Pure Michigan 400

Joey Logano bolsters bid for Chase with Michigan win

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Joey Logano has put himself into the fight for a Wild Card spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, winning the Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway from the pole position.

The victory, Logano’s first of the season, has moved him to 13th in the standings and more importantly, just seven points behind Martin Truex Jr. in 12th for the second Wild Card transfer spot.

“I couldn’t ask for anything more,” Logano said on ESPN in Victory Lane. “We needed this for our Chase hopes. We’re not out of it yet. We’ve got another great racetrack [Bristol Motor Speedway] after this coming up for us.

Logano inherited the lead with three laps to go after Mark Martin ran out of gas in an ultimately futile attempt to stretch his final fuel load. Both Martin and Brad Keselowski were on the same strategy, but after a caution came out on Lap 172 for Kyle Busch’s second spin of the day, Keselowski went to the pits for a splash while Martin stayed out.

Knowing he needed a yellow to have any chance, Martin raced out the final run to the checkered flag until his No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota went bone dry. With him out of the picture, it was left to Logano and Harvick to settle the matter.

“I knew [Martin] was two laps short, but I really wanted to get by him just in case,” Logano said. “…I had the 29 [Harvick] behind me and he was about the same speed as me. But just getting that clean air meant so much.”

Martin still praised his MWR compatriots for trying to make their strategy work.

“We knew we needed another caution to make it, but we had the speed to pull it off,” said Martin. “That felt like the old days. Kudos to [crew chief] Rodney Childers and everybody that works on that [car].

“They went for it, rolled the dice, and it’s not crazy to expect cautions at the end of one of these NASCAR races.”

Finishing behind Logano and Harvick in third was Kurt Busch, who was able to break into the Top 10 of the standings thanks to that result.

“I was all fired up when we were running 14th [in the race] – Truex was ahead us, Keselowski was ahead of us, [Greg] Biffle was ahead of us, [Kasey] Kahne was ahead of us – you can’t run 14th and gain on guys,” said Busch. “And I had a restart where the seas parted when I went to the high side, so I got a lot of positions on that restart. We just need to keep plugging away.”

Paul Menard secured his first Top-5 finish of 2013 with a fourth place finish ahead of Clint Bowyer, who overcame a first-lap spin to come home fifth.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Ryan Hunter-Reay

Ryan Hunter-Reay
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MotorSportsTalk continues its look through the Verizon IndyCar Series field. Finishing sixth in 2015 after a late rally was Ryan Hunter-Reay, the 2012 series champion and 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner.

Ryan Hunter-Reay, No. 28 Andretti Autosport Honda

  • 2014: 6th Place, 3 Wins, 1 Pole, 6 Podiums, 6 Top-5, 9 Top-10, 195 Laps Led, 10.2 Avg. Start, 10.9 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 6th Place, 2 Wins, Best Start 3rd, 3 Podiums, 4 Top-5, 7 Top-10, 71 Laps Led, 12.2 Avg. Start, 10.4 Avg. Finish

The old adage “it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish” would probably be the best way to sum up Ryan Hunter-Reay’s 2015 season, which until the final quarter of season could best be described as a forgettable nightmare.

The first three races seemed somewhat OK, with eighth, seventh and fourth place grid spots. But none of the three produced a result of note; Hunter-Reay was also caught up in the three-car, late race accident at NOLA Motorsports Park and didn’t bank any good finish until a fifth place at Barber the end of April.

A tailspin followed. Hunter-Reay started between 14th and 21st every race between the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and Milwaukee – a stretch of eight races – and only had one top-10 finish in that stint, eighth at the rain-affected lottery that was Detroit race two. Some seasons are just ones you want to end and by Milwaukee it was obvious that Hunter-Reay was racing just to get to the end of the year, without things getting any worse.

Things finally came good with a typically good drive at Iowa and arguably one of the drives of his career, two races later at Pocono, to end with two wins and extend his streak of winning a race in each of his six seasons at Andretti Autosport. It was no coincidence, either, that Hunter-Reay’s uptick in form came with the return of the late Justin Wilson’s presence in a fourth car.

After Pocono, Hunter-Reay also drove well to finish second at Sonoma, and by that point he’d completed an incredible late-season turnaround to jump from 14th to sixth in points. But if asked, he’d probably admit this was his toughest season yet at Andretti and arguably his toughest overall since his 2009 season, when he was in-between full-time rides and saw out the year with Vision Racing and A.J. Foyt Enterprises.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Helio Castroneves

Helio Castroneves
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MotorSportsTalk continues its look through the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series field with fifth-placed Helio Castroneves.

Helio Castroneves, No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet

  • 2014: 2nd Place, 1 Win, 3 Poles, 6 Podiums, 7 Top-5, 10 Top-10, 282 Laps Led, 5.7 Avg. Start, 9.3 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 5th Place, Best Finish 2nd, 4 Poles, 5 Podiums, 6 Top-5, 9 Top-10, 198 Laps Led, 4.9 Avg. Start, 9.3 Avg. Finish

Much as you’d write about his fellow countryman and longtime friend and rival Tony Kanaan, age hasn’t slowed Helio Castroneves, but it’s instead fueled continued success. And while Castroneves went winless for only the second time (2011) in his illustrious 16-year career with Team Penske, he wasn’t down on performance.

Now 40, Castroneves continued to have several shining moments in 2015, which was particularly important to do to stand out against defending champion Will Power, this year’s primary title contender Juan Pablo Montoya and new driver Simon Pagenaud.

Castroneves scored four pole positions and boasted a 4.9 averaging starting position, second in the field to Power, which was very impressive to note. His run of form from Texas through Milwaukee, capturing three podiums in four races, was his best race stretch this season. Additional highlights included back-to-back runner-up results in the NOLA lottery and then on pure pace at Long Beach.

The month of May must though be viewed as a disappointment. Castroneves played a role in the first corner mess at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and got a points penalty (although the number was dropped) as a result. Then he endured another Indianapolis 500 where he was not the out-and-out fastest car in the Penske brigade. While Montoya and Power were dueling for the win and Pagenaud had speed to burn all month, Castroneves’ lone moment of note came with his accident in practice, which mercifully he emerged unscathed from.

As ever though, fifth in this field owed to his consistency and dogged determination to succeed. Castroneves has ended top-five in seven of the last eight seasons since the IRL/Champ Car merger in 2008 and if it wasn’t for Dixon’s top-three run hogging the headlines, we’d probably appreciate Castroneves even more so. As long as he’s continually competitive, he’s still worthy at Team Penske.