THREE THINGS WE LEARNED AT MICHIGAN
1. Earnhardt traction
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is gaining much-needed traction as the NASCAR Cup Series goes into the summer stretch run. He finished ninth at Michigan. “We had a little bit better car than ninth, I thought,” he said. “After last week it’s good to get one finished.” Earnhardt needs a win to guarantee a playoff spot.
2. Blaney fumbles
Ryan Blaney scored his first career Cup Series win at Pocono and a week later, oops, a 25th-place finish at Michigan, and he caused a late multicar crash. “I hate that it took a couple cars out," he said. “I got really free for some reason.”
3. Funky question
Joey Logano was asked if his team was “out of the funk” after finishing third at Michigan. “Yeah, I mean, are we out of the funk?” he said, repeating the question to make sure he heard the words correctly. “Yeah, I think so. I'd like to think that, at least.” In other words, funk yeah!
THREE THINGS TO WATCH FOR
1. Under microscope
After an exchange with race fans who booed her at Pocono, followed by another crash at Michigan, this has been a rough patch for Danica Patrick. She was trying to better her position in a scramble after a late restart and wound up in the wall on Sunday. Folks are talking, including Dale Earnhardt Jr. “She’s had a tough year,” he said during his podcast. “She’s under a lot of pressure” and “she’s frustrated.”
2. Pantry empty
It’s difficult not to harp on the subject of the Joe Gibbs Racing program, since it dominated the series just a year ago. After 15 NASCAR Cup Series races in 2016, all JGR drivers had won and the team had combined for seven victories. Now Denny Hamlin gets a smile when he scores a top-five finish. “You keep battling in the top-five and eventually you’ll have your chance,” said Hamlin, chin up, who finished fourth.
3. Playoff points
Folks are starting to pay attention to these playoff points that Martin Truex Jr. is building in the No. 78 Toyota. Truex finished sixth Sunday at Michigan, but led Stages 1 and 2 to score two NASCAR playoff points. His series-leading total is 20, and he carries all those points through the first nine races of the 10-race playoff. Jimmie Johnson is second with 15, followed by Kyle Larson (13) and Brad Keselowski (12).
A few questions we had to ask ourselves
Kyle Larson can win races; can he win a championship?
GODSPEAK: The race wins come first, then you lose a championship, then win one or two or more.
KEN’S CALL: Kyle could, but is the Ganassi team capable of carrying him there? We’ll see.
Best bet for surprise winner at Sonoma this week?
GODSPEAK: AJ Allmendinger’s winning would throw the Cup Series into chaos.
KEN’S CALL: Junior. It would be rather ironic if he figures out a road course on his way out the door.
QUESTIONS & ATTITUDE
Compelling questions... and maybe a few actual answers
Why is Jimmie Johnson’s new contract good for NASCAR?
In the past few years, big announcements with drivers involved retirements. A seven-time champ, still in peak form with his 42nd birthday approaching, signing a brand-new three-year extension is a positive disruption in that wave of exits. There are some question marks hidden under the headlines, however.
Such as …
Lowe’s, the only primary sponsor Jimmie has ever had in the Cup Series, is only on board (for now) through 2018. This sets up the potential for awkwardness next year if a seven-time (maybe eight?) champ is scouring The Wall Street Journal for corporate funding. And then there’s the Chad Knaus question. Crew chiefs generally age like dogs, so can Chad hang in there another three years? Would he want to?
FEUD OF THE WEEK
DANICA PATRICK VS. DANIEL SUAREZ:
Patrick was fighting to better her 15th-place running position, but was bumped off the track after contact with Suarez’s No. 19 Toyota after a late-race restart.
GODWIN KELLY’S TAKE:
Patrick was not happy. “That was an unfortunate way to end what had been a promising weekend,” she said. “I had a good run and went for it and just got hit.”
1. Kyle Larson 640
2. Martin Truex Jr. 635
3. Kyle Busch 510
4. Kevin Harvick 508
5. Chase Elliott 478
6. Brad Keselowski 476
7. Jamie McMurray 450
8. Jimmie Johnson 449
9. Denny Hamlin 430
10. Joey Logano 398
10. Matt Kenseth 398
12. Clint Bowyer 391
13. Ryan Blaney 376
14. Kurt Busch 359
15. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 354
16. Erik Jones 346
17. Ryan Newman 344
18. Trevor Bayne 323
19. Daniel Suarez 313
20. Austin Dillon 297
WHAT'S ON TAP
CUP SERIES: Toyota/Save Mart 350
SITE: Sonoma Raceway (1.99-mile road course)
TV SCHEDULE: Friday, practice (Fox Sports 1, 3 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.). Saturday, qualifying (Fox Sports 1, 2:30 p.m.). Sunday, race (pre-race coverage begins on Fox Sports 1, 1:30 p.m.; green flag, Fox Sports 1, 3:15 p.m.)
XFINITY: American Ethanol E15 250
SITE: Iowa Speedway (.875-mile oval)
TV SCHEDULE: Friday, practice (Fox Sports 1, 2 p.m. and 5 p.m.). Saturday, qualifying (Fox Sports 1, 7 p.m.), race (Fox Sports 1, 8:30 p.m.)
CAMPING WORLD TRUCKS: M&M’s 200
SITE: Iowa Speedway
GODWIN'S PICKS FOR SONOMA
WINNER: AJ Allmendinger
REST OF TOP 5: Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson, Kyle Busch, Clint Bowyer
FIRST ONE OUT: Ty Dillon
DARK HORSE: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
DON’T BE SURPRISED IF: Allmendinger shocks the world and nabs one of the dwindling playoff positions.
TV SCHEDULE: Friday, practice (Fox Sports 1, 10 a.m. and noon), race (Fox Sports 1, 8:30 p.m.)