An RCR Sprint Cup car led laps at Michigan International Speedway on Sunday.
Paul Menard led twice for a total of eight laps, which may not sound like a big deal but he'd only led 12 laps prior to the Pure Michigan 400, and no RCR driver has led a single lap since Jeff Burton led one the last time the Cup series was in Michigan. Even Kevin Harvick, who's still in the top ten in points, hasn't led a lap since the Coca-Cola 600 back in May.
It's no secret that the 2012 Sprint Cup season hasn't been what Richard Childress Racing planned or hoped for when the haulers drove through the tunnel at Daytona International Speedway in February. And while the organization's results in the Pure Michigan 400 fell short of being impressive, the group ran better than their results showed.
Paul Menard, No. 27 Menards / Pittsburgh Paints Chevrolet
Start - 10
Finish - 9
Laps Led - 8
Points Start - 16
Points Finish - 15
The bright-yellow Menards /sponsor-of-the-week car has been quietly improving every week. While still facing handling issues, had Paul Menard gotten a few breaks to fall his way over the last few weeks, he'd probably have a few top fives. This week he led real laps, not just one during a caution or one from inheriting the lead during green flag pit stops. Menard had an average running position of 9.587 and scored his first top-10 finish since Pocono in June. Technically he's in range of the Chase Wild Card, but realistically the No. 27 would need a couple of visits to Victory Lane to get into the Chase.
"It was a pretty good day for the Pittsburgh Paints/Menards team," said Menard. "We adjusted on the car's handling throughout the race and the pit crew was solid in the pits as always. We took a gamble at the end and thought we had more cars a lap down when they cycled through their green-flag pit stops and the caution came out. Still, we're happy with a top 10 and are looking forward to heading to Bristol (Motor Speedway) next weekend."
Kevin Harvick, No. 29 Jimmy John's Chevrolet
Start - 20
Finish - 16
Laps Led - 0
Points Start - 9
Points Finish - 8
For once the Jimmy John's Chevy felt good at the start of the race, with Kevin Harvick gaining five spots by the Lap 10 restart after caution for David Gilliland's spin. By Lap 92's restart the No. 29 took over fifth and remained there until he made a green-flag stop on Lap 102, putting him a lap down. He got back on the lead lap when the leaders made stops under green, but couldn't capitalize on his gains because those pesky handling issues returned. Still, Harvick gained back a spot in the points and the No. 29 car seemed to run better for longer than it has in weeks.
Harvick wasn't satisfied, though. He said, "Obviously, that was not the kind of day we were expecting to have. Our team struggled all weekend to find the speed and setup we needed to get the Jimmy John’s Chevrolet out front. We’ll regroup this week and switch our focus to Bristol (Motor Speedway).”
Jeff Burton, No. 31 Wheaties Chevrolet
Start - 32
Finish - 19
Laps Led - 0
Points Start - 19
Points Finish - 20
Jeff Burton gained ten spots in the first two laps and bounced between just outside the top 20 to just outside the top 10 for most of the race. The No. 31 Wheaties Chevy didn't like being directly behind another car, though, so Burton fought handling issues much of the race. Though it didn't bring out a caution, the No. 22 made contact with Burton's No. 31 and for a few laps Burton felt like he had a tire going down but that wasn't the case. However, those handling issues kept him from moving back up into the top 10. He finished 19th, his best run since the Coke Zero 400 five weeks ago in Daytona, though somehow he lost a spot in the points standings.
Burton said, “While we were expecting a better finish than 19th-place, I felt like this team played a good strategy today. We were much improved from the first time we came to Michigan (International Speedway) in June. We were able to test at Bristol (Motor Speedway) a few months ago so I plan to improve on my top-10 finish there in March next Saturday under the lights.”