Top Feature Story of the Week:
Nascar is back
Kevin Harvick breaks 65-race drought with FireKeeper's Casino 400 win at MIS
By Josh Hamilton
Brooklyn, MI: August 7, 2022 -- On a blustery Sunday in the Irish Hills of Michigan, Kevin Harvick saved his season.
Grabbing the lead and pulling away after a restart on Lap 166 of 200 at Michigan International Speedway, Harvick won the FireKeepeers Casino 400 by 2.903 seconds over pole winner Bubba Wallace and leap-frogged bubble-riding Martin Truex Jr. in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoff standings.
Harvick’s victory ended a 65-race drought for the 46-year-old former series champion from Bakersfield, California. The win was his sixth at Michigan and his fifth in the last seven races at the 2.0-mile track.
Harvick now has 59 victories in the series, 10th-most all-time. With the win, the eighth straight at the track for Ford drivers, he is likely to qualify for the NASCAR Cup Series Playoff. Harvick is the only driver to have earned a postseason spot every year since the current elimination format was introduced in 2014, the same year he won his series title.
“Everybody who doubted us doesn’t know us,” said Harvick, who led 38 laps on Sunday, 25 more than he had led in the previous 22 races combined. “They, obviously, know we thrive in these types of situations. And a lot of things went our way today, which we haven’t had all year long—have things go our way and have things fall our way.
“And then there at the end we pitted, didn’t go a lap down, and the caution came out, got control of the race. That’s the thing I struggled with the most today was traffic and the restarts and just having to make up ground. Once I got clear track, that baby was hunting,” he continued.
As Harvick indicated, the race broke his way. The driver of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford brought his car to pit road on Lap 158 for a green-flag stop. A lap later, NASCAR called the seventh caution of the afternoon when Ross Chastain’s Chevrolet and Christopher Bell’s Toyota collided in Turn 4.
Harvick remained on the lead lap and inherited the top spot when the contending cars ahead of him pitted under the yellow. With Wallace bottled up behind Joey Logano’s Ford after the Lap 166 restart, Harvick opened a gap of more than four seconds in clean air and cruised to his first win since September 19, 2020 at Bristol.
Wallace was disconsolate as he replayed the final restart in his head.
“Just replaying everything I could have done,” said Wallace, who led twice for 22 laps. “Took the top there on the restart. Thought I could hang with the 4 (Harvick), and just got to racing the 5 (Kyle Larson) and the 22 (Logano). And 22 did a good job of getting another Ford contract, helping a Ford win.
“Just all in all an incredible weekend. Appreciate my team. Wished we could have got Toyota in the Victory Lane. Wish we got (sponsor) McDonald’s back in victory lane. She was fast all week, man. Just I’ll wear this one on my heart for a while. I failed everybody.”
Denny Hamlin finished third in arguably the fastest car in the race. On his final pit stop under caution on Lap 160, Hamlin incurred a penalty for too many men over the wall when his crew corralled a runaway tire from an adjacent pit stall.
Hamlin restarted 22nd and charged to third, 3.910 seconds behind the race winner.
Logano came home fourth, followed by Team Penske teammate Ryan Blaney. Martin Truex Jr., Larson, Erik Jones, Alex Bowman and Ty Gibbs (subbing for injured Kurt Busch) completed the top 10.
The race was delayed just over an hour due to inclement weather. That didn’t deter the fans in the grandstands, the largest crowd at Michigan International Speedway since 2016. In addition, infield camping was sold out for the weekend for the first time since 2012.
“Michigan International Speedway had its largest attendance since 2016, and infield camping sold out for the first time since 2012.”, said Sam Zarek in another article covering the action at MIS.
Blaney now leads Truex by 19 points for the final Playoff berth, which will be determined on points if there are no additional unique winners in the next three races.
An early nine-car accident in Turn 2 eliminated two of the top five qualifiers—Kyle Busch and Austin Cindric. Moments after a restart on Lap 25, J.J. Yeley’s No. 15 Ford got loose, checked up and turned sideways in the middle of the pack.
In the ensuing melee, Cindric’s No. 2 Ford crashed nose-first into the outside wall and Buch’s No. 18 Toyota also sustained terminal damage. The cars of Yeley, Almirola, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and rookie Harrison Burton also were knocked out of the race.
“Just chaos ensued on the restart there, and I don’t know what started it, but the 10 (Almirola) got spun in front of me, and then I got wedged between him and the wall,” said Busch, who had elected to pit on Lap 22 under a competition called because of a rainstorm that delayed the start of the race.
“When you get back there, things happen on restarts, especially when you have guys that stayed out and don’t have tires versus those that have four tires. Was not really in a hurry and knew we were coming to stage points in another 40 laps or so and it was going to be a long run to get there—and then we all just crashed.”
