Michigan Update: Kasey Kahne crashes out of the lead

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Leading by 3.6 seconds, Kasey Kahne has slammed into the Turn 2 wall, bringing out the yellow at Lap 104 of today’s Sprint Cup race at Michigan International Speedway and triggering a wave of pit stops under caution.

The race off pit road was won by Dale Earnhardt Jr., followed by Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle, Joey Logano and Carl Edwards.

Kahne had taken the lead from Earnhardt on Lap 90 and was pulling away until his accident. He had started third on the most recent Lap 81 restart, which was led by Earnhardt and another HMS teammate, Jimmie Johnson. Both cars appeared to have wheel spin on the restart, but while Earnhardt recovered, Johnson fell back after being hit in the rear by Martin Truex Jr. as the field stacked up behind them.

“Hope you’re happy NASCAR, I did what you’d wanted me to do. And I got wrecked,” Johnson said afterwards over his radio according to TNT – presumably, a reference to NASCAR’s restart penalty against him two weeks ago at Dover International Speedway.

Johnson had clawed his way back to third place as of Lap 100 of 200, showing a stout pace himself. The Sprint Cup championship leader, who has never won at Michigan, had held the lead from Lap 64 to a debris yellow at Lap 76. He then lost the race off pit road to teammate Earnhardt one lap later.

Matt Kenseth and Kevin Harvick were having solid days, crossing halfway in fourth and fifth respectively.

Earlier, Kurt Busch quickly took the lead from pole sitter Carl Edwards after the green flag dropped, and led the opening 21 laps of the race. But on Lap 29, he lost control of a loose car while running fourth and hit the wall in Turn 2. He has now fallen multiple laps down as a result.

The first yellow of the day came out at Lap 7, when Bobby Labonte got loose in Turn 2 and collected Jeff Gordon before they both went into the wall. A competition caution also came out on Lap 20.

Cooper solidifies PWC GT presence with Callaway Corvette

Callaway, Cooper, Gill. Photo: PWC
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Pirelli World Challenge could use a “face” of the series from a driving standpoint, and American Michael Cooper is a good candidate to fill that role for 2018.

Cooper, 27, has won PWC Touring Car, GTS and, most recently the SprintX GT titles within the series and has quickly blossomed into one of the series’ top GT stars.

It’s been a rapid rise for the Syosset, N.Y. native, entering into a world filled with series stars and champions such as Johnny O’Connell, Patrick Long, Alvaro Parente and a host of others.

But under O’Connell’s tutelage, Cooper admirably filled the rather gaping shoes vacated by Andy Pilgrim at Cadillac Racing, steering the Cadillac ATS-V.R to multiple race wins in the last two years – including a sweep of this year’s season finale weekend at Sonoma.

Cooper and Jordan Taylor were the model of consistency in SprintX this year, winning once at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and surviving contact at Circuit of The Americas to take that title.

With Cadillac withdrawing its ATS-V.R program at the end of the year though, Cooper was left a free agent for 2018. Fortunately with one door closed another opened, in the form of the GM-blessed but full Callaway Competition USA effort with its Callaway Corvette C7 GT3-R that will come Stateside next year. Cooper and Daniel Keilwitz will be in the team’s two cars for the full season; the car was fully unveiled last week at the PRI Show in Indianapolis.

The Callaway is a proven commodity in Europe but couldn’t run in the U.S. unless the path was cleared by one of GM’s factory programs to end a direct, potential head-to-head competition.

Moving from the Cadillac to the Callaway Corvette should be a natural transition, Cooper said last week.

“It worked out incredibly well that GM decided to allow Calloway to run the car in the United States and it created an opportunity for me that wouldn’t have been there otherwise,” he told NBC Sports. “I talked to a lot of other GT teams and at the end of the day, I felt like this was the best direction for me to be competitive next year and to also continue furthering my career with General Motors.”

Indeed Cooper has graduated from the Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.R in GTS to the Cadillac and now to the Callaway Corvette. Cooper hailed the Cadillac team for what they did for his career growth.

“Working with Cadillac Racing has been instrumental in developing my abilities both on and off the track,” he said. “So I’m definitely a much more well-rounded driver now and have a lot of experience in the World Challenge GT field, so I kind of know what to expect going into that first race and going into that first corner in St. Pete.”

As noted, the car’s success in Europe means it’s a well-oiled machine by the time Reeves Callaway has worked with PWC to bring it Stateside next year. And as Cooper explained, discussions had been underway for a bit of time to ensure his presence in this car and team.

“I think the car is going to be extremely capable. It’s already won championships and races in Europe. I think, in bringing it over here, we’re going to hit the ground running straight away,” he said.

“Calloway had wanted me to come drive for them in July or August. We always kept in touch since then, and there was a lot of work trying to put together a program before they decided that they were going to do a fully fledged factory program. So once they made that decision, I think the pieces were kind of in place already, and the conversations had been had to be able to say ‘You’re going to be our guy.’”

December is late for IMSA programs to get finalized, but it’s relatively early for PWC, with the season not starting until mid-March in St. Petersburg. An extensive testing program should follow, as Callaway establishes its U.S. base and infrastructure.

“It’s definitely early for a Pirelli World Challenge program to be announced in December when we start racing in March. So that’s very good,” he said. “But, the team has a lot of work ahead of them in terms of getting infrastructure set up here in the United States, because a lot of their racing program has been in Europe. So, there will be a testing program, but they have to get the infrastructure in place first. But, we’ll be well prepared for St. Pete, I’m certain of it.

“Last year was the first year when I could sit back, kick my feet up, and know what I was doing next year. So, to be able to have everything done and be able to announce it this early on makes my life less stressful and now I can just focus on preparing myself and my team for next year.”