BROOKLYN, Mich – The 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series year at the Michigan International Speedway will be remembered as a season that Team Penske dominated. In the two trips to the Irish Hills this year, the Penske trio of drivers combined to lead 72-percent of the overall laps run. Yes, out of 403 laps turned in race conditions on the 2-mile, D-shaped oval this season, Penske led 292 of them.
In June, they led 170 of the 203 laps with Joey Logano pacing the field for 163 of them in his dominating victory. All three drivers came home in the top 10 that day.
In Sunday’s Consumers Energy 400, they led 122 of 200 laps again. For most of the afternoon, they had all three drivers in the top five or six of the running order. Pole sitter Brad Keselowski led 67 laps. Logano led 52 himself. Ryan Blaney chipped in three laps led out front.
In the final stage, they were all three running in the top four. Then, the caution came out for Ricky Stenhouse Jr. spinning in Turn 4. The sixth and final yellow was the turning point of this race – the one that cost Penske a likely win.
See, the caution was barely outside of the fuel window. Still, everyone came down pit road for gas and new tires in hopes we’d get one more caution. Even if we didn’t get a caution, if you could save a lap or two of fuel, you may be fine.
While most were in fuel save mode, they still made it to the finish. Not the Penske cars. All three had to pit in the end.
First, it was Keselowski who had to pit with 10 to go as his fuel man didn’t get all the fuel initially in his No. 2 Ford. He was 10 laps short of making it so he pit from third at the time. He’d only finish 19th as a result. It was a disappointing ending for the Michigan native.
“Man, I want this one so bad,” Keselowski said. “We got that flat tire early on and we recovered and got up to third there in the late stages and then we just ran out of gas. That is just the way it goes sometimes.”
Then, with three laps-to-go, Logano hit pit road for second. He too was short on fuel and would finish 17th.
“I needed more gas,” Logano said of the decision to pit. “The Shell car isn’t supposed to run out of gas. The positive is we were way better than we were on Friday and Saturday. The negative is that we almost won the race but ended up finishing 17th. You win some you lose some. If the caution comes out, we would have been in good shape but it stayed green, and that is it. That is the gamble. We took the gamble and it didn’t pay off. Pocono, we played it the other way and the caution came out. That is two races and we played it wrong both times.”
Logano’s last six finishes now are – 25th, 7th, 9th, 13th, 23rd and 17th respectively.
Blaney, had to back off while running second to Logano and faded to fifth. Unfortunately, his car ran out of fuel on the last lap and he’d finish 24th.
“I had a really good car,” said Blaney. “Our Mustang was fast, especially later in the race. I just got off pit road too early and we ended up running out of gas. It is easy to second guess those types of decisions after the race, but I didn’t second guess anything at the time. Just the way it shakes out sometimes.”
Blaney also saw a three race top 10 streak come to an end. The good news for him though is that he’s now the top wildcard driver as he’d 101 points ahead of the playoff bubble.
The organization hasn’t won in the last eight races now but the speed on Sunday was there to end that string. They are better than what they’ve showed results wise.