With a restart reminiscent of his latest victory at Indianapolis, Jeff Gordon paced the field yet again at Michigan to win the Pure Michigan 400 on Sunday. After starting on the pole, Gordon ran away at the end to defeat every other driver and earn the victory.
The No. 24 car now has three wins and has moved into the lead in the standings and a close second in the Chase Grid. Just three races remain before the Chase for the Sprint Cup begins, so Gordon's chances to take the points lead into the Chase look even better.
Along with winning his third race of the season, Gordon joins an elite group, as Jeff Gluck of USA Today notes:
Geoffrey Miller of Athlon Sports also points out the win was his third at the track:
Without a win since 2001 at Michigan, Gordon was excited following the race and threw down a memorable burnout. He was also left befuddled while trying to make his way to Victory Lane, per his official account:
Gordon now heads to Bristol just three points ahead of Dale Earnhardt Jr. Gordon already has four championships, but "Drive for Five" has been a theme of the veteran driver's season.
After winning his record-setting fifth race of his career at the Brickyard earlier this year, Gordon is putting together one of his strongest seasons. His driving drew a huge response from fellow racing legend Darrell Waltrip:
While Gordon left Michigan with a win, his teammates weren't far behind. Earnhardt pulled out another top-five result, and Jimmie Johnson wound up ninth after experiencing issues throughout the race.
Johnson sparked some controversy late after his car slid out into Ryan Newman and nearly wrecked both drivers. There appeared to be no intent behind the near accident, but Newman still confronted the No. 48 driver after the event, per Marty Smith of ESPN:
With the Pure Michigan 400 now in the books, here's a look at the results, standings and recap from the race.
|Pure Michigan 400 Results|
|5||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||6.895|
|15||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||17.209|
|19||Brian Vickers||1 lap|
|20||Aric Almirola||1 lap|
* Full results for the Michigan race can be found at NASCAR.com.
|2014 Sprint Cup Standings|
|2||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||813|
|2014 Sprint Cup Chase Grid|
|Pos.||Driver||Points||Wins||Top 5||Top 10|
|1||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||813||3||11||16|
The start of the race saw more adversity for Kyle Busch after a string of poor finishes.
Busch slid up into the wall on Lap 4 and quickly sustained damage to his No. 18 machine. When the caution came out for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver, Busch went to the garage to repair his damaged vehicle.
Though he's put together a strong season—he came into the race at eighth on the Chase Grid—Busch has had mixed results of late. Nate Ryan of USA Today notes the recent finishes for Busch:
On the heels of the wreck for Busch, a multi-car pileup saw multiple contenders sustain damage.
Danica Patrick spun out in Turn 1 and collected several cars on her way off the track. Among those involved were Jeff Burton, Matt Kenseth and Martin Truex Jr., with Kenseth and Trevor Bayne heading to the garage.
Burton was critical of Patrick following the incident, per Bob Pockrass of Sporting News:
Despite sustaining damage, Burton put together a valiant effort for the Stewart-Haas Racing team. He ran up in the top five for parts of the afternoon, but damage later forced him out of contention.
One driver who saw his chances at making the Chase dwindle considerably was Kyle Larson. The rookie has put together a strong season, but he smacked into the wall midway through the event and ended his day early.
Now at 14th in the points standings, Larson will need to work harder to make the postseason. NASCAR on ESPN noted the disappointing accident for Larson:
Larson was hesitant to exit his car but was allowed to get out with the car on fire. Following the accident, he voiced his frustration over the finish, per NASCAR.com:
It's a shame. We were up there in the points battle and we'll just have to work even harder now on our Target Chevy to make the Chase. It sucks. ...
... There was a little bit of a hesitation (to get out of the car), but I had smoke in the cockpit. I let my crew know I was going to get out. I don't know if NASCAR listens to that stuff. Once I got out, I just stayed as close as I could to the car. But I had to get out with all the smoke in there.
With the Chase fast approaching, just three races remain before NASCAR's postseason officially begins.
Some of the most popular drivers on the circuit already have their spot secured, but some need a win to earn a berth. Names like Larson, Clint Bowyer, Greg Biffle and Kasey Kahne remain firmly on the bubble but have not earned a place in the Chase field.
Heading back to Bristol Motor Speedway, Carl Edwards will be looking to sweep the two races. Even though he sits well outside of the Chase for now, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finished second at the track back in March.
Matt Kenseth won the Bristol race last August, but a victory next weekend would be more crucial than ever. As the entire field moves onto the short track, expect even more action at the World's Fastest Half-Mile.
Follow R. Cory Smith on Twitter: