It's the first practice session that the No. 27 car has been atop of in 2016 season. Menard is coming off his second top-10 finish of the season at Indianapolis, which he placed 10th. This week veteran Danny Stockman took over as the crew chief for the team, replacing Justin Alexander, who was in his second season atop the pit box.
The next trio of drivers were all from the Joe Gibbs Racing stable, led by four-time Pocono winner Denny Hamlin (177.406 mph). Looking for his first win at the track, Kyle Busch was third in practice at 177. 019 mph. Carl Edwards was fourth at 176.977 mph.
Kevin Harvick was fifth on the board at 176.620 mph.
2015 winner, Martin Truex, Jr. was sixth on the speed chart (176. 602 mph), Joey Logano seventh (176.495 mph), rookie Chase Elliott was eighth (176.484 mph), Ryan Newman was ninth after leading the session early on (176.391 mph) and his Richard Childress Racing teammate Austin Dillon rounded out the top 10 at 175.984 mph.
Spring winner, Kurt Busch was just outside the top 10 in 14th. In his return to Pocono, Jeff Gordon was 22nd on the board, over eight-tenths of a second off the top time. Defending winner Matt Kenseth put up a lap that was 24th quick.
Only two drivers made a run of 10 or more laps, led by Danica Patrick (171.094 mph). Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. was the other driver on that list, running 22 laps in the practice session, the most of all drivers.
Qualifying is set to begin shortly after 4:00 p.m. ET. Brad Keselowski won the pole for the spring race eight weeks ago.
In a day that arose with smoke, it ended with Smoke in victory lane as Tony Stewart does a bump and run to Denny Hamlin coming off the final turn at Sonoma Raceway to win the Toyota Save Mart 350. Hamlin finished second, followed by, Joey Logano, Carl Edwards, and Martin Truex Jr. This win by Stewart snaps a three year winless streak.
Stewart talks about the final couple of laps that led to him losing the lead, but regaining it in the final turn. "I made mistakes the last two laps. I had just a little bit too much rear brake for Turn 7, and wheel-hopped it two laps in a row. But, I felt a nudge when I got down there and he knew where it was and he did the right thing doing it there; but if I could get to him, he knew what was coming. He told me he was proud of me. He knows what it means. We were teammates for a long time and we respect each other a lot.”
Denny Hamlin recalls the final laps from his perspective. “Tony (Stewart) was doing a good job maintaining his tires, a good job of running consistent laps there. Really he gave me an opportunity to get close. On the second to last lap he wheel hopped into (turn) seven, allowed us to get close and I just did a poor job of getting through 11. I was expecting to really drive in deep and I really thought that was going to happen and he did, but I also left the bottom open and that was a bad mistake on my part.”
The Toyota Save Mart 350 saw 12 lead changes among eight drivers. Hamlin led the most laps with a total of 33, followed by Carl Edwards (24), Tony Stewart (22), AJ Allmendinger (20), Danica Patrick, Paul Menard, and Kevin Harvick led three, and Kyle Busch led two.
The caution flag flew four times for 10 laps. The flag flew twice for accidents and for debris.
Kevin Harvick maintains a 34 point lead over Kurt Busch, followed by Carl Edwards (-52), Brad Keselowski (-56), and Joey Logano (-69).
The Chase Grid is now a battle to be in thhe top-15 in points. Despite his win today, Stewart is nine points away from 30th to be considered in the Chase. When Stewart gets in the top-30, Kasey Kahne would be on the outside looking in, and Jamie McMurray would have the final spot.
The Toyota Save Mart 350 lasted 2 hours, 42 minutes, and 43 seconds. The average speed was 80.966 mph. The margin of victory was .625 seconds.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will head to Daytona International Speedway for the annual Fourth of July spectacle. Coverage from Daytona will begin on Thursday, June 30, on the NBC Sports Network for the first practice at 3 pm Eastern.
With eight restarts on the afternoon, Logano controlled all but one, when he got passed by Chase Elliott. That was the only stint of the race in which the No. 22 Ford was not out front for a significant amount of laps, other than green flag pit stops.
Winning from the pole at Michigan is something that Logano has done in the past. In 2013, he started out front, finishing out front, in what was his first victory with Team Penske. The triumph came in Ford's backyard, as their headquarters are in the Detroit area and Adsel Ford II was in attendance for the victory.
"Everyone did a good job at understanding what this package was going to do and put together a great racecar for me," Logano said of his victory. "It was a lot of fun racing with Chase [Elliott] there at the end and [Kyle] Larson. They had the restarts figured out down on the bottom pushing each other. We've been knocking on the door of a victory all season, but it's nice to get that win and lock ourselves into the Chase."
This is Team Penske's 99th career victory in the Sprint Cup Series and the third victory of 2016 for the organization.
The 400-mile event was a bit unusual compared to Michigan standards. NASCAR brought a new aerodynamic package, hopeful of using this package in 2017. Most of the drivers throughout the field liked it, as like most races this season, it put the racing back in the drivers hands.
Elliott recorded a career-best second-place finish at Michigan. The No. 24 car was out front for 35 circuits, after leading 51 laps last week in Pocono.
Logano got around Elliott on a restart with around 50 laps to go. He slid out of the groove and fell back to fourth. On the resuming restart, he pulled his Chevrolet back up to second, where he would remain the rest of the race.
