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Here are the results of the Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips 400 at Michigan International Raceway:
Kasey Kahne didn't get to use Ford's new FR9 engine last week at Pocono, but was jealous of those who did.
He couldn't draft. Other cars would pull away from him on the straightaways. He wasn't as competitive as he wanted to be.
"That showed me we were at a big disadvantage as a driver," Kahne said. "I complained about it some."
This week, Kahne had the FR9 under the hood of his No. 9 Richard Petty Motorsports car. And as he said after his second-place finish, "It felt good to be on a level playing field."
"When I sucked up to Kyle Busch (in practice) on Friday, (I thought), 'Man, we actually have something to work with today," he said. "It was a good feeling."
Kahne was running roughly 10 seconds behind eventual race winner Denny Hamlin when a debris caution was called with 19 laps to go, but Kahne couldn't catch the 11 car on the ensuing restart. Still, it was his best finish since Talladega last October and moved him up two spots to 21st in points.
(As a side note, Kahne said he saw a "big piece of debris" although other drivers like Hamlin and Carl Edwards implied NASCAR called a caution for entertainment value).
Kahne has signed with Hendrick Motorsports to drive for the team in 2012, but his destination for 2011 is still unknown. He isn't focused too much on the unknown, he said, but said he gets restless on occasion.
"When you're having bad weeks and things happening, it gets frustrating," he said. "Yeah, you look ahead: 'Man, I can't wait.' You think about that at times.
"At the same time, I made a commitment to Ray Evernham, George Gillett, Richard Petty. I'm going to stick to it. Whether somebody doesn't like me there or a lot of people...I've worked hard there for six-and-a-half years. I'm going to finish strong there."
Dale Earnhardt Jr. always climbs from his car with his helmet on. The question is what expression he'll have on his face when he removes it.
Lately, it hasn't been too good. He's looked tired or frustrated or disappointed.
Earnhardt Jr.'s smile returned after a seventh-place run at Michigan that moved him up two spots in the point standings to 14th and left him downright joyful.
He even walked up to a reporter, smacked him on the shoulder and said, "YAY!" with fists raised in a brief moment of triumph.
"I feel happy," he said, seeming relieved to finally get his first top-10 since Texas. "I’ve got a buddy that’s having a birthday tomorrow. We’ll drink some beers, have a good time. It’ll be a good day."
For once, Earnhardt Jr. had an uneventful race. Nothing went wrong, and the pit road calls actually worked in the 88 team's favor.
Did Earnhardt Jr. want to pinch himself?
"I did when I saw Denny (Hamlin) go under the white (flag)," he said, laughing. "I said, 'I'll be damned!' You know? That’s the way it’s been."
Another reporter asked Earnhardt Jr. if he felt top-10 finishes would get him into the Chase. Currently, he's 81 points out.
"Absolutely. Yeah. I think so. Maybe," he said, chuckling again. "I mean, that’s all we can hope for. We’re not a team that’s challenging for victories just yet, so top-10s are a direction we need to go."
All around, it was simply solid. After his interview, Earnhardt Jr. walked over to crew chief Lance McGrew and extended his hand.
"Thanks," Earnhardt Jr. told McGrew. "You kept up with the track, man."
McGrew started to tell Earnhardt Jr. that "those damn green-flag-to-caution stops" were a difficult, but Earnhardt Jr. cut him off.
In the driver's mind, it was all positive.
"I’m sure, yeah," he told McGrew. "It was good off the trailer, man. Good job."
For his part, McGrew said "it was nice to stop the bleeding a little bit" of the recent slump. The past two weeks, the team has had much better cars.
And this one went smoothly, with no issues. That's been rare for the 88 team, as Earnhardt's Junior Nation knows well.
"That’s how it’s supposed to be!" McGrew said. "That’s how the days are supposed to go. I don’t know why we attract controversy, if we have that kind of stuff happen to us: We’ll get a flat tire or an untimely caution that changes a bunch of stuff up on us. I think this is how it’s supposed to be."
