As the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series enters the final events before the Chase, teams are eager to fine–tune their product and gain more edge. This was apparent Sunday during the Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway as drivers who have struggled this season shined up front. In contrast, some favorites faced adversity.
Larson Parks It
From the beginning of the weekend, Kyle Larson proved to be a threat for the win. He was fifth fastest in both first and second practice – eighth in final. The driver of the No. 42 Target Chevrolet qualified 12th on Friday, moving forward quickly during the event. Before the halfway mark, the 24-year-old driver broke into the top-five and led for a total of 41 laps. On the final restart with ten to go, Larson beat Elliott off the line and never looked back.
In his third full-time year in the Cup Series, the driver has placed in the top-three nine times – close, but unable to reach Victory Lane. Now the Elk Grove, CA is not only a winner in NASCAR’s premier series but a Chase contender for the first time in his career.
Johnson’s Crew Trips Up
Jimmie Johnson and company faced adversity during the summer months but have caught a recent wave of momentum in the past two events – scoring two top-10 finishes. The six-time series champion was fast during practice and qualified second.
He looked to be a threat for the win during the race, staying up front and leading a total of 37 laps. However, pit stop woes involving the fuel can forced them back to 15th. Johnson spent the last half of the race fighting to regain his position.
In the end, the driver of the No. 48 Lowes Chevrolet managed to come home with a solid sixth place finish – keeping the team’s top-10 streak alive, but missing another opportunity for a win.
Kyle Busch Spins into Trouble
The defending Series Champion has been one of the best this year, but Michigan has proven to be his Achilles heel. Busch has failed to place in the top-10 in the last seven events at the 1.5-mile track. Sunday, the track proved its difficulty once again.
Busch got loose while racing for position, 27 laps into the 200-lap event. He spun coming off of Turn 4, trying to keep his car away from traffic, and came to rest in the front-stretch grass. After repairing the damage, Team 18 went a lap down and ultimately brought the Interstate Batteries Toyota home 19th.
Rookies Rockin’ It
Elliott and Ryan Blaney continue to impress as the season progresses. The two battled in the top-10 for most of the race and found themselves within the top-five in the late stages, with a victory in reach. A few times during the race, Elliott gained the lead for a total of 31 laps.
On the final restart, Elliott and Blaney lined up second and fourth respectively. However, Elliott spun his tires as he came to the line, forcing Blaney to push him up to speed. The two maintained their positions until the checkered flag waved.
It marks Blaney’s second top-five of the year, while Elliott collected his seventh. The driver of the No. 24 NAPA Chevrolet seems to be facing the same rookie frustrations Larson did in his young career. Elliott has been incredibly close to victory, yet small novice errors push the “W” out of his grasp. Larson defeated his long-time adversary today. Perhaps, Elliott will overcome his just a little sooner.
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