Blue skies, no rain and hard racing were the forecast for the Carfax 400 at Michigan International Speedway. It was the first time since the Brickyard 400 that the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series was able to escape rain showers and race on a clear Sunday afternoon.
For the sixth time this season Brian Vickers led the field to the start, running alongside 50 year old Mark Martin.
Fuel mileage was on every drivers mind when the field took the green around 2:20 Eastern time. By taking the green, points leader Tony Stewart officially locked himself into the Chase.
Past the start finish line the third place car of Montoya was all over the back of Vickers as Martin jumped out to an early lead. Kurt Busch, who's team owner Roger Penske built this track, passed Vickers for third.
Kyle Busch, who started 39th, was hurriedly trying to gain positions, running 31st after just two laps.
Vickers fell back to fourth by lap four after Jimmie Johnson also got by him. The No. 83 would pass him the following lap, and start his pursuit of the No. 2 of Busch.
A light mist began falling as, further back in the pack, Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer had a heated side by side battle.
Kasey Kahne ran 29th, after starting in the rear for an engine change, as the first caution of the day came out on lap seven. Despite their being just a 10 percent chance of rain, rain drops caused NASCAR to throw the yellow flag.
A red flag was thrown shortly afterward, halting the cars on pit road. Kyle Busch reported to his crew "Uh, they lost the track, man. Torrential downpour in turn one."
"It cam in quick. We had some dribbles here and there before the race started, but I didn't think it was a problem," Vickers said. "Then the bottom just fell out of the sky and NASCAR threw the caution."
"Well we had a pretty decent car all weekend, so I think we should've gotten by a few of those cars," Kahne, who had moved up 11 spots in the first eight laps, said. "(Kyle Busch and I are) both going to get better after we pit."
After the 18 minute red flag NASCAR put the caution flag back out. Bobby Labonte, who believed he had a cylinder down shortly before the red flag, stayed on pit road after the cars re-fired. He would eventually go to the garage.
Twelfth place driver and Saturday's Nationwide Series winner Brad Keselowski led much of the back half of the field onto pit road.
Mark Martin chose the outside line as he and second place car Kurt Busch led the field to the green on lap 11. Martin immediately jumped out to a lead as Johnson raced Busch side by side.
The No. 11 of Hamlin and No. 42 of Montoya made their way past Vickers for fifth and sixth as Johnson made a move on Busch for second.
A cluster of cars including Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Brad Keselowski and Reed Sorenson battled back and fourth in the middle of the pack.
On lap 17 Johnson was right on the bumper of Martin, stalking the No. 5 Kellogg's Chevrolet before attempting a pass on the bottom. Martin closed the door, keeping his teammate at bay.
Johnson made it by his teammate on lap 24, passing him to the inside before moving back up the track. Meanwhile, Kyle Busch ran 23rd after starting the race in 39th.
A side by side battle between the No. 2 of Busch and Hamlin nearly sent Busch into the wall, and cost him two spots to Hamlin and Vickers. He settled behind them in fifth.
On lap 28 Vickers took third from Hamlin.
Back in the top ten, Matt Kenseth told his grew he believed his engine was missing and his car drove "like a tractor". Despite this, he passed Montoya for seventh on the inside.
As Johnson extended his lead to over a second over Martin, who battled and lost his side by side battle with Vickers, green flag pit stops began as Sorenson Ryan Newman came down pit road on lap 38. Sorenson thought he had a tire going down.
Vickers and Biffle hit pit road on lap 42 along with Hamlin, Busch, Montoya and several others. A lap later leader Johnson came down pit road with Martin and Harvick, handing the lead to Matt Kenseth. He would come down on lap 44 with Earnhardt, Jr. and several others, with Gordon taking the lead.
Gordon led a handful of cars down pit road on lap 45 as Clint Bowyer took the lead. Bowyer got five bonus points and made his stop on lap 46 with Jamie McMurray as David Ragan assessed the lead.
