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Joey Logano Prevails Over the Field in Statement Win at Michigan

Joey Logano Prevails Over the Field in Statement Win at Michigan
NASCARMedia

NASCAR

Joey Logano Scores Michigan Statement Win in Monday Rainout

No race on Sunday? No problem for Joey Logano and the Penske 22 team. They dominated the FireKeepers Casino 400 from Michigan International Speedway. After starting from the pole, the 22 Mustang paced the field for 163 of 203 laps. This statement win was Logano’s second victory of the year, and 3rd at Michigan. With such a dominant performance, Logano has reasserted himself into the thick of the championship discussion. Can the 22 win more as the summer rolls on? If Michigan was a signal to the competition of how strong the 22 can be, then the field should see Sunday as a statement win.

Fast Fords Lead the way in Qualifying

Saturday’s qualifying session for Michigan’s 100th Cup Series race saw Ford teams rise to the top. Logano’s 22 took the pole position, with Aric Almirola’s 10 car taking 2nd. Ultimately, 8 of the top 10 qualifiers would be blue ovals. The Mustangs looked strong for their debut race in Ford’s backyard.

Rain Pushes Race to Monday

With a troublesome forecast all day Sunday, NASCAR did everything in their power to start the Michigan race. Prerace ceremonies, the command to fire engines, and pace laps all occurred prior to the rain returning. In the end, the track was lost to the rain. The start time would be pushed back to 5 PM EST on Monday. This would mark the first Monday prime time Cup Series race since the 2012 Daytona 500.

Lead Swaps Early On

When the green flag finally fell on Monday evening, it was Logano leading the field from the pole. Although Joey had a good start, he would fail to lead the opening lap. Going down the backstretch on lap 1, Denny Hamlin dove to Logano’s inside to take the top spot. Hamlin’s 11 would lead the first 3 circuits after starting 4th. Logano finally led on lap 4, where he would stay for much of Stage 1.

New Style of Racing at Michigan

From the drop of the green flag, a new racing product was on display at Michigan International Speedway. Similar to Truck Series races on intermediate tracks, the draft was a big factor, and cars raced in groups. While not like pack-racing at Daytona or Talladega, this new form of racing put on by the 2019 rule changes did drastically alter the visual perception of Michigan. The leader never pulled away from the field, unlike past races on this 2-mile oval. Also, 2 cars working together were able to catch a faster car. Passing was more common back in the pack, but it was still tough to complete a lead change. In the end, the 2019 package had mixed reviews from Michigan, but it definitely kept the competition close together.

Competition Caution Changes Running Order

Stage 1 would only be halted once, for a competition caution on lap 22. By the time of this yellow, Logano was out front, just ahead of Kevin Harvick. Harvick was trying to go for 2-straight victories at Michigan, following his statement win last August. The 4 SHR team amazingly is still winless, and was trying to correct that in the Irish Hills. Harvick was able to chase down Logano after starting 3rd and fading back a bit.

By the time of the competition yellow, the biggest mover on track would be Michigan-native Erik Jones. After starting 14th, the 20 Toyota was up to 5th. This gain of 9 positions in just 20 laps proved that Jones had speed. He hoped to be a contender in his own backyard.

Pit stops would be a split strategy of either 2-tire or fuel-only stops for the leaders. Logano was able to hold his lead off of pit road, but Harvick was the loser in this cycle. Due to a slow pit stop, the 4 went from 2nd back to 9th. There were also further pitfalls back in the pack. Jimmie Johnson and Matt Dibenedetto made heavy contact in the pits. This damage would force the 48 to pit 3 more times to fix right front damages.

Hard Racing to Close Out Stage 1

When racing resumed on lap 26, Logano left Hamlin and the field in the dust. Martin Truex, Jr. made a daring 3-wide pass to gain 3rd place, after starting back in 16th. Under this run, the top 8 drivers would form a breakaway from the rest of the field. At one point, they were all within 1 second of each other. This run would see Erik Jones, Martin Truex, Jr., and Aric Almirola all take over the runner up spot. Almirola would actually lead a lap when he passed Logano briefly in lapped traffic. However, the 22 quickly recovered and passed the 10 back.

