Tony Stewart qualified on the pole for Sunday’s running of the Sirius 400 at Michigan International Speedway, and teammate Bobby Labonte made a late run in qualifying to take the outside of the front row. The two would battle into the first corner on the start of the race, but Tony Stewart had the stronger of the two Chevrolets going into turn two as he took the lead.
Kurt Busch started in the second row and followed Stewart, tucking into second, showing that he had a strong car as well. Busch had to wait to lead the race though until late, but lead the most important lap at the end. The win is Busch’s third of the season and makes him the only driver with three Winston Cup wins in the 2003 season.
Stewart’s early lead was interrupted quickly as Ken Schrader and Ricky Rudd got together on the first lap, bringing out the first of a record nine caution periods at Michigan. The two cars got together when Rudd’s Motorcraft Ford slid up the banking on the two-mile track and collected Schrader, sending both cars into the wall and off to the garage area for the rest of the race. Both drivers were unhurt. Last week’s winner, Ryan Newman had the scariest incident of the day as he ran in third on lap thirty-seven. Newman’s Dodge had engine trouble and suddenly burst into flames. The car filled with smoke, and flames could be seen inside the car as Newman worked to get slowed down enough to get out of the burning car. He came to a stop in the infield and jumped out, with very minor burns to his face, but otherwise was unhurt.
Sterling Marlin moved around Tony Stewart for the lead on the restart after Newman’s incident and took a healthy lead. At one point Marlin’s Coors Light Dodge was out in front by almost a full second. Stewart fought behind him as the front-runners started showing their strength. Bobby Labonte, Jeff Gordon and Busch would continue behind Marlin, staying in touch with the leader.
After the seventh caution period, Marlin missed a gear and couldn’t get his car up to speed, ending his hope for a win. He fell back as far as fourteenth after leading a race-high 102 laps. Jeff Gordon had his Dupont Chevrolet on the point after that, but could not hold off Busch’s Ford, and with only twenty-four laps remaining, Busch got Gordon loose and took the lead. Although Gordon stayed close he couldn’t regain the lead.
With Busch firmly rooted in first, Gordon had his hands full with Bobby Labonte. Labonte worked on Gordon and after the final caution of the day, got by him and started a new top-three position streak after a poor showing last week at Pocono ended a run of several good finishes. Gordon stayed in the third spot and later admitted he had to use up his tires trying to stay with Busch.
Points leader Matt Kenseth had another top five finish and stretched his lead out even more over rival Dale Earnhardt Jr. Kenseth and Earnhardt had a late race incident with Earnhardt showing his displeasure over an on-track incident that moved him a little further back in the field. Michael Waltrip took his Napa Chevrolet to fifth and Sterling Marlin got his car back up to speed, coming back through the field for sixth. Dale Earnhardt Jr. took the seventh spot dropping to 185 points behind Kenseth with Mark Martin taking eighth, putting three Rousch cars in the top ten. Terry Labonte rounded out the top ten.
The Michigan race is one of the most important to the manufacturers with it being the home track for most of the automakers. Ford celebrated their 100th anniversary, almost to the day, and the Ford camp went away happy with the win.
The Winston Cup Series moves all the way out west next week, going to Sanoma, California for the first of two road course races.
Sirius 400 Results
Michigan International Speedway
Fin St Car Driver Make
1 4 #97 Kurt Busch Ford
2 1 #18 Bobby Labonte Chevrolet
3 6 #24 Jeff Gordon Chevrolet
4 21 #17 Matt Kenseth Ford
5 9 #15 Michael Waltrip Chevrolet
6 30 #40 Sterling Marlin Dodge
7 3 #8 Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevrolet
8 2 #20 Tony Stewart Chevrolet
9 15 #6 Mark Martin Ford
10 5 #5 Terry Labonte Chevrolet
11 23 #99 Jeff Burton Ford
12 17 #2 Rusty Wallace Dodge
13 20 #19 Jeremy Mayfield Dodge
14 39 #42 Jamie McMurray * Dodge
15 37 #32 Ricky Craven Pontiac
16 11 #48 Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet
17 7 #38 Elliott Sadler Ford
18 10 #29 Kevin Harvick Chevrolet
19 14 #0 Jack Sprague * Pontiac
20 22 #41 Casey Mears * Dodge
21 12 #25 Joe Nemechek Chevrolet
22 19 #31 Robby Gordon Chevrolet
23 34 #01 Mike Wallace Pontiac
24 16 #9 Bill Elliott Dodge
25 24 #23 Kenny Wallace Dodge
26 26 #10 Johnny Benson Pontiac
27 33 #30 Steve Park Chevrolet
28 13 #1 Jeff Green Chevrolet
29 40 #7 Jimmy Spencer Dodge
30 31 #22 Ward Burton Dodge
31 29 #16 Greg Biffle * Ford
32 25 #88 Dale Jarrett Ford
33 43 #74 Tony Raines * Chevrolet
34 42 #45 Kyle Petty Dodge
35 36 #43 Christian Fittipaldi Dodge
36 18 #02 Hermie Sadler Chevrolet
37 41 #154 Todd Bodine Ford
38 38 #77 Dave Blaney Ford
39 27 #11 Geoffrey Bodine Ford
40 35 #37 Derrike Cope Chevrolet
41 8 #12 Ryan Newman Dodge
42 28 #49 Ken Schrader Dodge
43 32 #21 Ricky Rudd Ford
* denotes rookie driver
Provided by the Herald newspapers