Erik Jones Still Dreams About Winning At Michigan International Speedway

Erik Jones

Winning at his home track of Michigan International Speedway?

Of course Erik Jones thought about it. How could he not?

With the race halted by a red flag for a little over five minutes with just two green flag laps left in the Pure Michigan 400 on Sunday at Michigan International Speedway, Jones let his mind wander to what it would be like to win the race.

Not only would it have been the first win of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career and lock him into the postseason, but it would have come at his home town track. A native of Byron, Mich., Jones grew up 99 miles from the racetrack.

“(The red flag) gives you a lot of time to play through scenarios on the restart and how you want it to work out. It’s very rare it ever works out the way you picture it in your head,” he said. And this one didn’t, either. Instead,  Jones settled for third.

He would have had to beat his teammate to get that win. Jones was second on the final restart alongside his Furniture Row Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr.

Before the question could even be asked, Truex said flatly Furniture Row Racing does not have so-called “team orders” and that there was no chance he would let Jones win.

Jones cannot make the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs on points, and will have to win one of the next three races to make the postseason.

TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!

Daniel Suarez Breaks His Top 10 Finish Streak At Michigan

Daniel Suarez
Coming into this weekend, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Daniel Suarez was on a streak of four consecutive top-10 finishes in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and was looking to make it five. Unfortunately his day was cut short after tangling with Kasey Kahne late in the race.

Kahne, driver of the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet SS, was attempting to pass Daniel Suarez for position on Lap 139. But he pulled up before he cleared Suarez. The contact slammed Kahne’s right side into the outside wall just past Turn 2 ending his day. He finished 38th.

“We had to fight from the back and had a good LIFTMASTER Chevrolet,” Kahne said. “We kept working to get up there. Daniel (Suarez) was going backwards and I was going by and I ran the bottom. I expected we could be close off the corner, and I was just coming off and then we hit.”

Suarez was having another good run in the first stage of the race in the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry, but in the final stage he started to struggle with a tight racecar before the incident.

“I was trying to give him some room, but actually I got out of the throttle at that point, but I don’t know if he was told it was already time to go up – I don’t know. It’s just unfortunate because we came from a streak of top-10s, and now this is going to be the end of it,” said Suarez, who finished 37th. “We’re going to regroup and come back stronger next week.”

TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!

The Playoff Clock Is Ticking For Joey Logano

Joey Logano
With three races left before the playoffs start, Joey Logano is on the outside looking in. His failure to qualify so far is arguably the biggest surprise of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season in terms of performance!

He admitted at Michigan International Speedway to feeling desperate, but he sees the closing stretch of regular-season races as really good for him, particularly Bristol and Richmond.

“Bristol is probably one of our best racetracks as well, especially in the fall race,” said Logano, driver of the No. 22 Team Penske Ford Fusion.

He has two career wins at Bristol in 17 starts. He also has two wins at Richmond. He won there in the spring, but a rules violation meant the win was declared encumbered, so it does not lock him into the playoffs. Darlington is the only weak spot in the group. His average finish there is 18.4, and he has just two top 5 finishes in eight starts.

“I don’t look at that race track (Darlington) and say we don’t have a chance,” he said. “I feel like we’ll still be fine there, it just might be a little bit different.”

Logano is too far back to points-race his way in, so his team is likely to take aggressive chances to try to grab a win.

“Every moment becomes more and more important on the racetrack, and that’s OK,” he says. “That’s where you find out what you’re made of, so I’m all right with that.”

TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK

Kyle Larson “Lets The Big Dog Eat” In An Overtime Restart!

Kyle Larson
Sitting in his racecar during a red flag delay near the end of the Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway, “Young Money”, aka Kyle Larson, pondered the possible routes to an overtime victory. He was in fourth-place and would restart for the final two-lap shootout behind leader Martin Truex Jr. on the outside line.

Larson hadn’t had a fast racecar all day at Michigan International Speedway, but he thought with a gutsy move on the restart, he could steal a win in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race. Ahead of him, Truex, the race leader, was in the opposite positon. He had had a fast racecar all day, and he figured he needed a strong restart to repel whatever move Larson or somebody else would throw at him. Like Larson, he was trying to figure out which scenario would be most likely to take him to Victory Lane.

As it turned out, Larson and Truex both drew up the same plan—they both wanted Larson to hit Truex on the restart. They just had different ideas about what would happen after the push/hit.

