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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Roush teams struggle, Keselowski recovers, and other notes from Michigan Speedway

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Much was made in the run-up to Sunday's race at MIS that Roush Racing's test at the track in July would lead to great things for them in the next race here.

But when the checkered flag came down Sunday, the results (though better than June for sure) were nothing to write home about. In a race dominated by Jeff Gordon's Chevy and Joey Logano's Ford, the Fords of Jack Roush could only manage to come in 10th (Biffle), 15th (Stenhouse) and 23rd (Edwards). Hardly thrilling.

A new year will bring new cars (and 2015 packages will be tested on Monday (i.e. tomorrow) at MIS), so next year brings new hope for Roush at the track it used to dominate at.

But looking back at 2014, the Cat in the Hat is no doubt pretty upset with his team's performance.

Restarts are critical
What ultimately decided the race at MIS was restarts. There were several of them late, and while Joey Logano beat Gordon in most of them, the final one (and the race) went to Gordon.

Here are Logano's thoughts after the race;

"I had a bunch of good ones. The last one wasn’t the greatest. I got through the gear box good and had the 24 cleared and I should have pulled down in front of him and got that draft but he got up next to me and pulled me back so hard that I couldn’t get away from him. He was able to get position on me into one and once he got that clean air I knew I had one more shot. I knew I was really good into one and that was his weak point. I drove it off there and got him wiggled a little bit getting underneath him and cleared him again but he was able to pull me back again off the corner and then I got loose under him trying to maintain what I had and came in third."

Some drivers were apparently unhappy with Joey's tactics on restarts. We'll see if that displeasure carries forward to later races.

Toyota notes
The top Toyota drivers were Clint Bowyer (sixth) and Denny Hamlin (seventh).
Brian Vickers (19th) also recorded a top-20 result at the 1.5-mile track.

Not a great race for Toyota, who saw big names Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth have woes early and finish at the back of the pack.

Good news for Toyota is that Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin clinched Chase positions (along with Kurt Busch, Aric Almirola and AJ Allmendinger). Matt Kenseth is still in good shape in the points and should clinch in the next few weeks on points even if he doesn't pull off a win.

Also good news for Toyota is that Clint Bowyer solidified his point standings and currently holds one of the four spots in Chase for non race winners. A few more solid runs and he should make it, though a win would be much more comforting I'm sure.

Keselowski recovers
One of cautions in Sunday's race was brought out by hometown hero Brad Keselowski, but he recovered well from his encounter with the wall and came home 8th.

"That was a good finish to come home eighth after hitting the wall. We had some pretty good adversity there with the blown tire. I am not sure why that happened. We didn’t have any indication of it and there was no real reason to. I was about the least aggressive you could be and did a run before that where I was more aggressive and didn’t even come close to showing signs of an issue. I don’t know. I think we just got a bad tire. It is hard to say but the team did a hell of a job to overcome that and get an eighth place finish out of what should have been probably a 25th or 30th place finish," he said after the race.

Looking ahead
My dark horse pick to win next week at Bristol: Marcos Ambrose -- he missed out at the Glen, but has a good track record at Bristol and is trying to make the Chase still. There's motivation, and the talent to win in what is likely his last NASCAR season. With some luck, he could be in Victory Lane.

Burton reflects on his week in Stewart's car
Jeff Burton finished 37th as he filled in for Tony Stewart under difficult circumstances. He reflected on the week Sunday at MIS.

"This was a hard week. This was honestly one of the hardest weeks I’ve ever spent, coming here on Friday not knowing what to expect. I thought everybody did a really good job. Put a great effort out there. I did a terrible job on the restarts. Once we got in clean traffic we were maybe a tenth off the leader. We had really good pace the car drove well. I was really encouraged by the one change we made. The car was fast. We were running 16’s or 17’s or something, but we had a much faster car than that. Just my inexperience in traffic hurt us some."

He expanded on the most difficult part of the whole situation:
"I think just … these are people that we are talking about. You have a lot of conversations about the ‘what if’s’ and all this, but at the end of the day these are real people, that are human beings and have feelings and I think a lot of times we forget that. We talk about people like they are robots and they are not they are human beings. Just listening to some of the misinformation and people speculating about stuff, I just thought it was a travesty in a lot of ways. Ultimately all that really weighed on me, knowing that we had two families, at least two families just in agonizing pain and really not being able to do anything about it."

"Racing is a community. I don’t know the Ward family at all, but I know that they raced and that means that I share something in common with them. The racing community cares about each other even if they don’t know you they still care about you. I think that is what we saw this week. Of course everybody in this garage knows Tony (Stewart). Tony doesn’t beat his chest and talk about the things he does for people. We know it, we see it, but nobody else does. (Dale) Earnhardt (Sr.) was like that, Earnhardt didn’t want anybody to know they things he did for people. That is how Tony is and that is something a lot of people they only know Tony because he threw a helmet. They only know Tony because he got mad. Well hell I get mad too. I just hate people jump to conclusions."



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