Mother Nature strikes again. Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway abruptly came to an end after 133 laps of racing for rain. After NASCAR declared the race official, Clint Bowyer was in the lead, resulting in his second win of the year.
Kurt Busch recorded his second pole of the year and first since Texas in April, starting on the front row alongside fellow Ford Brad Keselowski. Meanwhile, a trio of Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas – Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, and Erik Jones – were ordered to the rear for failing inspection pertaining to the splitter.
Rain plagued the morning as the green flag was delayed for over two hours. Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race, won by Austin Dillon, had been shortened due to inclement weather. Nevertheless, the rain eventually cleared to allow for racing on Sunday. Due to the weather, a competition caution was scheduled for lap 25.
Busch led the race early as Stewart-Haas Racing team-mate Kevin Harvick jumped to second. After just one lap, Garrett Smithley, making his Monster Energy Cup Series debut for StarCom Racing, pulled to the garage for transmission issues.
At the competition yellow, the leaders pitted. Busch and Harvick took two tires to remain the top two, while Hamlin did the same and gained 19 spots to restart third. The restart took place on lap 29 as Busch led, but the caution came out seven laps later when Darrell Wallace Jr. and David Ragan spun after making contact in turn one. Wallace, Matt DiBenedetto, and Jimmie Johnson were the lone lead lap cars to pit.
The next green flag waved with 20 laps remaining in Stage #1 as Busch led Ryan Blaney. Larson, who started twenty-sixth, found himself in the top five, while Kyle Busch was in the top ten after starting at the back. Blaney chased down the leader and passed him seven laps after the restart.
With four laps to go in the stage, Matt Kenseth spun. Kenseth, running his final race in the Roush Fenway Racing #6 car until the Brickyard 400 in September, was subsequently penalized by NASCAR for pitting too soon. Between stages, he took the wave-around, resulting in another penalty. Kenseth’s spin set up a one-lap dash to the finish, won by Blaney as Busch sank to seventh. Larson finished second in the stage, ahead of Bowyer, Harvick, Hamlin, Keselowski, Busch, William Byron, Joey Logano, and Aric Almirola.
Kasey Kahne and Austin Dillon changed just two tires and occupied the front row for the start of Stage #2. Meanwhile, Chase Elliott restarted at the back of the field after pitting while pit road was closed. Dillon quickly fell back as Harvick and Blaney caught up to Kahne, who provided a defense until the yellow flag came out after just one lap: Daniel Suárez bumped with Paul Menard as they exited turn four, causing the former to spin.
The restart took place on lap 72 as Harvick took the lead from Kahne, who eventually fell out of the top ten. On lap 85, Larson, who was running eighth and seeking his fourth straight win at Michigan, spun off turn four and into the grass to bring out the yellow flag. Harvick remained the leader on the lap 90 restart ahead of Bowyer, with Kurt Busch joining his SHR allies in the top three by lap 101. By the end of the stage, Harvick had maintained a solid advantage over Bowyer.
With the race now official in the event of rain, Stage #3 commenced on lap 125 as Bowyer led Harvick. Three laps later, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. spun, forcing another caution as rain began to make its return to the track. As the cars prepared to hit pit road, confusion arose when NASCAR ordered drivers to instead stay on the track, resulting in half of the field pitting and the others remaining out. Eventually, Race Control finally told the cars to pit as the red flag came out.
“Race Control wanted cars to stay on track and come back to checker next lap. Pace car did not hear instruction,” NASCAR Executive Vice President Steve O’Donnell tweeted. “We came back to red flag instead and declared winner.”
Following the situation, NASCAR declared the race official, granting Bowyer his second win of the season and first at Michigan. Harvick and Busch finished second and third, respectively, to mark an SHR 1–2–3 finish. Behind them were Kyle Busch, Menard, Keselowski, Logano, Blaney, Elliott, and Jamie McMurray. It is Bowyer’s first season with multiple wins since his three-win campaign in 2012.
“When [crew chief Mike Bugarewicz] said to take two tires, I was like, ‘Oh man, I don’t know!’,” Bowyer exclaimed in Victory Lane, “Especially when I was looking in the mirror and everybody’s taking four, you know when you come out that far ahead of everybody else… You know you’re on a mission for a gamble! […] We’re just so fast. 1–2–3 for Stewart-Haas Racing, all these guys, that gutsy call… Unbelievable!”
The Cup Series will take a week off before returning at Sonoma Raceway for the Toyota/Save Mart 350. The first road course race of the season, Harvick is the defending winner.
2018 FireKeepers Casino 400 results
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