Podcast Episode 26 — Kyle Larson Makes it Three in a Row at MIS

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The playoff points bubble bursts in Michigan

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Joey Logano makes his way down pit road with a flat tire late in the Pure Michigan 400. He finished 28th. Eric Young — The SuperSpeedway

BROOKLYN – The battle for the final spot in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series took another wild turn Sunday at Michigan International Speedway.

The final spot in the playoffs was up for grabs with four races remaining but by the time the checkered flag flew, all of the drivers battling for those precious final positions all stumbled.

Late in the race, Michigan native, Erik Jones and a batch of other contenders came into Sunday’s race needing a win to secure a playoff spot. Late in the race Jones was battling his teammate and points leader, Martin Truex Jr. for the win. It appeared the Furniture Row cars would finish one-two until two late restarts jumbled the field, allowing Kyle Larson to steal a precious win.

“I just couldn’t get going,” Jones said about the last restart. “The 20 (car) got to the bottom of me and the 42 (car) was to the right of me. I saw them getting runs and had to pick one or the other.I wish it would have worked out a little better”

Truex ended up finishing third after dominating the majority of the late part of the race, followed by Jones. Jones now sits 130 points out of the playoffs 19th in the standings.

The rest of the bubble drivers did not fair so well.

The day looked like it would be a step in the right direction for Joey Logano who eventually tumbled even further down in the standings after finishing 28th. Logano started second and came into the Pure Michigan 400 needing a win to qualify for the playoffs. He began the race sitting 18th in the standings, 95 points behind the behind Matt Kenseth in 16th. After the race Logano currently sits 119 points out of the playoff picture and remains 18th in the playoff picture.

Que Kenseth, who found himself in the top 5 in each of the final two restarts only to stumble with an issue on the final restart. Kenseth finished 24th and sits 31 points ahead of Boyer who struggled as well with two pit road speeding penalties and suffered damage on lap 148, resulting in a flat tire on lap 151. He ended up 23rd, one spot ahead of Kenseth.

The biggest loser of the day was Daniel Suarez who was battling Brad Keslowski for the lead early in the race but ended up tangling with Kasey Kahne on lap 139 when Kahne came across his nose.

“I was just trying to hold my line,” Suarez said.  “He (Kahne) went up a little bit too soon for me. This is going to be damaging to our (playoff) chances.”

The finish was Suarez’s first DNF since Daytona in July.

Truex built on his overall points lead, earning the most points of any driver (52) and winning stage 2, adding to his impressive playoff points total of 35 with 15 stage wins.

“We go beat fair and square,” Truex said. “That’s the way it goes sometimes. There was no distinctive move. If a guy screws up in front of you, you take advantage. He (Larson) took advantage.”

Brad Keslowski looked like the driver to beat for the first 100 laps of the race before falling back late with pit road gambles and trouble on late restarts. Keslowski won Stage 1, his fourth of the year. He now has 14 playoff points.

“It just didn’t come together at the end, but it was nice to lead a bunch of laps,” Keslowski said. “I was really proud of us. We just didn’t have enough to really run with the 77 and 78.”

To read more about Kyle Larson’s win at the Pure Michigan 400, click here.

Finishing Order

1  Kyle Larson

2  Martin Truex, Jr.

3 Erik Jones

4 Ryan Newman

5 Trevor Bayne

6 Chris Buscher

7 Austin Dillon

8 Chase Elliott

9 Jamie McMurray

10 Kyle Busch

Larson wins third Michigan race in a row

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Kyle Larson celebrates in victory lane after winning the Pure Michigan 400. Eric Young — The SuperSpeedway

BROOKLYN, MI — Kyle Larson joined some elite company when he took the checkered flag in Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400, becoming only the third driver in history to win three in a row at Michigan International Speedway, joining David Pearson and Bill Elliott.

