Kyle Larson has won the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 after an incredible late-race restart. The driver of the #42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet restarted on the second row in an overtime attempt, but he got a fantastic getaway that allowed him to make it three wide on the run to turn one. From there, he kept his foot in and used his fresh rubber to take the lead and hold it until the chequered flag.
As has been the case for the last few NASCAR Cup Series races at Michigan International Speedway, the race was defined by a number of late-race restarts. The first came with just over ten laps to go when Joey Logano in the #22 Team Penske Ford suffered a tyre blowout that left debris on the circuit. The second came with just over five to go, when Michael McDowell‘s #95 was spun out and wrecked on the back-straight, with oil on the track necessitating a red flag.
The cautions ended a number of teams strategies, with some nearing a pit-stop in the closing laps for fuel whilst others tried to make it home on old tyres. This all changed, as most of the field came down pit road. Some, like Martin Truex Jr, Erik Jones, Matt Kenseth and Chase Elliott elected to stay on old-rubber and take fuel only, but others like Larson and Kyle Busch further back pitted for new tyres.
After the red flag, the Furniture Row Racing team-mates led the field back to green, but it was Kyle Larson who blitzed through from the second row, bouncing off of Truex on the outside and Kenseth on the inside to take the lead with just under two to go. From there, there was no stopping him. Even he knew it, as he began celebrating on the back-straight on the final lap.
Larson made it through the final two corners to take his third win of the season and his third straight win at Michigan International Raceway. Larson only led two laps, but those two were the most important laps of the race. He admitted in victory lane that his car was far from perfect, but once again his magical race restarts got him out front and in the winner’s circle for the fourth time in the NASCAR Cup Series. It’s a well-timed return to victory lane for Kyle, who has had a mid-season slump after getting off to such a great start to the year. This win has the potential to revitalize the team just in time for the championship playoffs.
Despite losing the lead to Larson, Truex gave it his all to try and run him down on the final lap. He managed to close the gap to within half a second, but he’d sadly miss out on claiming the first back-to-back victory of his career. He’ll at least take solace in the fact that he was in contention yet again and he also scored another stage victory with some more playoff points as his reward. Team-mate Jones followed him home for third, with the Michigan-native having the best race of his rookie season so far after having run up front all day in the #77 car.
Such was the carnage of the last few laps, a number of drivers who had been running in the mid-pack all race managed to jump into the top ten. Ryan Newman took a strong fourth place for Richard Childress Racing, with Trevor Bayne‘s #6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford and Chris Buescher‘s #37 JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet following in close pursuit in positions five and six respectively. Newman’s team-mate Austin Dillon also finished well, with the Charlotte winner taking seventh place in the #3 car.
Chase Elliott’s Michigan restart woes continued as an almost certain top five finish slipped away during the last few cautions. He kept his #24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet in the hunt all day, but after choosing to stay out on old tyres during the last ten laps, he was eaten up by the pack on fresher rubber behind him. He would take a disappointing eighth place finish ahead of Jamie McMurray in ninth, but both drivers remain in two of the three spots in the provisional playoff grid for drivers without race wins. However, with three races remaining until the championship sixteen is set in stone, there’s still time for another winner to force them out.
Kyle Busch’s race seemed to be decided by an early mistake after the first stage. The #18 Joe Gibbs Racing driver pitted before the pits were opened and therefore had to restart from the rear. From there, he was always playing catch-up, both for track position and for pit-strategy. He had been due to make a last-minute pit-stop for gas in the closing laps, but the late cautions put him back in the mid-pack once again where he would fail to emerge from. He would take tenth place, with brother Kurt Busch taking eleventh in the #41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford.
Much of the early proceedings were dominated by pole-sitter Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick. The pair ran in the first two positions for most of the first half of the race before falling back after pit-stops. Harvick would wind up finishing in thirteenth, with Keselowski a disappointing seventeenth; a result that doesn’t do justice to his #2 Team Penske Ford’s pace had taken pole and led a race-high 105 laps.
Keselowski’s team-mate Joey Logano had a similarly tough day after entering the weekend hoping to take a crucial win to take a spot in the championship playoffs. That was not meant to be, however, with multiple tyre issues hampering his race and forcing him to an eventual twenty-eighth place.
Another driver who will be rueing what might have been in Michigan will be Daniel Suarez. Fresh off of his best finish yet in Watkins Glen a week ago, the #19 Joe Gibbs Racing driver was running strongly and set to capitalise on an alternate strategy when he was involved in a hard wreck with the #5 of Kasey Kahne. Kahne moved by on the inside of turns one and two, but on the exit he moved up too early and drove across the nose of Suarez. Both were pitched into the outside wall, with the hard contact sending Kahne’s Chevrolet onto the bonnet of Suarez’s Toyota. Both were thankfully unhurt, but Suarez’s playoff hopes now rest firmly on a win in the next three races.
The first of those final three races before the playoffs takes place next week. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to one of its most famous venues, Bristol Motor Speedway, for the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race. Short track racing always provides intense racing. With championship contention also on the line, it’s only going to get crazier.
2017 NASCAR Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 Race Results
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