Matt Kenseth is runaway winner at Pure Michigan 400
Brooklyn, Mich. — Matt Kenseth put on a dominating performance Sunday afternoon at Michigan International Speedway to win the Pure Michigan 400.
NASCAR put in a new high drag aero package to put on a better show with more passing, but it failed to live up to expectations. Drivers complained about their cars being loose, preventing them from getting into draft situations for possible passing opportunities.
Still, Kenseth had little problems while running from the front. He won the pole Friday, then led 146 of the 200 laps around the two-mile superspeedway, now known as NASCAR's fastest track. He won by 1.7 seconds over Kevin Harvick (Chevrolet) with Martin Truex Jr. (Chevrolet) finishing third, followed by Austin Dillon (Chevrolet).
It was the third win of the season for Kenseth in his No. 20 Dollar General Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing and the second in the last three races. JGR drivers have now won five of the last six events with Kyle Busch owning the other three victories.
Kenseth's other JGR teammates Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards finished fifth and sixth respectively.
"We obviously had a dominant car since we got here and it showed up in qualifying and Jason (crew chief Ratcliff) had it tuned up today where the handling was great and we had enough speed to stay up there," praised Kenseth.
Kenseth credited Hamlin for helping him take the lead for the final time on the last re-start.
"You never like to see late race re-starts, especially at Daytona and Talladega and this was almost a cross between that from the re-start zone until the middle or 1 and 2 and a lot of guys would draft pretty good," pointed out Kenseth. "I was pretty worried about that last one and Denny gave me a nice push there and the (JGR) engine ran really good and I was able to stay alongside Kevin (Harvick) and then clear him off of Turn 2 so it was obviously a big key for us."
Kenseth felt his best battle was with Austin Dillon just past the two-thirds way of the race after a restart.
"Honestly, the toughest one (re-start) was with the 3 (Dillon)," pointed out Kenseth. "We went back and forth a few times and made some contact. It was hard to get away from him. My car took about five laps to get going and once I got going it was pretty stout."
The high drag rules package had the rear spoiler at 9 inches - compared to 6 in other races – and added a 1-inch wicker bill on top of the spoiler for increased drag, put in place to help slow the cars down, making for better competition.
Sure, drivers had little problems with their cars in clean air, but they suffered all kinds of trouble while getting in turbulent air with Harvick voicing his concerns early in the race, then running out of fuel while on a green flag run, losing valuable seconds before coasting into the pits.
"We had an up and down day, that's for sure," noted Harvick. "The first half of the race or so we really struggled with the handling of the car. The guys did a great job with (fixing that) and then ran out of gas. We came back and didn't lose a lap and were able to have a good enough handling car to drive back up through there and have everything go good. I didn't have anything for the 20 today, but for everything that we overcame it's still a good day."
When asked to comment about the new rules package, an unimpressed Harvick replied: "I'm really proud of my team and the things they did to prepare for the race and we had a good, strong day."
Points leader Jimmie Johnson had a tough day, overshooting his pit box early, then spinning and suffering front end damage to his No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports to finish 39th.
Johnson's Hendrick teammate Jeff Gordon, making his final MIS start, finished 17th and Dale Earnhardt Jr., 10th.
Kyle Busch was 11th.
Rochester Hills native Brad Keselowski also had a top-10 finish (ninth) with his Penske teammate Joey Logano, seventh.
Dillon was proud of his fourth place finish, his second career top-five, especially starting from the back of the field after putting in a new engine prior to the race. His Richard Childress Racing team planned a strategy to stay out on the track during the first competition caution and it paid off.
"We had some circumstances where we had to start at the back and had to figure out a way to get our track position back and just got to thank my guys," Dillon said. "Slugger and the engineers did a good job coming up with a plan."
And, on battling Kenseth and taking the lead on lap 140, Dillon said: "I got the lead twice on him. The first run I had a big enough lead where we had clean air and my car was turning pretty good out front. It never seemed to get that back. I kind of got tighter and tighter as the day went on as the rubber laid down. I think we were probably the second strongest car and then we just didn't adjust much."
There are just three races left before the cut-off to the Chase. Drivers with one or more wins and sitting in the top 30 in points will battle for the series championship during the final 10 races. Eleven drivers are currently locked into Chase spots.
Dillon sits 21st in the standings, 83 points behind Clint Boyer who owns the 16th spot in the points.
Pure Michigan 400 results
(Start position in parentheses)
1. (1) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 200 laps
2. (7) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 200
3. (22) Martin Truex Jr., Chevrolet, 200
4. (4) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 200
5. (2) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 200
6. (3) Carl Edwards, Toyota, 200
7. (10) Joey Logano, Ford, 200.
8. (17) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 200
9. (14) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 200
10. (9) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 200
11. (6) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 200
12. (24) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 200
13. (34) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 200
14. (30) Aric Almirola, Ford, 200
15. (11) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 200
16. (18) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 200
17. (21) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 200
18. (13) David Ragan, Toyota, 200
19. (15) Sam Hornish Jr., Ford, 200
20. (16) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 199
21. (5) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 199
22. (25) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 198
23. (20) Greg Biffle, Ford, 198
24. (19) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 198
25. (23) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 198
26. (27) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 198
27. (35) Cole Whitt, Ford, 198
28. (26) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 198
29. (28) Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, 197
30. (32) Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, 197
31. (33) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 197
32. (36) David Gilliland, Ford, 197
33. (29) Jeb Burton, Toyota, 197
34. (38) Brett Moffitt, Ford, 197
35. (39) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 197
36. (31) Landon Cassill, Chevrolet, 196
37. (41) Josh Wise, Ford, 196
38. (37) J.J. Yeley, Toyota, 194
39. (8) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 190
40. (42) Travis Kvapil, Chevrolet, 190
41. (12) Clint Bowyer, Toyota, 164
42. (40) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 51
43. (43) Timmy Hill, Chevrolet, 9