Matt Kenseth put on a dominant performance in the sweltering Sunday heat in NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway, leading 146 of the 200 laps en route to his third victory of the season.
It was a riveting performance from the veteran and one for the ages, given the ridiculous temperatures and amount of yellow caution flags. Behind Kenseth were Series leader Kevin Harvick and surprising showings by Martin Truex Jr. and Austin Dillon.
Michigan International Speedway captured the Victory Lane celebration:
The dominant showcase by Kenseth has a major impact on the leaderboard when it comes to wins with the Chase on approach. Here's a look at the entire top 10, with the full order available at ESPN.com:
|3||Martin Truex Jr.||78|
|10||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||88|
NASCAR.com provided a look at the updated standings:
|3||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||784|
|4||Martin Truex Jr.||755|
The first half of the race belonged to Kenseth. Well, and caution flags.
All right, maybe just flags as the first yellow waved in the humid Michigan air before the drivers completed the first lap of the day thanks to a David Ragan spinout.
Jeff Gordon offered a humorous take on the turn of events, per his Twitter account:
The second yellow flag went up on Lap 11 thanks to debris on the track from Timmy Hill's car, which earned him a black flag from NASCAR. The competition caution wasn't far behind on Lap 22. A third yellow went up for debris on No. 71.
In reality, the drivers were perhaps thrilled with the amount of yellows, given the heat. Gordon was one of many drivers heard over the radio asking for ice and other ways to keep cool:
FoxSports.com's Tom Jensen provided an inside scoop:
It was Kenseth who best survived the first half of the race, leading 77 laps before surrendering the lead to Harvick on a green-flag pit stop.
From there, the drivers had a hard time keeping the flag down after the halfway mark, with Clint Bowyer getting loose and careening into a wall, ending his day.
NASCAR recorded the wreck:
It wound up a heartbreaking turn of events for Bowyer, who entered the day just above the Chase cutoff line and hoping to stay there, if not make a move up the leaderboard.
Soon after Bowyer found his back end in a wall, Tony Stewart almost suffered the same fate, prompting the race's seventh caution. NASCAR on NBC has the footage:
Amidst the wreckaage, Kenseth remained in a two-man duel for first place, the other a game Dillon. It was an important sticking point of the race considering the winless Dillon could steal a Chase spot from another driver without a win.
NASCAR's Matt Willis provided some context on Dillon's career day:
Speaking of the Chase, Jimmie Johnson wouldn't have minded another win, but instead he brought out another yellow flag off a spinout. NBCSN provided the dirt-spitting gaffe:
Even the late yellow flag couldn't slow Kenseth, who didn't have any problems holding off Dillon, Harvick and a surprising late surge from Truex, who entered Sunday sixth in the standings.
He needed a strong showing after six of seven (and two consecutive) finishes outside of the top 10. He got it by closing the gap to finish third and jumped two spots on the board. Dillon posted a strong fourth-place finish, but aspirations of stealing a Chase spot go on hold.
Other notable finishers included Jeff Gordon at No. 17, so the defending champion of this race in particular will need to wait for his first checkered flag of his farewell season. Kyle Busch, who secured his Chase berth last week, finished 11th.
Still, Sunday was all about Kenseth, as the past month has been. He won in Pocono after a wild fuel-based finish on Aug. 2, posted a fourth-place finish at The Glen last week and now made a bit of history with his finish, as NASCAR Stats breaks down:
Kenseth and the Sprint Cup Series next tackle a short turnaround for a Saturday night race at Bristol Motor Speedway for the IRWIN Tools Night Race. There, Harvick and notables such as Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon will look for a cleaner race.
Either way, the clock counting down to the Chase continues to tick. Sunday was important, but next Saturday's event will be even more so with things getting chippy on the track and closer on the leaderboard.
Stats and info courtesy of ESPN.com unless otherwise specified.