Teammates Ragan and a very loose Carl Edwards made stops on lap 47, ending the green flag pit stops. Denny Hamlin cycled back to the lead, but had a heated side by side battle with Johnson before being passed on alp 48. Martin also got by Hamlin for second.
Robby Gordon brought out the second caution of the day on lap 52 after losing a tire and hitting the wall in Turn one. Mike Bliss was the lucky dog.
Despite just pitting, nearly all 36 lead lap cars came down pit road. Matt Kenseth and Jeff Gordon won the race off pit road followed by Ragan, Reutimann, Vickers, Johnson, Edwards, Martin, Bowyer, and Hamlin. Edwards and Reutimann picked up 15 spots a piece while Hamlin lost seven after his four tire stop.
Paul Menard stayed out and led the field to the green flag on lap 58. With a push from Gordon, though, Kenseth quickly took the lead. Menard fellow into the clutches of the pack, losing multiple positions as they Johnson and Ragan battled for fourth as they hit the start finish line.
Further back, Earnhardt, Jr., Harvick and Busch raced three wide for 17th as Ragan attempted to pass Gordon.
Four wide with Earnhardt, Jr., Stewart, Busch and Keselowski as Harvick cleared the pack. Back up front Johnson made his way past both Ragan and Gordon.
Greg Biffle and A.J. Allmendinger battled for 29th with Biffle clearing the No. 44 thanks to drafting help from Marcos Ambrose. A pass for the lead on lap 65 as Johnson took the lead for the third time.
On lap 66 Kurt Busch began reporting he was having an electrical problem and wasn't able to find pit road speed. He also lost two positions to former teammate Edwards and Bowyer, settling back in ninth.
Running in 22nd, a disgruntled Kevin Harvick—coming off a disappointing 35th finish at Watkins Glen—told his crew "(this is) exactly what we deserve. Back in the bullsh*t. Absolutely ridiculous." He, Kyle Busch and teammate Jeff Burton had been battling for 19th.
Meanwhile, Johnson extended his lead to over two and a half seconds over Kenseth, who had Martin right on his right bumper. On lap 75, Juan Pablo Montoya in 12th began running up on Hamlin and Edwards, who ran side by side past the start finish line. On the bottom, the No. 11 was able to take the spot.
By lap 84 Kenseth trailed Johnson by over three seconds. Meanwhile, up 17 spots from his 23rd starting spot was Clint Bowyer running in the top ten. He told his crew his car was "hauling through the center" in his battle to enter the Chase.
On lap 88 Earnhardt, Jr. brought his No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet down pit road for an unscheduled stop for a vibration. He was ten laps away from scheduled green flag pit stops.
Vickers and Bowyer battled side by side for fifth, with Vickers taking the spot and eventually passing Ragan for fourth. By lap 95 Martin had erased Johnson's three second lead while Vickers, right up against the wall, passed Kenseth, who hit pit road along with Kyle Busch on.
As Truex, Jr., Newman, Keselowski and others hit pit road Martint ook over the lead on lap 96. Logano also came down pit road to change four tires.
Johnson hit pit road on lap 97, getting an air pressure adjustment with his four tires and fuel. Leader Martin and teammate Gordon also made pit stops, handing the lead to Vickers. Hamlin, Vickers and Ragan also made their stops.
On lap 98 the green flag stops cycled through with Vickers and Montoya among the leaders making their stops. Stewart, Edwards and Earnhardt, Jr. battled for 13th, 14th and 15th. Thanks to their fresh tires the No. 14 and No. 99 blew by the National Guard Chevrolet.
Robby Gordon, who brought out the day's second caution, took his No. 7 to the garage just after reaching the halfway point.
Martin continued to eat at the lead of Johnson, running just half a second behind the leader. Their teammate, Jeff Gordon, who started 21st ran third, but had the No. 33 of Bowyer chasing him down.
Third place car Kenseth started 25th and said his car was in need of a trackbar and wedge adjust because his car "rotated back". Back in 12th, Reutimann and Montoya, still battling a loose car, battled side by side on lap 113. Montoya told his crew they were "making (the car) worse."
