The NASCAR Cup Series returned to the track this weekend in the Irish Hills of Michigan. Michigan International Speedway played host to the FireKeepers Casino 400. With two races to go in the regular season and only two spots still up for grabs in the NASCAR Playoffs entering the day, some drivers had to make things happen to earn points or get an outright win. A wild 200 laps ensued, with Ryan Blaney ultimately continuing the dominant run for Ford at their hometown track with his second win of the 2021 NASCAR season.
NASCAR Cup Series Recap | Ryan Blaney Wins at Michigan
FireKeepers Casino 400 Stage 1
Pole-sitter Kyle Larson led the field to the green flag and the race was underway. Martin Truex Jr. was hit by teammate Kyle Busch early on and had some damage that dropped him from fifth to the 30s. The competition caution came at Lap 20 since there still is no practice or qualifying. Denny Hamlin took only fuel on the ensuing pitstops to get out to the lead. That didn’t last long as Chase Elliott took it away from him.
Shortly after, Joey Gase had a right-front tire go down and made hard contact with the wall to bring out the second caution of the day. Austin Dillon, needing stage points, flew to battle with Elliott for the lead off of the restart. It wasn’t enough, though, as Elliott took Stage One.
FireKeepers Casino 400 Stage 2
Kyle Larson restarted the race and Stage Two was underway. Kurt Busch would be moved by Matt DiBenedetto as drivers jockeyed for position and fell all the way back to 20th as a result. Chase Elliott eventually passed his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Larson, for the lead. The two would then get away from the field by drafting with each other. Kyle Busch played the strategy game by taking just two tires and assumed the lead after green-flag stops cycled through. He would go on to win Stage Two, but there was more drama after the green and white checkered flew.
Austin Dillon made a good move to pass Brad Keselowski for sixth in the stage, but when he tried to come back up from the apron, the track wasn’t clear. Keselowski’s car made contact with the right rear quarter panel of the No. 3 and sent Dillon spinning. He smashed hard into the wall and almost went airborne. As a result, a promising day for the playoff-chasing Dillon was ended on the spot.
FireKeepers Casino 400 Stage 3
Kyle Larson once again assumed the lead during the stage break and led the field back to the green flag. Larson and William Byron drafted together to get out away from the field. That was until Byron hit pit road to start green flag stops. Larson ran out of fuel while leading and had to pit, surrendering the lead to Denny Hamlin. Byron’s strategy paid off as he got past the No. 5 car after stops to take over the lead.
With 20 laps to go, a caution came out for rain. NASCAR never brought the cars in, however, and they were back to green just five laps later. The field didn’t make it a full lap before we had simultaneous spins involving Ryan Newman, Josh Berry, Christopher Bell and Joey Logano to bring out another yellow.
Byron and Ryan Blaney were on the front row for the ensuing restart. The No. 12 got a huge push from Kyle Busch on the inside. Combined with Hamlin shoving Byron into Turn One, Blaney had enough room to clear for the point despite not having the preferred line. Tyler Reddick cut down a tire and spun, but the race stayed green. In the end, Ryan Blaney just held off a charging Byron and Larson to get his second win of the season. It marked the closest NASCAR Cup Series margin of victory at Michigan International Speedway since electronic scoring began being used.
Final FireKeepers Casino 400 Thoughts
Hey NASCAR, GET THIS PACKAGE OFF OF MICHIGAN! Please do not bring back the low horsepower and high downforce package here. It is super hard to pass and makes the racing worse. Hopefully, with the Next Gen cars coming next year, we will have better racing. As for the setup for next week, the fans should be in for a good race at Daytona International Speedway to see who claims the final spot in the playoffs.