Before some light rain fell with 20 laps to go in today's NASCAR Cup Series race at Michigan International Speedway, a four-car group of William Byron, Kyle Larson, Denny Hamlin, and Kurt Busch was bunched together on track in a battle for the race win. The rain brought a caution, a wreck back in the field brought another, and somehow the guy running seconds behind that group ended up beating them all without ever really passing a car.
For the contenders for the win, the specifics of the rest of the race are unimportant. It was decided by those re-starts and the choose rule selections before them, not anything that happened under green or on the pit lane. The top four allowed Blaney in when Denny Hamlin, running third, chose to re-start on the outside lane in the third row and allowed the cars in fourth and fifth to start in what were traditionally the spots reserved for first and third. A crash immediately afterward set another restart, which saw the car in third (now Kyle Larson) again choose to re-start third on the outside lane. That gave the first position on the inside to the car in fourth again, Ryan Blaney.
The outside lane had been preferred all day, but Blaney got a strong push from Kyle Busch and it was all he needed to get past leader William Byron under green and take the race lead. Blaney's car had not been competitive with the top four during the race itself, but the 550 horsepower, high downforce "NA18D" package introduced in 2018 had long since turned this race into a flat out event where passing can only happen if the car in second can catch the car in the lead making such a mistake that they cannot use the car's significant air cushion to block their run. Blaney did not make that mistake, and when Kyle Larson actually did have a run he simply opened the door for his teammate William Byron to pass him for second.
Blaney led just those eight laps. Larson, Byron, and their teammate Chase Elliott combined to lead 156 of the 200 laps run. But the race can only be decided by the rules it is run under, so Blaney is your winner.
Behind the leaders, the serious playoff implications came at Richard Childress Racing. Blaney was not a new winner, so the bubble for the final playoff spot is still the gap between Austin Dillon and Tyler Reddick in the standings. Dillon was fighting for sixth at the end of stage 2 when he came back up the track after the start/finish line to find Brad Keselowski also on the corner of the inside groove; he crashed hard under caution and his race ended early. Reddick seemed set to gain a huge number of points, but he lost control from the top five in the incident that led to the crashes behind him to bring out the final caution and blew a tire on the re-start to finish a disappointing 29th. Thanks to the stage points, Dillon actually gained 3 points on Reddick in a race he failed to finish.
As a result, Reddick leads that battle for the final playoff spot by 25 points with one race to go.
If your takeaway from this event was that you liked watching NASCAR drivers hold down the throttle for three hours, I have some great news. The final race of the regular season is next weekend, a pack race at Daytona.