Sporting some of the fastest speeds at any track this season, here is what was surprising and not surprising from the 44th running of the Pure Michigan 400 in the Irish hills.
Surprising: While the driver of the No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford did his job in qualifying, scoring the pole position for the race start, it was all about team Penske when the 23 year old Joey Logano took the checkered flag and found his way to Victory Lane at Michigan International Speedway.
“This was a hard-fought win throughout this whole Penske team,” Logano said. “This 22 team gave me a great Shell Pennzoil Ford that was capable of winning.”
“This race team did a fabulous job,” Todd Gordon, crew chief, said. “Really proud of this whole team.”
“As I go back probably 30 years here at the track, this is probably one of the biggest wins,” Roger Penske, team owner, said. “It’s clearly a team effort.”
This was Logano’s first victory of the 2013 season, his first victory at Michigan International Speedway and his first victory with team Penske Ford.
Not Surprising: Because the race was at Michigan, it was not surprising that fuel mileage, tires and track position played critical roles in how the race unfolded.
In fact, fuel mileage bit one of the sports veterans, who was racing all out for the ‘W’.
“We were just hoping for one more yellow,” Mark Martin, driver of the No. 55 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota said, after running out of gas while leading to finish 27th.
“Just stayed ahead of Joey there, but if he would have slowed down, I could have maybe saved enough,” Martin said. “I had to go that fast just trying to stay in the lead.”
Tires also played a significant role in the Pure Michigan 400, to which Dale Earnhardt, Jr. could definitely attest.
“It’s just the tire; we’ve had a lot of problems with,” the driver of the No. 88 National Guard Youth Foundation Chevrolet said after experiencing a right-front tire problem on lap 135. “I think this is the same tire we struggled with the last race.”
Because of his tire troubles, Junior finished the race in the 36th position and fell one position to seventh in the point standings.
Track position was also key as is so often the case at Michigan, a point driven home for young substitute driver Austin Dillon, behind the wheel of the No. 14 Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet for the recuperating Tony Stewart.
Dillon wrecked early in the race and had to work diligently with crew chief Steve Addington to garner the track position that led to their respectable 14th place finish.
“Definitely scared myself at the beginning as it was too early to be wrecking out there,” Dillon said. “Luckily we had saved enough car where we could work on it and get some track position.”
“Steve made some great calls on track position and them guys did a great job.”
Surprising: In addition to Austin Dillon’s comeback, Clint Bowyer made a surprisingly good comeback to finish 5th in his No. 15 5-hour Energy Toyota after a first lap spin. Bowyer was the highest finishing Toyota and the only Toyota in the top ten at the finish of the Pure Michigan 400. And while Bowyer struggled, he took great pride in his ability to bounce back from the adversity.
“Man, what a long day,” Bowyer said. “Beats the hell out of me how I recovered to finish fifth.”
“Spinning out on the first lap I’m like – I couldn’t figure it out,” Bowyer continued. “Hard fought battle.”
“Those days are what wins championships.”
Bowyer took over second in the point standing and is 41 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson.
Not Surprising: But for a tricky restart, the driver known as the ‘Closer’ almost closed the deal in the Irish hills of Michigan. Kevin Harvick, piloting the No. 29 Rheem Chevrolet, finished second, his 10th top-10 finish at MIS and his 12th top-10 finish in 2013.
“I just mistimed the last restart there,” Harvick said. “I had to check up and that allowed the No. 22 to kind of make it three-wide and get under me and then we had to fight back from there.”
“But all in all it was a good day.”
Surprising: The points leader and five-time champ had a surprisingly challenging day at Michigan, having to drive through the field in his back up car due to a practice lap wreck. Although he looked strong and even led two laps, Jimmie Johnson experienced engine failure and ended up his day finishing 40th in his No. 48 Lowes Chevrolet.
“The engine broke there,” Johnson said. “When we came in for a green flag pit stop, something started then it definitely dropped a cylinder.”
“This track is hard on engines,” Johnson continued. “Days like today am thankful for the big points lead and the bonus points in the Chase.”
“We’ll dust ourselves off and go on to next week.”
Not Surprising: Kurt Busch, who after the race reportedly received an offer to driver for Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014, proved the caliber of his driving abilities and the value of his team with a third place finish. This was Busch’s ninth top-10 finish in 26 races at MIS and the good finish moved him up two spots to ninth in the point standings.
“To be in position and run well, to post a top-three finish, just got to thank the guys,” the driver of the No. 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet said after the race. “Furniture Row is acting like a big-time player right now.”
“We had a little bit of weaknesses here and there but overall, we keep positing good results and it’s very satisfying.”
Surprising: Paul Menard, driver of the No. 27 NIBCO/Menards Chevrolet, surprisingly scored his first top five of the season.
“We really needed a good run,” Menard said. “We have been crashing a lot.”
“We had a good car all weekend.”
Not Surprising: Jeff Burton, who has been running better and better as the season progresses, finished top-10 in his No. 31 Cheerios Chevrolet. And even with that, Burton ended up both happy and disappointed.
“It’s good to be disappointed with eighth,” Burton said. “That is a good thing.”
“That’s a step in the right direction, no drama, got what we deserved and we will go on.”
Surprising: Marcos Ambrose had a surprising bump up into the top-10 finishing order after a tough run at Watkins Glen, finishing sixth in his No. 9 Dewalt Ford.
“We ran in the top-10 for a lot of the day and it was a better day for us,” Ambrose said. “I am proud of Drew (Blickensderfer, crew chief) for calling a great race.”
“He got us up there with track position and we were able to hold on.”
Not Surprising: There was no surprise in seeing Greg Biffle, who is usually strong at Michigan, finish in the ninth position in his No. 16 3M Ford. And according to the Biff, he would have done even better had it not been for some problems in the pits.
“We bumped the No. 2 coming out of the pits in that scramble at the end and hurt the left front fender,” Biffle said. “That was really tough for us.”
The next race will be tough for all of the drivers as they head to the beating and banging at Bristol Motor Speedway under the Saturday night lights.