It was with a heavy heart that NASCAR arrived at Michigan International Speedway for the Quicken Loans 400, due to the sad death of racer Jason Leffler during the week a friend and a well known face to all on the grid. With many drivers and teams displaying decals on their helmets and cars in remembrance, meant that the mood pre-race would be a sombre affair. However there would be no doubt that this would not transfer to the on track action, as these are race car drivers after all and other than a win there is only one thing more important and that’s putting on a show.
MIS is one of the fastest non restrictor plate tracks on the schedule and it was fully expected that speeds would be high but the big question was would they be able to go over the magic 200mph in qualifying. The answer was an emphatic yes although surprisingly nobody was able to beat Marcos Ambrose’s track record of 203.241mph. Thirteen drivers were able to break the 200mph barrier but fastest of them all was Carl Edwards who set a time of 35.564 (202.452mph) which just out did a hard charging Kurt Busch by one tenth of a second. But these speeds were not necessarily going to translate into race pace as an overnight rain storm had washed all the rubber (and therefore grip) from the track. As a result NASCAR were going to throw a competition caution on lap 20 so that teams can check the state of their cars tyres.
As the green flag flies Edwards and Busch go side by towards turn one as Busch moves up and nudges the rear quarter of Edwards forcing him to avoid a slide by lifting off the gas slightly and as a consequance falls immediately to fifth as Kurt takes the lead. More avoidance action is also taken further down the field when Ambrose has to lift and right behind him Clint Bowyer swerves into the side of Trevor Bayne. Luckily every keeps pointing the same way but Bowyer picks up a lot of front end damage.
Kurt doesn’t get long to establish a significant lead as on only lap 6 the first caution of the day comes out as the ‘green’ track claims its first victims when Bobby Labonte gets sideways and slides up the track right into the path of Jeff Gordon and the two of them hit the outside wall and each other again just for good measure. While no one is allowed to refuel until the competition caution a few cars come to pit row most noticeably Jimmie Johnson who comes in for four tyres and comes back out in 31st.
The restart poses no problems for Kurt who re-establishes his lead ahead of Matt Kenseth, who passes Paul Menard for second. Joey Logano also passes Menard who now starts to get pressure from Edwards for fourth spot and behind them Kasey Kahne is back up to sixth after briefly losing two spots to Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch. But the driver on the move is Johnson who quickly works his way back up the field and by the time the competition caution comes out he has worked his way all the way up to 16th.
As the cars come to pit row for the competition caution we start to see different strategies start to play out, most cars take 2 tyres but some for example Johnson take fuel only. However it was Edwards that has a fast stop and gains four places to win the race off pit row just ahead of Logano and Kurt. At the restart Edwards again fails to take advantage of his starting position as this time it’s Logano who goes to the head of the field with Edwards Kenseth, Kurt and Martin Truex Jr rounding out the top five.
But once again it seems that the drivers haven’t adjusted to the slick track as early leader Kurt Busch appears to get slightly into the dirty high line which spins him around and into the outside wall for caution number three. All the leaders stay out and at the green flag restart Logano easily retains his lead from Edwards and Kenseth who slides by Truex Jr for third. Logano can’t shake Edwards though who is matching his lap times and is all over the 22’s rear bumper.