The biggest moment of the weekend came in the Pure Michigan 400 on Sunday. Sitting on the outside of the Chase picture and knowing it was a clear sense of desperation mode, Kyle Larson helped his boss, Chip Ganassi, break a 99-race winless streak by taking the checkered flag ahead of Chase Elliott and elevating himself firmly into the championship playoff.
Larson looked like he’d finish runner-up as Elliott led from lap 169, but a caution for debris from Michael Annett’s car gave the driver of the No. 42 Target Chevrolet the break he needed. Larson got the jump ahead of Elliott on the race’s final restart with 10 laps left and pulled away for his first career win.
While Larson’s victory cut the remaining eligible spots for the non-winners down to three with two weekends left, there’s a small sliver of hope remaining for Ryan Newman, who was bumped off the 16th position.
Two pieces of good news are in play. While Newman finished 17th at Michigan, he trails new bubble driver Jamie McMurray by only 15 points. It’s not an insurmountable margin, but will need to be made up in noticeable chunks.
However, there’s the matter of Chris Buescher’s efforts for Newman’s team to consider. Buescher is still in the Chase, but lost a decent chunk of his cushion on David Ragan after finishing 35th at Michigan. His margin is just seven points heading to Throwback Weekend at Darlington next week.
Of course, it all changes again if someone like Elliott, Austin Dillon or McMurray can find their way to Victory Lane. Or maybe someone else like Kasey Kahne or Ryan Blaney will have their breakthrough. With all the retro paint schemes to look forward to, it’s all the more reason to tune in.
The other series had their own bits of craziness provided by two drivers who aren’t Chase eligible, but knew how to bring the dramatics at the right times.
In the Michigan Camping World Truck Series race – the Careers for Veterans 200 – Brett Moffitt seized the moment when he slid by Timothy Peters and William Byron on the high side of the track to steal the first victory of his career right out from under both drivers.
The best part of the moment: Moffitt was driving a one-off deal as Peters’ teammate with Red Horse Racing and only led the final lap. It was the first lap Moffitt has led in his entire career, which covers 45 starts between Cup (38), XFINITY (one) and trucks (six).
As for the Chase in the trucks, six of eight drivers have claimed their spots, with Peters and Daniel Hemric in as the non-winners. Cameron Hayley is the first off the bubble at 47 points behind Peters – well more than a full race – so it’s clearly go time at either Canadian Tire Motorsports Park or Chicagoland Speedway if he wants to get in the field.
In the XFINITY race, the Road America 180, Michael McDowell led more than half the laps and held off Brendan Gaughan by a half-second in an overtime finish. Not only did it deny Gaughan a chance to become the fourth driver to qualify for the Chase, but McDowell – who raced on another one-off deal for Richard Childress Racing – earned his first career victory in 298 starts between Cup (202), XFINITY (94) and trucks (two).
With efforts like those and the championship pressure creeping into another gear, fans should be looking forward to what’s next. I know I am.
Follow Tom Zulewski on Twitter @Tomzsports or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
NEXT WEEK'S RACES
Darlington Raceway (1.366-mile egg-shaped oval), Darlington, South Carolina.
-SPRINT CUP: Bojangles Southern 500, Sunday, 6 p.m. ET/3 p.m. PT, NBC. Radio: SiriusXM Channel 90 or your local MRN Radio affiliate.
Race distance: 500 miles, 367 laps.
2015 champion: Carl Edwards
-XFINITY SERIES: VFW Sport Clips Help A Hero 200, Saturday, 3 p.m. ET/Noon PT, NBC. Radio: SiriusXM Channel 90 or your local MRN Radio affiliate.
Race distance: 200.8 miles, 147 laps.
2015 champion: Denny Hamlin
-CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES: Chevy Silverado 250, Canadian Tire Motorsports Park (2.459-mile road course), Bowmanville, Ontario, Saturday, 2:30 p.m. ET/11:30 a.m. PT, Fox Sports 1. Radio: SiriusXM Channel 90 or your local MRN Radio affiliate.
Race distance: 250 kilometers (157.4 miles), 64 laps.
2015 champion: Erik Jones.