By the last lap of Stage 1, Alex Bowman had made it all the way up to 2nd. This runner up came after the 88 started way back in 20th. Logano would secure his 6th Stage win of the year by a car length. Logano now leads all drivers this season in Stage wins, despite lacking in the race win column.

Harvick’s Day Goes Off-Strategy

Just prior to the Stage 1 conclusion on lap 53, Kevin Harvick made an unscheduled pit stop from 10th place. The defending Michigan winner reported a loose wheel, and had excessive wear on his front tires. This off-strategy move would put Harvick a lap down. Unfortunately, he would not receive the free pass under the Stage break. As a result, the 4 pitted again under the yellow. Harvick’s day was becoming a deeper and deeper hole quickly, as he had arguably the fastest car in Michigan. His bid for another statement win got a lot tougher at this point.

Quick Yellow to Start Stage 2

When Stage 2 began on lap 68, Joey Logano easily cleared Alex Bowman with a big push from Erik Jones. Just 3 laps later the yellow flag flew again, as Kyle Weatherman spun into the turn 2 outside wall. Weatherman would be done for the day after sustaining heavy damage, and finished dead-last in 36th place.

Up front, this yellow brought out a split strategy that jumbled up the running order. The first to pit here was the 19 of Truex, Jr. in 4th. While many of the lead lap cars did pit, 9 did not. These 9 drivers that stayed out included leader Joey Logano. In addition, Harvick was finally the free pass under this yellow, so the 4 was back on the lead lap.

Leaders Gamble on Late Yellow

When the green flag flew again on lap 76, Logano immediately cleared Jones on the restart. Due to not pitting under the yellow, Logano and the other leaders would need to prematurely pit before the end of Stage 2, unless a caution helped them. The caution the leaders were hoping for never came. The first of the front 9 to pit was Kyle Larson from 2nd on lap 113. Following Larson onto pit road next time by were Logano, Brad Keselowski, and Erik Jones. Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, and Clint Bowyer would all also pit after each leading a lap.

With the front runners all being close on fuel, the race for the Stage 2 win was between 2 drivers running towards the end of the top 10; Austin Dillon and Kevin Harvick. After Bowyer made his pit stop on lap 116, Dillon and Harvick would cycle out to the lead. They would take the top 2 spots at the end of Stage 2. This would mark the first ever Stage win for Austin Dillon. Dillon was racing with a special Dow Salutes paint scheme honoring veterans employed both at Dow and at RCR.

Costly Mistakes to Kick Off Final Stage

Racing would go back green for the final Stage on lap 128, with Harvick taking away the lead going 3-wide on the restart. Just 2 laps later there would be another caution, as Clint Bowyer got into Erik Jones’ left rear. Both cars would get very loose in turn 2, but Bowyer got the worst of it. The 14 would pound the outside wall and be done for the day. Meanwhile the 20 of Jones would continue onward.

On the ensuing restart, Logano would take the lead again. This would be another very brief run however, as the caution flew again 2 laps later. Austin Dillon found the turn 2 wall after contact from William Byron. This incident would not be day-ending damage for Dillon, but it did put him at the rear of the field.

Pit Strategy Defines Final Run

On the lap 142 restart following Dillon’s crash, Harvick initially cleared Logano and began to pull away. With 54 laps to go though, Logano pulled to Harvick’s inside. He completed the pass a lap later in turn 3. The 22 was back out front and pulling away, but all of the leaders still needed to make 1 more pit stop. During this time, Harvick over-drove turn 3 and fell all the wall back to 7th, but soon rebounded back to 3rd.