On Sunday, Earnhardt Jr. and McGrew had reasons to smile. And Earnhardt Jr. said his fans may have, too.
"Hopefully they enjoyed it," he said. "Today was a good run and hope I can bring more to ‘em."
Denny Hamlin has won his career-high fifth race of the season – and second in a row – by taking the Heluva Good! 400 at Michigan.
If you missed anything, here's the live chat to follow everyone's reactions as the race unfolded.
Among the topics: Adam Sandler/ Kevin James' "Start Your Engines" command, the possibility of fuel mileage and, of course, the winner.
Don't forget to make sure your "auto-refresh" box is checked so you can see any new updates as they come across.
Landon Cassill makes his Sprint Cup debut today, and he won't be alone when he does.
Cassill's father Roger will spot for his 20-year-old son, allowing him to share in a special day.
The Cassills started in go-karts, working on them side-by-side, and progressed through the Late Model ranks.
Roger Cassill spotted for his son then, just like he'll do at Michigan. Except this time, it's at the highest level of motorsports.
"It'll give me chills," the elder Cassill said, grinning. "When I looked out on the track (during practice) and saw Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart and those guys going around, and when (Landon) went out there, I'll admit I had a little flash of, 'Oh my. He's on the same track as these guys. That's awesome.'"
Landon Cassill, driving for Phoenix Racing, won't be able to do the whole race today due to a lack of funding. He'll have to park the car about 1/4 way through the race.
But the driver hopes to use his laps in Cup to gain experience at the highest level. And his father will be there to see the whole thing.
"I'm humbled by it, actually," Roger Cassill said.
As the two-year anniversary of Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s last Sprint Cup victory arrives this weekend, NASCAR's most popular driver says he's "starving" for a win.
Earnhardt Jr. won a fuel mileage race at Michigan two years ago, which stands as his lone points victory for Hendrick Motorsports.
This season started with much promise, but Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 88 team have hit a recent slide, with no top-10 finishes since Texas in April.
But despite being 16th in points, Earnhardt Jr. insisted Friday he's confident in his team and feels as though everyone is going in the right direction.
Said Earnhardt Jr.: "With everything I've been through since I've won my last race, I can honestly tell you with no bullshit that this weekend, I'll get in the car Sunday and I firmly believe in what Lance is going to do, what the team is going to do, the information that he's getting from his engineers, what he's hearing from the other three teammates. I firmly am behind that and trust in our effort. I know with myself personally, if I feel like I see a weakness in the team, it bugs the shit out of me. And I don't see a weakness there."
So what's the problem? Well, at Pocono last week, Earnhardt Jr. had about a 10th-place car all day and the team was once again bitten by pit strategy.
The cautions didn't fall right, and for what seems like the fourth or fifth time already this season, a potentially solid finish was thwarted by a decision that looks bad in hindsight.
"You make the right call or the wrong call and you don't know at the time which one you're making til the race is over," Earnhardt Jr. said. "Hindsight, you look back and go, 'Well, we should have done something different.' But at the time, you feel like you're making the call that you need to make.
"A lot of times, it's probably not quite as obvious as this side of the fence what the right call is as it might be for you guys or the fans across the fence that are watching the races. It's a different point of view, I'm sure, for everybody."
Earnhardt Jr. said he was "not upset" about the results of pit calls because unless he has perfect performance as a driver, he's unable to point fingers.
A good attitude, he said, is as important to fixing the No. 88 team as anything.
"A lot of it's your attitude when you get in the car – which I'm not the best at," Earnhardt Jr. said, "but we're trying."
On Friday, Earnhardt Jr. spent the early part of practice in race setup and was very pleased with the balance of his car. It turned out to actually be better than qualifying trim, he said, which helps explain why he practiced 13th but qualified 27th.
Making changes, he said, was "almost effortless."
Perhaps a good run could be in store for the anniversary of Earnhardt Jr.'s last win, even though he said he "didn't even think about it" until the media brought it up.
