When it comes to auto racing, there is no bigger hot bed than Michigan. With the auto makers themselves not that far from the Michigan International Speedway, a victory here means big sales come the beginning of the week.
Under partly cloudy skies, NASCAR’s finest were ready to do battle for 400 laps. The race was the Carfax 400, but no one was asking for a car fax at races end. They were asking to get a victory.
Kasey Kahne brought the field to green, but out of the second turn lost the advantage to outside-pole winner, Jimmie Johnson. Having struggled the last month, Johnson and the entire No. 48 team were hoping to get a rebound with the Chase looming.
Johnson held the lead until lap 15 when Greg Biffle came charging forward to put his Roush-Fenway Ford at the top of the charts. With team owner Jack Roush back at the track following weeks of recovery due to a plane crash, the RFR teams were looking to get a win for their boss with him sitting on the pit box.
Biffle would stretch his lead out until the race’s first caution on lap 33. This time, Kurt Busch would be the unfortunate reason as the motor in his No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge went up in a plume of smoke. After pulling into the garage, crews saw a massive hole in the side of the block, so determining what caused the failure would be tough. It would be a rough way to end a strong contender’s chances, as Busch would finish 40th.
Pit stops shook up the field a little bit as teams were right on the cusp of their fuel window. It would be Biffle holding the advantage as his crew put on a blistering stop to keep the position.
On the restart, Biffle got a great jump and pulled out on the field. Meanwhile, chatter on the radio began talking about possible weather west of the track. There was a 30% chance when the race began, and held steady throughout the early afternoon. Most teams thought it would miss or if it did rain, it would be very brief and not stop competition for a long period of time.
Sure enough, the crews predicted right as the caution came out for rain on lap 61, but the radar showed nothing behind the small system passing over. That meant the entire race would be run.
One driver extremely happy about that was Kevin Harvick as he got the lead just before the caution flew. However, he would lose the lead on pit road as once again, Biffle came out incredibly quick and would take over the top spot.
The green flag on lap 67 would begin a long stretch of green-flag laps, which soon strung the field out quite a ways around the 2-mile speedway. But, out front it was beginning to be a good battle as Biffle held his lead until lap 83. His new challenge came from the No. 14 Chevrolet of Tony Stewart, who would take the lead for the first time on lap 84. Meanwhile, the big story was the car moving through the field of Jeff Gordon. After starting 36th, he charged into the top-10 and broke into the top-five shortly after halfway.
His car was a rocket and appeared to be on his way to finally getting his winless streak ended. But, with still half the race to go, anything was possible.
A few rounds of green-flag stops jumbled the field a bit, but the leader for a majority of that time was Harvick. He would continue to lead until the race’s third caution on lap 149. Entering the third turn, Joey Logano was under the No. 39 of Ryan Newman. Logano pushed up the track and did everything he could to keep off Newman, but the car snapped loose and caught the corner of the No. 39, sending him sliding through the corner.
After the race, the two drivers tried to have a discussion as to what happened, with Logano trying to explain he was pushing up the track and the car snapped loose. But, the two exchanged a couple shoves with Logano keeping his hands in front of him to hold off Newman and his advances. Officials stepped in and separated the two, with Logano walking off. It is still not known whether this will lead to more incidents, but with the track next on the schedule, it is a tough call.
Another quick caution came on lap 155, but it was the driver involved that made it hard to swallow. While racing for position, Gordon got into Jeff Burton on the backstretch. Entering turn three, it appeared that Gordon had a tire go down, nearly causing a big wreck. Sure enough, the left-front was low and Gordon had slight damage to the front and rear of his car.
After that incident, his car was never the same, thus ending his quest to end his streak and get a win for his newborn son, Leo, who came to this world on Tuesday. Gordon would finish 27th.
This caution really had the field scrambling as some teams hit pit road to top off the tank and get just enough fuel to make one last caution and then to the finish, barring a green-white-checkered. So, when the field came to green on lap 160, it was Elliott Sadler out in front followed by Martin Truex Jr. and David Ragan.
The three-car battle would give Ragan his first lead of the day, but behind him the cars moving to the front were Stewart and Denny Hamlin. Stewart would get the lead just as the race’s fifth, and final, caution flag came out for debris. Now the strategy game really came into play as both Stewart and Harvick elected to stay out on track, while most of the field decided to hit pit road.
The field went green for the final time on lap 173 with Stewart out front, but the car that was coming very quickly was Hamlin as he got a huge push from Harvick, taking the lead on lap 178. With just over 20 laps remaining, it appeared as though the race would be a three-way battle for the win.
However, Stewart began falling into the clutched of Biffle and others, leaving Harvick and Hamlin to duke it out for the victory. Hamlin knew Harvick was tough on the top of the track, so he began slamming the door on his momentum out of the corner, making it tough for Harvick to get the lead.
But, persistence paid off as Harvick found enough momentum and swept to the outside of Hamlin on lap 190 to regain the lead. At that point, he put it on cruise control and never looked back.
After winning two of the three restrictor plate races on the season, excluding the Budweiser Shootout exhibition race, Harvick came out of the final corner to get his third win of the year, taking the checkered flag in the Carfax 400.
It was Harvick’s first win on a non-restrictor plate track since Phoenix in 2006. The victory also brings him ten points closer to Hamlin and Johnson once the Chase standings get set. Also, Harvick officially is the first driver this year to clinch a spot in the Chase. He needed to have a gap of 586 points over 13th-place to make it official, and at race’s end it was over a 600-point margin. Not a bad way to cap off a great performance.
It is a short week for the Sprint Cup Series as they will go back at it on Saturday. But, the track they are going to is one of the most exciting tracks on the circuit, and possibly the most sought-after ticket for a fan to get. It is time for the annual trip to Bristol Motor Speedway to go racing under the lights, short-track style just as so many drivers were raised on.
Coverage of the Irwin Tools Night Race will begin at 7 p.m. ET this Saturday night. Then, coverage switches over to ABC at 7:30 for the green flag.
RESULTS: 1-Harvick 2-Hamlin 3-Edwards 4-Biffle 5-Kenseth 6-Stewart 7-Montoya 8-Truex Jr. 9-Sadler 10-Logano
NOTABLE FINISHES: 12-Johnson 14-Kahne 18-Kyle Busch 19-Earnhardt Jr. 27-Gordon 40-Kurt Busch
CAUTIONS: 5 for 25 laps. Lap 33-38 (Oil on Track), 61-66 (Rain), 149-152 (No. 20, 39 accident-T4), 155-159 (No. 24, 31 accident-T4), 169-172 (Debris).
LEAD CHANGES: 17 among 9 drivers. Johnson 1-14, Biffle 15-34, Harvick 35, Biffle 36-60, Harvick 61, Kvapil 62, Biffle 63-83, Stewart 84-101, Harvick 102-103, Stewart 104-110, Harvick 111-155, Sadler 156-159, Truex Jr. 160-164, Ragan 165-166, Stewart 167-177, Hamlin 178-189, Harvick 190-200.
TIME OF RACE: 2 Hrs. 46 Mins. 38 Secs.
AVERAGE SPEED: 144.029 MPH
MARGIN OF VICTORY: 1.731 Seconds
POINT STANDINGS (Three Races Until Chase): 1-Harvick, 3400 points*; 2-Gordon, -293; 3-Hamlin, -353; 4-Stewart, -380; 5-Johnson, -386; 6-Edwards, -414; 7-Burton, -414; 8-Kyle Busch, -425; 9-Kenseth, -439, 10-Kurt Busch, -465; 11-Biffle, -487; 12-Bowyer, -645. *Clinched birth in 2010 Chase this week.