By Steve Mickey
Penske Racing’s Joey Logano became the latest first time winner this season when he was able to dominate late race restarts on his way to grabbing the checkered flag in the FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway. The win makes him the tenth driver this season to notch a win and in the process all but guarantee himself a spot in the sixteen driver Chase field.
Logano started his Michigan weekend by sitting on the pole in his Ford Fusion and dominated the race by leading 138 of the 200 lap event. The only real drama in the race took place on the restarts after the nine caution flags but after losing the lead to Chase Elliott on a restart on lap 117, Logano took control of the restarts that took place in the closing laps of the race.
The win was the 15th of Logano’s career but the trip to victory lane proved to be a milestone victory for Penske Racing and Roush Yates Racing. It was the 50th win for Team Penske since switching to Ford after the 2012 season in which the organization won the series title in a Dodge with driver Brad Keselowski. It was also the 100th trip to victory lane for a Roush Yates Racing engine that supplies engines to several Ford organizations that compete in the Sprint Cup Series.
Logano was followed across the finish line by Elliott in second and Kyle Larson in third, making the top-3 finishers the youngest in Sprint Cup history. Logano is the old man of the group at 26, Larson is 23 and the rookie Elliott is 20.
Tony Stewart entered the race also looking for his first win of the season and even though he did not get the win he was looking for, his seventh place finish proved to be a great day for the driver that will be retiring at the end of this season. After missing the first eight races of the season after suffering injuries in an off-road accident, he has a long and difficult road to becoming Chase eligible.
Like they did last year with the Kurt and Kyle Busch who both missed some races, NASCAR has given Stewart a wavier that will still make him Chase eligible if he can either win a race and end up in the top-30 or finish in the top-16 in the point standings. His seventh place finish was only his second top-10 of the season and he now sits 45 points out of the 30th spot in the standings with only eleven races left before the Chase field is set.
PIT NOTES: NASCAR unveiled another new lower downforce rules package this past weekend at Michigan in an effort to make the racing more competitive and the competition closer. The new package was more tweaking to the new downforce package that NASCAR put into place for this season with the most visible change being the lowering of the rear spoiler. During practice and qualifying on Friday, the speeds were higher in the straightaways and entering the corners but slower from the midpoint of the turns and exit. The higher speeds going into the turns also forced drivers to get on the brakes harder and feather the throttle to make sure the car stuck on the track in the corners. The package was also intended to increase passes for the lead but the race only had 14 lead changes among 8 drivers.
NASCAR plans on using the new rules package at the race in Kentucky later this summer but the rest of the stops of the schedule will be contested under the rules package introduced at the beginning of the season. The move to a lower downforce package is the way to go in the sport as it puts more of the outcome of the race in the hands of the drivers. Once the crew chiefs get a handle on the balance of the car so the loss of downforce on the rear of the car because of the lower spoiler is equal to the amount of lost downforce on the front end of the car, the racing should be better as passing should become easier, especially when trying to pass the leader.
Event: Toyota/Save Mart 350
Track: Sonoma Raceway (1.99 mile Road Course with 10 turns)
Date: June 26, 3:00 pm
Defending Champion: Kyle Busch