"It's a long time, but what are you going to do?" he said. "I'll be around for a long enough time hopefully to get a few more wins. We're starving for one and working hard to get there."
Earlier Friday, Mark Martin reiterated his belief that Earnhardt Jr. is driving harder than anyone in the Sprint Cup Series.
Those words "mean the world to me," Earnhardt Jr. said, "because I do believe in my heart that I work every corner for what it's worth. It's really difficult to see that from 1000 yards away how much somebody's working.
"I really do work really hard out there. I drove last week as hard as I could every lap, because I knew we were really close on the car and I felt like if I gave ourselves as much opportunity as I could and we got fortunate on an adjustment on pit road and helped the car some, we could have a top-five finish."
Selected comments from Kevin Harvick on the fallout from the Pocono incident with Joey Logano:
Being brought into the sport when I was 23, I said a lot of things where you look back and you go, 'I probably shouldn't have said that.' (Logano's comments were) right on the edge of making it personal, and personal...I don't think he really wants to get into that. That'd be a lot worse for him than just handling it man-to-man and doing it the right way.
Let me break all this down for you.
We had the issues (in the Nationwide race) at Bristol. We raced for 40 laps, chop, chop, chop, chop. That one ended up the way it ended up (Harvick wrecked Logano).
Dad (Tom Logano) has physical contact with one of my PR people (after Bristol). We go to Nashville and I tell him, ‘Alright, Joey, best thing you can do is get your dad under control.' And he turned around, laughed at me, and said ‘Do you really think that was a big deal?' Obviously, now, it's a pretty big deal.
So at that particular point, I said obviously he really doesn't want to take any advice and doesn't want to talk about things any further than what he thinks is right.
We go to Phoenix (for Cup), he crashes into the back of me and tries to spin me out down the straightaway. I blow it off.
Richmond (Nationwide), last restart, dumps me out of the way, lose four or five spots. So at that point, I get out of the car, tell him how I feel. We go to Pocono, race hard, things just happen. That's how you gotta race him from my standpoint.
I tried to break the ice at Nashville at driver intros, and he pretty much turned around and told me his dad having a problem with my PR person was not a big deal and he pretty much laughed in my face. And so at this point, it's up to him.
I'd love to work it out. I feel like I can go to pretty much anybody in the garage and work something out. It's just at that particular stage where it's up to him as to what he wants it to go into and how he wants to play the game. I'm fine with the game; been on both sides of it.
Racing hard is one thing, but chopping and blocking and not giving somebody a lane to race is different. Joey Logano's a good race car driver. He deserves to be here. He's going to have a long career at this level. The hardest part to figure about this sport is how the politics work, how the on-track stuff works and how to handle yourself as a race car driver and unfortunately, he's 20.
There's a big step that has to be taken: Obviously, shedding the dad. That was the biggest issue last week. After the race, same thing: Dad's up in the motorhome driver's face, chanting and hollering. Those things don't need to happen. At this particular point, he's responsible for his own career. He can either fix it and go about things the right way, and in my opinion, he gets bad advice on how he needs to race.
He's getting pushed, and it's very evident who's pushing him the most, and that's his dad. His dad shoved him into a pile like a dog chasing after a bone last week to go over there and want to fight. The good thing about it is, my guys did a great job in handling it. That could have escalated into something that didn't really need to be.
His father has no place in this. His father needs to step back and act like the rest of the dads and be happy that his kid is here. This isn't Little League baseball anymore. He just needs to stay away and act like a 50-year-old man or however old he is.
(On Mark Martin's comments that Harvick should be worried about retaliation): You gotta figure Mark Martin, him and the Loganos are buddies. He's on whoever's side is most convenient this week.
(On whether he's worried about Logano retaliating): He's had two chances and you guys didn't even notice. However he wants to play it, I'm fine with it. These things are a lot easier to work out in the motorhome lot or on the phone. I tried to break the ice once and help him with his dad, and he laughed at me. Now look where he's at.
