The Toyota camp had nothing for the Ford’s on Saturday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at the Michigan International Speedway. I mean, who could? Toyota has just one win in the last 17 Michigan races. Chevrolet has three wins all season. Ford, had four straight victories in the Irish Hills, so it’s not shocking that Kevin Harvick earned his fifth win of the year and gave the blue ovals their fifth straight Michigan win. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver swept both stages and lead a race-high 92 of 161 laps.
But, it was the Toyota camp who was right behind. All four Joe Gibbs Racing cars finished in the top 11 and all were a top 10 bunch for Saturday’s FireKeepers Casino 400. They just needed a late race pit call to get in or near the top five though.
On Lap 107, the final pit stop of the day, three JGR cars took fuel only and would restart in the top four. That move allowed them to stay there and come away with good finishes.
Martin Truex Jr. had the worst luck early with contact from Tyler Reddick early on causing a right front flat. He’d have to pit for repairs. That put him 35th and 31st respectively in the two stages. In the end, he was the top Toyota finisher in third. He now has four top three finishes in his last five starts on the season including three straight third place runs. He also has three straight top four results on the 2-mile track too.
Kyle Busch finished fifth and led the fuel only group off pit road in his No. 18 Toyota. He’d lead four laps but had nothing for Harvick. Busch, finished fifth for his third top five in his last 11 starts on the season. He’s still winless on the year and has just one win in his last 43 tries.
“The car was pretty good right off the bat,” Busch said. “There’s still some things we can tweak on, hopefully. I’m scared to mess with it to try to make it better. It was just really, really hard to deal with in traffic. Anytime there was anybody in front of me, I had to be away from them, whether lower or higher, but not follow. It would not track at all with the car in front of me. That’s kind of been our ‘MO’ actually. Overall, just work on that.”
Denny Hamlin led 10 early laps and had a good car. He finished sceond in third in the two stages and would bring his No. 11 Toyota home sixth.
“I thought we were kind of a second-place car,” Hamlin said. “Once (Kevin Harvick) was leading there, we were able to stay pretty close to him. He was just so much faster down the straightaway than we were. I’m not sure that we would have been able to do much with him. We were certainly fast in the corners and we were just kind of a second-place car. My crew chief (Chris Gabehart) was concerned about loose lug nuts there around lap 130 when the caution came out so he wanted to come and take tires and work on the car and make sure the lug nuts were tight. That set us back and put us probably 11th or 12th in line. We could only muster coming back to sixth.”
Erik Jones had a great points day as he scored 12 bonus points in the stages but faded to 11th in the end. Still, he made up 15 points on William Byron and is now only 16 points out heading into Sunday’s race.
So, was it a great day for JGR? No. Was it a solid one? Yes. That pit call helped.