The first driver to start the final cycle of green flag pit stops would be Chase Elliott. The 9 had a moment in turn 4 where he drifted wide and made wall contact. This caused his left rear tire to go flat. Elliott’s pit stop was with 45 to go, earlier than expected due to his damage. The remainder of the field would pit with about 25 laps left. The first of the leaders to pit was again Kyle Larson from 6th place on lap 173. Pit road would get very busy over the next few laps. Harvick pitted from 2nd with 26 to go, and Logano from the lead on the next lap.

Harvick’s team elected to take 4 tires, while Logano only took 2. This decision would ultimately put the 4 further behind the 22, as Rodney Childers was banking on a late caution. The 22 remained out front however, this time with Truex, Jr. and Kurt Busch coming out right behind him.

Competitors Work Together to Catch Leader

When this cycle of pit stops ended on lap 186, Logano had the biggest lead of the day over the 19 and the 1. Joey’s lead was nearly a full second, but it would soon close up quickly. Rather than race each other for 2nd, Kurt Busch elected to push Martin Truex, Jr. up to the 22’s rear bumper. The draft was utilized to close the 22’s advantage, as the Truex-Busch tandem was 3 tenths quicker than just the 22. With 5 laps remaining, the top 3 were nose-to-tail. The top 3 were also representing all 3 manufacturers, with the Heritage Trophy on the line for all of them. A victory for any manufacturer at Michigan is seen as a statement win.

Late Caution Sets Up Overtime Restart

Right when the 19 of Truex had caught Logano’s bumper, the 20 of Erik Jones went spinning in turn 2. Due to being stuck in the mud, the yellow flew again with 4 laps remaining. This would set up an overtime finish between Logano, Truex, and the Busch brothers. On his 4 tires, Kevin Harvick was trapped back in 7th, with a slim chance at the victory.

Logano Scores Statement Win in the Irish Hills

On the restart, the 22 rocketed away as he had done all day. The 22 was clear of Truex by the start/finish line. Coming into turn 3, Kurt Busch pulled off a dive bomb move on Truex to take 2nd place. Even though the 1 was closing in, Logano held him off to secure the victory.

This statement win is Logano’s 3rd career triumph at Michigan, coming after starting on the pole and leading 163 laps. One could argue that all of Logano’s Michigan victories were each a statement win. Back in 2013 Michigan was the site of Joey’s first victory for Team Penske. Then 3 years ago it was his first win following a strong Playoff run in 2015. Sunday was also Logano’s second win of 2019 and the 23rd of his Cup Series career.

Other Notables in the Top 10

Behind Logano in the top 10 at Michigan were Kurt Busch, Martin Truex, Jr., Daniel Suarez, Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman, Ryan Blaney, and Alex Bowman. The top 3 at the race near the ‘Motor City’ represented all 3 manufacturers, despite the Ford domination in qualifying. For Suarez, this 4th-place run marks his second top 5 finish of the year, as Stewart-Haas Racing is still winless. Kyle Busch being 5th is a miraculous finish for the 18, as he was a non-factor for much of this race. Ryan Newman scored his 4th top 10 of the year, doubling the number of top 10s the 6 had last year. Ryan Blaney in 9th also made it an all-top 10 day for Team Penske. Lastly, Alex Bowman scored his 5th top 10 of the year, fading late to end up in 10th.

How to Watch the Next Race

The next stop for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is Sonoma Raceway. The California road course will be the final race of the Fox-broadcast season, marking the end of Darrell Waltrip’s 19-year career as a color commentator. Sonoma will also mark the return of their carousel, as they bring back their original track configuration for stock cars. The Toyota/Save Mart 350 will be in 2 weeks, as the Cup Series has Father’s Day weekend off. Coverage is on FS1, PRN, and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90 on Sunday, June 23rd at 3 PM EST. The first road course race of the year is always an entertaining strategy race, so be sure to tune in.

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Written by Peter Stratta

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Photo credit to NASCARMedia.

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