Matt Kenseth drubbed the competition in Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Michigan International Speedway, giving Joe Gibbs Racing its fifth victory in the last six races.
The race triumph was Kenseth’s third win of the year and second in the last three races, as he started from the pole and dominated all day. In winning the 34th race of his career, Kenseth, the 2003 series champion, led 146 of 200 laps.
Finishing second was the reigning Sprint Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick in a Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet. Then came Martin Truex Jr. and the Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet. Austin Dillon in a Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet and Denny Hamlin in a second JGR Toyota completed the top five.
But Kenseth clearly was in a class by himself all day.
“My car took about five laps to get going, but once it got going it was pretty stellar,” said Kenseth.
Although Kenseth stopped shy of saying he or his team are championship favorites, he did acknowledge the incredible roll the team has been on.
“We’ve had a great couple months,” said Kenseth. “We definitely have some momentum built. The guys gave us a rocket today. They’ve been giving us rockets the last couple of months, so we’re lust going to work hard to keep it rolling.”
Team owner Joe Gibbs agreed.
“It took us a long time,” Gibbs said. “We were down for about a year and a half. We’ve come back to a point where I think now we’ve got a chance in races.”
Truex, the third-place finisher, said he fought track position all day.
“I felt like we were maybe as good as the 20 (Kenseth) — close at least,” said Truex. “It would have been nice to see if we could have fought it out with him.”
The race began with the first three positions filled by JGR teammates Kenseth, Hamlin and Carl Edwards. JGR’s other driver, Kyle Busch, had to start from the back of the field after crashing in practice Saturday, forcing the team to a backup car.
Kenseth took it to the field the first half of the race, leading 76 of the first 100 laps. Just short of the halfway point on Lap 98, Kenseth was out front when he surrendered the lead to begin a round of green-flag pit stops.
Kevin Harvick inherited the lead when Kenseth pitted, but on Lap 114, he ran out of gas and coasted into the pits.
By Lap 117, Kenseth was back out front ahead of Truex, Kyle Busch and Clint Bowyer. But then a debris caution jumbled the running order, as Edwards and Austin Dillon stayed out to lead Kenseth and Truex.
On the restart on Lap 126, Kenseth reclaimed the lead, but Bowyer crashed on the backstretch, heavily damaging his Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota.
Austin Dillon challenged Kenseth aggressively on the restart, but after a few laps, Kenseth pulled away.
Kenseth pitted on Lap 165, which put Kyle Busch out front, ahead of Brad Keselowski and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Busch led when he came down pit road for the final time on Lap 174, handing the top spot briefly to Aric Almirola, who then pitted on Lap 176. That cycled the lead back to Kenseth, who was 3.7 seconds ahead of Harvick, with Truex third.
Jimmie Johnson spun on Lap 183 to bring out a caution and potentially set up a late-race shootout.
But Kenseth took the lead on the restart and drove off to victory.