Aaron Bearden joined me to break down the 2018 Consumers Energy 400 at Michigan International Speedway.
BROOKLYN, Mich. — It was a Kevin Harvick kind of day Sunday at Michigan International Speedway, as Harvick earned his seventh win of the season in the Consumers Energy 400.
Harvick led 108 of 200 laps and won both stages on his way to the victory. Martin Truex Jr. led the next highest number of laps with 25.
He said he has been enjoying the season so far and has been able to appreciate the success.
“I spent a lot of years not having the most fun and not having the most success,” Harvick said. “Over the past five years I have been able to win a lot of races and doing things on the racetrack. There has been an incredible amount of stuff and wins packed into five years now. For me, I’m just enjoying every moment because you never know when it’s going to go the other way.”
After the race, Harvick’s son, Keelan, met him at the track and got to ride in the passenger’s side of Harvick’s car on the victory lap.
“We got to celebrate together,” Harvick said. “It was pretty cool to look over there on your victory lap and see your 6-year-old on the passenger seat with you there.”
Harvick said Keelan has been with him the last three weeks, and the two had some father-son moments together. It wasn’t all smooth though.
“He did crash a golf cart into a pine tree,” Harvick said. “All we could see were the golfbags sticking out of a tree. We had to go and dig him out. So that was entertaining. We had some unapproved Mom moments this weekend with the golf cart crash and the quarter midget.”
“What other sport can you take your kids to work and be able to enjoy those things with them?” he said. “Share one of your coolest moments and looking over and the only person with you is your son. That’s pretty special.”
The win was Harvick’s 44th of his career, tying him at 17th all-time with Bill Elliott.
Brad Keselowski overcame a loose wheel earlier in the race to battle back to a second-place finish in his Penske Ford on his home track. Keselowski is yet to earn a Cup Series victory at Michigan, but he said he’s getting closer.
“We’ve done everything we can do here but win, at least on the Cup level,” he said. “We have that opportunity. We’ll see if it can develop into something. It hasn’t so far. I know in my heart that if we keep running like this it will happen.”
Keselowski said he was happy with a strong performance after struggling as of late.
“It was nice to just be able to have a clean race, or mostly clean — we did have one loose wheel — and be able to get the finish we deserve,” he said.
He said the Penske Fords have not caught up to the Big Three — he said he doesn’t pay attention to the Big Three by the way — but that isn’t an excuse for not winning.
“We may not have race-winning speed, but we still need to execute,” he said. “We’re not where we need to be to just win on pure speed against those guys week in and week out.”
“I think there were positives and negatives from today,” Keselowski said. “We have to try and make the most of the positives and learn from the negatives.”
Kyle Busch led 22 laps en route to his third-place finish Sunday. He said while Harvick was able to win by a large margin, he did have a fast car during the race.
“I was in front of him for like five laps,” Busch said. “I actually drove away from him for a couple laps there until that caution came out. It definitely seemed like whoever got out front could take off.”
Busch said he frequently struggles at Michigan, and it is still a nature of the repave at MIS — it was resurfaced before the 2012 season — that gives him trouble.
“I think mainly because it’s just so one-groovish,” he said. “I won the last race here on the old asphalt before they repaved it. I had one groove all to myself.”
He was asked when he thinks the track will begin to widen out again.
“I would have hoped that it would have been a little bit wider than it is now,” he said. “I don’t know. Best guess, 10 years.”
Austin Dillon took the lead on the final green flag pit stop, but wasn’t able to hold Harvick off. He followed for second until just two laps to go when he had a problem, costing him two spots for a fourth-place finish.
“I had an awful vibration there with two to go and it was like the tire was unraveling or the lugnuts were coming loose,” he said. “I just wanted to bring back a good finish. We really needed that.”
Rounding out the top five was Ryan Blaney.
“It was a good showing for us today,” Blaney said. “Really all weekend I thought we were pretty strong. There were a couple cars better than us all day and a couple that got better at the end. Second half of the race the track kind of changed and our car lost a little bit of speed but I am happy with a fifth after the last two weeks that have been a struggle for us. It is good to get back on the right track which is where we belong. Hopefully we can keep this going here for the next few weeks and then into the playoffs.”
The strangest incident of the day came on lap 134 when Ty Dillon hit a piece of debris on the backstretch and crashed hard in turn three. He said it was a battery or a piece of lead, and he couldn’t miss it because he was in a three-wide battle at the time.
“I was just hoping it was a glove or something that wouldn’t collect it,” Dillon said. “As soon as I hit, it was like hitting a wall and I had no control of the car. I just drove it straight at 218 mph into the wall, no brakes, no nothing. So hopefully NASCAR finds whose piece that was because that shouldn’t happen in our sport. There shouldn’t be batteries laying on our tracks. Not to tear down, but I know these people have to do a lot to make these cars come to the race track, but things like that can’t happen because it’s too dangerous at a place like this.”
There were eight cautions for 37 laps. The time of race was two hours, 50 minutes and 51 seconds. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series next heads to Bristol Motor Speedway Saturday for the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race.
