Michigan might be an historically good track for Joe Gibbs Racing, but as I alluded to last week, they all had to beat Kevin Harvick. That proved to be a tall order.
In the first Michigan race on Saturday, Harvick dominated the field winning both Stages 1 & 2 and leading 92 of the 156 laps on his way to the checkers. The next closest leader in laps was Ryan Blaney with 27. JGR did show up and place well enough with Martin Truex, Jr. in third, Kyle Busch in 5th, Denny Hamlin in 6th and Erik Jones in 11th. But that’s not winning.
Strong runs by Hamlin, Keselowski, Blaney, Kyle Busch and MTJ gave each high hopes for the race on Sunday.
But on Sunday, Harvick once again dominated with 90 laps led and winning Stage 2 before taking completely over and grabbing the checkers once again. Teammate Clint Bowyer won Stage 1 before fading to 14th at the end. Bowyer was 2nd in laps led at 42. No one else even came close.
On Sunday, the racing got a little spicier. Harvick got Kyle Busch loose on a restart and sent him into the wall. Brad Keselowski lost control and took out Blaney as they were fighting for the lead. That sure won’t make The Captain very happy. That left Hamlin and MTJ chasing Harvick but they both got the short end of the stick in that battle. Hamlin got close, but that only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.
Harvick is now one up on Hamlin in the race for the title with 6 wins.
I expected my dark horse for the weekend, Aric Almirola, to do a bit better but he was able to improve his 16th place finish on Saturday with a 6th place on Sunday.
Erik Jones didn’t do himself a lot of favors with his finishes of 11th and 27th. As you may know by now, he will not be returning to the 20 car next year and his next steps remain unknown. Bubba Wallace fared a little better this weekend finishing 9th and 21st and then dropped the bomb that he has been offered the 42 ride over at Ganassi Racing, replacing 2020 seat warmer veteran Matt Kenseth. Wallace also says he has an offer from Petty to stay in the 43 car with additional stake in ownership. What he does may have a lot to do with where Erik Jones goes in 2021 – unless Jones is offered the 48 ride at Hendrick and then the rest doesn’t really matter.
The 48 is suffering through another winless year with Jimmie Johnson behind the wheel. Johnson has had a few good races but he is not really threatening for a win right now. Jones would help continue the youth movement at Hendrick but we’ll see just how much Toyota wants to keep Jones in their stable or not. There is a lot of talent in the lower series right now but I don’t think any of them are quite ready for the Cup level except on the Ford side with Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric waging a back and forth battle for the points lead and title.
The Cup Silly Season will be in full swing now with Jones, Wallace, Bowyer, Ty Dillon, Matt DiBenedetto, Christopher Bell (most likely to replace Jones in the 20), Michael McDowell, Ryan Preece, John Hunter Nemecheck and others in the mix. You can even consider longshots in 2021 to be Kyle Larson and Matt Kenseth as potential drivers. Kenseth has struggled far more than anyone anticipated in the Ganassi 42 car. He has another new crew chief but it seems more than a communication issue. It seems to me that without a lot of practice time, he has just not warmed to the new lower downforce car. It will be interesting to see if he throws his hat in the ring or decides that the new car and the schedule are too much for him and his family. Kyle Larson hasn’t yet asked for reinstatement and I think NASCAR would certainly grant it. But he would still need sponsorship. The days of getting a ride by being a hot shot driver are long gone, now you need to bring along a financially sound sponsor portfolio.
This week the entire NASCAR family will be running the Daytona road course. From ARCA to Cup, the weekend will be chock full and provide everyone with something they can enjoy.
Drive fast, turn left (and right this weekend) and keep the shiny side up.
Image courtesy of NASCAR Media/Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images….