NASCAR Studs and Duds: LifeLock 400
Mark is having the kind of year that in the past would be having him say the word "awesome" more times than any person could count and for good reason. After a lackluster start to the season, Martin and crew chief Alan Gustafson have turned on the jets and currently sit in a Chase position with three season wins, tied for most with Kyle Busch.
Martin was in the right place at the right time on Sunday after Biffle and Johnson drove each other to empty fuel tanks and Martin was able to take the lead for the first time all day entering Turn 3 on the white flag lap.
This puts Mark in a good position, especially if this momentum carries over as the series will return to Michigan and hit two road courses at which Mark has four career wins before the Chase field is set after Richmond.
Michigan finish: Winner
Points: Eighth, 1868, (321 behind Stewart, 61 ahead of 13th)
Hamlin was struggling over the past several weeks, and it seemingly came to a head last week at Pocono when the car literally refused to run for him and relegated him to a 38th-place finish, dropping him to the bottom of the top 12 where he was hanging on by a thread.
Then Hamlin went to Michigan and rediscovered some, if not all of his swagger, and was able to bring his JGR Toyota home in a solid third place, boosting himself up two spots in the standings into 10th just behind his teammate Kyle Busch. Hamlin is still chasing his first win of the year.
Currently, Hamlin has his average start and finish at about where it was at the end of last year but is on pace to have a higher percentage of laps completed, the question is: Will this slight improvement in his stats result in a legit championship challenge?
Michigan finish: Third
Points: 10th, 1849, (340 behind Stewart, 42 ahead of 13th)
Not only did Ragan display obvious improvement in his car control skills and his ability to keep cool when he had the car pointed dead sideways coming off of turn two, he was also able to recover for a 15th place finish.
The day helped Ragan climb up three spots in the standings and will boost Ragan's overall confidence in his 2009 campaign and I look for him to make a strong case for a spot in the top 20 in points over the next few weeks.
If Ragan can get a run started and gain at least 45-50 points on those in the top 12, he may have a chance at stealing one of those Chase spots away, but at this point that still seems to be an outside chance.
Michigan finish: 15th
Points: 28th, 1383, (806 behind Stewart, 427 behind 12th)
It was a good day for Roush Fenway for the most part and McMurray's 11th place finish was a big part of that, especially given his recent lack of performance sparking some, including myself, to think he is the leading candidate to be the cut or moved driver when Roush goes from five teams to four.
But even with those speculations about McMurray still is a serious contender for a spot in this year's Chase as he currently sits in 19th only 262 behind 12th place Burton, which is only about 27 points per race over the next 11 races before the Chase cut-off.
Maybe the talk of losing his job is the fire under the arse McMurray needs to step his game to the next level; only time will tell.
Michigan finish: 11th
Points: 19th, 1548, (641 behind Stewart, 262 behind 12th)
Biffle may not have won on Sunday, but he did have a victory in a confidence boosting return to form for both him and his No. 16 3M Ford Fusion. Biffle used fuel strategy to have himself in front with 10 to go trying to stretch two extra laps out of the fuel he had in the tank.
That was when Johnson caught up to Biffle, which in turn caused Biffle to get on the throttle a bit more. In the end, after taking the lead back from Johnson, who ran out taking the white flag, thought he had the win until his motor went silent while sailing down the back stretch.
Unfortunately for Biffle, Martin had gained enough and was in position right after Biffle ran out Martin was able to take over the lead and take the win. Fortunately for Biffle, he was in a position that he was able to coast around to the start-finish line and save a top five finish, something Johnson was unable to do.
Michigan finish: Fifth
Points: Seventh, 1913, (276 behind Stewart, 106 ahead of 13th)
No one thought that at the end of the day at Michigan that Kenseth would be the driver pulling up the rear for Roush Fenway, and although 20th place doesn't seem like a horrible finish, point-wise for Kenseth it was.
The result of the day was a three-spot drop for Matt from eighth to eleventh only 41 points ahead of 13th place and could now be in legitimate danger of missing the 2009 Chase.
Hopefully, after the nearing arrival of the newest member of the Kenseth clan, Matt will be able to refocus and stay in contention for the 2009 championship.
Michigan finish: 20th
Points: 11th, 1848, (341 behind Stewart, 41 ahead of 13th)
Johnson was probably the most disappointed driver leaving the track on Sunday after putting himself in position to win, only to be bit once again by an empty fuel tank.
Johnson took the lead from Biffle with seven to go and began to set sail towards his third win of the season only to hear the engine fall silent as the white flag was displayed, leaving him helpless to coast around the two-mile track.
Unlike the fortune Biffle had when he went dry, Johnson dropped from first to 22nd in the time it took him to coast around with an empty gas tank and, although this didn't hurt his position in the points, it does deal a huge blow to his confidence in fuel mileage situations.
Michigan finish: 22nd
Points: Third, 2047, (142 behind Stewart, 240 ahead of 13th)
Jeff Burton seemed to take over Harvick's recent role as the RCR driver that went unnoticed all day and remained unnoticed in the final rundown as Burton finished what had to be a disappointing 26th at Michigan.
What is bad about this is Burton's current spot as the torch bearer for RCR and the only RCR team currently in a Chase position is in definite danger now as he sits only three points ahead of 13th-place David Reutimann and 43 ahead of the improving Juan Montoya.
Burton needs to rediscover his rhythm and fast before we have a Chase with no one representing RCR.
Michigan finish: 26th
Points: 12th, 1810, (379 behind Stewart, three ahead of 13th)
Stremme continues his slide down the points and is beginning to dangle dangerously close to the outside of the top 35 in owner points. His day at Michigan was ended early when he slid coming off turn four and was unable to save it before making hard contact with the water barrels at the end of pit road.
With 21 races left in the 2009 season, should results like this continue, Stremme's job at Penske Championship Racing will be in jeopardy next season if sometime this season Penske should decide he wants to go a different direction.
Michigan finish: 38th
Points: 32nd, 1316, (873 behind Stewart)
Martin Truex Jr.
Another week marked another disappointing performance from the No. 1 Earnhardt-Ganassi entry of Martin Truex Jr. while his teammate, Montoya, seems to be getting better as the weeks go on.
Could this be because the team knows something about Truex's future that the public does not, and has directed all effort and attention to Montoya's efforts? Who knows? But in time we may get some clue as to Truex's and the No. 1 team's futures for 2010 and beyond.
Michigan finish: 36th
Points: 22nd, 1502, (687 behind Stewart, 302 behind 12th)
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