Commentary

Observations: Consumers Energy 400 from Michigan International Speedway

By Cole Cusumano

 

Following an action-packed overtime finish in day one of the doubleheader at Michigan International Speedway, sky-high expectations for the next event hastily faded after it became apparent this would be just another Sunday drive for Kevin Harvick.

 

The driver of the No. 4 solidified his dominance in the Irish Hills by edging out Denny Hamlin by .093 seconds and bringing out the broom in the Wolverine State. While he made the weekend look effortless to the untrained eye, the pair of events proved to be a high-octane game of ingenuity for NASCAR Cup Series teams. In seeing Harvick tied Rusty Wallace for 10th on the all-time wins list with his 55th victory of his career, it’s evident we are witnessing something special.

 

The only problem in witnessing this historic run? It’s monumental to look back on, but a bore in the moment. In the end, it became a pure battle of horsepower and perseverance for the elusive Michigan Heritage Trophy. 

 

Aside from restarts, the racing on display was single-file and detrimentally dull.  As is the case with races at Michigan, track position was crucial and if you were trapped on the inside lane, you were in for a wild ride to the back. Traces of pit strategy were non-existent, due to the opening stages being too short to gamble and a late caution derailing the shot at a fuel-mileage finish. 

 

Vastly contrasted to the advancements of the previous weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, NASCAR may want to consider implementing some of the tactics applied to the one-mile track. Granted, it’s tough to compare the venues given their polar opposite characteristics, something should be done to improve the competition at Michigan.

 

The PJ1 traction compound was applied to the higher lanes, hence the top being the preferred groove. Had it been laid lower, there could have been better opportunities for passing. Then again, that could potentially decrease the speed output and do you really want that when you’re racing for an award that praises horsepower?

 

Two drivers who maybe would have liked to see this experiment were Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney. The Team Penske pair collided in the final stage after the No. 2 got loose while trying to surge past his teammate for the lead. 

 

The end result was two wrecked Mustangs and Keselowski failing to find victory lane at his home track in his 23rd attempt through 11 years. His luck (or lack thereof) at Michigan is eerily reminiscent of Jimmie Johnson’s winless drought at the two-mile speedway. It seemed like the seven-time Champion was always in position to win until something crazy happened. It took him 25 tries and 12 years to emerge victorious.

 

One positive that came from this weekend was the points race debut of the choose rule. Widely praised by drivers and fans, it certainly added an element of strategy at Michigan that would have been absent otherwise. While it was nearly impossible to be successful on the inside lane, teams had the option to start there or the high-line, so this put the race in the hands of the athletes.

 

Probably the best thing to come out of this weekend was the reception of the condensed races. The 156-lap event totalled 312 miles and clocked in at a runtime of two hours and nine minutes. Much like the choose rule, this is something those within the sport have been wishing for, and it would not be a surprise to see a healthy amount of these events in the future.

 

As far as the doubleheaders are concerned, it depends on the track, rules package and surface preparation. The weekend at Pocono Raceway was immensely entertaining, while the product on display at Michigan was lackluster at best. We’ll have another shot at seeing if these events are worth replicating in 2021 and beyond with the final pair of races at Dover International International Speedway in two weeks.

 

For now, all focus shifts ahead to the Cup Series’ highly anticipated debut on the Daytona International Speedway road course with four races remaining in the regular season.

 

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