Sunday at Michigan International Speedway, all 43 crew chiefs sitting on top their war wagons found themselves having to become weathermen. Michigan has long been considered a fuel mileage track that puts added pressure on every call made by the crew chief, but on Sunday the pressure was taken to the next level as the crew chief also had to take in consideration when the rain would come.
The Quicken Loan 400 was scheduled to be a 200-lap event, but with the Sunday morning radar showing pop-up rainstorms in the area, the focus for every a crew chief and driver was to be up front when the 100th lap went off the board that would make the race official. The only problem was that there were three red flags for rain that lasted more than two hours before the race got to the halfway point. The rain never allowed the track to build up any rubber, so not only were the crew chiefs having to make sure that their driver kept track position, they were also having to work on their cars at every stop to try and keep up with the track.
Fuel mileage was no longer being calculated for 200 laps, instead it was focusing on that magical halfway point of 100 laps. Some crew chiefs brought their drivers onto pit road right before the green flag waved on a restart to top off their tanks in hopes that the added splash of fuel would be enough to make sure their driver would have what he needed to be on the track racing for the lead at the halfway point.
Still other crew chiefs elected to keep their drivers on the track to gain as much track position as possible. The strategy being used up and down pit road was so varied during one cycle of pit stops, which usually takes place over a few laps, was stretched out over a 20-lap period.
While the rain, fuel mileage and track position were playing heavy in every decision being made, the opportunity to “steal” a win in a shortened race and race your way into the Chase field was also in the minds of some crew chiefs. One of those crew chiefs was Chip Ganassi Racing’s Chris Heroy, who guides the Target Chevrolet for Kyle Larson.
Larson is one of those drivers that has had some up-and-down finishes this season without a win but is still in the thick of the Chase by his position in the points at this time. A caution flag on lap 125 presented Heroy the opportunity to position his driver in a position to win with radar showing the rain bearing down on the track.
Heroy’s driver was sitting in 10thwhen that caution came out with a gas tank that only had a few gallons of gas as the skies continued to darken over the two-mile track. It was at this point that Heroy made the decision to keep his driver out, knowing that it would put him in a great position to capture the win if the rains came.
Larson gained 10 spots by staying out as he started the race with the lead and was able to hold on to it as he drove by Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the restart. He found himself battling Kurt Busch for the lead and it looked as if he was going to hang on for the win as the skies darkened at one end of the track. Unfortunately, his bid to become the latest race winner to advance to the Chase was three laps short as he had to come down on pit road for fuel.
Kurt Busch inherited the lead and went on for his second win in the rain-shortened event of the year while Larson had to settle for a 17th-place finish. It was not the kind of finish that Heroy and Larson were looking for, but it was the kind of call that someday may put them in the Chase.
Toyota/Save Mart 350 Track: Sonoma Raceway (1.99- mile road course with 10 turns) Date: June 28, 3 p.m. TV: FOX Sports 1 Radio: PRN Defending Champion: Carl Edwards