Richard Childress was giving pace car rides to media members prior to the start of the Consumers Energy 400 at Michigan International Speedway, so here’s a look at the 2-mile oval at around 250 miles per hour.
BROOKLYN, Mich. — For a team that wasn’t sure it’d have sponsorship to run the full season, it’s been quite the year for Ben Moffitt and his Hattori Racing Enterprises Toyota. That spectacular season continued Saturday as Moffitt stole a win from Johnny Sauter with a last-lap pass coming out of turn four to earn his fifth victory of the season.
“It’s good to have one work out,” Moffitt said. “I wouldn’t say we had the most speed today, but we had a really good-handling truck and that was what was key. We’ve had good trucks all year long.”
Moffitt said it was an extra bonus to get the win over Sauter.
“I already see, unless something weird happens, he’s going to be one of the final four at Homestead,” Moffitt said. “We’re tough competitors, and we don’t like losing to each other. It’s good to come out on top.”
Moffitt has had a knack lately for late-race passes for victories. He said it’s all about being able to perform when necessary.
“I’m a better hunter than hunted,” he said. “It seems to be if the money’s on the line, I can grab that extra gear and get aggressive. You don’t need to lead all of them.”
Sauter inched his way forward all day long, leading to turn four before Moffitt got a run to battle him side-by-side to the line. Sauter took the blame after the race for letting one get away.
“I screwed up,” he said. “There’s no ifs ands or buts about it. I should have run the bottom.
“I still feel like if I could have run the bottom, I don’t know what he could have done,” Sauter said. “I’m pretty pissed at myself for giving up a win.”
Moffitt was asked if Sauter had stayed low, could he have still made the pass.
“I had momentum,” Moffitt said. “I don’t know. That’s a good question. It probably would have been easier for him to slide up and block. I was able to hold it wide open and get a good run down in there, and once I got to his quarter panel, it was kind of the nail in the coffin.”
A second-place finish is still an improvement for Sauter, who has struggled over the past several weeks after his fourth win of the season back at Texas in June. But he said some of that has been by design.
“A lot of people have been questioning where we’re at,” Sauter said. “You’ve got to try some stuff too along the way.”
“I feel like we’ve learned a lot over the last couple weeks,” he added. “It’s definitely been a character building experience.”
Sauter said he has also made mistakes along the way that have contributed to the struggles.
“If anybody’s got anything to clean up, it’s me,” he said. “I promise you I’ll get it cleaned up when it’s time.”
There was no dominant truck during the race, as several had stints at the front of the field as some strategies differed during the event. Noah Gragson and Matt Crafton both led the most laps at 18 apiece. Gragson finished in fourth while Crafton wound up 10th. Sauter and Grant Enfinger both led 16 apiece and Stewart Friesen led 12.
Friesen was one of the stronger trucks all day, but a penalty on the final pitstop forced him to start at the rear. He was only able to battle back to eighth.
In all, there were 16 lead changes among nine drivers.
There were five cautions for 22 laps in the race.
BROOKLYN, Mich. — It was almost a KBM front row, but final qualifier John Hunter Nemechek captured the pole for the Corrigan Oil 200 at Michigan International Speedway Saturday by one one-thousandth of a second to earn his second career Camping World Truck Series pole.
Nemechek turned a lap of 39.121 seconds for an average speed of 184.044 mph. It is his first pole of the 2018 season, though Nemechek is not running the full truck series schedule. It’s his first pole at MIS.
Todd Gilliland looked like he was going to sit on the pole before Nemechek’s run, but he will have to settle for the outside of the front row as he qualified second. Noah Gragson will start third.
Matt Mills looked as if he could be the story earlier in qualifying as he earned the provisional pole in the J.F. Electric/Crosley Brands no. 54 Toyota. After qualifying was complete, he had been relegated to the fourth starting spot, still a significant improvement over his previous best qualifying run of 19th in his 10-race Truck Series career.
Stewart Friesen rounded out the top five Saturday.
The Corrigan Oil 200 is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. Saturday at Michigan International Speedway. It will air live on FS1.
BROOKLYN, Mich. — It was a perfect day for Denny Hamlin Friday at Michigan International Speedway, as Hamlin swept practice and all three rounds of qualifying to win the pole for the Consumers Energy 400.
Hamlin turned his fastest lap of qualifying in the final session with a time of 35.504 seconds for an average speed of 202.794 mph. It is Hamlin’s first pole at MIS, a track that he has had success at in the past, and his 28th career pole. It’s also his second-consecutive pole after winning it at Watkins Glen last weekend.
He said the way his car handled Friday he hopes translates to a good car all weekend.
“I’ve never qualified on the pole here before,” Hamlin said. “We have a car that’s been driving good all day. If we can duplicate that and have it drive the same in race trim, it should be a great race for us.”
He said while he doesn’t have a win yet this year, he feels things are starting to turn around.
