10 Lessons Learned in the Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan
Michigan International Speedway has always been fast, but the recent repave made the track wickedly fast, tempting drivers to the edge of danger. Not even those behind the wheel knew what to expect when the green flag dropped.
Qualifying speeds broke track records. Going into the race, the drivers really didn't know just how far they could push their equipment.
It was a given that strategy with tires and fuel would play a major part in the outcome of the race. The blistered tires in practice gave teams reason to fear a game-changing flat in the race.
Racing at Michigan was new and exciting at the track in the heart of car country where drivers behind the wheel of Fords, Chevrolets and Dodges wanted to win in their backyards.
Toyota drivers hoped to be the spoilers.
The Quicken Loans 400 gave us some moments that thrilled, surprised and disappointed.
Let's take a look at some of the lessons we learned from the Michigan race.
Tires, Tires and More Tires
One of the first chores for the teams during practice for the Quicken Loans 400 was to scuff in some 10 sets of tires.
Tires then seemed to be blistering within 12 laps or so at the high speeds on the new track surface. It would appear tires would become a major issue during the race.
Goodyear made the call that they would bring new tires in from Charlotte to be used for the left side of the cars.
The tire compound was one used back in 2006 before the COT. Some drivers were pleased with the change, and others, not so happy.
Tires continued to show blistering after coming off the cars with 30 or so laps.
Engines Were Problematic for Some
Carl Edwards had problems with his engine during qualifying and was relegated to a 41st-place start.
Two Hendrick Motorsports engines were found to have issues, and they were replaced in the No. 48 car of Jimmie Johnson and the No. 39 of Ryan Newman. The drivers started in the last two positions.
Trevor Bayne was running seventh during the beginning laps of the race. He thought the car was blowing up, and he was headed to the garage.
On Lap 10, Josh Wise became yet another victim of engine failure, bringing out the caution.
Kyle Busch pulled his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota into the garage for the third race in a row with another engine failure around Lap 85.
Risk vs. Reward with Strategy
There were a couple caution periods before Lap 50 because of issues with cars. There were also two competition cautions on Lap 20 and Lap 50.
There were some interesting calls with no tires, four tires and two tires. It was a sign of things to come with the race becoming a bit of a chess match with calls by the crew chiefs to gain track position.
Kurt Busch's Return Less Than Stellar
It was only the second lap when Kurt Busch went sliding in his No. 51 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet. He said over the radio that the car was "beyond loose."
His car appeared to be out of the groove in the lighter gray area of the track when he went for the ride. There was contact with the side of another car that caused damage to the No. 51.
Busch was not competitive after the incident and just seemed to be making laps when he once again went for a spin on Lap 121.
The driver, no doubt, could not wait to get out of Michigan.
Dark Knight Was Rising
Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew car was sporting a black paint scheme promoting the new movie Dark Knight Rises which is the third edition of the Batman movies.
The "Tumbler" car used in the movie did promotional runs against the No. 88, and Junior was seen climbing in and out of the trick vehicle.
Earnhardt started 15th and quickly drifted toward the back half of the field. During the caution periods, adjustments were made, and finally, a four-tire change gave the driver a car he was happy with.
On Lap 70, Junior took the lead and was looking like a serious contender to win at the sight of his last victory four years and 143 races ago.
As the race unfolded, NASCAR's white knight took his black Dark Knight car to his 19th Cup win in 450 starts. It ended his 143 race winless streak.
Hero to Zero
Joey Logano, driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota, looked to be a hero with his second career Cup win last week at Pocono where he started on the pole.
On Lap 127 of the Quicken Loans 400, Logano tried to avoid the No. 38 car on the high line only to take himself for a spin that caused heavy damage to his car. He was taken to the infield care center but was physically fine.
Kasey Kahne had no where to hide and also sustained heavy damage when he ran into Logano. For the second week in the row, the No. 5 suffered from the same fate.
Logano was unofficially scored at 35th place when the race concluded.
Joe Gibbs Racing Flames out at Michigan
Kyle Busch had lost an engine, then Joey Logano destroyed his car, so things were not going well for the drivers at Joe Gibbs Racing.
The day then got worse for JGR when Denny Hamlin went for a spin, after possible contact with Ryan Newman, and slid through the infield.
The No. 11 FedEx Toyota then burst into flames as Hamlin slid to a stop on pit road and exited the burning car.
It was Hamlin's first fiery experience in a Cup car, but he was relatively calm and uninjured.
Fans Got What They Wanted
Fans wanted exciting races as they tired of the long, green-flag runs. It appears they have gotten what they wanted.
The racing at the newly repaved Michigan track gave us exciting racing, high speeds, stunning racing incidents and a very popular winner.
It was the second Cup event in a row that sported great racing. Pocono and the new repave at that track also allowed the drivers in NASCAR's top tier to put on a show.
Contenders and Pretenders Begin to Show
There are just 11 races until the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. With competition as tight as it is, those who remain winless may find it even more difficult to find victory.
The top four drivers in the standings, Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Greg Biffle and Jimmie Johnson come from two racing stables—Roush Fenway Racing and Hendrick Motorsports.
RFR driver, Carl Edwards, still may be on the outside looking in if he doesn't win a race and get some top-five finishes soon. He's unofficially 11th in the points after Michigan.
Hendrick Motorsports driver, Kasey Kahne, may still have a lock on one of the wild-card positions with his unofficial 16th place in the points and one win.
Jeff Gordon, the remaining HMS driver did get a sixth-place finish at Michigan, but he must win a race or two to get a shot at the wild-card slots. He gained two positions and is ranked unofficially at 20th in points.
Kyle Busch and Ryan Newman each have one win and have the best shot at the wild-card positions as of now. They each have won one race.
Tony Stewart and the MWR drivers still look strong, and it would seem inevitable that Kevin Harvick would win a race before the Chase.
With those 11 chances left, anything can happen, but a look at the performance of drivers at the top of the standings are starting to look like the top contenders in the Chase.
NASCAR Gets a Boost
NASCAR's white knight drove his black Dark Knight Rising No. 88 to victory, ending his four-year drought at a track that was the sight of his last victory four years ago.
It seemed only appropriate for Earnhardt to find a win in a black car reminiscent of one his famous father might have driven on Father's Day.
Media attention will be hot and heavy with the win by the nine-time NASCAR Most Popular driver. It is the shot NASCAR needed after so many people wondered when he would win again for the last 143 races.
Junior Nation will be celebrating his impressive win that saw him lead 95 out of 200 laps. He is also only four points out of the lead in the point standings.
Now, the question will be whether or not he can keep the momentum through the summer stretch and run for the 2012 Cup title.
The bigger question, yet, will be whether he can win his first NASCAR Sprint Cup championship.