The Cup Series return to the Irish hills of Michigan also marked the return of Jack Roush, injured in a plane crash, to the track as well as the resurgence of Richard Childress Racing. Here is what is surprising and not surprising from the race at MIS this past weekend.
Surprising: Not since 1990 when the late Dale Earnhardt won had Richard Childress Racing been to victory lane at Michigan. But all that changed when RCR driver and points leader Kevin Harvick powered his No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet to the checkered flag. This was Harvick’s first win at a two mile plus race track without a restrictor plate since Indy in 2003.
Not Surprising: With that victory and the points lead solidly in hand, Kevin Harvick and Richard Childress Racing positioned themselves perfectly to welcome the Budweiser sponsorship to their car in 2011. All of the stars seem to be aligning for Harvick with his new sponsor, a new contract, and a position in the championship Chase now officially locked in.
Surprising: Kurt Busch in the blue deuce for Penske Racing had been riding high recently. He was unpleasantly surprised, however, when his engine failed early in the race due to a valve breakage. This was Busch’s second DNF and he was also NASCAR’s biggest loser, dropping six positions in the point standings, from fourth to tenth.
Not Surprising: Brother Kyle Busch had an eventful race as he so often does, at one point brushing the wall hard and suffering damage to his No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota. Yet he battled back for a finish matching the number of his car, taking the checkered flag in the 18th position. Unlike his brother, Kyle Busch just lost one position in the Chase standings, dropping him to eighth.
Surprising: With an uncertain future at Richard Petty Motorsports but with the memory of his Pocono Truck win still fresh in the back of his mind, Elliott Sadler had a great run in his No. 19 Henry Ford Museum: Racing in America Ford. Sadler came in 9th after starting back in the field in 23rd.
Not Surprising: RPM teammate Kasey Kahne did not fare as well as Sadler. While he started from the pole, he brought his No. 9 Budweiser Ford to the finish line in 14th, deeming his run “disappointing.”
Surprising: Lanky Joey Logano and ripped Ryan Newman got into a tussle on and off the track. On lap 148, the two drivers were battling for position and wrecked one another. Newman, battling for one of the final positions in the Chase, finished a miserable 23rd, while Logano, who is out of Chase contention, salvaged a top ten finish.
Not Surprising: The two drivers continued their on track disagreement into the garage area, with Logano confronting Newman and accusing him of driving him “too hard”. Newman, showing no patience for the youngster, especially after being touched by the gesticulating young man, shared a few choice words, encouraging Logano to learn how to drive himself.
Surprising: It was surprising how badly the Hendrick Motorsports drivers fared at Michigan. Jeff Gordon, celebrating his own birthday as well as the birth of his son Leo, started in the back but had a strong car, at one point running at the front of the field. But tire troubles plagued him throughout the latter part of the race and he finished 27th.
Not Surprising: Unfortunately for the Dale Earnhardt Jr. fans, the Irish hills did not smile on the driver of the No. 88 National Guard AMP Energy Chevrolet. Junior finished 19th but can take solace that he was the second best finisher of his four HMS teammates.
Surprising: Hendrick Motorsports driver Mark Martin also struggled, getting into the wall early in the race. He finished behind Jeff Gordon in 28th and with that finish fell out of Chase contention to the 13th position in the point standings.
Not Surprising: With the ‘Cat in the Hat’ back on top of the pit box where he belongs, the Roushketeers had a great run in his honor and at his home track. Roush Fenway drivers Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth finished in the third, fourth and fifth positions respectively. Even young driver David Ragan ran well, finishing 11th and earning a congratulatory phone call from Roush himself.
Surprising: Denny Hamlin re-emerged and brought his No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota home in the runner up position. Hamlin was one of the biggest point gainers, moving up to the third position in the points right behind Harvick and Gordon.
Not Surprising: In the throes of the hot and sticky summer, it is no surprise that Smoke has started to reappear. Tony Stewart, as he so often does, has started to heat up his season, finishing sixth in his No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet. With that top ten finish, Stewart also moved up four positions in the Chase standings to fourth.
The Cup Series will go short track racing under the lights at Bristol this weekend. The IRWIN Tools Night Race will run on Saturday, August 21st at 7:30 PM on ABC.