In one of the best race finishes in a long time at Michigan International Speedway, Greg Biffle held off Brad Keselowski and Kasey Kahne in a green-white-checker finish to win Sunday's Pure Michigan 400.
More often than not, races at MIS are typically fuel mileage affairs. But not Sunday, as several late caution periods allowed drivers to give it their all heading toward the finish line without worrying about running out of fuel at the end. In fact, Biffle even wound up playing a game of cat-and-mouse with the rest of the field as the closing laps clicked off.
"I knew my car was bad ass, I just didn't want to say anything until I got here to victory lane," Biffle said.
Added Matt Puccia, Biffle's crew chief, "He wasn't taking second, I'll tell you. He did a hell of a job."
The final showdown came on Lap 199, as Biffle, Keselowski, Carl Edwards, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kahne all fought for the lead. As the green flag flew, Biffle took the lead, followed closely by Keselowski. Even though Keselowski twice drew close in the final two laps, Biffle's car proved too strong, not only winning for the third time in his career at MIS, but also regaining the Sprint Cup points lead.
"We're going to make a run for this title," Biffle said in victory lane. "They may not be talking much about us now, but they will be by the time we get to Las Vegas (for the NASCAR championship awards banquet in early December)."
Keselowski barely held off Kahne for second place, while Earnhardt Jr. finished fourth, followed by Marcos Ambrose. Sixth through 10th were Edwards, Clint Bowyer, Ryan Newman (who raced despite being sick), Paul Menard and Martin Truex Jr.
As for the series points standings, Biffle leads the way after the first 23 races, followed by Roush Fenway Racing teammate and this year's Daytona 500 winner, Matt Kenseth, who trails by 20 points. Earnhardt is third (22 points back), followed by Johnson, who drops from first to fourth (28 points behind) and Keselowski (minus-47). Sixth through 10th are Truex (-60), Bowyer (-66), Kevin Harvick (-85), defending Sprint Cup champ Tony Stewart (-95) and Denny Hamlin (-96).
Biffle's second victory of the season (he also won at Texas in April) was aided by a huge bit of good luck. Jimmie Johnson, who came into the race as the points leader, seemed to have a car that was the class of the field. It appeared that Johnson would win the race going away at one of five tracks on the circuit where he has never won. as he was pulling further and further away from the rest of the field with each passing lap. But then the motor on his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet blew up - and that was the end of Johnson's race (he ultimately finished 27th and dropped from first to fourth in the standings).
"I thought that I knew I would be able to get him then," Biffle said when he saw Johnson begin to slow just seconds before the motor in the No. 48 Chevy fully let go. "I was closing in on him and I don't know if I would have got him in those eight laps or not, but it would have been a hell of a run to the end.
"I don't know if I would have got there, but we will take them any way we can get them. We had a damn good car today."
Johnson's motor issue was one of three usually near-bulletproof Hendrick Motorsports motors that suffered uncharacteristic and almost cataclysmic failure during the course of the race.
First, a valve spring issue developed in Stewart's car. Then Jeff Gordon's car was victimized.
But the biggest and most disappointing situation occurred with six laps to go, when Johnson's engine went up in smoke, causing him to take his car to the garage rather than victory lane. Johnson also had engine issues earlier in the weekend, prompting crew chief Chad Knause to change motors at the time. But Johnson looked strong for most of Sunday, remaining in the top 10 most of the day until his day came to a slightly early end.
Even though he's not in competition for the Sprint Cup championship this season (due to his part-time status as a driver in 2012), pole-sitter Mark Martin nonetheless started out like he was indeed running for No. 1. Martin's Toyota looked extremely strong right from the opening green flag, moving at will and holding off all potential challengers.
After Keselowski led for three laps, Johnson took over the lead on Lap 39 during the first series of green flag pit stops. However, Johnson held the lead for only four laps because he was working on a different pit strategy, and Martin regained the edge on Lap 46 after Sam Hornish Jr. led briefly for three laps.
Unfortunately, Martin's day came to a premature end on Lap 64. Coming out of Turn 4, it appeared that Juan Pablo Montoya ran into Bobby Labonte, sending him spinning in front of the leaders, namely Martin and Kahne. Martin's car slid across the infield and onto pit road, taking a vicious hit and impaling itself on the pit road wall, with the left rear tire on one side of the wall and the rest of the car on the outer edge of the wall.
Kahne spun around but barely avoided hitting Martin and was able to continue on. Labonte suffered minor damage but was able to rejoin the race.
"Aw heck, I don't know," Martin said after he was released from the infield care center and was asked what happened. "The 47 (Labonte) got turned around there and we got jammed up and the 5 (Kahne) got in to the back of him," Martin said. "I'm disappointed that we got tore up, but, man, what a hot rod."