Biffle earns Ford's 1,000th NASCAR victory; Hendrick Motorsports falters late
At no point in the last decade has winning a Sprint Cup Series race at the Michigan International Speedway been of more importance in the NASCAR ranks. A renewed emphasis on âmanufacturerâ over âcar numberâ or âdriverâ â largely at the behest of Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota, the Cup Seriesâ three auto makes â has placed a premium on home field bragging rights near Americaâs automotive capital.
On Sunday, Greg Biffle planted Fordâs flag in its home turf, winning the Quicken Loans 400 in Michigan, giving team owner Jack Roush his 13th career Cup win at MIS, the most all-time for any one organization.
Biffle held off a field of hungry Chevrolets, led late in the event by Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick, to capture his second straight and fourth career Michigan win. It was also Ford Motor Companyâs 1,000th win across NASCARâs Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck series.
"I was really worried about the 48 (Johnson)," Biffle said. "He was really fast. But when this thing could get in clean air, it was all over.
âWeâve still got a little bit of work to do with these cars back in traffic but once we get out front, like at Pocono last week, we think weâre pretty good. We just need to work on our cars a little bit. Itâs not for lack of effort. This is real exciting for me.â
Forty-seven of Biffleâs race-high 48 laps led came with under 50 circuits to go in the 200-mile affair. Biffleâs No. 16, along with teammate Carl Edwardsâ No. 99, occupied the top two spots with 34 laps to go and green flag pit stops on tap. Edwards hit pit road first, going one lap down prior to the field cycling through, while Biffle stopped two laps later. As Biffleâs crew completed service, Jamie McMurray blew out a right front tire, bring out the dayâs eighth and final caution.
Edwards found himself trapped in 24th, while Biffle â having completed his stops without yet dropping a lap to the field â inherited the lead.
His main competition â aside from the pole-sitter Edwards â came in the form of Johnson, who led 18 laps throughout the day, but was regulated to 11th on what would be the final restart, a result of having the No. 48 crew top off the fuel tank on the final stop.
When the green flag waved with 27 laps remaining, Biffle quickly pulled away in clean air while Johnson began what appeared to be an unrelenting assault through the field. Within eight laps, the five-time champion was ensconced in third; nine laps later he occupied the runner-up slot.
However, Biffle held a stout 1.6-second lead at a track that places importance on track position â clean air allowing the leader to sprint away with an aerodynamic advantage. And with three circuits remaining, Johnson made the mistake that sealed his fate and Biffleâs win, brushing the wall in an effort to run down the leader. He was forced to pit road with heavy right-side damage.
Biffle coasted from there, easily outdistancing Harvick for a nearly three-second victory. Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch and Tony Stewart rounded out the top 5. Contenders Edwards and Johnson finished eighth and 28th, respectively.
âI hate missing an opportunity,â Johnson said. âI want those (Chase) bonus points for winning races and feel like one got away from us today.â
Hendrick Motorsports once again seemed to be the organization to beat, as drivers Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne led for a total of 66 laps. However, Kahne blew a right front tire while out front on lap 105, slamming the Turn 2 wall and ending his day. He finished 38th. Earnhardt was his typical strong Michigan self until the engine in his No. 88 let go while running second on lap 132.
âWe had such an awesome race car,â said Earnhardt, who finished 37th. âWe actually improved the car on the last stop and I thought we were going to be able to give Jimmie a run. He probably was the best car out there.
âItâs frustrating. â¦ Iâm just real happy that we were able to turn around from what was a frustrating day (in practice) yesterday to put a great car on the starting grid, a car that was so competitive as it was today.â
Meanwhile, runner-up Harvick is quietly climbing his way through the point standings, having ascended from 12th to fourth in the last five races on the strength of five consecutive top 10s, including a victory in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
âI was pretty nervous as we finished practice yesterday,â Harvick said. âThose guys just did a great job again of talking through everything with myself and themselves to make some good decisions this morning â and they always do â and that's what makes this team good is they keep themselves in contention to be solid on days when you don't think you're going to be that great.â
With 11 races remaining in the Cup Seriesâ 26-race regular season, Johnson holds a 31-point advantage over Edwards, Clint Bowyer (-49), Harvick (-62) and Matt Kenseth (-82) in the championship standings.