With the playoffs looming in the distance, the race at Michigan proved to be full of exciting moments from start to finish. And the conclusion of the race set up for an exciting regular season conclusion heading into Daytona.
Continuing his dominating season, it was points leader Kyle Larson on pole, with teammate and NASCAR’s most popular driver Chase Elliott starting beside him on the front row. Denny Hamlin found himself starting in 9th, after a whirlwind of a finish last week at the Indianapolis Road Course, where he and Chase Briscoe (who would start in 21st) had a bit of a scuffle. Another notable starting position was that of Josh Berry starting from the rear, who after running both the Truck Series race on Friday, and the Xfinity Series race on Saturday, filled in for Corey LaJoie in the #7 Spire Motorsports car (LaJoie was out of the race in accordance with NASCAR’s COVID-19 protocols). Another important note to add was the swapping of spotters for Team Penske drivers Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski.
The green flag dropped at 3:16 P.M. with Larson, Elliott, and Blaney taking it three-wide for the lead, with Larson having the edge. Blaney found himself having issues with his car, having complaints of the front of the car chattering and hitting the splitter. As Blaney began to lose ground, Martin Truex Jr. began to fall back from his 5th place starting position all the way to 30th, after coming in contact with his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, earning himself some left rear damage. The competition caution came out at lap 22, with Hamlin being the first off pit road by taking fuel only. The green flag fell again at lap 26, with Hamlin pulling forward with a push from Tyler Reddick, but just a lap later, Chase Elliott would be able to pass him and overtake the lead. The caution flag would come out again after Joey Gase took a hard hit in the wall after blowing a right front tire. Once the green flag was back out, Elliott found himself in a hard side-by-side battle for the lead with Kurt Busch but was able to outdo the Chip Ganassi racing driver and hold on to his lead. As laps winded down in the stage, Austin Dillion, hungry to fight his way into the playoffs, passed by Hamlin, Logano, and Larson up to 2nd place with just 10 laps to go. Chase Elliott would go on to win the stage, and despite his best efforts to hold off Larson, Austin Dillion would lose the position to driver #5 and finish 3rd in the stage.
Though Elliott prevailed on track, it was his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Larson who would prevail in the pits, with Elliott coming out second, and Dillion coming out 3rd. On the restart, Larson and Dillion battled hard for the lead, Chase Elliott pressuring them both hard, close behind in 3rd. Kurt Busch nearly made contact with the wall after having contact with Matt DiBenedetto. As the stage continued on, Larson and Dillion continued to battle hard against one another for the lead, allowing Chase Elliott to gain momentum on the two of them and eventually take over the lead once again by lap 81. Momentarily Larson and Elliott made the decision to work with one another to pull away from Austin Dillion but that tactic failed as Dillion was able to within a half a second of the two. As the two teammates again started to battle against one another for the lead, Kyle Busch began to come on strong with a good run. Green flag pit stops began allowing for Kyle Busch to take over the lead as Larson and Elliott pitted, and eventually award Busch the stage win. And in a shocking turn of events, Austin Dillion crashed hard into the wall after contact with Brad Keselowski at the stage end, ending his day and putting him in a must-win situation for the playoffs heading into Daytona.
The final stage was underway at lap 127, with Kurt Busch grabbing the lead after a push from behind from Ryan Blaney, but Kyle Larson was able to stay side by side with driver #1, and quickly take the lead away from him. As Busch slowly fell back from the lead, his teammate Ross Chastain was in the garage, after having a fire ignite under his car. Meanwhile, back on the track Kyle Larson continued to lead over his teammate William Byron, who pressured him hard, hungry for the lead. Eventually, Byron backed off from driver #5 to make his green-flag pit stop, and other leaders followed. Larson seemed to almost have a disastrous moment as he ran out of fuel as soon as he hit pit road but was luckily able to coast it to his box and get refueled. Just as green flag pit stops had cycled through, it seemed as though Hendrick Motorsports would be preparing for yet another win, as William Byron now held the lead with Kyle Larson not far behind, but as she often does, mother nature had other plans. The caution flag fell at lap 180 as a quick and brief rain cell passed over the track.
The green flag once again came out with just 14 laps to go, with Byron being pushed to the lead by Larson. However, behind them, chaos ensued as Tyler Reddick got loose off the front bumper of Joey Logano, but was able to save it. Unfortunately, though, Martin Truex Jr. hit Logano’s other end not even seconds later, sending him around gathering Christopher Bell, Josh Berry, and Ryan Newman with him. As a result of the damage from the incident, Logano was sent to the garage and done for the day. With just 8 laps to go at the drop of the green flag, Ryan Blaney found himself on the front row, after a rough start to the race. With a hefty shove from behind, thanks to Kyle Busch, Blaney was able to take over the lead from the seemingly unstoppable Hendrick Motorsports drivers. As the laps winded down Ryan Blaney continued to lead, with heavy pressure from behind from William Byron. From the restart and even up until the final lap, it seemed as though Byron would pass Blaney for the win, but in true Ryan Blaney fashion, he would edge out Byron at the end for the win by just 0.077 of a second. With this win, Ryan earned himself his second win of the season and for the first time in his cup carrier a multi-win season. Ryan Blaney wasn’t the only driver happy about his win though, as due to his win, Kevin Harvick became officially locked into the playoffs, leaving just one playoff spot open going into Daytona. Who will get it? We shall wait and see. Tech was complete with no major issues, except lug nut infractions for Cody Ware and Bubba Wallace (monetary fines to their crew chiefs). The NASCAR Cup Series will return to racing Saturday, August 28th at Daytona International Speedway on NBC at 7 P.M. E.S.T.
Featured image credits to @Team_Penske on Twitter.