BROOKLYN, MIch. -- It might sound odd to say this in the middle of June, considering how strong the Toyotas have been running overall in 2017, but Joe Gibbs Racing has yet to visit Victory Lane in the Cup series. Every week they contend, and every week they fall short.
Let’s look at Michigan’s results … Kyle Busch led 40 laps in Sunday’s race, and was among the top contenders to win. But as the final laps played out, he fell back and finished 7th. He’s run well enough to be third in points, but has yet to be first to the checkered flag this year.
Both Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth were knocking on the door of the lead Sunday (Hamlin’s shot came right at the end too). But in the end, Hamlin came home in 4th and Kenseth was 11th. Both of these drivers are on track to make the playoffs on points, but would prefer to get there via a trip to Victory Lane.
The fourth Gibbs driver, Daniel Suarez, is a rookie so there isn’t huge pressure on him to win this year. But he has the talent to do so, as he showed last year in winning his Xfinity title.
BROOKLYN, Mich. -- In the finishing order at MIS, Fords were on the short end of the stick.
The lone positives were a 3rd-place run by Joey Logano, who has been in a funk lately and needed good news, and an 8th-place run from Roush-Fenway driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Beyond that it was pretty disappointing, though Darrell Wallace Jr. did do better in his second go-around in the Petty #43 car, finishing 19th.
On Twitter after the race, Ford team owner Tony Stewart showed he’s not going to stop speaking his mind even though he’s retired from driving in the Cup series.
BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Michigan native Erik Jones is among the young drivers in NASCAR's top series still searching for his first win at the premier level. With MIS being his home track, he said it's always a bit busier than usual but also a chance to see familiar faces.
“Yeah, it’s been a busy week. I didn’t get home ‘til Tuesday night, drove back up here and went over and tested a late model on Wednesday over in Grand Rapids, Michigan and then yesterday kind of got to take the day off, visit a little friends and family and then back it again today, so just nice to come home. Nice to sleep in the house that I grew up in and stay there – it’s only about an hour away from here – and roll into the race track in the morning. It’s just cool to be here and on Sunday get all the family and friends out. I’ve burned through every possible hot pass I can get, so just nice to have everybody here and be close to home.”
Logano seeks return to form
Joey Logano has a win this year, but the reality is that the win is considered encumbered, so he does not have a guaranteed spot in the playoffs. Add to that the fact that his past month has been a bit rough on track, and the number of winners continues to grow, and it's clear that Logano must stay focused so he is able to make the playoffs -- either with a win or via points.
When asked about this pressure Friday at MIS, Logano said: “It is on my mind. I would be lying if I said it wasn’t, but it isn’t something I am very concerned about. I feel like this team is strong enough to get through it. We just need to get through it, build momentum. The way these stages are, you can gain points pretty quick. We have to be able to string three or four solid races together like we know how to. We have strung 15-20 great races together before. It is nothing this team hasn’t done before. We are very strong. No one is pointing fingers. There is none of that going on. We just have to get through it as a team together.”
BROOKLYN, MIch. -- A couple of drivers who know about winning at Michigan International Speedway are Daniel Suarez, who got his first win in the Xfinity series last year at MIS, and Kyle Larson, who earned his first Cup win at MIS in 2016.
Both are back to compete this year -- with Suarez now in the No. 19 Cup car vacated by Carl Edwards -- and they reflected on their wins here and looked ahead to this Sunday's race.
Suarez said Michigan will always be special to him throughout his career.
“I think it’s going to be always a special place. The first one – the first one is always a very, very special one, as you know, and the way that we got that victory here just a year ago it was very good. And another thing like you just mentioned, it gave us confidence and momentum to move forward and to keep working and to eventually be able to get the championship, so very happy to be here."
BROOKLYN, Mich. -- It's good to be Ryan Blaney right now.
The upstart third-generation driver -- part of a stellar crowd of strong young contenders including Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson, Austin Dillon and Daniel Suarez -- is one of the future superstars of the sport, and is fresh off his first career Cup series win last week at Pocono, and is now locked into the 2017 playoffs (formerly known as The Chase).
The Wood Brothers, the storied team he drives for that has employed many of NASCAR's legends, are back to their former glory with Blaney in the 21 car, and the future is Blaney's to tell based on how he performs on the track.
At Michigan International Speedway on Friday, Blaney was appreciative of all the positive feedback he got after his maiden Cup victory.
"It was all positive. I didn't see one negative thing on social media. I saw a video from the stands and everyone was on their feet cheering. It makes me feel really good to see people support us. You don't get that much nowadays," he said Friday.
BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Some bad news for the Cup series competition was announced on Friday: Jimmie Johnson isn't going anywhere anytime soon.
He'll remain in the No. 48 Chevy for Hendrick Motorsports for at least three more years, having signed through 2020. Lowe's will also remain on the 48 car through 2018, and Chad Knaus is returning in 2018.
So why is Jimmie sticking around when some of his contemporaries, including Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Carl Edwards, are calling it quits?
"I truly enjoy competing and love being on the track, " Johnson said Friday at Michigan International Speedway. " A three-year extension makes me smile and I can't wait to get out on the track"
Regarding retirement talk, Johnson isn't saying that 2020 will be his final year.
"I've said it before and continue to say that when the fire does go out I will step down. I don't have any framework now on a timeline," he explained. "I'm as hungry as I've every been. We'll see how these three years go."
Ryan Blaney passed former champion Kyle Busch with nine laps to go and held off former champion Kevin Harvick to capture his first Cup Series race Sunday afternoon at Pocono Raceway, behind the wheel of the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion.
Blaney and his Wood Brothers Racing teammates, celebrating their 99thcareer win, overcame a loose wheel after their first pit stop and a lack of two-way radio communications throughout the day to get the Woods’ historic No. 21 into Victory Lane for the first time since the 2011 Daytona 500. The second-year driver and the 18thto win for Wood Brothers Racing talked about dueling with Busch and Harvick in the final 10 laps of the Axalta Presents the Pocono 400.
“Kyle stayed out and he was on a little bit older tires and it looked like he was getting pretty tight, especially off of one and that’s where new tires really seemed to come alive because you could hold the line and get runs on him, downshift and get next to him,” Blaney said after climbing out of his classic red-and-white racer. “I had a big run on him off of three and he did a good job blocking, and we were able to get under him, but then I had to hold the 4 off. He was super-fast. I can’t thank Kevin enough for racing me clean. That was really cool of him, but it was definitely hectic. Hopefully the fans liked it. It was really cool.”
You could argue that Dale Earnhardt Jr. and I grew up together, in a roundabout way.
When fate took that left turn at just the right moment and I got hooked on NASCAR a little over 20 years ago, Dale Jr. was just a kid with blonde hair trying to prove to the fans that he deserved the rides his daddy had given him.
When I attended my first ever live NASCAR event at Michigan Speedway in August of 1997, it happened to be Dale Jr’s fifth career race In the Busch series.
He started 18th, and finished 7th (his best finish in a year where he qualified for 8 races but DNQed in two others – yes, this was back when people DNQed and there weren’t short fields)
With him being roughly the same age as me, I was naturally drawn to Jr. as he made his way up the ranks of NASCAR. The stories of his fun younger days – parties at his house and nightclub, and his rumored affinity for the Budweiser girls – fit well with my narrative as a young man. He seemed like a guy you would want to have a beer with, and that’s not always the case with celebrities/athletes, especially those with a famous name.