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Published: Monday, 8/20/2012

Multitude of storylines around Michigan International Speedway

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST
Greg Biffle, left, and Brad Keselowski lead the pack in the final laps at MIS. Biffle sprinted away in the end to win. Greg Biffle, left, and Brad Keselowski lead the pack in the final laps at MIS. Biffle sprinted away in the end to win.
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BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Everybody likes happy endings and there were a couple Sunday at Michigan International Speedway.

Greg Biffle and Brad Keselowski crossed 1-2 in the Pure Michigan 400 and they represent two of the Big Three, Ford and Dodge, and two of the most beloved owners in these parts, Jack Roush and Roger Penske, who would rather win nowhere else on the NASCAR circuit.

Roush's 12th Sprint Cup win, in fact, passed the famed Wood Brothers for most ever here in the Irish Hills.

For Keselowski, the Rochester Hills wunderkind, still in his 20s and back on his home track, it was "this close to the biggest win of my career. We just needed a little bit of speed. On the last restart, Greg had a jet. Still, it was a great day for us."

RELATED ARTICLE: Biffle speeds to the front

RELATED ARTICLE: Hornish 12th after starting in back of pack

There was no happy ending for Jimmie Johnson, driving not a jet but a rocket and easily in front with five laps to go when the engine in his Chevy simply died.

"Motor's layin' down," he said calmly over the radio to his crew, which must have thought for an instant that he was joking. He wasn't. He made it back to the hauler but never came close to the finish line.

It was the third time Johnson has closed in on Victory Lane at MIS only to have it snatched away, twice by running out of gas and now by running out of car.

"I was closing in on 48 when his engine failed," Biffle said of Johnson's car. "I felt I could catch him. Whether I could pass him, we'll never know."

Finally, Mark Martin had one of those bad news, good news days. The bad news is that his Toyota was poised to smack the Big Three where it would hurt the most, in the shadow of Motown, before taking a nasty smack of his own.

The good news is that the 53-year-old fan favorite lived to talk about it after one of MIS' scariest moments in many a year.

Keselowski was in the middle of his post-race interview and the middle of a sentence when he saw a replay of Martin's lap-65 crash on a nearby monitor.

"Oh, geez," he gasped. "It's the first I've seen that. My God!"

Racing is a high speed game of inches and Martin's freak wreck was inches from any number of tragedies.

The pole-sitter was leading the race, blowing everybody away, and coming out of turn 4 when Bobby Labonte's Toyota went loose on the bank -- it was slick up high all day -- and spun sideways. Juan Pablo Montoya was right behind and pulled up to avoid a crash, but Martin could not. He smashed into Montoya, was clipped from behind by Kasey Kahne, and went caroming across the infield grass. So far, nothing too very dramatic or damaging had happened.

As he came off the grass he headed down pit row, out of control, and hit the concrete wall on both sides of a driveway opening to the garage area. He hit it at high speed inches behind the driver's side door and for an instant it looked as if the Camry might be sliced in two.

Pit row onlookers and members of Kahne's crew, located near the driveway opening, hurled themselves out of the way and that was another of those game-of-inches things. Let's not even consider what might have happened had Martin's car flipped over the wall. Lots of humans there.

A couple minutes later, thankfully, the grizzled veteran stood in the garage area with a smile on his face talking about what a great ride he had.

"I fought with everything I had," Martin said, "but with where I came from and the speed I came from and the confines of pit road I couldn't miss it. The pit wall hole or opening came so late that I didn't have much time to even think about it. Prior to seeing that opening my biggest deal was trying to stay off of that inside wall so that I could have a race car to challenge and [still] try to win the race.

"It was an awesome car. I'm glad I'm OK and I'm glad I got to drive that thing. This is just the coolest thing in the world. Big steam under the hood from Toyota; I'm disappointed that we got tore up, but man, what a hot rod."

Jimmie Johnson disappeared without comment. Jeff Gordon, frustrated by yet another mechanical breakdown, fired a broadside at Chevy teammate Dale Earnhardt, Jr., for what he thought was a dangerous maneuver. Nobody else, least of all Junior, saw it that way. Jack Roush, asked for posterity what the MIS win record meant to him, stoically said he was already thinking about the next race at Bristol.

The guy who came closer to leaving MIS in a body bag than anyone might care to imagine said his job was "the coolest thing in the world."

Odd business, this stock car racin'.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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