DW's question: Ever seen a race like the one in Michigan on Sunday?
I just have to ask, have you ever seen a race like we had at Michigan on Sunday? I don't recall any race I've ever been to where we had four red flags and still couldn't get the race completed. It just wasn't meant to be. NASCAR, the drivers, teams and the fans gave it all they had but Mother Nature had other ideas.
Rain-shortened races always give us a mixed bag of results as many teams try different strategies trying to get the best finish before the rain hits. We saw it go both ways Sunday at Michigan. There's no one happier seeing the race called because of rain that winner Kurt Busch and crew chief Tony Gibson. Kurt moved up another spot in the points and now has two wins under his belt. What is truly phenomenal about all that is he done all this with three less races than everyone else because of his off-track issues before the season started.
If that wasn't enough, Kurt won Sunday in a backup car. He had hit the wall Friday and was forced to park his primary car. I also appreciated the comment that he gave his spotter Rick Carelli -- the ol' High Plains Drifter as he was called when he raced back in the day. I've always thought having a crew chief and a spotter who were former drivers is a huge benefit to a team. I think they can relate better and can understand a driver better, having been one themselves. I just think the overall chemistry and communication is better with a combination like we see on the No. 41.
So the race was just the right length for the No. 41 team while it was three laps too long for the No. 42. With the rain heading yet again to the track, crew chief Chris Heroy decided to leave Kyle Larson on the racetrack. The problem was Kyle was all but running on fumes. The move shot Kyle from 10th place into the lead. Unfortunately, Mother Nature didn't play along, so they had to bring the No. 42 to pit road and only three laps later the rains game costing Kyle his first win. Hey, I don't fault Chris in the least. They had a plan and it almost work. Chris Heroy was that close to being a hero!
So that was a team wishing the rain had come sooner, but I would wager the No. 48, the No. 24 and even the No. 4 wished the rain had stayed away so that they possibly could have been a factor in the end. Kevin Harvick and the No. 4 team suffered through their third valve steam problem of the year. They said, it probably was a lug nut that hit the valve steam, but I'm of the thought that maybe the tire changer hit it with his air gun.
The No. 24 continues to struggle, and I'm not sure why. Jeff qualified sixth and was the fastest car in practice on Saturday. There must be some kind of communication issue in the pits. I swear he left pit road with only two lug nuts on his left front tire. It's not Jeff's fault, but it's a continuing issue in the pits for the No. 24 that they have to get ironed out.
One thing that bothers me when I watch the in-car camera in Jeff's car when he is on the track is how much he is fighting the wheel. That's just not normal. Now sure, everyone has different driving styles but that simply isn't the way a car is supposed to be. Jeff shouldn't have to be fighting the wheel as much as he is doing going into the turns. I think that is an issue they need to look at and try to resolve for Jeff. He really hasn't liked the handling package for 2015 so maybe they need to look at ways to get him what he needs to be more comfortable.
Dale Jr. had a great car all weekend. Other than getting shuffled around in a restart, he still came home second. Martin Truex Jr. got a great third-place finish which tied Richard Petty with his 14th top-10 finish in the first 15 races of the season. I cannot tell you how impressed I am with that team. As I said last week, Martin is driving the best he ever has and crew chief Cole Pearn is making great calls in the pits.
It's funny how when you win a race how new suitors start knocking on your door. Now there is talk about Barney Visser's team switching manufacturers from Chevrolet to Toyota. That No. 78 bunch is a good team that would fit right into the Toyota camp, plus don't forget that Martin used to drive a Toyota. I don't care who they choose. What can Chevrolet do to keep them? Well, they could start giving Barney's team everything that Barney has to pay Richard Childress Racing for. So there are a lot of variables out there that may come to pass in the off-season.
Matt Kenseth finished fourth, with Team Penske finishing fifth and sixth. Jamie McMurray, Paul Menard, Trevor Bayne and Clint Bowyer rounded out the top 10. Now had the race gone the entire distance would those four still have been in the top 10 at the end? I doubt it. Maybe Jamie would because he has a history of top-10 finishes at Michigan, but I'm just not sure the others would have.
This was the first race for Clint Bowyer since his crew-chief change. I know they have to be looking forward to having this weekend off to spend more time together working on their communication. As bad as it's been for Clint this year, there still is some hope for their season. He's right there on the bubble of being inside the top 16 in points and making the Chase. Ryan Newman currently sits in that final transfer spot with Clint only 12 points back in 17th. So he's not out of the Chase picture by any means.
Young Ty Dillon got himself a great 14th-place finish Sunday in the No. 33 car. What's interesting to note there is his crew chief Slugger Labbe is moving over to become the crew chief for Ty's older brother, Austin. I've always liked Slugger. I think the combination of he and Austin in that No. 3 car will make a good combination. So I look forward to seeing what they can do together.
Kyle Busch experienced both ends of the spectrum at Michigan. He won his first race Saturday at Michigan since returning from his leg injuries at Daytona. Then on Sunday he wrecked on Lap 19 and I think that put an end to his Chase dreams for 2015. Sure, he might still win a race but I just don't think there is enough time left to get back to 30th or better in the points which is part of the criteria to be Chase eligible. That was his third DNF since returning to his No. 18 Toyota, and I just think that's a pretty steep incline to overcome with only 11 races left in the regular season.
Speaking of the 2015 Chase, we have 10 winners so far for 16 positions. I don't see us reaching 16 different winners. With 11 races left, I expect we'll probably have three more new winners, leaving three spots available for those who can make it in on points.
We still have some wild-card races coming up starting next weekend at Sonoma. Then there is Daytona the week after that and the other road course of Watkins Glen the second week of August. Last year gave us a couple surprise winners with Aric Almirola at Daytona and AJ Allmendinger at Watkins Glen, so my point is there are still some hope for drivers out there to pull off an upset or two.
Don't expect to see the drivers who are already locked into the Chase backing off any. Sure a win gets you into the Chase but every win gives you bonus points for when the 16-car Chase field is set after the checkered flag at Richmond in September. So it's going to be a real dogfight between those drivers simply wanting to get a win to make the Chase and those drivers who are already in wanting yet another win to have those all-important bonus points in the bank when the Chase starts.
So we have a weekend off and I just have to tell you this is the first time I can ever remember that we aren't racing on Father's Day. We don't race on Mother's Day and I think it's neat that all the dads in the sport finally get to spend time at home with their families for the first time in forever. Sure there is an XFINITY race on Saturday in Chicago, and if Mother Nature will cooperate for once, everyone will be home on Sunday for Father's Day.
We'll crank things back up at Sonoma next weekend. I look for guys who don't have a win such as Kasey Kahne, Clint Bowyer and AJ Allmendinger to be tough there. This is our 27th year of going to Sonoma and Carl Edwards is the defending race winner. The one guy I am really going to watch, though, next weekend is Jeff Gordon.
This obviously is Jeff's final trip to Sonoma behind the wheel of the No. 24 car, and the native of nearby Vallejo has had more success at Sonoma than any other NASCAR driver. He holds almost every significant NASCAR track record there. He has the most wins, with five; most pole positions, also five; 14 top-five finishes, which is also a record; and the most laps led, at 440. In 22 Sonoma starts, Jeff has 17 top-10 finishes, including nine consecutive top-10 finishes over the past nine years. We all know he desperately wants to win a race in his final year and make the Chase for a chance at his fifth and final NASCAR Sprint Cup championship, so you might want to put a little money on that No. 24 next weekend.