Drive for Diversity driver earns third 2022 ARCA Menards Series win
By Josh Hamilton
Brooklyn, MI: August 6, 2022 -- Sometimes the fastest car doesn’t win the race and on Saturday at Michigan International Speedway, Nick Sanchez emphatically proved that point.
The 21-year-old held off challenges from Corey Heim and Daniel Dye in the final laps of the Henry Ford Health 200 to earn his third ARCA Menards Series victory of the season for Rev Racing.
“My team brought me a really fast car, but we were not the fastest one,” Sanchez said. “We had to capitalize on restarts like we always do and we did that and just played defense and took the air away from everyone.”
Heim had started from the pole and dominated the first 30 laps of the event before giving up the lead following an unscheduled second pit stop during the first of two race breaks.
Sanchez was able to take the lead during the ensuing restart and held it until Lap 63, when Heim was able to retake the lead after starting from the tail of the field.
The second race break came at Lap 70 and Sanchez took advantage of the restart that followed, snatching the lead away from Heim. This time his stay at the front was brief as Heim quickly regained the lead and started to put distance between himself and the rest of the field.
However, a caution on Lap 86 for Scott Melton’s damaged Toyota gave Sanchez another shot at the lead.
When the race resumed Sanchez took his shot. Using a push from Dye, Sanchez was able to reclaim the lead through Turns 1 and 2.
From there it was a chess match for Sanchez, who bobbed and weaved down the straightaways as he did his best to block runs from Dye and Heim.
Heim, who bounced off the outside wall shortly after the restart and faded to fifth, was able to get around Dye to take second with two laps left. He tried to get alongside Sanchez going into Turn 1 on the final lap, but Sanchez blocked that move and beat Heim to the finish line by 0.496 seconds.
“Days like this when you know you have to go get it, you know you have to go get it on a restart, those are the best days,” Sanchez said. “We did not have the speed to win that race. We took it away from the 20 (Heim), the 43 (Dye) and the 18 (Sammy Smith). That is the best feeling.”
Heim briefly gave up second to Dye on the final lap but was able to inch ahead to reclaim the position at the checkered flag.
Dye finished third, with Sammy Smith and Gus Dean completing the top-five.
Rajah Caruth, Bret Holmes, Cody Coughlin, Greg Van Alst and Morgan Baird were sixth through 10th, respectively.
Pit strategy helps propel Gibbs to victory in his second NASCAR Xfinity Series start at MIS
By Josh Hamilton
Brooklyn, MI: August 6, 2022 -- Taking control of the race in the final stage, Ty Gibbs sped to his NASCAR Xfinity Series-best fifth victory of the season in Saturday’s New Holland 250 at Michigan International Speedway.
The tenor of the race changed markedly near the end of the second stage when pole winner Noah Gragson opted to stay on the track and compete for the stage win on the high-speed 2.0-mile track.
Gibbs had pitted under caution on Lap 55 and inherited the lead when Gragson and others who had stayed out until the completion of the stage came to pit road during the stage break.
The race ran caution-free from the final restart Lap 68 to the finish on Lap 125, and Gibbs beat runner-up Justin Allgaier to the stripe by 1.160 seconds. Gragson worked his way up to third but trailed Gibbs by 2.472 seconds at the finish.
“I think this type of racing shows the strategy in the pit stops,” said Gibbs, who led twice for a race-high 54 laps, matching the number of his No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. “My guys did such a great job. I work out with them during the week, so I see how hard they work. They do a great job—every one of them.
“So I’m very thankful and glad to be part of the organization that motivates me like that week in and week out—not motivates, because that’s temporary—but being relentless, and I feel like that’s what they showed me.”
The victory was Gibbs first at Michigan and the ninth in 39 Xfinity Series starts for a remarkable winning percentage of 23.08.
Allgaier opted for the same strategy as Gibbs, but a slow green-flag pit stop on Lap 100 cost him a chance to compete for the win.
“I pitted to try and get clear of some lapped cars, and, unfortunately, we merged back on the race track right behind those same lapped cars, right before they made their pit stops,” Allgaier said. “So not only did we have to contend with getting by them, as soon as we got by them, they all pitted.
“Second place is tough, but my daughter’s birthday is on Monday, so we’ll celebrate, even though it’s second.”
Gragson’s No. 9 JR Motorsports Chevrolet arguably was the fastest car in the race, but strategy and the absence of cautions in the final stage doomed his prospects.
“We won the first stage and then had a caution with about five to go in the second stage and opted to stay out, won the second stage (by .035 seconds of AJ Allmendinger),” Gragson said. “Then just flipped.
“Restarted the third stage at 12th, and that kind of hurt us there at the end, but overall a good day for our Bass Pro Shops, Black Rifle Camaro. We were running him down—just needed more laps there at the end.”
Brandon Jones and Austin Hill finished fourth and fifth, respectively. Josh Berry, Allmendinger, Daniel Hemric, Riley Herbst and Landon Cassill completed the top 10.