also good for our sport.
As I mentioned, Sunday was Joey's first win of the season. He's now set for the 2016 Chase. It was his 15th overall win plus Joey becomes the 10th different driver to win this year out of our first 16 races.
There are 11 races to go until the Chase field is set. We have this weekend off to celebrate Father's Day and then things pick back up next weekend at the road course in Sonoma. It was good to see Joey finally get back to his winning ways. This young man won six races last year and here we are with 15 races in the books before he finally gets his first one of this season.
What also is interesting is that Joey is our seventh different winner in the last seven races. It also marks the fourth win by someone who hasn't won a race this year. In his career Joey has won three times from the pole and ironically two of those came at Michigan, so the young man obviously really likes that joint. It was Team Penske's third win of the year and believe it or not, Roget Penske now sits at 99 NASCAR Sprint Cup wins as a car owner. Trust me, both Joey and Brad will be battling hard to be the driver to give Roger number 100!
So Sunday was an interesting day for a lot of the teams. I'm sure they will take what they learned and try to fine-tune it for when this aero package runs again, which as mentioned, is at Kentucky Speedway on Saturday July 9. With that new surface there that joint is going to have a ton of grip. Now I wouldn't throw this package away. If I were NASCAR I would still tweak on it.
I've always been a believer in giving teams options. Take a look at the NASCAR XFINITY cars. They have a standard spoiler but they can add what's called the "dog ears" to them with one on each side if they want or one on one side if they want. I like that those teams have options. That gives the teams adjustability in their cars.
I think our Cup teams should be given a spoiler that is a reasonable size and let them do with it what they want. We used to be able to do that back in the day. It's one less thing you have to inspect and it's one less thing you have to worry about. I say let the teams decide how much downforce they want and what angle they want to run their spoiler at.
I'd just like to see the box opened up a little bit for these Cup teams. You don't hear much about penalties in the XFINITY Series. It's the same with in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. They race hard and put on a great show. This might be one of the few cases where the Cup Series folks might want to look over their shoulder and take some lessons from the lower series. It's just what I like to call the blind obvious.