Truex hoped the contact would push him forward and to the victory, and for a very brief second, that seemed possible. But Truex spun his tires, which played right into Larson’s strategy.

“I wanted to time it and get to his bumper and act like I was pushing him out to the lead and duck underneath him and get to his left-rear quarter and pull him back,” Larson said. “It’s crazy how when you get to someone’s left rear quarter how much it slows them down. It did just that.”

Larson bounced off of Truex as he passed him, and for a split second the race fanned out four wide. That never ends well—especially not on the penultimate lap when all four drivers are going for the win and nobody is willing to lift! But somehow they all stayed off each other, and afterward, rookie Erik Jones, one of those drivers, was at a loss to explain how. “I was pointed at the infield for half of (Turns) one and two,” said Jones, who finished third.

After the pass, Larson’s car was loose for the rest of the restart lap and the white flag lap. But he put enough distance between him and Truex that Truex couldn’t catch him and had to settle for second. Those were the only two laps Larson led all day. The thrilling win in a car that had no business doing so looked like a career defining move for Larson, the young driver from Elk Grove, California.

The win was an exclamation point on an already great week of racing for Larson. He (Larson) finished second late Saturday night in the Knoxville Nationals, one of the biggest dirt races in the world. His contract forbids him from running on dirt the night before he has to be on track for NASCAR, be it practice, qualifying or a race. But on Thursday, he talked team owner Chip Ganassi into making an exception.  It also didn’t hurt that thousands of sprint car fans inundated Ganassi’s Facebook page and emails asking him to let Larson race at Knoxville.

Ganassi harbored misgivings about the decision—he thought Larson, who didn’t get back to Michigan from Knoxville, Iowa until 2:30 a.m. Sunday might be too worn out for the 400 mile race, and those doubts grew bigger in the middle of the race as Larson languished in the middle of the pack. But after the win, Ganassi joyously shook team members on the pit box and planted a kiss on Larson.

It was Larson’s third consecutive win at Michigan. The only other drivers to accomplish that are David Pearson and “Awesome Bill From Dawsonville”, both of whom are in the NASCAR Hall of Fame. The race was slowed by five cautions for 28 laps.

Michigan native Brad Keselowski won the first stage. He dominated the first half of the race, leading five times for 105 laps. But he faded to 17th. Truex led three times for 57 laps and won the second stage. Truex kept his position atop the points race, but finished runner-up.

What Larson showed the NASCAR world at Michigan was that he willed himself to win that race.  He proved to all that he wanted the victory more than the rest of the field!

Check out the unofficial results of the Pure Michigan 400.

TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!

Kasey Kahne Is On The Search For A 2018 Ride

Kasey Kahne
Kasey Kahne’s job hunt started soon after it was announced that he would not return in 2018 to the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.

He has won six races in his nearly six years at Hendrick Motorsports and 18 in his career. He is widely considered to have underperformed in his time at Hendrick. Kahne is hopeful he will be able to land a ride in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and that the new job will rejuvenate his career.

“I think that it’s all about people,” Kahne said. “If you can get the people behind you and believe in you and then I believe in them, and we work together for the same goal to win races. It’s a competitive series it is a super tough series to win in and so many things have to go right for the entire race weekend and then throughout the race.”

Team owner Rick Hendrick shouldered the blame for the No. 5 team’s subpar performance and says he will help Kahne get a new ride. “To have him behind you is a really good thing,” Kahne said. “I respect him a ton. Yeah, I hope we can build something out of that, but I also have been working in my own direction as well on certain things to make sure I just check out everything that is out there for sure.”

TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Reminisces About His Time At Michigan

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. & Trevor Bayne
This weekend marks the last time the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series’ most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., will compete in the series at Michigan International Speedway.

And while Michigan is one of many tracks Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be saying good-bye to this season, he thinks the 2-mile track in the Irish Hills is one of the best.

“This place here is, to me, the standard for the 1.5-mile or 2-mile race track,” he said on Friday, two days before the Pure Michigan 400. “This place is so much fun to race on for a driver. It’s a great race track.”

Some of Junior’s fondest memories from his racing career came at Michigan. And they’re not all wins. He won here twice in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and twice in the NASCAR XFINITY Series. But one of his strongest memories comes from a race he lost—the 1999 IROC race, the end of which he has rewatched numerous times. Unfortunately, the outcome has never changed!

