With an impassioned driver’s meeting speech by Carl Edwards urging safety and throttling back during cautions at such a high-speed track, here is what else was surprising and not surprising from the 45th annual Pure Michigan 400.
Surprising: Drivers were apparently in full throttle preparation for Bristol, with tempers surprisingly abounding at the two-mile track in the Irish hills. Six time champion Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Newman exchanged words after the race, as did Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Denny Hamlin.
“Just old Ryan Newman stuff,” Johnson said after his heated conversation with the driver of the No. 31 WIX Filters Chevrolet. “Anybody that has watched the sport long enough or has been in a race car out there understands the frustration of racing Ryan.”
Racing frustrations also abounded between the drivers of the No. 11 FedEx Freight Toyota and the No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet.
“I felt like he crowded me off of (Turn) 4 in the middle part of the race,” Hamlin said. “We’re trying to make the best we can do down 50 horsepower.”
“I’m going to eventually let him go, but I’m not some lapped car that you can just shove to the high side and I’m going to back off.”
“I ran him up the track a little bit early in the race,” Earnhardt said. “He didn’t like it too much. I’ve been run up the track, too. I don’t like it either, but I didn’t want him hanging on my quarter panel all the way down the front straightaway and ended up three- or four-wide.”
“I just wanted to get on by him because I was flying. We were hauling.”
Not Surprising: Jeff Gordon went three for three for three, with his third win of the season, his third win at Michigan and a now three-win season, his first since 2011.
“Well, I like to go fast. This place is really, really fast,” the driver of the No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet said. “Michigan has always been one of my favorites.”
“Today I was able to drive this place the way I like to drive it, have success here again.”
Surprising: It was a surprisingly rough weekend for Martin Truex, Jr., with his girlfriend Sherry Pollex undergoing surgery for ovarian cancer, his brother Ryan suffering a concussion in Michigan practice and his involvement a nine car pile-up that relegated him to a 36th place finish.
“These two Michigan races turned out to be very long days,” the driver of the No. 78 Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Chevrolet said. “It was hard to learn anything about this place back in June and it was the same story today.”
“I just wish we could have finished one of these Michigan races with a clean car,” stated Truex. “You’re always curious to see how things would have played out and where you could have potentially finished.”
Not Surprising: He may have been a bridesmaid yet again, in fact for the fourth time at Michigan, but Kevin Harvick deemed his second place run a success, especially in light of the upcoming Chase.
“Yeah, I mean, we had a solid day,” Harvick said. “Just the 24 had more speed than we did all day. I felt like when Joey was out front, he could get away at the short run, we’d kind of even out.”
“But all in all, it was a good day,” the driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet said. “The main focus for our team has been consistency heading into the Chase to make sure we can scramble and do the things we’ve done over the last month.”
“Obviously you want to win, but all in all we had some different goals that are as important leading into the Chase.”
Surprising: While Joey Logano joked in the media center after the race that he really did not want to relive his last few laps, he too like Harvick had the championship on his mind, laying down the gauntlet after his third place finish.
“We can win a championship. I really feel we can do that,” the driver of the No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford said. “That’s the message I want to put out there. I want to put out for my team that we’re strong enough to do that. I think we showed that today.”
Not Surprising: It was indeed a ‘hard week’ as Jeff Burton put it after being tapped to substitute for Tony Stewart, who decided to miss another race, grieving the contact with Kevin Ward Jr. which cost the young driver his life.
“This was a hard week,” Burton said. “This was honestly one of the hardest weeks I’ve ever spent, coming here on Friday not knowing what to expect.”
Burton’s No. 14 Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet finished 37th after an electrical issue and a burning smell in the cockpit sent him to the garage.
Surprising: It was a surprisingly bad day if your name was Kyle. Both Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson crashed, the first on lap four and the latter on lap 98.
“I felt so good about my car those first few laps running the bottom, but then I was getting hung out on the straightaways,” Busch said “Then I just tried going to the top in (turns) three and four right away, and I got loose all the way through three and four. Every time I touched the gas it wanted to spin out, and finally it was too much gas and not enough save, and I wrecked.”
Larson’s incident was far more frightening, however, as his No. 42 Target Chevrolet went up in flames after his hard impact.
“I had no warning the right-front was going to blow,” Larson said. “Michigan is a fast track and into turn three is fast too. We are turning some really high speeds here so the hit was definitely a hard one.”
“Yeah anytime you see flames you want to get out,” Larson continued, explaining his bailing out of his car in spite of NASCAR’s new ruling. “I have had fires and stuff, but that is the first time I have ever had fumes or smoke and stuff in the cockpit. That is the main reason why I wanted to get out.”
Not Surprising: Once you get a win under your belt, as AJ Allmendinger did at Watkins Glen, those good finishes just seem to roll along. The Dinger finished top-15 at Michigan and officially clinched his spot in the Chase.
“It’s really cool,” the driver of the No. 47 Kingsford Charcoal Chevrolet said of his Chase berth. “I thought we had a really good shot, but you never know until it’s official. So to have that is really good.”
“More than anything I felt like this weekend made some gains so that gets a little excitement going into the next couple of race tracks to see if we can keep getting better. Overall the last few weeks has been really cool to share with the guys and come here and have a little energy and confidence. To come out here all weekend and show some speed has been really good.”
Surprising: In spite of burning up a test session at Michigan International Speedway prior to the race weekend, Roush Fenway Racing continued to struggle at a track they once owned. Greg Biffle did manage a tenth place finish and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finished 15th, however, Carl Edwards had a disappointing end to his day, taking the checkered flag in 23rd.
“You know, I guess it was a good day,” Biffle said. “We got a top-10. Really we wanted to run up in the top-five. We had a car to do that and that track position we would get loose around other cars. We still have to work on that with our race cars.”
“It was a good solid top-15,” Stenhouse Jr. said. “We qualified 10th and finished 15th and ran right around 15th the whole time which is kind of a goal. Obviously we want to run top-10 and pass as many cars as we can but all in all we accomplished what we were looking to do.”
“We were so loose I just couldn’t drive it,” Edwards said. “It looked like Greg (Biffle) had a good run and we had speed in qualifying so that gives us something to look forward to but we were just too loose today to be able to do anything.”
Not Surprising: After some difficult runs recently, it was not surprising that Paul Menard scored a fourth place finish at an intermediate track where he tends to run well. The driver of the No. 27 Certainteed/Menards Chevrolet did in fact run well, finishing fourth.
“Our cars are really good,” Menard said. “The RCR fab shop, the ECR engine shop they make really good race cars. This track kind of suits my driving style I guess. Sluggar (Labbe, crew chief) and I, Justin and James and everybody on the No. 27 car have a good baseline intermediate track package that seems to work good at these fast tracks.”
“Definitely needed a good run the last three or four weeks have been pretty brutal,” Menard continued. “We definitely needed this.”
As a result of the Michigan race and assuming that they all attempt to qualify for the remaining three races of the regular season, AJ Allmendinger, Aric Almirola, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin all scored their spot in the championship Chase.