Joe Jennings, NASCAR Correspondent
With the win Biffle takes the Sprint Cup point lead
Greg Biffle took the checkered flag at the Michigan International Speedway on Sunday afternoon when the lead car of Jimmie Johnson faltered with six laps to go in the Pure Michigan 400, the 23rd race of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.
Just when it looked like Johnson had the victory in his grasp, the engine in the Lowe’s Chevrolet let go on the 194th lap after the five-time Sprint Cup champion had led 23 laps, including those close to the finish line.
I knew once I got to the front, we were going to be tough to beat.
With oil on the track from the Johnson incident, the yellow flag came out, setting up an overtime run to the checkered flag. When the race restarted, Biffle lined up on the outside with Brad Keselowski alongside him with Carl Edwards, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne tucked in behind them.
At the drop of the final green flag, Biffle took off with Keselowski making a determined effort to pass but to no avail. On the final lap, Kahne tried to overtake Keselowski, going low and coming up short by a few feet, to finish third.
For Biffle, he won for the third time at MIS and for the 18th time in his Sprint Cup career.
The victor drove the 3M Ford of Roush Fenway Racing. In winning, Biffle handed the acclaimed team its 12th overall win at MIS, breaking a first-place tie with the legendary Wood Brothers team.
In winning, Biffle moved into first place in Sprint Cup points with a 20-point margin over teammate Matt Kenseth, who finished 17th. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is in third down by 22 with Johnson falling three spots to fourth 28 off the pace. Keselowski is in fifth 47 out of the lead.
Sixth through 10th in the standings are Martin Truex Jr., Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick, Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin.
In the important wild card standings, Kahne with two wins leads Ryan Newman, Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon, each of whom has one win each.
Said the race victor, “It was a wild race. We struggled with it throughout the weekend, but we worked really hard on it and we were much better on Saturday. Today, my car was super good at the start of the race but on restarts and in traffic, the car wasn’t that good. I just kept working on it and I told Matt (Puccia), ‘Once we get out front, I know the car will be really good,’ and once I passed a car, I could run down the next one quickly. I knew once I got to the front, we were going to be tough to beat. One pit cycle put us back, but I got a great restart and made up a bunch of the spots (lost).
“I was closing in on him (Johnson) and when I moved my line around in turns 3 and 4, I was able to drive into the corners much further. I was catching him and was moving in on him when his engine failed. It was going to be a great race no matter what, as I felt I was going to be able to catch him but passing him might have been another story.”
Team co-owner Jack Roush commented, “It is fun to race in front of the home crowd and we had our biggest hospitality group of the year and we had our NASCAR sponsors, too. But our most important race will be our next one. I will be able to sleep tonight not thinking about today but thinking about the (upcoming) crash-fest at Bristol.”
Asked about being out of victory lane for a while at Michigan, Roush added, “There are rhythms that go through this thing. One year we won nine races, but we probably didn’t deserve all of that. We had other years where we didn’t win as often as we should have. You have to suffer through the rough times to be able to enjoy the good times. We were due to have a good run, and I never lost faith in our organization, our engines or myself. It is the best we can do, and that’s good enough.”
Keselowski admitted he wanted to win at his home track but accepted the outcome. “It was a great day and I was this close (inches) to getting the biggest win of my career,” the Michigan native stated. “That would have been really special, but it was not in the cards today. My team has done an excellent job in the last few weeks, hitting their marks and not making any mistakes. I have been given solid cars, and we are in a great place as a team with the Chase (for the Sprint Cup) about to start to make some noise.
“I feel like I am lucky to be there, and we obviously want to win. I can taste the legitimacy of being a Chase contender. With a little more speed, I feel like we could have gotten a win today, and in the Chase, I think we can get a bunch of them. I am ready for the Chase to get going.”
To finish third Kahne had to rebound from an early race accident involving Mark Martin, Juan Pablo Montoya and Bobby Labonte. After sliding through the infield grass and not making contact, Kahne dropped to 26th but steadily worked his way into a contender position as the laps wound down.
Said Kahne, “Mark (Martin) was either tight or cruising and I just wanted to get by him. But the next thing I knew two of the cars were crashing and I slid into it. I thought I had destroyed my car, but the guys were able to pop out the fender and we went from there. It was a solid recovery, a solid day and thankfully Mark didn’t come any further into our pit (box) when the oil line exploded. One of our guys did get hit by a tire, and it was close to being a bad situation.”
Kahne went on to say his team made positive adjustments to his car to assist with it’s handling, although when the sun came out, he was sliding all four tires. “For us, it was small changes, and the car stayed pretty close.”
Earnhardt took fourth over Watkins Glen winner Marcos Ambrose.
Stated Earnhardt, “We had a great strategy. My team put together a great and comfortable racecar, and (crew chief) Steve Latarte did a good job on strategies, and we were able to hold most of it. But we lost a little bit at the end because the last set of tires didn’t agree with us.”
Sixth through 10th in the finishing order were Carl Edwards, Bowyer, Newman, Paul Menard and Truex.
Hard-luck drivers and their finishing positions: Johnson – 27th, Gordon – 28th and Stewart – 32nd. Each fell out with car issues.
Eight yellow flags slowed the race for 35 laps with all but one of them being relatively minor incidents.
In the scary accident, leader Martin and runner-up Kahne crashed when slower cars got out of shape in front of them. The two leaders’ cars slid toward pit lane with Martin’s car careening down pit road, sending pit crews scrambling before his Toyota slammed sideways into a pit road opening alongside Kahne’s pit box. The impact severed an oil line with a flash fire breaking out.
Martin emerged from the car unhurt and thanking his lucky stars for the outcome. “I don’t know what happened, except the No. 47 (Bobby Labonte) got turned (around), and we got jammed up,” he said. “I am disappointed we got torn up as I had a great hot rod. I am glad to be okay.”
Fast-qualifier Martin had led 54 of the first 64 laps.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series travels to the reconfigured Bristol Motor Speedway next weekend for a race under the lights on Saturday evening.