"You can't do dumb stuff to win these races," Elliott said post-race. "It was completely my fault. The guys gave me a fantastic car today. That one was on me."
Kyle Larson remained in the top five for the majority of the event in Michigan. Coming home third is the No. 42 team's second top-three finish in the past four races and now sits 19th in the championship standings, 23 points outside of the Chase cutoff.
"I'm not sure that there was anything I could have done there," Larson said of finishing third. "I was pretty tight there for two or three laps, sometimes for a full run. Staying out front the whole time was a big key. The Target Chevrolet was definitely a third or fourth-place car."
Brad Keselowski finished fourth at his hometown track and Kevin Harvick rounded out the top five after starting in 29th.
Carl Edwards finished sixth, while Tony Stewart came home seventh, after spending much of the day inside the top five. Austin Dillon rebounded after a possible left rear tire failure passed halfway to finish eighth. Jamie McMurray was ninth and Kurt Busch completed the top 10.
Many of the big name drivers, including Denny Hamlin, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Kyle Busch all faced difficulties on Sunday.
On Lap 54, the No. 18 car was on fire. On the next restart, Chris Buescher got loose and up into Earnhardt who smacked the outside wall, finishing 39th. Hamlin brought out the final caution with under 10 laps to go when he cut down a left rear tire and spun to the inside wall.
The Cup Series is off next week, but will resume in two weeks at the first road course of the season, Sonoma. The younger Busch is the defending winner at that event, which was his first of five victories in 2015.
Michigan is Dillon's "favorite racetrack." The last time the Cup Series sped around the 2.0-mile oval, the No. 3 car was out front for 19 laps after starting in the back and picking up a fourth-place finish.
Brad Keselowski, hometown driver, was second on the leader board in the final session at 194.013 mph. He has never recorded a victory at his home track.
Jimmie Johnson was third on the board at 193.851 mph. Trevor Bayne led Roush Fenway Racing in fourth at 193.778 mph and Pocono winner, Kurt Busch completed the top five at 193.741 mph.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Martin Truex, Jr. Kyle Larson, pole-sitter Joey Logano and AJ Allmendinger rounded out the top 10.
Ryan Blaney was the fastest rookie on Saturday, while his nemesis, Chase Elliott was 21st on speed, running 47 laps, the most of all drivers. The 20-year-old got into the wall with about 10 minutes remaining, scuffing up the right rear of the car. The No. 24 car got back out on track to complete more laps.
After posting the fastest time in opening practice Saturday morning, Carl Edwards was mired down in 17th at 192.947 mph. 3All four of the Joe Gibbs Racing cars were outside the top 10 with Denny Hamlin leading the train of drivers in 11th.
38 cars took time in Happy Hour. Truex led the way on best 10 lap averages at 191.991 mph. He had a pair of third-place finishes last season at Michigan.
The 400-mile race is scheduled to begin shortly after 1:00 p.m. ET on Sunday. Last year, Busch was victorious in a rain-shortened event.
On Friday, Logano swept all three rounds of qualifying. The No. 22 car pole-winning speed was 199.557 mph, almost two-tenths of a second faster than second-place.
"It just feels really good because the last couple weeks we've come in second in the final round," Logano said of his fast lap. "We've been qualifying really well with this No. 22 car, we just haven't had the pole. It's nice to finally pull through and get a pole with this new package. It really goes to show how good Team Penske is at preparing cars from the shop and really not knowing what they're coming to and we have great adjustability and a fast car."
Logano started first at Martinsville in April when he was lapped in the opening segment of the race.
Martin Truex, Jr. turned the second fastest lap at 199.016 mph. Struggling in qualifying last week in Pocono, the Furniture Row Racing team made sure they put down a hot lap for Michigan.
In his best start of 2016, Tony Stewart will start third. At 198.950 mph, it's his best start since Watkins Glen last season.
Denny Hamlin will start from fourth at 198.774 mph with rookie Ryan Blaney rounding out the top five at 198.588 mph. The No. 21 car needed two attempts to even get out of round one, but rebounded to pick up his first top-five starting spot of 2016.
Ryan Newman, Kyle Larson, Austin Dillon, Kyle Busch and Chase Elliott make up the top 10.
Pocono pole-sitter, Brad Keselowski will start from 15th at his home racetrack. The defending winner of this event, Kurt Busch, will start in the next row at 17th.
After having the fourth quickest time in the opening practice, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. qualified 27th on Friday. It's his ninth time this season that the No. 88 car had started the race from outside the top 20.
Kevin Harvick was on the track twice when the session was paused is Round One, putting three cycles on his tires by the time he complete a timed lap. The first stoppage was for Jamie McMurray leaking a piece of debris. David Ragan brought out the second caution when he spun in Turn 3 and hit the outside wall.
"The common sense was pretty low there on when to throw the caution," Harvick said of being out on track twice when the yellow flag flew during his qualifying run. "I think we were the only racecar on the racetrack and debris came up out of the groove. It is what it is. There's not much you can do about that.
The No. 4 Chevrolet will begin the 400-mile event from 29th.
There are two practice sessions on Saturday, the first beginning at 9:00 a.m. and Happy Hour starting shortly after noon.