Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – BROOKLYN, MI – With Clint Bowyer winning Sunday’s Firekeepers Casino 400, Kevin Harvick running second and Kurt Busch coming home third, Stewart-Haas Racing swept the top three positions in a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race for the first time in company history.
Stewart-Haas, however, didn’t have a monopoly on Ford performance in Sunday’s event at Michigan International Speedway. Ford drivers took seven of the top eight finishing positions with Paul Menard claiming a season-best fifth and Team Penske drivers Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney running sixth, seventh and eighth, respectively.
With its cars powered by Roush Yates engines, Ford claimed the Michigan Heritage trophy that goes to the winning manufacturer.
“We always want to win every race, so that’s always the goal,” said Mark Rushbrook, global director, Ford Performance Motorsports. “Certainly, this I think would exceed what our expectation is.
“We’re working on all fronts of what it takes to be successful in racing with our teams and giving them the right tools, making sure they have the best engines, aero tools, CFD (computational fluid dynamics) tools to optimize what they’ve got. We’re just going to keep pushing as hard as we have been and not giving up.”
Michigan, according to Rushbrook, proved an ideal place to showcase the strides Ford has been making in NASCAR’s premier series.
“To be successful with this track, you’ve got to have strong engines, with the RPM range that they’re running—high RPMs, having the power up there,” he said. “But (you also have) to be able to get out of the corners with the speed differential in the corners, and aerodynamics.
“That’s what we’ve been working with the teams on. I think it’s that combination. If you’re not strong in all areas, you’re not going to do well at a track like this.”
Clearly, the Fords were hitting on all cylinders on Sunday.
KYLE LARSON’S BID FOR FOUR STRAIGHT MICHIGAN WINS COMES APART IN TURN 4
Despite a 26th-place qualifying effort, Kyle Larson appeared poised to make a run at the FireKeepers Casino 400 trophy in the early stages of Sunday’s race, but his bid for a fourth straight victory at Michigan International Speedway took an unexpected, adverse turn.
Larson was 13th in the running order when the field restarted after a planned competition caution at the end of Lap 25. By Lap 41, he was eighth for a restart after a wreck involving Bubba Wallace and David Ragan brought out the second yellow.
Larson finished second in Stage 1, which ended on Lap 60, and he ran consistently in the top 10 thereafter, until his race unraveled on Lap 85.
Running fourth at the time, Larson spun off Turn 4, and his No. 42 Chevrolet tore through the infield grass, damaging the right front of the car. After multiple pit stops and a liberal application of tape to the injured vehicle, Larson was two laps down.
Under the eighth and final caution on Lap 129, Larson returned to the lead lap as the highest scored lapped car, but he never had a chance to improve his position because rain ended the race under yellow four laps later.
Larson finished 28th and will have to wait until August to try to start a new streak.
KURT BUSCH IS STILL WAITING FOR HIS TURN IN VICTORY LANE
After winning the pole for Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway, Kurt Busch liked his chances in the race, and, indeed, his no. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford started strong.
Busch led the first 46 laps, holding it for 19 circuits after taking right-side tires only under caution on Lap 27. But on Lap 47, Ryan Blaney passed him for the top spot, and Busch dropped from second to seventh from an inside-lane position after a Lap 60 restart to end Stage 1.
He never regained the lead. Busch was third off pit road behind teammates Clint Bowyer and Kevin Harvick under yellow on Lap 122, and that’s where he finish when rain forced NASCAR to call the race 11 laps later. It was another strong run for the 2004 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion, but it wasn’t a victory. A Stewart-Haas sweep of the podium positions provided some consolation.
“We’ve been consistent this year,” Busch said. “We haven’t had that super perfect all-star type day. We’ve chiseled away at being consistent, not making mistakes, and our day will come. We just have to put ourselves in position more often.
“One of the times off pit road I came out fourth and then a car stayed out in front of us, that put me to the fifth spot (and in an inferior spot on the inside lane). I’m like, ‘Well, one of those times when things just don’t quite go your way.’ We had a fast car. Again, it’s easy to smile and go into this off week and celebrate a Stewart-Haas 1-2-3. It’s very special.”