Seldom does the IndyCar Series experience a high strength of field for more than the first two races of the week. Week 10 at Michigan International Speedway however, saw huge field sizes from start to finish. The first day of the week produced three races offering a substantial amount of points to the high finishers, thus the week proved critical for those battling for glory. Brandon Trost knew this was his last best shot to close-in on championship leader Ron Meier Jr.; witness the fact that he congratulated the latter on the title after the third race came to a close and he had not made any inroads on Meier’s points. Throughout the top 25 in points, though, there were quite a few position shuffles in a week where the craziness of the on-track action was second only to what we saw at Indianapolis.
In the 2861 Strength of Field, Meier led the field to green with Andreas Stratmann to his outside and teammate Matt A Kingsbury third. Chris Welker started fourth with championship hopeful Trost in fifth, knowing he had to win to make up for some lower point rounds he had earlier in the season. Could he do it?
As the green flag dropped the drivers carefully depressed the throttles on their beasts and prayed they wouldn’t be the one to spin the rear tires and cause carnage before Turn One. Danny Roberts for one, got off to a superb start after getting the jump on Dan Geren in P6. As the drivers rocketed through their first lap and came out of Turn Four, Meier remained in the lead while M.Kingsbury advanced to P2 at Strattman’s expense.
Trost managed to move up to fourth on the opening lap and was looking to secure the lead as early as possible. However, out of Turn Two the second time around things took a bad turn for our points leader as he was spun by Strattman, who did not realize he was three-wide with Kingsbury on the bottom of Meier. Other drivers involved included Mark Shaffer, Scott Dick, and Eric Hansard.
M.Kingsbury led the field to the restart with teammate Geren in tow in P3 and Velociraptor’s Trost now in second. Geren was the first driver to suffer wheel spin and gathered himself together enough to duck off the racing surface and plow through the grass, dropping to the rear of the field. Meanwhile Shaffer, who restarted from last after replacing his wing on a pitstop, was already climbing through the order.
At the head of the pack M. Kingsbury, Trost, and Roberts ran three wide with Chris C Miller looking for places to move, despite having Welker to his outside. Henry White and Ray Kingsbury were in the draft waiting for the inevitable drama to occur. Just a bit behind ran Toni Helminen, whose mirrors showed Ryan Shelton, Timothy Silliman, and Jeremy Shipley running three wide with Brian Spotts making it a near four wide down the front stretch.
The racing this far, was nothing short of tantalizingly good.
However, things quickly changed in the course of a half lap. Ryan Shelton ducked to the apron and backed-out of the throttle, thinking better of a three wide situation. This came at a perfect time as M.Kingsbury pushed-up a lane and made contact with Trost, who was pushed into the outer wall and crashed-out spectacularly. Now, both championship contenders were out of the race.
M.Kingsbury would again lead the field to green and, despite wheel-spin, was able to lay a hole-shot on Miller with Roberts also managing to pass Miller on the inside before the start/finish line. M.Kingsbury continued to lead for the next few laps but the small pack of bees behind him in Welker, Roberts, and Miller looked as if it could explode at any time. However, Roberts removed himself from the mix when he ducked down on the backstretch, upon realizing he had to serve his black flag for passing before the start.
Things heated-up at the front of the pack again as Miller made a move to the inside of M.Kingsbury into Turn Three on Lap 19. Out of Turn Two on Lap 20, Welker experienced a bit of a wiggle as Miller cut in front of his nose. This allowed R.Kingsbury and Silliman to move around Welker and challenge for the top spots. Seeking to make the most of his momentum, R.Kingsbury made a move low only for Miller to block. R.Kingsbury went high and Miller to parried that move as well. Onto the front stretch R.Kingsbury tried his luck again but that line was also cut out by Miller.
As R.Kingsbury tried to negotiate the extreme outside, Miller tried a cross-over move on M.Kingsbury, but lost his momentum and some ground coming down the backstretch. R.Kingsbury looked low on Miller, but after he and Miller made contact, decided to go high and try a run on exit. This proved to be the proper choice as Miller plowed into the back of M.Kingsbury in Turn Three, causing both drivers a massive wiggle out of Turn Three and into Four.
R.Kingsbury went low in tandem with Silliman and both scooted through to the top spots. Down the front stretch R.Kingsbury returned the favor and blocked Miller’s run to the high side into Turn One. M.Kingsbury then made it three wide under Miller, who experienced a slight netcode and went into a mild slide, but executed a brilliant save. However, moments later the yellow flew as Shaffer made a mistake and moved into Shipley’s path, knocking both Shipley and Toni Helminen out of the race.
Approaching another restart, R.Kingsbury led the field to green with Silliman to his outside and brother Matt in P3. The start went smoothly as all drivers darted into Turn One. Although the unfortunate Dana Walker suffered some suspension damage after wheel-to-wheel contact with another sim-racer, the race stayed green.
The majority of drivers ran single file over the ensuing laps, the exception being Shaffer whose charge from the back continued. R.Kingsbury maintained the lead in his pristine Dallara while brother Matt was happy to stay second as he battled a bent wing, legacy of the incident with Miller. Similarly, Silliman was content to run third in an attempt to facilitate a break-away and to avoid future attacks from behind.
Sure enough, inside the final ten laps, the lead order remained unchanged . . . until, that is, Shaffer launched a daring attack on fourth place, forcing himself between Shelton and White to make it three wide. From there, Shaffer only had to take on Silliman and then the two Kingsbury brothers. After Shaffer got to the high side of Silliman, the first Kingsbury was a sitting duck with his wing damage. After disposing of Kingsbury M (who subsequently fell down the order), Shaffer engaged in a friendly battle with Kingsbury R before powering through to the lead on the penultimate lap.
The two leaders went at right to the finish, crossing the line side-by-side with Shaffer in front of R. Kingsbury by just .087s. Welker managed to claim the third spot while Geren rebounded for fourth ahead of Silliman and Steven Hollingsworth2. Shelton took home position seven after dealing with some sidepod damage, narrowly holding-off White and Spotts, with Walker the final car on the lead lap and also the last car in our top ten. Mario Allen, M.Kingsbury, Dick all finished multiple laps down, while Miller, Helminen, Shipley, Roberts, Trost, Meier, Stratmann, and Hansard DNF after being involved in incidents.
The attrition rate was exceeded only by the intensity of the sim-racing, when all the virtual carbon fiber, dust and tempers settled, one of the most important races in the championship had come and gone with neither championship hopeful gaining any advantage.