Irish eyes were smiling in the hills surrounding Michigan International Speedway, keeping the rain which had plagued the last two Cup races, at bay. Here is what was surprising and not surprising from the 42nd annual running of the Pure Michigan 400.
[media-credit name=”Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images for NASCAR” align=”alignright” width=”255″][/media-credit]Surprising: Carl Edwards, driver of the No. 99 Aflac Ford Fusion, could not have summed up the surprisingly bad day for his manufacturer and team any more succinctly.
With a surprisingly uncharacteristic engine failure, Edwards was Ford’s worst finisher at Michigan, a track where not only has Ford excelled but where Roush Fenway Racing has traditionally had free reign to play at the front of the field.
“I thought we would have a Ford in Victory Lane,” Edwards said. “I thought one way or another, we would win this thing.”
“It was a very tough race,” Edwards said. “We weren’t expecting a failure like that.”
Edwards lagged behind his Roush Fenway Racing teammates Matt Kenseth, who finished in 10th in the No. 17 Kroger Ford Fusion; David Ragan, driving the No. 6 UPS Ford Fusion, who brought home a 12th place finish; and pole sitter Greg Biffle, behind the wheel of the No. 16 3M Ford Fusion, who finished a disappointing 20th after leading the most laps in the race.
Biffle was as surprised by his disappointing finish as his teammate Edwards was of his finish and engine failure.
“I don’t know what happened,” Biffle said. “I have a feeling we kinda got a bum set of tires and then we got off on our adjustments. I really don’t know what happened.”
Not Surprising: After being ever so close to Victory Lane at both Pocono and Watkins Glen, it was no surprise that the driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota outran a five-time champ in a green-white-checkered finish to finally took the checkered flag and made his trademark celebratory bow.
This victory was Kyle Busch’s first at Michigan International Speedway. It was his fifth top-10 finish in 14 races at Michigan.
“Today the car was flawless,” Busch said. “We knew the restart would be treacherous but I got a good run on the top-side and I was able to take the lead off Turn Two and set our sights on the checkered flag from there.”
With his fourth victory of the season, including this win at the Irish hills, Busch was also the first driver to officially clinch his berth in the championship Chase. And with Edwards’ poor finish, Busch now sits alone at the top of the leader board.
“It feels awesome,” Busch said of his guaranteed Chase spot. “It gives us an added bonus to just go out there and race for wins. We certainly feel good about it.”
Surprising: Brad Keselowski, behind the wheel of the Blue Deuce for Penske Racing, continues to surprise all by starring in his own sequel, ‘Iron Man Part Three.’ Keselowski finished third in the Pure Michigan 400, his third straight top-three finish since breaking his ankle and wrenching his back in a testing crash.
This was Keselowski’s first top-10 finish in five races at Michigan. With his finish, Keselowski also moved ever so close to Chase contention, moving up two positions in the point standings to 12th.
“It was a good effort,” Keselowski said. “It was a great day, with great execution and I’m proud of my team.”
“I think we’re in pretty good shape,” Keselowski said of his Chase chances. “I feel better every week.”
Not Surprising: With the Chase race heating up, it is no surprise that the driver of the No. 48 Lowes Chevrolet has found his groove, as well as his lucky horseshoe. Jimmie Johnson, who like Busch has also never won at Michigan, scored a career-best second place finish.
This was Johnson’s eighth top-10 finish in 20 races in the Irish hills. It is also his 15th top-10 finish in the 2011 season to date.
“It was a great finish for the Lowe’s team,” Johnson said. “We had a tough start to the race on pit road and on the race track but we got that ironed out.”
“Good runs put so much confidence in the driver and the team,” Johnson continued. “It felt good to be racing with the leader and have a shot at it.”
Surprising: Although Stewart-Haas Racing had a surprisingly good day at Michigan, with Ryan Newman finishing fifth in his No. 39 Wix Filters Chevrolet, and team owner Tony Stewart also finishing top ten in his No. 14 Mobil 1/Office Depot Chevrolet, the latter seemed surprisingly depressed after the race.
“I don’t know what we got to do to get one balanced for a day but we haven’t figured it out yet,” Stewart said. “We were on both sides of the coin today between tight and loose.”
“I’ll be perfectly honest at this stage in the deal if we’re going to run this bad, it really doesn’t matter if we make the Chase or not,” Smoke continued. “Our stuff’s so bad right now we’re wasting one of those top 12 spots.”
Not Surprising: On the flip side, it was no surprise to see the Hendrick Motorsports gang have a good day on the sweeping turns of Michigan International Speedway. Following closely behind runner up Jimmie Johnson, HMS teammate Mark Martin finished fourth in the No. 5 Carquest/GoDaddy.com Chevrolet.
“It’s an incredible privilege to drive stuff like that,” Martin said. “We were right there and could see the lead and anytime you can see the lead, you feel like you have a crack at it. I feel very fortunate.”
HMS four-time champ Jeff Gordon also had a decent day at the office, finishing sixth in the No. 24 Dupont Chevrolet, moving up another spot in the point standings to sixth as well. Gordon also made history, marking over 22,000 laps led in his career.
“All in all, a solid day for the Dupont Chevrolet,” Gordon said. “I loved the effort and the cars and team that we are bringing to the race track. It was a lot of fun out there.”
The final driver, piloting the No. 88 National Guard/Amp Energy Chevrolet for Mr. Hendrick, had a fairly good race as well. In spite of pit problems, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. finished fourteenth, keeping himself solidly in the ninth spot in the Chase standings.
“I had some awesome runs and the car was really fast,” Junior said. “And then I put on some tires and I couldn’t drive the car. We had some bad stuff happen on pit road, but we drove it back up there.”
Surprising: With a starting spot of fourth, the driver of the No. 11 FedEx Freight Toyota had high hopes for redemption in Michigan, as well as the hope of keeping his Chase chances alive. Surprisingly, in spite of Denny Hamlin’s new engine, he struggled throughout the race, hitting the wall and heading to the garage to repair significant right front suspension damage.
Hamlin finished the race in 35th and lost two positions in the point standings, falling to a disappointing 14th, barely hanging on to any chances of a Chase berth.
Not Surprising: Coming off his top-10 finish at the Glen, it was not surprising that A J Allmendinger almost pulled off another one at MIS. The driver of the No. 43 Best Buy Ford for Richard Petty Motorsports powered through the field from his 29th place start to finish 11th.
Surprising: On the flip side, the Dinger’s teammate Marcos Ambrose, winner of the Cup race at Watkins Glen last weekend and the Nationwide race in Montreal this weekend, had a surprisingly frustrating day.
The driver of the No. 9 Stanley Ford Fusion started out strong but then was tagged from behind by Kevin Harvick while trying to pit, shoving his car head first into the pit wall, relegating him to a 27th place finish.
“That was frustrating,” Ambrose said. “We had a good car and we were top-10 a lot of the day.”
“We just kept getting tighter and tighter,” Ambrose continued. “We had a hole in the grill. That really hurt us and we ended up turned around in the pit there at the end, so that hurt us too.”
Not Surprising: Although the driver of the No. 33 Cheerios/Hamburger Helper Chevrolet qualified poorly and started 35th, it was no surprise to see him drive as hard as he could to a top-ten finish. With Clint Bowyer’s 8th place finish at Michigan, he has managed to hang on to the 11th spot in the Chase standings.
“It was a good, hard fought battle all day long,” Bowyer said of his race. “From where we started, starting 35th, getting up there in the top ten, we had a good car all day long.”
“We gained but not near enough. We’re running out of time but if we keep digging, who knows what’s going to happen.”