For the second time this season NASCAR arrives as Michigan International Speedway; after a great race earlier in the season hopes were high that once again fans would be entertained. Helped by the fact that the gen-6 car is hitting speeds of over 200mph on the straightaways, although as we’ve seen from previous races high speeds don’t always equate to great racing. But with only four races left until the start of the Chase, and the hunt for a wildcard or automatic qualification seeing drivers being seperated by only a handful of points one wrong move could jeopardise someone’s season.
Friday’s qualifying once again saw the track record, set last year in the June’s race, smashed by the top three drivers. The increased speeds from the June race show that there have been some good developments with the gen-6 and teams are starting to get to grips with it nuances. The first driver to do so was Kurt Busch but he wasn’t able stay at the top of the tree as Joey Logano, in Penske Racing’s home race, put in a blistering time of 35.303 (203.949mph) to take his first pole of the season and his first since joining Penske Racing. The other driver to break the track record is Jimmie Johnson who qualified in third, but due to an accident in practice, after qualifying had taken place, saw him go to the backup car and have to start at the rear of the field.
As the green flag drops it is a poor start for Logano who gets taken three wide into turn one as Jeff Burton, who started in 8th, makes a daring move to the bottom of the track but he cant make it stick. As the cars exit turn two it is Kurt Busch in the lead from Logano and Burton. But before any further action can take place the first caution comes out on lap one as Clint Bowyer gets loose from a rear left puncture and spins into the infield. The track temperatures are a lot warmer than they have been for any of the previous sessions so for the early laps drivers will be having to get used to a new level of grip. A much better restart for Logano this time as he easily takes the lead heading into turn one ahead of Kurt and Burton. While the top three quickly get their positions set, behind them there are some great battles, Brad Keselowski and Dale Earnhardt Jr are battling over 5th and Kyle Busch and Juan Pablo Montoya battle over 7th. No time though for those battles to develop as David Reutimann gets into the outside wall after getting some tyre rub for caution number two.
Once again it’s an easy restart for the 22 car as Logano holds his lead from Kurt. Not a great start for Burton this time as he becomes the filling in a Jr and Keselowski sandwich and get shuffled down to 5th. But before the restart lap comes to an end the caution flag comes out for a third time, before the race has even reached 15 laps, as JJ Yeley spins and Austin Dillon (standing in for Tony Stewart in the 14 car) has no where to go but into the 36 car. To rub salt into the 14 team’s wounds Dillon is too fast on pit road and will have serve a drive through which will put him at the back of the field.
Initially there are no issues for Logano on the restart as he gets clear of the 78 but a great exit off turn 2 for Kurt sees him get side by side with the 22 and Logano exhibits some great car control as he gets slightly loose but is able to keep his foot down and hold his lead. Kurt then has to change his focus as he gets a hard charging Jr come up to his rear bumper and starts to try and get underneath the 78 car. While the battle is on for second place, Johnson has very quickly been working his way through the field, after starting at the back, only 21 laps in he is up to 18th but going the other way is Mark Martin who after starting in 4th has slipped all the way back to 22nd.