“That’s some awesome company for sure,” Larson said. “We kind of struggled all day. I felt like I was good when I could find clean air on my car. But any time I would get any dirty air or wake from the car in front of me I’d get extremely loose.”

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Kyle Larson crosses the line to win the Pure Michigan 400. Eric Young — The SuperSpeedway

Larson took the lead on an overtime restart, starting on the outside second row and diving to the middle, taking the field four-wide to get the win. Martin Truex Jr. was the lead car on the restart, leading 57 laps of the day and dominating much of the tail end of the race, though differing pit strategies allowed Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch to lead laps late.

Brad Keselowski was the guy at the start of the race, leading 105 laps on the day.

Larson’s win was the fourth of his career out of 134 starts in the premier series. It is also his third victory in 2017, with his other wins coming in June at MIS and at Auto Club Speedway, MIS’ sister track. He led just two laps — the last two.

“It played out exactly how I’d hoped,” Larson said. “The win, it feels amazing to steal one in a way. In my other wins I had the first or second best car. Today I think we were a top-10 car.”

Larson returned to Michigan early Sunday morning after racing in the Knoxville Nationals sprint car race the night before where he finished second. He said he feels like racing in other series has helped him be successful this season.

“I think anytime I get to race any type of car, whether it be a go-kart or a sprint car, any time I’m getting laps, I feel like it’s helping me be a better racecar driver,” Larson said. “Especially when I can get in that stuff and win. It helps my confidence when I get into the Cup car. I get to race quite a bit throughout the year and this year I’ve had a really good year in everything really, especially the dirt stuff, and I feel like for sure that carries over to Sundays.”

Team Owner Chip Ganassi said when Larson was running in the middle of the pack earlier in the race, he was starting to regret his decision to allow Larson to race in Knoxville.

“We didn’t have too good of a start,” Ganassi said. “We were sort of mired in the top 10 there. I had concerns. I was getting ready to take a lot of heat in the media for that if we didn’t have a good day.”

“It’s easy to break that star athlete, easy to break them and slow them down,” Ganassi said. “It’s a lot harder to speed him up. I don’t want to do something that’s going to slow him down. You run the risk of that when you have a talent like that that wants to go out and drive other kinds of cars and things.”

So would Ganassi let Larson run in the Indianapolis 500?

“See what you do to me?” Ganassi said to Larson, laughing. “That’s a great question. Anybody else have any other questions?”

“I don’t know, we’ll see,” Larson said. “The Indy 500 is definitely on my bucket list. I just don’t know if it is right now.”

Truex wound up second, and was visibly frustrated after the race.

“I’m just angry,” Truex said.

He said Larson’s move was expected — Truex said he even held back a little bit hoping Larson would push him ahead, but he spun the tires and that cost him the race.

“I did everything right,” Truex said. “It caught me by surprise … I hadn’t spun the tires all day long, did not expect to have an issue with it, and when I did, there was nothing I could do. I was just helpless, and he had the momentum and did what everybody else would have done. It’s just my screw-up that gave him the win, basically.”

Truex won the second stage of the race, claiming yet another playoff point as the regular season winds down. It was his ninth top-10 finish in 24 races at MIS, and his 16th in 2017.

Michigan Native Erik Jones finished third, his first top-10 finish at his home track. He was the top finishing rookie on the day, and challenged for the lead late in the race.

Jones continues to improve as the season goes on, and credits returning to tracks for a second time as part of the reason for his added success. He said preparation for each weekend is what has differed the most between the truck and Xfinity series and the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

“In trucks and Xfinity, I didn’t really have to prepare at all,” Jones said. “It kind of worked out most of the time. You get to the Cup Series and you do that and you kind of feel a little bit out to lunch when you show up and you’re off like that.”

Truex was asked if, when he was leading and Jones was in second, if he had considered letting Jones go by since Jones needs a win to make the playoffs.

“No,” Truex said. “We don’t have team orders. Nobody lets each other win. He’s going to win some races. His turn will come.”

He said Jones will get his win in the future.

