After a wave of pit stops among the leaders at the halfway point, Ryan Newman (who last pitted on Lap 77 as part of an alternate strategy) stayed out on track and is currently leading in the Pure Michigan 400 ahead of Joey Logano, Jamie McMurray, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon.
Several incidents slowed the early stages of the race. On Lap 4, Kyle Busch hit the outside wall coming off of Turn 4 and had to go to the garage for suspension repairs (he would return to the race on Lap 29).
A Lap 20 competition yellow soon followed and brought the leaders to pit road. During that sequence, Earnhardt made contact with an oncoming Kyle Larson on pit road, inflicting notable left-front damage to Larson’s car.
Then off the restart at Lap 25, Danica Patrick appeared to slide up into Jeff Burton before spinning out in front of multiple competitors.
Seven cars in all were involved in the incident, including Patrick, Martin Truex Jr., Justin Allgaier, Trevor Bayne, Michael Annett, Aric Almirola, and Matt Kenseth. Several of them made their own way to the garage, while others got their repairs on pit road.
Before the Patrick incident, Jimmie Johnson and Newman had cycled up to the lead by staying out under the competition caution (Johnson had pitted during the first caution for Busch).
They both pitted again under another caution at Lap 37, this time for debris, and Logano cycled back to the lead. Logano maintained the lead off the restart at Lap 41, but Gordon jumped to second place and later at Lap 56, Gordon and Logano split the lapped car of J.J. Yeley down the frontstretch as they fought for P1.
Logano would win the battle, but just three laps later, Gordon came back and took the point from the Penske pilot. At Lap 61, the green flag cycle began with Logano’s teammate, Brad Keselowski, giving up fifth place on track for service.
On Lap 63, Gordon led Logano, Kevin Harvick and others to the pits. But Logano was able to beat the 24 out and then pulled a sizable gap to Gordon as they came back up to speed.
Those stops handed the lead to Earnhardt, who went in for his stop during the cycle at Lap 68 and gave the lead to Johnson. At that point, Johnson and the rest of the Top 12 were on the same alternate strategy while Logano, Gordon, and Harvick occupied 13th, 14th, and 15th respectively.
But not all was well for Johnson, who had reported earlier that his shifter handle was gone. During his stop at Lap 76, Johnson was handed a set of vise grips and wire cutters during the stops to try and help, but he was still slow to get out of the pits after his crew pushed his car for a time.
Johnson dropped one lap down following the stop. But Gordon had gotten past Logano in the interim, and it was Gordon who re-assumed the lead when Johnson pitted. Harvick also got by Logano for second at Lap 80.
Two laps later, Jeff Burton was spotted in the pits with potential electrical issues on the No. 14 car he’s driving this weekend in place of Tony Stewart. Burton eventually had to roll the stricken car behind the wall, and he later told ESPN that it was starting to smoke.
Gordon was still leading when Larson’s rough afternoon continued when he slammed into the wall between Turn 3 and 4. His No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet caught fire, but Larson was able to climb out and walk toward safety personnel.
NASCAR recently implemented rule changes to keep drivers in their cars under cautions, but in cases of emergency such as fire or smoke in the cockpit, drivers are allowed to get out.
That led to the leaders making pit stops under yellow at the halfway point. A two-tire stop enabled Earnhardt to beat the rest of the frontrunners out, but Newman stayed out to assume the lead. Logano and McMurray had pitted just before Larson’s wreck and cycled to second and third, while Earnhardt and Gordon were set to take the restart in fourth and fifth.