Joey Logano started the Pure Michigan 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race from pole position and went on to clinch the win 200 laps later, but it was by no means a straightforward flag-to-flag cruise around in the lead for the 23-year-old from Connecticut.
It had proved to be an eventful race with nine cautions including accidents that claimed some of the leading points contenders in the race for the 2013 Chase. In the end it came down to a fuel conservation finish, but even that was more thrilling than it usually sounds as Logano went toe-to-toe with Mark Martin while Kevin Harvick lurked in the background ready to pounce if either fell short.
Logano had led the field to the green flag at the start of the race alongside Kurt Busch while Jimmie Johnson - who should have been on the second row alongside Mark Martin - was sent to the back after he had been forced to take to the backup car following a Saturday practice crash. He was joined there by Jamie McMurray, who had needed an engine replacement.
The track proved loose from the get-go, with Clint Bowyer spinning on the first lap in turn 4, David Reutimann hitting the wall in turn 2 at the restart and Austin Dillon - subbing for Tony Stewart in the #14 this weekend - spinning out in turn 4 after contact with JJ Yeley at the next green. "I apologise to the #36 team and JJ Yeley," said Dillon after the race. "I didn't mean to get into them like that at all. I just grabbed the brakes and locked them down in the rear, couldn't steer out of it."
Finally the race got properly underway on lap 17, and by lap 20 Johnson (with Bowyer in tow) was already back in the top 20. Busch took over the lead on lap 32 as Logano started to drop back, with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Brad Keselowski moving up into the top three heading into the first round of green flag pit stops from lap 40 which briefly allowed Johnson to lead having put in an early appearance in pit lane under one of the initial cautions. Once all the stops cycled through it was Earnhardt who picked up the lead, Busch having lost time and five positions in pit lane with lugnut issues.
Johnson was back on pit road again on lap 57, far too early to be a scheduled stop, and indeed it was clear from the reaction of the #48 crew that there was a serious problem as the car was ushered behind the wall. When Johnson walked out of the garage, his comment was succinct: "The engine broke there," he said, done for the day.
"Coming down the back straightaway I felt it drop a couple of cylinders and knew we were in trouble," he elaborated. "Brought it to pit road and unfortunately it finally broke all the way and locked up. It would be nice to have salvaged something and maybe pulled the down cylinder parts out - you know, the valve train parts out - and get back out on the track, but the engine didn't live long enough once it broke. These things break pretty quick and that was the end of it."
It would be the biggest hit to his championship tally all year and the first time that he has finished 40th or worse since the 2012 Daytona 500. Despite that misfortune, he's mustered such a big lead in the standings to this point that he will still be comfortably ahead in the championship and had already locked himself into the Chase after last weekend's race at Watkins Glen.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. brushed the wall on lap 71 to bring out the next caution which allowed the field to pit under caution, the leaders all opting for two tyres with Earnhardt leading Keselowski, Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards and Joey Logano back out onto the track, although an off-sync Denny Hamlin stayed out altogether to lead at the restart while a baulked Earnhardt lost six places in the shake-out. Hamlin soon slipped back on his older tyres, leaving Busch to take up the lead once more ahead of Penske duo Keselowski and Logano and Edwards settling into fourth for this stint ahead of Kevin Harvick and a recovering Earnhardt.