NASCAR – Biffle Takes the Checkered and the Points Lead at MIS – Hendrick Motor Failures Cause Concern

Greg Biffle performs his celebration burnout at MIS after winning the Pure Michigan 400

Ford has not seen the checkered flag at MIS in 7 consecutive races.  In real life terms that means 3 and a half years.  The last time a Ford had been to winners circle was back in 2008, in the Michigan race after Dale Jr. started his winless streak.  Greg Biffle decided that it was time for change.  Running int he top 10 for most of the day the #16 Roush Ford car looked strong.  As the final laps wore down it was beginning to look like another good day for the Chevy crowd.  Then on lap 195 Jimmie Johnson lost his engine in spectacular fashion in a cloud of smoke.  The restart had a Dodge (Kesolowski) , 2 Chevy’s (Dale Jr and Kasey Kahne) and a lone Ford filling the front 2 rows.  All 4 cars had been fast all day, Kahne had recovered from an early spin in the Mark Martin wreck and everyone was itching for the win.  When the checkered flag dropped and the cars roared across the line, the crowd actually fell silent for a moment as they waited for the outcome.  It was the Ford of Biffle that took off into the clean air and no one could catch him.  Biffle may not have led the most laps throughout the day, but he led the one that means the most as he crossed the line taking the checkered flag in the Pure Michigan 400, and ending the drought for Ford in their own back yard.

Biffle credits the jump he got on the restart to Dale Earnhardt Jr who started behind him in row 2 on the final restart that allowed him to earn his 18th career win.

“Junior gave me a huge push for that win,” Biffle said. “I have to thank him for that. I saw Brad laying back [on the restart] like always, and he got a little jump on me.”

“We’re going to make a run at the title,” Biffle promised. “I know they don’t talk about us a lot, but they will when we get to Vegas.”

Brad Kesolowski gave it everything he had but just could not catch the 16, especially since he was in a heated battle for 2nd with a hard charging Kasey Kahne.  Finishing .417 seconds behind the leader Kesolowski was disappointed with his result at his home track.

“This is my home track,” said Keselowski, who has finished second in two consecutive Cup races. “I want to win here just as bad as I want to win a race in the Chase — probably more. There was a stretch where I felt like we were going to win it. I had some goosebumps going on.

“But it wasn’t meant to be, and I’m still very proud of the effort. … I just want to get that one more spot. I want to win races, and we’ve been running solid — and I’m proud of that — but we want that one more spot, too.”

Kasey Kahne, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Marcos Ambrose rounded out the top 5.

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Jimmie Johnson looking concerned after his engine failure in the final laps of the Pure Michigan 400

Hendrick Motorsport engine builders will be doing a lot of head scratching this week as they try to figure out how they lost 4 engines over the weekend.  Two of those engines belonged to Jimmie Johnson in the #48.  Having issues on Saturday they opted to swap their engine out and start from the rear of the field for Sunday’s start.  They looked fast as they moved through the field and were in the top 10 by lap 97.

Then early in the race the #14 Stewart Haas entry driven by Tony Stewart started sounding rough, later to be determined that he lost a cylinder due to a valve spring breaking.  With 4 of the Hendrick engine builders looking at the engine they patched it up and sent him back out for points but he was no longer a contender.

45 laps later it was the #24 car that suffered the same issue ending Jeff Gordon’s chances for a win and continuing the 4 time champion’s streak of bad luck that has been following him around throughout the season.

The last and final straw was right at the end of the race as the #48 lost their second engine of the weekend with only 5 laps to go in the race.  In a cloud of smoke the 48 fell back through the field before pulling behind the wall in a rare DNF for their team.

“[I was] just running along there and, all of a sudden, dropped a cylinder,” Gordon said. “The No. 14 [Stewart] had that same issue. This is a tough place on engines. We rarely have these issues. … When you come to Michigan and you turn these kinds of sustained RPMs on this fast of a track, it’s always of concern here.”

“It’s just a bad day, not the norm, for sure,” said Stewart, who radioed that it felt like his car was running on seven cylinders early in the race. “We have the best engine department in the world, in my opinion. We had three engine tuners down there [in the garage] trying to get it fixed for us. [Sunday's result] wasn’t for lack of effort.”

The failures were also a cause for concern in the 88 camp of Dale Earnhardt Jr.  Crew chief Steve Letarte waited patiently for word on what the cause of the failure was as he watched his driver moving forward through the field.

“Without a doubt [I was worried],” Letarte said. “One doesn’t bother you. That’s part of racing. But when the 24 had their issue, the concern went up.

“I’m disappointed for the motor guys. I know they work tremendously hard. This is one of those places where, as fast as we’re running, it’s just hard on equipment. We’ll get back to the shop, look into them all, and I’m sure we’ll have good direction coming to the Chase.”

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