By Jared Turner
1. JJ, Hendrick Remain In A Funk
Just when it seemed like Hendrick Motorsports’ recent slump and the struggles of Jimmie Johnson, in particular, couldn’t get any worse, think again. In Sunday’s race at Michigan, Johnson suffered a tire failure, overshot his pit stall and spun out – all separate incidents. The end result: A 39th-place finish and a failure by Johnson to finish in the top five for the eighth time in nine races. Of course, Johnson’s woes are just a microcosm of the issues that are ailing Hendrick as a whole. Since Johnson triumphed at Dover on May 31, Hendrick has won just once – and that was at a restrictor-plate track. Sunday was one of the most disappointing outings yet for Hendrick, as Dale Earnhardt Jr., in 10th, was the organization’s highest finisher.
2. Joe Gibbs Racing Seems Unstoppable
What else can be said that hasn’t already been said about the stellar performance of the entire Joe Gibbs Racing organization over the past couple months? After stumbling out of the gate in 2015 and leaving many folks wondering if JGR would ever regain its old frontrunning mojo, the organization has taken the Sprint Cup Series by storm in recent times, with its latest success coming in Sunday’s race at Michigan where JGR driver Matt Kenseth scored a dominant win and was joined in the top 11 by the company’s other three drivers. In case you’re keeping score at home, a JGR driver has now won six of the past eight races. As hot streaks go, they don’t come much more impressive.
3. The Chase Picture Is A Bit Less Clear
Coming into Michigan, Clint Bowyer – the last driver in position to make the 2015 Chase for the Sprint Cup – had a rather comfortable 50-point cushion over his closest pursuer, Aric Almirola. But after a wreck and 41st-place finish in Sunday’s race, the gap separating the last driver in the Chase from the first driver out no longer appears so insurmountable. With three races left before the 16-driver championship field is locked in, Bowyer still clings to the final spot but is now just 23 points ahead of Almirola. Kasey Kahne, who likewise made up ground to Bowyer at Michigan, is a mere three points in arrears of Almirola. The bottom line? Hold on tight; there’s at least one Chase spot that remains far from settled.
4. Matt Kenseth Is Looking Like A Title Contender
Remember last season when Matt Kenseth surprisingly failed to find Victory Lane? Well, all that seems like a distant memory now that the Joe Gibbs Racing driver has scored three wins in 2015 and gone to Victory Lane in two of the past three outings. Kenseth’s triumph on Sunday at Michigan was his most impressive in quite some time, as he started from the pole and basically dominated from flag-to-flag in his No. 20 Toyota. What does all this mean? Well, perhaps it’s time that Kenseth – who captured his first and only Sprint Cup title back in 2003 while competing for Roush Fenway Racing – to be regarded as one of the few drivers with a real chance to become the 2015 champ.
5. The High-Drag Aero Package Really Is A Drag
The Pure Michigan 400 was the Sprint Cup Series’ second and only scheduled outing with the new high-drag aero package used previously in the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Much as was the case at Indy, where a lackluster race led to widespread criticism of the package from multiple drivers, Sunday’s 200-lap affair in the Irish Hills wasn’t much more riveting. While the lead changed hands 16 times among eight drivers, one driver – Matt Kenseth – led a whopping 146 of 200 laps and basically dominated from start to finish. If there’s any good news to come from all of this, it’s that NASCAR announced in Michigan that it will use its original 2015 rules package in every Chase race besides Talladega.