Coming out of Turn 4 toward the checkered flag, he and his father, Dale Earnhardt Sr., were battling for the win. Rusty Wallace came up behind them. Wallace could have pushed Junior to the win—which would have been poetically perfect, Junior said.

Wallace and Earnhardt Sr. flipped between friends and rivals throughout their careers. That was true on and off the track. If one of them bought a plane, the other one bought a bigger plane. So Junior thought that if Wallace pushed the son past the father for the win, Wallace would have been able to hold that over Earnhardt Sr.’s head forever. But Wallace didn’t get behind either one of them, and the elder Earnhardt won the race.

Junior said, half-jokingly, that he’s still mad at Wallace, 19 years later, for not helping him!

TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!

Keselowski Will Lead Them To The Green Flag At Michigan

Brad Keselowski
Brad Keselowski will start on the pole for Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400, after taking the top spot from fellow Ford driver Ryan Blaney, who had posted the fastest times to that point, but bobbled twice in his run in the final qualifying round on Friday at Michigan International Speedway.

Keselowski grew up in Rochester Hills, Mich., a Detroit suburb 99 miles from Michigan International Speedway. He is a big fan of Detroit and University of Michigan sports teams and long has said how badly he wants to win at MIS. He has five top fives, but no wins at his home track. He has often said that a win here would be of similar importance to winning the biggest races in the sport. He joked that if he followed up today’s success with a win on Sunday that the victory celebration would be the type for which he has to ask for forgiveness.

“When I saw that we were going to win the pole, those last few seconds of qualifying, it sent chills down my body. It’s a special track for me to have any kind of success at,” he said.

Clouds moving in and out affected the speeds dramatically—the more clouds, the faster the cars go. Because of changes in the cloud cover, and the fact his team had made last-second changes to the car, Keselowski was skeptical when he pulled onto the track for his final lap. But the changes made his car faster, and his time of 35.451 (203.097 mph) stood up as the best of the final 12. It is the 14th Coors Light pole of his career, his second of 2017 and his first in 17 tries at Michigan.

“A driver’s home track, where his family and friends are all present, it just feels like a bigger event. Michigan, for me, feels like a bigger event,” Keselowski said. “You want to make those people proud when you have the opportunity. When you have the smallest sliver of success, it feels magnified. It feels bigger. That’s what today is for me.”

Keselowski will be joined on the front row by his Team Penske teammate Joey Logano. Keselowski is locked into the playoffs, but Logano isn’t. He is 18th in points and an insurmountable 95 points out of the 16th and final playoff spot. With just four Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races left in the regular season, he is in a must-win situation.

“I think you do get a little bit desperate,” Logano said following qualifying on Friday at Michigan. “You’ve got to win. There is no second option, so the intensity is very, very high. You have to be on-point all the time. Every change has to be a good one. Every lap has to be a good one.”

Earlier this season, Logano finished third and Keselowski finished 16th at Michigan.

It will be an all Team Penske front row for the Pure Michigan 400.

TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!

“Young Money” Will Have A Full Weekend!

Kyle Larson
After a dominating win on Wednesday night at the Knoxville Nationals, Kyle Larson faced a dilemma. He had qualified for the prestigious A-main finals of one of the premiere dirt races in the world. The problem was the race was set for Saturday night, and his contract with Chip Ganassi Racing in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series forbids him from racing on dirt the day before he has to drive the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, be it qualifying, practice or the race.

On Thursday, he appeared with Ganassi at an event in downtown Detroit unveiling the Camaro ZL1 as Chevrolet’s entry in next year’s 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. On the drive to the airport afterward, Larson tried to talk Ganassi into allowing an exception. The team owner voiced his concerns—the contract language exists to make sure Larson is fresh and to give the team time to find a replacement if he gets injured.

With Larson and other team officials pleading Larson’s case, Ganassi ultimately relented, and now Larson will race in the event in Knoxville, Iowa on Saturday to try to put an exclamation point at the end of what he calls his favorite week of racing of the year. He finished fifth in the event last year. “I’m thankful for Chip to even allow me to do what I get to do right now,” Larson says. “It’s especially nice that he’s making an exception for Saturday night.”

Larson expects to fly to Iowa after his responsibilities at Michigan International Speedway end on Saturday afternoon. He will race at night and fly back to Michigan after that. He doesn’t have to be anywhere at MIS until 11:30 Sunday morning. “I’ll still be able to get plenty of sleep and be ready,” he said.

Larson has won two races in a row at Michigan.

