NASCAR Michigan 2013: Winners and losers
Here is a look at the big winners and losers from NASCAR's last stop of the year at the super-fast Michigan International Speedway.
There were some who questioned Roger Penske's decision to hire Joey Logano, who had underachieved in four seasons at Joe Gibbs Racing. But "The Captain" believed a change of scenery would do wonders for the 23-year-old, and he has proved prophetic. Logano has fit in seamlessly and has come close several times to finding the winner's circle before finally doing so this past weekend.
The opportunity to drive Tony Stewart's car was a big one for Austin Dillon, who saw it as his chance to prove that he has earned his place in the sport because of his talent and not because of who his grandfather is.
Entering the weekend, Dillon's goal was to avoid trouble and bring home a solid top-15 finish. But his day began ominously with an early crash when he pushed too hard going into a corner and got into the side of J.J. Yeley. Dillon, however, recovered nicely and for the rest of the afternoon drove flawlessly, eventually earning his lap back and by race end was scored in 14th. It was an impressive outing for a driver who will make the full-time move to Cup next season.
Richard Childress Racing
With Kevin Harvick second, Paul Menard fourth and Jeff Burton eighth, Michigan represented the first time this season that Richard Childress Racing placed all three cars inside the top 10. Additionally, Kurt Busch, a de facto fourth team since RCR supplies his Furniture Row Racing team with cars and engines, finished third.
It's not that Hendrick Motorsports doesn't perform well on the high speed oval; the organization consistently had some of the fastest cars on the track in both Michigan races this season. The problem is getting results indicative of the effort. As in June, all four Hendrick drivers had a car good enough to win, except only Jimmie Johnson saw the checkered flag, and he hit the wall with a couple of laps to go.
And it was more of the same this past weekend. Shortly after posting the fastest time in Saturday practice, Johnson crashed and destroyed his car. His backup proved fast, and on Sunday he quickly moved up through the field until his engine seized up, sending him to the garage.
And a pair of his teammates didn't fare much better. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was in contention when a tire failure sent him into the Turn 2 wall, while Jeff Gordon lacked grip and finished a disappointing 17th. The only Hendrick driver with a top 10 at Michigan this year was Kasey Kahne, who turned in a quiet seventh.
Brad Keselowski was near the front with 50 laps to go when a caution came out for the spinning Bobby Labonte. Instead of hitting pit road and topping off with gas, which would have made him good on fuel to the finish, crew chief Paul Wolfe decided to keep his driver out on the track. The thinking was that with a few timely cautions, Keselowski would be able to stretch his fuel and maybe steal a win.
It was a head-scratching call to say the least. And considering the defending Cup champions are in a precarious points position, it was a sizeable gamble that carried significant ramifications.
A few laps later, another yellow waved and Wolfe realized his mistake and had Keselowski pit. However, their bed was already made and with the majority of the field staying out, Keselowski was never able to recoup the lost track position. He finished 12th with what was a surely top-five car.
Toyota is finding its search for a balance between horsepower and reliability elusive. Two months ago after a rash of engine failures, Toyota detuned its motors in an effort to cure the problem.
The unintended side effect was a decrease in speed, and the early season dominance exhibited by Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth disappeared almost immediately. And in a clear sign of just how far the manufacturer has fallen, Clint Bowyer (fifth) was the only Toyota driver Sunday to finish better than 14th.
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