Caution for debris on the backstretch on lap 115 erased Johnson's on second lead and gave Sam Hornish, Jr. the free pass. The caution allowed the leaders to hit pit road.
Tony Stewart gained 10 spots by taking just two tires and wont he race off pit road. Everyone else—Johnson, Vickers, Martin, Kenseth, Bowyer, Gordon, Ragan, Kurt Busch, and Hamlin—took four.
"Tell me why we did that," Stewart said.
"Because your lap times were right there with second and third," crew chief Darian Grubb said, also telling his driver—and boss—that it was a track position move.
Stewart's teammate made several pit stops trying to improve hi
On lap 120 Stewart led the field to the green, but couldn't hold off Johnson. Further back big trouble for Kurt Busch and David Ragan as, in the middle of the field, they were sent spinning. Edwards alo had slight damage but was able to continue.
"I was just a little loose and the (No.) two just finished me off." Ragan told his crew. With little damage the No. 6 team made a pit stop to change tires and went back on track. Menard was the lucky dog. Hornish, Jr. was penalized for refueling and did not received the free pass.
Busch got the most damage, and after a lengthy stop in the garage ended up 36th on the day.
Elliott Sadler, Reed Sorenson, Ryan Newman and John Andretti made pit stops under the caution as Johnson led the field to the green on lap 125. Stewart beat the No. 48 going into two as Kenseth and Martin ran side by side for third.
Johnson took the high line and passed Stewart just before the two reached the start finish line. Vickers and Edwards raced side by side fifth as Martin and Kenseth passed Stewart.
On lap 132 Johnson once again had more than a second lead over Martin as Edwards began another charge toward Vickers as eighth place Bowyer passed Stewart. That same lap David Ragan was sent spinning after contact with the No. 77, bring out the day's fifth caution.
Reed Sorenson was the free pass car, but the real lucky dog was the No. 11 of Hamlin, who was about to pit due to a vibration.
The leaders stayed on pit road while 10th place and back came onto pit road to make changes. Edwards was penalized a spot after NASCAR told him he didn't maintain speed under caution when he faked onto pit road. His crew chief Scott Osborne called it a "bad call".
After a light sprinkle caused NASCAR to hold off on the restart, Johnson led the field on the outside to the green on lap 141. Martin, though, jumped out to challenge his teammate before falling back behind the No. 48 and No. 17.
Kyle Busch and Kenseth raced side by side as further in the back Montoya quickly began falling back, making it three wide in the middle. It was confirmed that he lost a left rear tire after contact with the No. 9 of Kahne. His brake line was also knocked loose.
On lap 145 Gordon and Martin both made their way past Kenseth.
"It's braking pretty damn good," Gordon told crew chief Steve Letarte.
A small rain shower once again brought out the caution on lap 146. Hornish, Jr. was again the lucky dog.
The leaders hit pit road a lap later as Vickers led the field off pit road. McMurray, Harvick, Stewart (who took no tires), Johnson, Kenseth, Busch, Newman, Martin, and Gordon followed.
"We're gonna damn roll the dice. That's why we're here," Steve Letarte told driver Jeff Gordon.
With 47 laps to go Reutimann led the field to the green as Earnhardt, Jr. shot around Logano and eventually to the lead. Teammates Logano and hamlin battled for third and fourth.
Three wide with Hamlin, Reutimann and Logano for a brief time as Logano began a charge to the leader. Further back Kenseth made a move to the inside of Hamlin, bringing Harvick along with him.
Caution with 42 laps to go for the seventh time when David Stremme gets into the back of the No. 31, getting lose and spinning across the hood of the No. 33 of Bowyer. No one else received damage, and Montoya was the lucky dog.
Johnson stayed on pit road while Earnhardt, Jr. and several of the leaders hit pit road.
A crazy restart with 40 laps to go, Johnson beating Vickers to the line as further back in the pack they race four wide. Vickers does get by the No. 48.
Harvick and Martin split Kenseth as they race for third. Further back Harvick's teammate Bowyer and Gordon race for sixth.
