It was another strong performance for Joe Gibbs Racing with Matt Kenseth dominating from the pole for his third win of the season in today’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway.
JGR narrowly missed securing four top-ten finishes today with Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch spending a good portion of the afternoon toward the front of the field. Hamlin would finish fifth, while Edwards was sixth, and Busch worked his way through a tricky final restart to finish 11th.
A new aero package made its debut today at Michigan and although teams were able to gather a good deal of information over the course of the previous two days of practice there remained a good deal of unknowns under race conditions. JGR appeared to have the answers for those unknowns with Kenseth leading a race-high 146 laps after starting from the pole.
Matt Kenseth captured the pole in his No. 20 Dollar General Toyota enabling him to lead the field to the green flag for the start of this afternoon’s race in Michigan. Despite several early race restarts Kenseth was able to maintain the lead through the opening 22 laps before a competition caution was displayed. He would restart second when the 3 car decided to remain on the track and held that position through the next green flag run until the leader was forced to pit for fuel on lap 41 giving the lead back to the 20 car. Kenseth continued to hold onto the top spot through the next two rounds of green flag pit stops and was the leader on lap 121 when a caution came out. Crew chief Jason Ratcliff would bring the Dollar General Camry down pit road for a two-tire stop on lap 123. He would lineup third for the restart behind two cars that elected not to pit. Kenseth would use a great restart to reclaim the lead on lap 126 just before another caution came out. He would hold the lead again through the lap 130 restart and again on another restart on lap 142. Kenseth would come down pit road under green on lap 164 and once the field cycled through he was back on point with 25 laps to go. He would restart on the point again with 13 to go and never looked back on his way to the victory.
Denny Hamlin started the No. 11 FedEx Freight Toyota from the second position and had to endure several early race restarts from the inside lane which proved to be a disadvantage all afternoon. He would drop back to run sixth when a competition caution was displayed on lap 22. He would get shuffled back on the ensuing restart and ran 11th on the next green flag run. Hamlin held on to the 11th position at lap 67 following a round of green flag pit stops. The FedEx Camry was running fifth following another round of green flag pit stops when a caution came out on lap 121. Crew chief Dave Rogers would make the call for a two-tire stop on lap 123 allowing Hamlin to restart fifth on lap 126. Another quick caution would follow and Hamlin would run fourth under the green flag on lap 130. He would fall back two slots to run sixth following a lap 142 restart. Hamlin would pit under green on lap 164 and once the field cycled through he was fourth once again with 25 laps to go. He would line up behind his teammate Kenseth for a final restart with 13 to go and was able to help push the 20 to the front before dropping back to finish fifth.
Carl Edwards started the No. 19 ARRIS Toyota in the third position and had to endure several early race restarts from the inside lane which proved to be a disadvantage all afternoon. He would run seventh when a competition caution was displayed at lap 22. He would continue to run seventh at lap 43 and was running ninth at lap 67 following a round of green flag pit stops. Edwards had the ARRIS Camry in eighth when a caution came out on lap 121. Crew chief Darian Grubb would make the call to have Edwards remain on the track under the caution allowing him to restart as the leader on lap 126. He would fall back to third on the restart when another caution came out. This time when the race restarted on lap 130 Edwards would make a bold move to the bottom of the track to take over second. While under caution on lap 141 Edwards would lose power while attempting to save fuel. That would cost him several positions and left the 19 to restart 11th instead of second on lap 142. Edwards would use a great restart and was back up to fourth by lap 146. He would run sixth with 25 laps remaining following another round of green flag pit stops. Edwards would continue to run sixth following a restart with 13 laps remaining and was able to hold that spot to the finish.
Kyle Busch qualified the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota in the sixth position but an accident in Saturday’s final practice forced the team to move to the backup car resulting in having to start from the back of the field. Busch would make the call to hang off the back of the field for initial start of the race and that proved to be a good decision as he was able to avoid a wreck on the opening lap of the race. He would survive several early restarts in fact, and was up to 33 by lap 20. He would climb his way inside the top 30 following a restart on lap 25 and was running 20th just 30 laps into the afternoon. Busch was up to 15th on lap 43. He would lead during a round of green flag pit stops and then settled in to run 14th once the field cycled through. The Interstate Batteries Camry would enter the top five for the first time following a restart on lap 77. He would run as high as third on that green flag run and was back into third again on lap 118 following another round of green flag stops. Crew chief Adam Stevens would make the call for a four-tire stop on lap 123. With several other leaders making the call for just two tires or electing not to pit at all, Busch would line up 14th for the restart on lap 126. He would be back in the top ten following another restart on lap 130. Stevens would bring him back down pit road for fuel only on lap 137 and the Interstate Batteries Camry lined up 14th for the restart. He would climb into the top 10 to run ninth at lap 146. He would hold that 10th position with 25 laps to go following yet another round of green flag stops and was up to ninth when another caution came out with 18 laps remaining. He would restart ninth with 13 to go but was forced into the middle of a three-wide situation and had to drop back into 13th to avoid any big wrecks. Busch would gain two spots to finish 11th. The solid finish moved Busch into 29th in the point standings and he is now 18 points ahead of 30th, which is needed to secure his place in the Chase for the NASCAR Championship.
Kenseth captured the win and was followed by Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex, Jr., Austin Dillon and Denny Hamlin rounded out the top five. There were eight cautions on the afternoon for a total of 31 laps and 16 lead changes among eight different drivers.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will head to Bristol Motor Speedway next Saturday night, August 22. NBCSN will broadcast the race live with coverage starting at 7 PM ET (race begins at 7:30 PM ET).