“That’s not how we race,” Truex said. “Nobody out there races that way. Nobody’s going to give a Cup win up. They’re too hard to get.”

Fourth place went to Ryan Newman, with fifth going to Trevor Bayne.

Overall the race was clean, with only five cautions for 28 laps. Two of those were for stage finishes, but on Lap 140 Kasey Kahne and Daniel Suarez got together, with both cars collecting the wall and ending their day.

The last caution of the day came on with just three laps to go after Michael McDowell and Paul Menard got together in turn two. The race was red-flagged for a five and a half minutes to clean up oil before an overtime restart. The official race distance was 202 laps after overtime.

Also leading laps on the day were Hamlin with 16, Kyle Busch with 14, Jones with five and Suarez with three.

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Kyle Larson’s crew celebrates after Larson wins the Pure Michigan 400. Eric Young — The SuperSpeedway

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Kyle Larson lights up his tires during his victory celebration. Eric Young — The SuperSpeedway

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Larson’s car is barely visible, buried in confetti after his win at Michigan Sunday. Eric Young — The SuperSpeedway

PREVIEW — Pure Michigan 400

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BROOKLYN, MI — Kyle Larson will look to defend his victory last year in the Pure Michigan 400 when the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series takes to the track Sunday at Michigan International Speedway, but he’ll have to deal with some tough competition if he wants to make it three in a row at the 2-mile speedway.

Larson will start ninth Sunday.

The field will be led to the green by the Penske Racing teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano. Keselowski took the pole Friday with a speed of 203.097 miles per hour.

“Paul Wolfe and my team, they kept dialing in on the car and working on it,” Keselowski said. “I’ve got goosebumps. It feels really good to run well here at Michigan. This is my home track. A lot of fans here. I have to put my glasses on so nobody can see me. Really cool. Really special.”

Logono was knocked off to top starting spot by just .034 miles per hour, or 0.006 second. He said he was happy with how competitive he and Keselowski were, and felt it would translate over to the race as well.

“It seems like Team Penske has brought some speed, even the 21, and really most of the Fords look pretty good here,” Logano said. “That’s a good sign. I think we were really good in race trim too. I feel good about it. Obviously a good starting spot and a good pit stall is gonna be key, and hopefully we can just maintain that track position and we need to win, so this is a good start.”

Logano is fighting for a chance to contend for a championship this season. His one win was encumbered earlier this year, and he now finds himself in a must-win situation if he wants to make the playoffs.

“I love the pressure,” Logano said. “I’m all right with pressure. It’s good. I’d rather be in, but the pressure part is OK. You’ve got to get used to that, but that’s what this sport is, especially during the playoffs. We just have to turn into playoff mode a little bit earlier than everybody else to get in, but so far so good, and we’ll just get this Shell/Pennzoil Ford and do our thing. Like I said, execute our race. If we have speed, it makes it a lot easier, kind of like earlier this year, and make something happen here.”

If there was a track where Logano could turn things around, Michigan could be just the ticket. The 2-mile oval has been kind to him in the past. Logano has two wins at MIS, five top-5s and 12 top-10s. His average finish at MIS is 12.06.

Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne will need to work a little harder if they want to get a victory Sunday. Both will drop to the tail end of the field due to going to backup cars after catching the wall in final practice Saturday. Johnson will give up a 22nd-place starting spot, while Kahne will fall from 23rd.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. also hit the wall in final practice, but the crew was able to repair the car so he could finish out final practice.

Kyle Busch also hit the wall during one of the practice sessions, but the crew was able to fix that car as well. He will roll off sixth.

Wallace Wins the LTi Printing 200 at Michigan

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Darrell Wallace Jr. celebrates with his team in victory lane at Michigan International Speedway after winning the LTi Printing 200. Eric Young — The SuperSpeedway

BROOKLYN, MI — The last time Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. was behind the wheel of a NASCAR Camping World Truck, he went to victory lane for Kyle Busch. Today at Michigan International Speedway, Bubba held off his former boss in a frantic finish to win the LTi Printing 200.