Gordon passes Kenseth for fifth as Vickers and Johnson trade the lead back and forth, Johnson taking it on lap 165. Continuing to move up, Bowyer runs Kenseth right next tot he wall as he attempts to make the pass. The battle allows Kenseth's teammate Edwards to catch the pair.
The three go three wide past the start finish line with Hornish, Jr. behind them. Edwards takes the position, followed by Kenseth. Bowyer would fall back to 10th.
"Take care of it man, you're doing awesome," Lance McCrew told Earnhardt, Jr. While most of the drivers in the top ten needed to conserve fuel, the No. 88 was running wide open and picking off drivers.
With 23 laps to go Johnson held nearly a second lead over Vickers and Gordon, who ran nose to tail.
Side by side Logano and Biffle battled for 12th, Logano prevailing as they fall back into line. The No. 20 then sets his site on Kenseth.
Earnhardt, Jr. continued picking off drivers, entering the top five with a pass on Martin. In 12th, Kenseth, Biffle and Reutimann battle for position.
"Keep on saving for me, keep on saving," Chad Knaus told leader Jimmie Johnson with 14 laps to go.
Vickers began closing in on Johnson with 13 laps to go, as a ridin' high Earnhardt, Jr. continued to chase down the top five.
"I'm lifting big time, trying to save you all I can," Johnson told his crew as the laps continued to wind down.
Earnhardt, Jr. blew by Edwards with ten to go as Vickers was hot on the tail of the leader. Going to the outside, Vickers ran right up against the wall before Johnson slammed the door closed.
With nine to go, Vickers once again went to the outside, but again the door was closed as the two hit the start finish line. The No. 83 Toyota didn't lose sight of the leader.
"Oh there we go," Gordon said of the two front cars running side by side. "That's what we need."
"Watch your mirror—the (No.) 88 is my concern, not the 99! He's coming like a bat out of hell!" Letarte radioed back.
Drama filled MIS with six laps to go as Vickers continued to race the No. 48 and Earnhardt, Jr. closed in on his teammate Gordon.
Running in sixth, Hornish, Jr. tried to hold up the highest running Childress car, the No. 07 of Casey Mears.
"You've got enough car to stay in front of him," Knaus told the leader. "It's just a question of if we have enough."
With three to go Vickers once again began running next to the wall, hoping to go by Johnson buy without success.
As they hit the start finish Johnson hit pit road to get fuel and Vickers took the lead, a half second ahead of Gordon.
The white flag came out as Johnson exited pit road. Vickers ran alongside the wall, knowing he hadn't won since 2006 in Talladega.
"That's what I"m talking about! Great call guys! Hell yeah!" Vickers yelled as he crossed the start finish line. Kenseth and Martin both coasted to the finish.
"I think that shows it right there, he still has enough (for a burnout). That's way cool, man. I can't say enough about this team," crew chief Ryan Pemberton said.
"It was good, we made some good changes at the end that helped the car a lot," Earnhardt, Jr. who finished third, said. "Hopefully we can keep it going."
"Certainly frustrated, but we've one race on fuel mileage ever, and we're obviously not good at it," Johnson said. He ended the day 33rd. With the finish Johnson falls to third in the Chase.
"(Pemberton) made the call and it was a great call," Vickers said. "Oh man, I don't now what to say. I'm so proud of this group."
Vickers gets Red Bull Racing their first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win, and the first win at Michigan for Toyota. He's also just 12 points out of the Chase, sitting in 13th. Clint Bowyer, who finished eighth, also gained a points position to 14th.
Great runs for Sam Hornish, Jr. and Casey Mears who finished 5th and 6th. Mears was the highest finishing RCR car. Mark Martin, who ran out of fuel just before the checkers, ended the day 31st, and lost a spot to Matt Kenseth in the Chase.
Carl Edwards finished fourth and gained two spots to fourth in the Chase while both Busch brothers lost two spots—Kurt falling to sixth and Kyle falling further out in 15th.
Next week it's Saturday night racing at Bristol as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series enters Bristol Motor Speedway for the Sharpie 500.