“Young Money” could be flying back to Michigan Saturday night $150,000.00 richer, if he wins the feature at Knoxville!

TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!

Chase Elliott Has His Eyes On The Pure Michigan 400 Trophy

Chase Elliott
When Chase Elliott travels to Michigan International Speedway, he must feel like Sisyphus – the king in Greek mythology forced to roll a boulder up a hill, and when he reaches the pinnacle, the boulder rolls off, forcing him to repeat the process for all of eternity!

The No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports driver has made three Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series starts in the Wolverine State and has finished second all three times.

“It’s great,” Elliott said about the two-mile track, which hosts Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400. “It’s also frustrating to have run second every time we have been there. It’s good I guess that we are inside the top five the past few times we have been there, but at the same time that is frustrating to have been pretty close to having a shot to win there, which would have been very big if we could have pulled that out.

Elliott enters Sunday’s contest coming off a series of solid, yet unspectacular performances. He placed 13th last week at Watkins Glen, 10th at Pocono, 39th at Indianapolis due to engine trouble and 11th at New Hampshire. Still he ranks 14th on the playoff grid, 39 points ahead of Clint Bowyer on the cutoff line. Elliott has little margin of error when it comes to making the postseason, but can guarantee himself a playoff berth by grabbing a win at Michigan.

“I like Michigan, I’ve always liked going up there,” Elliott said. “I really love that area. It’s just a cool part of the United States to go to. I like it up there – it’s a nice area and that is kind of why I like going.”

Could this be the weekend that Chase parks the No. 24 squarely in Victory Lane?

TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!

William Byron: “I’m Ready”

William Byron
William Byron summed up his future at Hendrick Motorsports in two words: “I’m ready.”

That was the answer Byron gave team owner Rick Hendrick on Sunday night, when Hendrick first broached the possibility of the 19-year-old moving up to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in 2018.

“He didn’t know why we were meeting,” Hendrick said on Wednesday during a conference call with reporters. “I said, ‘William, how’d you like to drive in Cup next year?’ And he said, ‘I’m ready.’ There was no hesitation.

“We’re just really excited. It was a special moment. … Just to see his face and the excitement there, those are real special moments when you can break the news.”

On Wednesday morning, HMS made that news official. Byron will drive the No. 5 Chevrolet in the Monster Energy Series next season, with primary sponsorship from existing partners Axalta and Liberty University filling most of the race dates. Byron replaces Kasey Kahne, who will leave the car with one year remaining on his contract.

“We haven’t gotten the job done,” Hendrick said of the results from the No. 5 car. “I take full responsibility for that. For whatever reason, we weren’t getting it.”

Though Byron has never driven a Monster Energy Series car in competition, he has shown enormous talent at every level of racing, winning seven times in his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series rookie season last year and winning three times in 20 NASCAR XFINITY Series starts this season. Byron currently is second to JR Motorsports teammate Elliott Sadler in the XFINITY standings.

“As a kid, this is the race shop that I would drive by and look in the windows,” Byron said of his early affinity for Hendrick Motorsports. “Actually, at the 5/24 (shop), they have the window there, and I would walk up to that, and it’s pretty cool to be on the other side of it next year. …

“I feel like I’ve put the work into it, and I feel like I’m learning on the job, and that’s been the biggest thing for me, to learn from the best people I can have around me. Just looking forward to the future.”

With 24-year-old Alex Bowman recently announced as the successor to Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88 Chevrolet, the shift to Byron from Kahne further reduces the age and experience of the Hendrick roster. Second-year driver Chase Elliott, who replaced Jeff Gordon into the No. 24 car last year, is 22.

That leaves seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson, who will turn 42 in September, as the only veteran in the Hendrick camp.

“Jimmie Johnson will be a mentor to all three of them,” Hendrick said. “We still have Jeff Gordon involved, and Dale Earnhardt’s going to be involved. He’s still going to be involved with the team, so we’ve got a lot of coaches. But the main thing is just not putting too much pressure on them and let them go out and learn.”

Hendrick says he is also trying to help Kahne take the next step in his career. Kahne has spent six years in the No. 5 car and recently qualified for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs with a victory at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“I have an obligation to Kasey, so I’m paying two drivers next year,” Hendrick said. “And I’m also trying to help Kasey in another situation that we could be involved with helping another team.

“So therefore, it’s not so much about money. It’s about the future and building for the future, getting a fresh start.”

That’s precisely what Hendrick hopes and expects from Byron.

TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!