I caused a lot of trouble in the beginning of my career, but I still have an understanding for all the things I did wrong, and I still do a lot of things wrong. It's not like I'm the angel sitting up here. I think we all know that.
I don't think causing a ruckus on pit road last week is going to define him not taking any more crap. You do things right on the racetrack and I think you earn that respect from your competitors.
All day Friday at Michigan, drivers were asked about their view of the Joey Logano/Kevin Harvick incident from last week.
Here's some selected comments (will be updated throughout the afternoon):
Mark Martin, a friend of Logano: "(Joey is) a firm, hard competitor that races fair with great intensity. It is unfortunate that he has had multiple run-ins with a couple of different drivers. I'm not sure exactly why that has happened. But, as far as after the race goes, I was surprised to see his ferocity.
"I loved seeing Tom Logano's reaction and I'm a dad. And anybody who would criticize that, a lot of them aren't dads. I have a son that competed, not only in racing, but in hockey too. Heck, I stood up one day, yelled at him, hit him with his stick when he was playing hockey and a kid's dad was standing to me and I didn't care. So, I'm a dad and I am a Tom Logano fan as well.
"Eventually he will earn everyone's respect. He has earned my respect by racing hard and causing very little problem. Don't forget, most of the guys that come in here and are new at it and race really hard cause a lot of problems. Accidently; they don't mean to. But they do. And Joey is not.
"If I was Kevin Harvick and I didn't know Joey Logano, I would say (I'd think Logano would try for payback). I think Joey Logano still has enough integrity to continue to try to make that right and make that work without doing it. But I might be wrong. I'm not Joey. But if I'm Harvick, yeah, I'm going to figure out I've got one coming."
Kyle Busch, a teammate of Logano: "Joey, I felt like, had the right position on the racetrack. ... I'm going to stick up for Joey and say, ‘Yeah, you have to turn into the corner.' Harvick went straight. He was trying to stay on the patch and he's the bottom lane car. You've seen all day that the bottom lane car shoots to the bottom of the race track. Harvick did hold his line, but Harvick dumped him doing so.
"I don't think any of the Joe Gibbs Racing drivers (are dirty). I don't try to race dirty. I might race hard and might be difficult for some people, but I'm not out there to wreck anybody on purpose. I try to give the lane, if someone has the lane then I give it to him and try to make sure that I don't make any enemies. I know about that, I know about the big picture and I don't need enemies going on forward. To me, you just have to make sure that you pick and choose your battles when you want to and that you don't make too many of them.
"I don't think what he did shows anything. I think what will show is if he retaliates, that's what's going to show. Driving up to somebody on pit road and running your mouth to him isn't a whole lot, that's not that difficult to do. Everybody's got an opinion and everybody can let one out. I think Joey is a smarter race car driver than that and he's not going to stoop to that level. Time will tell."
Greg Biffle, who has had incidents with Logano: "It does seem like (Logano) is the common denominator in the deal. I would have to gather that it might be some of his doing, if I had to guess.
"I watched the Nationwide race (at Bristol) and I watched him chop off Kevin Harvick for 15 laps. Kevin had his nose in there two or three times and Joey chopped it to the bottom. I knew that was only going to go on for so long. I could have written him a letter and put it in the mail and sent it to him to let him know: He was going to have a problem eventually.
"On the last lap, he had a problem and doesn't understand why. If you don't understand why you have a problem, then you have a serious problem. If you understand that you probably should have given some racing room, then you lick your wounds and go onto the next week.
"I didn't see last week. I saw Kevin not give him any room getting into that corner there, but I am willing to bet if you watch the laps before that, Kevin was quite a bit faster than the 20 and may have been beside him a couple times. At Kansas I had the same issue. I had a run on the bottom of whoever it was and had a car that was competing with the No. 18. He dropped it down there and door slammed me and I finished ninth. He felt like there was nothing wrong with that.
"Joey is a great race car driver. He has a lot of speed and a lot of talent. We have all been in those situations. He will come around."
