Pit stops and restarts kept Gordon from leading even more laps than he did at Michigan International Speedway yesterday, but he nailed the final restart, beat back a challenge by Joey Logano and drove away from second place finisher Kevin Harvick to pick up his third win of 2014. The victory put Gordon back atop current Sprint Cup point standings and first on the starting grid for The Chase.
Every one of the top drivers races to win, so a second place finish likely frustrated Harvick. Still, it does mean he was better than 41 other cars, AND it was Harvick’s 4th straight second place finish at MIS, matching Dale Jarrett’s record of four straight runner-up finishes at Rockingham.
Once again Jimmy Johnson had bad luck during a race. This time his shifter broke. When you are going 200+ miles per hour you don’t need to shift gears, but pitting and restarting in 4th gear is a recipe for a bad finish. After repeated pit stops to repair the problem Johnson was able to come back for a 9th place finish, despite a battle with Ryan Newman that led to a heated post-race pit road discussion between the two drivers.
Anti-Johnson fans can take no consolation from the 48’s bad luck. I would call it getting all his bad luck out of the way before the start of The Chase, plus Johnson himself states that 9 of the 10 Chase tracks are among his favorites.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. survived a pit row mishap with Kyle Larsen to finish 5th, giving Hendrick Motorsports three of the top nine finishers in the race, something not uncommon this year. And, Earnhardt was the second Hendrick driver to have a post-race pit row confrontation as Denny Hamlin took offense to Junior’s driving late in the race. Hamlin finished 7th.
The 99 team of Carl Edwards captured the Three Stooges Pit Row Award for this race. One pit stop featured all lug nuts not being tightened, requiring a return to pit row. Edwards ran out of gas later in the race, couldn’t refire the car after his stop and too many pit crew over the wall pushing him led to a drive through penalty. Edwards finished 23rd. In the last four races Edwards has finished 15th-29th-5th-23rd. Those are not championship winning finishes.
Matt Kenseth took a major points hit after being caught up in a six car wreck caused by a Danica Patrick spin. Kenseth finished 30 laps down, and dropped from 3rd to 5th in the standings. The Wisconsin driver remains winless in 2014, but would still make The Chase on points. With the new format, drivers with a win are placed ahead of winless drivers on The Chase Grid, meaning Kenseth would be relegated to 13th when points are reset in three races. As part of the format change, four drivers will be eliminated from the championship run after every three races of The Chase, so drivers without wins will certainly have a tough battle to even have a chance at being Sprint Cup Champion.
Rookie Kyle Larson dropped out of Chase contention following a fiery crash on lap 94 of the Pure Michigan 400. Larson finished 43rd and dropped four places in point standings. Larsen trails last on the Chase grid Greg Biffle by 24 points, but would also have to pass Kasey Kahne and Austin Dillon to secure a Chase spot. Basically the driver of the 42 car needs a win desperately to be in NASCAR’s season ending play-offs.
Next up for the Sprint Cup Series is the famed or infamous Bristol night race on Saturday. With 16 second laps on the high banked short track things happen fast and a good night can turn into a bad night quickly. Las Vegas bookies will set odds, making Gordon, Johnson, Harvick, and Keselowski favorites, but to me the race is 500 laps of mayhem and is impossible to predict. Hopefully the race will live up to the hype that always surrounds it.
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