Wallace passed a battling Christopher Bell and Austin Cindric with 11 laps remaining to take the lead.

“I didn’t want to make that move, I didn’t want to make that move that early,” Wallace said, “I wanted to wait till three or four laps to go. I closed my eyes and turned left and when I opened them I was in the lead.”

Wallace said he and his team had two goals coming into his one-off run Saturday.

“We had a text message about the goal(s) we had. That was winning the race and beating Kyle’s ass and we did that.”

The win comes two and a half years since his his last truck series start. A 2014 victory at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

It was an uphill battle for Wallace, who started ninth in the No. 99 Chevrolet for MDM Motorsports and held the position until the end of stage one. After a caution on lap 53, Wallace was penalized for having a crewmember over the wall too soon and had to drop to the tail end of the field.

Using pit strategy to save fuel allowed Wallace to gain the field position needed to make his move. He said the win will help as he continues to look for a full time NASCAR ride in 2018. Wallace lost his Xfinity Series ride 12 races into the 2017 season due to lack of funding. He spent four races substituting for Aric Almirola’s No. 43 car at Richard Petty Motorsports.  

“I don’t know what my plans are for the rest of the year.” he said. “I have a lot of things working for 2018. I’m pretty confident that this helped. Hopefully this opens up more doors with these guys.”

Wallace said his one race deal with MDM came together approximately two weeks ago. The win is the first for the first year truck series team.

“This is such a huge moment for not only myself but for everyone involved,” Wallace said. “It’s all about who you surround yourself with. When you put a great combination together, there’s a good chance you can add a little more fire and come out here and do this.”

Christopher Bell battled for the win and had help from Kyle Busch, but it wasn’t enough to pass Wallace in the last 10 laps.

“I was pretty bummed,” Bell said. “I felt like I was in position to win. I’m disappointed in myself, really.”

The finish was the latest in a busy weekend for Bell who is on his way to compete in the Knoxville Nationals for Tony Stewart Racing. He also is on standby for Denny Hamlin on Sunday as Hamlin awaits the birth of his second child. Bell had the opportunity to practice the No. 11 Cup car during final practice.

“I was honored,” Bell said about being in Hamlin’s car. “It was a dream come true.”

Kyle Busch finished third after winning the first two stages, Ryan Truex was fourth and Austin Cindric was fifth.

The Camping World Truck Series returns to Bristol Wednesday night for the UNHO 200.

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Keselowski tops final practice at MIS

PM 400 Saturday-3177.jpgBrad Keselowski takes a lap during practice Saturday at MIS.
Eric Young/The SuperSpeedway

BROOKLYN, MI — Brad Keselowski won qualifying Friday. He won final practice Saturday. He hopes he takes home the trophy Sunday in the Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway.

Keselowski was fastest in final practice at MIS Saturday with a lap of 200.865 miles per hour. Keselowski starts from the pole Sunday.

He was one of only two cars to top 200 miles per hour during final practice. Martin Truex Jr. was second fastest with a lap of 200.172.

Final practice was pretty eventful, with Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne all hitting the wall. Kahne and Johnson will go to backup cars and fall to the rear Sunday. Stenhouse Jr.’s crew was able to fix his car, and he returned to the track during practice.

Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney and Kyle Busch rounded out the top five at the end of final practice.

The Pure Michigan 400 takes the green flag at 3 p.m. Sunday.

Matt Crafton on the Pole for the LTi Printing 200

PM 400 Saturday-3328.jpgMatt Crafton takes a lap in the first round of qualifying Saturday at MIS.
Eric Young/The SuperSpeedway

BROOKLYN, MI — Matt Crafton won the Keystone Light Pole for the LTi Printing 200 at Michigan International Speedway Saturday.