Denny Hamlin, a teammate of Logano: "My only thing is that I wish he would say what he wants to say. It doesn't matter. I think he should be able to say anything he wants. If it's his opinion then that's his opinion and everyone's entitled to one. If you feel like you're wrong, you don't want to just go out there and wreck the guy, instead just take a gash out of him in the media and that's all he did.
"I think if they sat down, not necessarily face-to-face, but maybe just sat on the phone and talked and said, ‘I feel like you raced me hard every time I'm around you, what do I have to do different?' Then the person will respond and you'll get an understanding at the end of what each other's thinking. I've had things happen with Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. and Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, people don't see it and behind closed doors I will talk to them and say, ‘Hey man, why do I feel like you race me harder than you race everyone else?' They give an explanation and the next thing you know, its clear sailing from there. I think that is the most effective way. Otherwise, if you don't talk, you still have animosity toward the person."
"I have no idea whether Harvick and Joey talked to each other after Bristol, but Harvick pretty much flat out took him out at Bristol just to show him something. I don't know what. Whether they came to an understanding or not I'm not sure.
"But I know coming down to the last few laps at Pocono when you're racing a guy that you don't agree with, you're not going to give an inch and that's what caused that wreck, is neither one of them wanted to give an inch because if you let the guy go by you're showing that he's right. That's just the way we think."
Joey Logano made no apologies or retractions in his first comments Friday on the Pocono incident with Kevin Harvick.
"I don't take nothing back," Logano said calmly. "I'm a man of my word. I said what I had to, and that's it."
Harvick and Logano made contact going for the same line late in the Pocono race, and Logano angrily tried to confront the older driver afterward.
Later, in comments to reporters, he suggested Harvick was simply doing what wife DeLana, who "wears the firesuit in the family," ordered him to do.
But Logano stood by those words, saying, "I was mad."
"I felt like I had a top-five finish going and when something gets taken away from you like that, it wipes the smile off your face," Logano said. "I just wanted to express to him how I felt about it.
"(It was) heat of the moment and a lot of things are going on, and that's the emotions that came out of me."
Logano was asked a couple of times about his father, Tom, who burst into the scene and ordered his son to wade into a mob of Harvick's crewmen to stand up for himself.
Some fans and observers criticized the elder Logano for fighting his son's battles, but the driver said he was comfortable with the situation.
Logano said he knew he "surprised a lot of people" by displaying his emotions, but said repeated incidents with Harvick led him to decide "enough's enough."
"After two or three (incidents), you've kind of had enough of that," Logano said.
Asked about Harvick's comments that he couldn't talk to Logano because of the younger driver's age, Logano scoffed.
"Well, I am young," Logano said, "but I've been racing a long time. It's harder for me to talk to him than it is for him to talk to me. I was trying to, but no one (on Harvick's crew) would let me get to him. I was the one trying to talk to him."
Logano said he had no idea why Harvick had a beef with him in the first place, and said he'd been asking himself that question all week.
When it's the final laps of the race, Logano said, "Why would you roll over and die? You've got to have that fire in your eye."
"When it comes down to the end of the race, you should be able to race," he said. "That's what this is. This is NASCAR. This is racing."
And of the T-shirts that DeLana Harvick began selling that say "I wear the firesuit in this family," Logano said he saw the humor.
"It's kind of agreeing with what I said, so I think it's kind of funny," he said.
Logano said several times he wanted to put Pocono behind him so he could focus on making the Chase, but when asked if it was over between he and Harvick, Logano was non-committal.
"You never know," he said. "I'm not going to say it is, I'm not going to say it's not."
The Irish Hills of Michigan are always green at this time of year, thanks to rain, rain and more rain.
Hopefully, Mother Nature breaks a recent trend and allows NASCAR to see the green flag instead of just green hills, although the weather forecast for Sunday is iffy.
In the meantime, follow along here with live updates, analysis and a race-day chat where you can compare notes on the race with other fans.
The schedule for this weekend (all times Eastern):
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