Brooklyn, Mich. — Joey Logano has enjoyed tremendous success at Michigan International Speedway, winning two races at NASCAR’s fastest track from the pole position.
And, Logano will get yet another chance to win from the pole in Sunday’s running of the FireKeepers Casino 400 after topping the field in qualifying Saturday afternoon with a lap of 187.139 mph around the two-mile superspeedway in his No. 22 Ford for Team Penske.
Logano, the defending NASCAR Cup series champion, entered the weekend second in points with a win at Las Vegas. He felt he could have won four times this season, but ended up with multiple runner-up finishes at California, a similar two-mile superspeedway track like MIS, Richmond and Charlotte.
Logano and the rest of the Ford drivers, including Team Penske teammates Rochester Hills native Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney, had dinner with Edsel Ford, the great grandson of Henry Ford in Dearborn Thursday night with Edsel telling them the importance of winning the pole and the race at MIS.
Mission accomplished … at least part one of the goals. And, Logano won the pole without his crew chief Todd Gordon, who went back home to attend his daughter’s graduation.
Seven of the top 10 spots were taken by Ford drivers with Aric Almirola of Stewart-Haas Racing finishing second in his No. 10 Ford, followed by his SHR teammate Kevin Harvick. Denny Hamlin was the fastest Toyota driver, fourth in the No. 11 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing while Kurt Busch was the fastest Chevrolet driver, starting seventh.
Keselowski will start eighth and Byron, Michigan native Erik Jones of JGR, 14th.
“Our Shell/Pennzoil Ford definitely has speed in it for sure, especially for one lap the way it was there so hopefully that maintains throughout the race to where we can stay up there,” said Logano whose latest MIS win from the pole came in the June 2016 race. “That pit stall is going to help that a lot, the first pit stall here is quite the advantage so it’s nice to be able to have that, and then hopefully keeps us toward the front, keeps us out of the big chaotic mess that I think it’s going to be towards the middle of the pack.”
Logano and the rest of the field are trying to figure out how NASCAR’s new rules package — which has the cars having less horsepower and more drag and downforce where corner speeds are way up and straightaway speeds down, putting the draft more in place for drivers — works at MIS.
“It’s not going to be like Daytona and Talladega, those tracks are so easy wide open in dirty air, the draft works throughout the whole race track,” Logano said. “There is sometimes that you can follow a car right behind him here and still be pretty much wide open, but you have to be one of the first two to four cars to be able to do that.
“When you get back in the pack more the more handling is going to be and that’s when you have to approach it more like a race you would at Kansas and be smart about what lines you pick and where you’re trying to make passes."
Hamlin is a part of the powerhouse Joe Gibbs Racing team, which has won nine of the 14 races this season with Kyle Busch owning a series-high four wins, JGR teammate Martin Truex Jr., three and Hamlin two, including the Daytona 500.
So, what does Hamlin expect in Sunday’s race?
“Cars will be closer together and who knows how passing is going to be,” Hamlin said. “It looked like it was a little tough in practice, but certainly we’re running a lot of on-throttle time. We’ll just sort of see how the race plays out and then we’ll know better for the second race (Aug. 9-11) when we come back.”
Said Busch: “Our M&M’s Hazelnut Camry was pretty good in practice and it was really good by itself, really good out front and led pretty well. We had decent speed up there, but after a few laps guys were able to attack us and get to our side, stuff like that. Traffic was not very good, it was really, really hard to keep in the wake of the guys in front of you and be able to make time on him, then to be able to get a good enough and big enough run to make a pass.”
Truex expects a big challenge on his hand in Sunday’s race.
“It’s going to be a big challenge to make moves tomorrow and make the right moves,” Truex said. “It seems like this place here, you almost get penalized when you beat someone through the corner getting underneath them. You try to pass somebody and if they screw up getting into the corner or whatever, you can get them and then you get on the straightaway and six cars pass you. It’s a frustrating place to race because of that.”
Reddick wins Xfinity race
Tyler Reddick of Richard Childress Racing won the LTi Printing 250 Xfinity race Saturday afternoon at MIS.
Reddick, the defending Xfinity series champion and competing in the No. 2 Chevrolet, took advantage of pit strategy and won for the third time in the last five races, beating Noah Gragson in his No. 9 Chevrolet for JR Motorsports by 1.5 seconds. Gragson’s teammate Michael Annett finished third in the No. 1 Chevrolet.
Reddick won the series championship last year for JR Motorsports before moving on to Childress this season.
Pole-sitter Paul Menard won Stage 1 in his No. 12 Ford. Christopher Bell won Stage 2 in the No. 20 Toyota and looked like the driver to beat at the midway point of the race, but was passed by Cole Custer in the No. 00 Ford with 31 laps to go.
But, Bell, running second, pitted with 11 laps remaining and Custer gave up the lead with 10 laps to go when he went down pit road for fuel, allowing Reddick to take the top spot and go on to Victory Lane to match Bell and Custer for the most wins in the series.
“It ended up being kind of a race where whoever made the best call at the end and took advantage of what fell their way won the race," said Reddick, who is the points leader with an 89-point advantage over Bell.
Gragson had to battle back after a problem in Stage 2.
“In the second stage during the pit stops, I think the 19 (Brandon Jones) checked up and I hit him, just didn’t know where to go on pit road and so we had to go to the back, but great effort by everybody on my Switch Team and Junior Motorsports,” Gragson said. “They rallied, they never quit just like me, we just keep going until the finish. I want to win. I want to beat that damn 2 (Reddick) so bad, just frustrated, but I know we can race with these guys.”
Custer finished 12th and Bell 13th, knowing they needed a caution late to have a chance to win.
“If a caution would have came out we would have been fine,” Custer said. “Our Jacobs Companies Mustang was just so good at the end. I’ve never run that good here and that was by far the best car I’ve ever had. It was about perfect. It just didn’t work out.”
Childress has put Reddick in a Cup car twice this year and he has responded with a 27th place spot in the Daytona 500 and a ninth-place finish at Kansas last month.
“We’re going to race him at least one more, maybe two,” said Childress of his plans for Reddick in the Cup series. “I’d like to see him in a car here tomorrow for sure because it’s going to be an aggressive race tomorrow and it’s going to take a lot of aggressive driving and I think he’d fit right in the seat.”
FireKeepers Casino 400
When: 2 p.m., Sunday
Where: Michigan International Speedway, Brooklyn