Crafton and Johnny Sauter will lead the field to the green. John Hunter Nemechek, Chase Briscoe and Noah Gragson will round out the top five.

Crafton’s pole-winning speed was 184.256. It is his first pole in 2017 and his 13th of his career. He has won the pole at MIS two other times.

Sauter will start in the top 10 for the 11th time this season with his second-place qualifying run. Nemechek will start in the top 10 for the first time at MIS.

Briscoe is the fastest qualifying rookie.

The Camping World Truck Series will take the green at 1 p.m. Saturday for 200 laps, 100 miles.

See the full starting lineup below.

 

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Pure Michigan 400 Weekend Schedule

 

original.pngBROOKLYN, MI — The Nascar Camping World Truck Series and the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series invade the Irish Hills of Michigan this weekend as they make their final stop in the Great Lakes State in the 2017 schedule.

The Camping World Truck Series drivers will compete in the LTi Printing 200 on Saturday, with the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series taking to the track Sunday for the Pure Michigan 400.

Action gets started on the track Friday with practice for both series and qualifying for the Monster Energy drivers. Saturday the trucks qualify and the Cup cars have their final practice before the truck series takes the green flag.

Below is the tentative weekend schedule for all the on-track action at Michigan International Speedway this weekend.

Friday, Aug. 11

11:30 a.m.-12:55 p.m. — First MENCS Practice

1 p.m.-1:55 p.m. — First NCWTS Practice

3 p.m.-3:55 p.m. — Final NCWTS Practice

5:05 p.m. — MENCS Qualifying

Saturday, Aug. 12

8:30 a.m.-9:25 a.m. — Second MENCS Practice

9:30 a.m. — NCWTS Qualifying

11:30 a.m.-12:20 p.m. — MENCS Final Practice

12:30 p.m. — NCWTS Driver Introductions

1 p.m. — Nascar Camping World Truck Series LTi Printing 200 (100 laps, 200 miles)

Sunday, Aug. 13

2:20 p.m. — MENCS Driver Introductions

3 p.m. — Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 (200 laps, 400 miles)

Can Kyle Larson win three in a row at Michigan? History says probably not

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Note: This is the first in a series of stories that will be published during the weekend of the Pure Michigan 400 as part of The SuperSpeedway’s coverage of the events from the track.

BROOKLYN, MI — If Kyle Larson can get to the checkered flag first Sunday, it will be his third win in a row at Michigan International Speedway. So how likely is it that Larson will earn his fourth win in his career at MIS and keep the streak alive?

Well, the truth is, not very likely. In fact, if he managed to pull it off, Larson would become only the third driver in history to win three in a row at the 2-mile Irish Hills speedway.

Many drivers have won two in a row at Michigan, but only two have won more consecutively.

The first time it happened was 1972 and 1973. David Pearson won the Motor State 400 in 1972, and followed it up later in the year with a win in the Yankee 400. He then won the Motor State 400 again the following year — the only Cup race at MIS, to end his streak at three races. Richard petty ended the streak in the 1974 Motor State 400.

The second time it happened, and the last time, started in 1984 when Bill Elliott won the Miller 400. People who have attended races at MIS for many years will tell you Elliott was one of the best there. And he proved it over those four races, winning the 1985 Champion Spark Plug 400, and doubling down the following season, winning both races again. Elliott holds the record for the most MIS races won in a row with four.

That’s it. No one else has done it.

Kyle Larson currently is among the ranks of drivers like Greg Biffle (he won two in a row twice), Ryan Newman, Mark Martin, Bobby Labonte, Cale Yarborough, and Bobby Allison as drivers who have won two races in a row at the track.

Speaking of Yarborough, he won two in a row just once, but he won a lot more races than that at MIS. He won eight times, including the first time in 1969. But the record for most wins at MIS is held by Pearson, who did it nine times over his career.

So if Larson is able to pull out a win this weekend at MIS, he will join some very elite company. It could happen, but the deck is certainly stacked against him.