One of them involves three different drivers who experienced decidedly different fates. One had what he might call a perfect race – he won it, retained the top position in the Cup point standings and clinched a spot in the Chase, which begins three races from now.
For the other two it was anything but perfection. Had they known what was in store for them at the two-mile Michigan track when they woke up Sunday morning, they probably would have said to heck with it and gone back to sleep.
Truth of the matter is, for themselves, they would not have missed a whole lot.
Kyle Busch, who drives for Joe Gibbs Racing, won the Pure Michigan 400 to win at MIS for the first time in his career. It was his fourth victory of the season and tightened his hold on first place in the point standings.
Busch came into the race tied, at least in the number of points, with Carl Edwards. Each had 752 points but Busch held the tiebreaker with three wins to one for Edwards.
A tiebreaker is no longer needed. Busch is now 10 points ahead of Jimmie Johnson, the five-time champion who moved into second place. Edwards tumbled to fourth place. More on that later.
Busch, who has the most victories this season, is assured a place in the Chase.
He has now won four races per Cup season in every year since 2008. He has 23 career victories on the circuit along with 49 in the Nationwide Series and 29 on the Craftsman Truck Series. That’s 101 wins on NASCAR’s top three national circuits.
“This victory is what we wanted,” said Busch, who held off Johnson and Brad Keselowski on a green-white-checkered restart created after Busch’s brother, Kurt, brought out the final caution when he smacked the wall with four laps to go.
“We wanted to make sure we could come out here and have the opportunity to go for broke. At the end, I thought about coming down pit road, and I’m like, ‘You know what, we might as well stay out and see if we can’t just can’t get it done and hold off the guys rather than come from behind.’
“We felt that was our best opportunity to win the race.”
And Busch made the most of it.
Back to Edwards, the subject of one of our tales of gloom.
As said, the Roush Fenway driver was atop the standings – a familiar position for him for a good portion of the season – before Michigan and was looking to move ahead of Busch.
Instead, his Ford suffered all manner of problems early in the race and he was never a factor. He finish 36th, completing just 174 of 200 laps.
“It was a very tough race,” Edwards said. “I thought we would have a Ford in victory lane. I thought one way or another we would win this thing.
“I don’t know what was wrong with it. It felt like it was running on seven cylinders. We changed a bunch of stuff and then it was fixed. It wasn’t something mechanical, it was probably something with some electrical connection or a coil or something.
“We were going all out to win this thing and we were prepared for something – but we weren’t expecting a failure like that.”
Edwards is now fourth in points but nonetheless is certain to make the Chase.
“It was a frustrating day,” he said. “But we’re in a very good points position. We’ll just absorb this bad day and take it from here.”
Danny Hamlin can’t really say that. He has to do a bit more than “take it from here.” At Michigan, he, too, had a tale of woe.
Busch’s teammate at Gibbs, Hamlin was a strong favorite to win at Michigan, or at least do well, given he had two wins and a runnerup finish in his last three MIS races, with five straight top-10s, and an average finish of 3.4.
He was 12th in the point standings with one victory, and, with Keselowski, was one of two leading candidates to make the Chase as a “wildcard” entry.
He still is. But he’s now 14th in points and has become more vulnerable to exclusion from the Chase.
Just 78 laps into the race, Hamlin hit the wall and was forced to pit. He fell to 31st and was one lap down.
A handful of laps later, Hamlin was back in the pits, the victim of a blown tire. Thereafter, his car did not perform well and he finished 35th.
“It just seems like we’ve been very fortunate that the guys around us in points either haven’t won a race or on days we struggle they have a bad race,” Hamlin said. “Any other circumstances and we’d be in big trouble right now, but I’m still glad to be in our spot than anyone else’s at this point.
“We just need to figure out how to finish races and that carries on my shoulders as much as it carries on anyone’s.”
With his third-place finish, Keselowski moved past Hamlin to 12th in points. He also has two victories, which solidifies his standing as the leading “wildcard” candidate.
The only other drivers among the top 20 with wins are Paul Menard (18th) and David Ragan (who moved into 20th after finishing 12th at Michigan).
Menard is 18 points behind Hamlin, Ragan 34. Those differences might be hard for the drivers to overcome in three races, but another victory by either could supplant Hamlin.
Despite his lofty position, Busch is not about to admit he and his team will be the ones to watch in the Chase.
But he finished 28th or worse four times in the 10-race “playoff” and his championship hopes disappeared.
“We feel like we’ve been better prepared this year,” Busch said. “We’re a lot more consistent. Before, we’d have a bad race and not be able to rebound from it.
“But there’s no way we can be considered the ones to beat. There’s too much that can happen, way too many laps to run, way too many miles to run.
“We have built ourselves into contenders this year and it’s just being able to be consistent. We would love, of course, to carry on our strong runs through the final 10 races.
“It’s just a matter of being consistent.”