It seems that no matter what NASCAR throws at them the Joe Gibbs Racing team perseveres. Matt Kenseth capped off a dominating weekend by leading 146 of the 200 laps cruising to victory Sunday in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pure Michigan 400. Kenseth led from his first pole at the 2-mile Michigan International Speedway, won on Friday, and scored the fifth win in the last six races for JGR.
“I don’t know,” Kenseth said when asked what made his Toyota so strong Sunday. “But if I did I sure wouldn’t tell you. We had really fast cars when we first got here. We made a lot of speed and we got it handling really good. They made great adjustments so the race was a lot like we thought it was going to look like, but we were just hoping we would have enough speed and be out front. We had perfect strategy and pit stops and the restarts were just good enough to hang on. Everything fell our way.”
Unlike his last win two weeks ago at Pocono that came as a result of fuel mileage, Sunday’s win was all Kenseth and his team as he had the car to beat and in the end, no one could. The race marked the second time for NASCAR’s high drag rules package. JGR won at Indy with the same high drag package with Kyle Busch and at Kentucky with Busch utilizing a low drag package. The low drag package will be run at Darlington in three weeks.
“I think it’s pretty clear that the more aerodynamic devices that you put on these cars, the bigger hole they put in the air and the worse it is to drive them and be able to pass,” sixth place finisher and teammate to Kenseth, Carl Edwards said. “As long as NASCAR just keeps going the other way, just as long as they go to real low downforce. Not just a lower downforce, but if this is worse and Kentucky is better then let’s just keep going that direction. I really hope we do. NASCAR says they’re working on it and they want the best product for the fans and this was something that they tried. It could have worked, but I think it was obvious today that it was pretty tough to pass.”
Sunday it was all about Kenseth as he cruised from the final restart with 12 laps to go after the races eighth and final caution. Kevin Harvick, who had fallen back to 31 seconds back after running out of fuel while leading at one point finished second 1.7 seconds behind.
“We had some handling issues at the beginning of the race and then they were able to really make the car handle a lot better,” Harvick said. “Then we overcame the running out of gas there and we were able to put ourselves back in position up in the front. The No. 20 (Matt Kenseth) was the class of the field today.”
Martin Truex Jr. in need of a strong run after several weeks of struggles finished third. Austin Dillon who started in the rear of the field after an engine change Saturday played his fuel mileage strategy well earlier leading 19 laps and coming home fourth for his career best finish. Kenseth’s JGR teammate Denny Hamlin finished fifth.
“Man, honestly, we’ve really had momentum,” Truex said. “We’ve had such fast cars. I feel like at Watkins Glen we had the race won but we had a flat. I felt like at Pocono we were right there. We had a fast car but at the end of the race we ran out of gas. So, we’ve been doing what we need to. We’ve probably maybe been gambling a little too much and maybe being a little bit too aggressive, but all in all, the guys have brought fast race cars. If we could just not make mistakes and be consistent and execute, there’s no reason we can’t run in the Top-5 every week and contend for some more wins.”
Harvick led 15 laps and Kyle Busch who also started from the rear, led 10 laps and finished 11th. Clint Bowyer needing a good run looked strong early running inside the top five at one point, but he spun and crashed on lap 126. He was forced to the garage for repairs. Bowyer finished 41st 39 laps down and now clings to the final eligibility spot for winless drivers in the Chase. Jimmie Johnson also had a forgettable day losing a tire on lap 48 while running in the top 10 and was forced to pit. He then went for a solo spin on lap on lap 183 exiting turn 3, hit the grass and suffered heavy frontend damage; he finished 39th 10 laps down. After starting fifth Tony Stewart also struggled, spinning at one point but suffering no damage. He finished 21st one lap down.
After the dominating performance of Joe Gibbs Racing in the last few races many are saying the JGR teams are the favorites to win the Chase that starts in just three races. After his third win of the season, and the 34th of his career Sunday Kenseth said that talk might be premature.
“It’s early to talk favorites – there’s so much racing to do and there are 16 teams that are capable of winning races on a weekly basis as well as a championship,” Kenseth said. “It’s one week at a time like always. It’s been a great week and we’ve had a great couple months. We definitely have some momentum built. The guys gave us a rocket today and gave us rockets the last couple months. We’re just going to work hard to try to keep it rolling.”
Behind Edwards, Joey Logano was seventh, Ryan Newman eighth, Brad Keselowski ninth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. tenth. Jeff Gordon in his final race at Michigan finished 17th. The full results can be found here. Harvick continues to lead the points followed by Logano, Earnhardt, Truex and Keselowski. The NASCAR Sprint Cup series head s to Bristol Motor Speedway for Saturday nights Irwin Tools Night race with live coverage on the NBC Sports Network at 7:30 p.m. ET.