“We’re starting to see results,” Hamlin said. “You can definitely see that we’re gaining speed, gaining momentum, even though the finish doesn’t necessarily show it. I’m very optimistic about this week. This is a racetrack that we’ve had success at.”
Hamlin has won at least one race a season since his rookie year, and was asked whether it is important to him to keep that streak alive.
“It is, it is a very important streak,” he said. “I think about it. I thought it was all over in ‘13, the year I broke my back, and we won in the final race of the season to keep the streak alive. You look back at the really great drivers of NASCAR and they had long streaks, 10 years and above, of winning in a row and you just want to keep that going for sure. It’s important.”
It will be an all-Joe Gibbs front row Sunday as Hamlin’s teammate came close, but not close enough, with Kyle Busch qualifying second with a lap of 35.515 seconds for an average speed of 202.731 mph.
“This has always been a tricky place for me, trying to be able to find the right setup and get it to where we need it,” Busch said. “We did the same thing again there in qualifying as we typically do here, we’re always a step behind it seems when we go out there for the first run, but then we make adjustments to it each and every run and we get better and have a shot or get closer to the front at least.”
“Just missed it a little bit today for being able to get the number one spot where we want to be to get that number one pit spot, because that’s really important here at Michigan,” Busch continued. “We’ll see how Sunday goes, but typically I wouldn’t say Michigan is one of our best places.”
Kevin Harvick earned a third-place starting spot after suffering on his first-round run when Daniel Suarez got out of the groove ahead of him and hit the wall.
“The first round, we kind of got scared there,” Harvick said. “We thought there was a car in the fence and wound up giving up a little time during the first round, but that didn’t hurt us. It was too tight in all three rounds and in practice and we never got ahead of it.”
Hometown boy Erik Jones qualified in fourth place, while Austin Dillon rounded out the top five.
“We felt like we had a good car throughout practice that was capable of turning a lap,” Dillon said. “We had one extra lap on our tires right there, so that was a really good lap for four runs on tires. We just had to keep tweaking on it. We didn’t ever have the balance quite perfect until that last run. I think the driver gave up a little bit in three of speed.”
Ryan Newman brought the other Richard Childress car to a sixth-place starting spot.
“We didn’t really change a whole lot all day and they relied on me to pick up the speed and I needed to,” Newman said. Just kept building confidence in what I had to work with. Obviously the track kept getting a little faster there at the end, but a good run for our Grainger Chevrolet. An improvement over where we were in the first race here. We need the biggest improvement on race day, so we have some more work to do tomorrow.”
BROOKLYN, Mich. — Of the first 22 races of the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, only four drivers have multiple wins. Those same four drivers have combined to win 18 of those 22 races.
Sixteen of those races have been won by Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr., who have been coined the “Big Three” throughout the industry this season. Sitting on the outside of the Big Three, but looking in, is two-time 2018 winner Clint Bowyer.
Bowyer returns to the site of his second win this season Sunday when he takes the green flag in the Consumers Energy 400 at Michigan International Speedway. He won the rain-shortened FireKeepers Casino 400 at MIS in June.
So what does he need to do to become a part of that championship conversation?
“Same thing everybody does — more wins,” Bowyer said during his media availability Friday at MIS. “You have to elevate your game and rise to their capabilities and expectations. Those guys, not only do they have the wins, they are the dominant cars that have led a lot of laps when they get those wins and all the stage points and all that stuff. You have to be able to do that more consistently.”
That’s something that Bowyer’s team has struggled with this year. Despite the wins at Martinsville and Michigan this year, the no. 14 Stewart-Haas Ford has struggled to maintain consistency. While he has two wins and six top fives, he has finished outside the top 10 in 12 of the 22 races this year. His average finish for the season is 11.5.
In Chicagoland last month, Bowyer and his teammate Aric Almirola had two of the strongest cars early in the race. But after speeding on pit road, a comedy of errors trying to serve the penalty put Bowyer three laps down. He managed to claw back to a fifth-place finish, but might have had a chance at victory lane without the mistakes.
There have been moments of brilliance this year. The decision by Crew Chief Mike Bugarewicz to take two tires in June at Michigan, putting Bowyer ahead of teammate Kevin Harvick and allowing him to hold off Harvick until the rain came was one of those, leading to the victory. But it needs to be more consistent if the team wants to be considered a championship contender, Bowyer said.
“On our team, that is what we have to do,” he said. “We have touched on that and made some mistakes and know we have to get those mistakes behind us to capitalize on every possible situation. Every stage. Every lap. That is what we have to do better. We have to smooth out the highs and lows.”
The short answer?
“You have to stay on top of the mountain,” Bowyer said. “You can’t fall off the damn mountain. That’s what it boils down to.”
Bowyer was seventh-fastest in the first and only Cup Series practice Friday at MIS. Denny Hamlin had the fastest time, followed by Kurt Busch, Daniel Suarez, Ryan Blaney, Kyle Busch and Joey Logano all ahead of Bowyer. The Cup cars are set to qualify at 5:05 p.m. Friday.