When the Sprint Cup Series makes it's two trips to Michigan International Speedway, it doesn't come down to who has the fast car. In the end, it is about who has the most gas in the fuel cell to get it across the finish line.
In this first edition of "Parks Race Reactions," I'm going to take a vivid view of the Carfax 400 at Michigan.
First of all, I have got to give big props to Brian Vickers and the entire Red Bull team. All year long they have been able to put the car up front in qualifying. However, when it came time to change the setup for 400 or 500 miles of racing, Vickers just seemed to fall back early and not recover.
On Sunday, Vickers and the No. 83 crew put everything together for all 400 miles. He kept his car near the front all day, coming right down to the point where fuel mileage would once again prove to be the critical point.
He was able to stretch his fuel just enough to take the checkered flag and do some post-race donuts, eventually running dry in the in-field.
Vickers first victory came at the expense of Jimmie Johnson. Johnson had the car to beat all afternoon, leading 165 of the 200 laps. It was easily Johnson's race to win.
But, just like the race in June, it came down to a gamble on fuel mileage. With Johnson out front, it meant he had to keep letting off the throttle to save, plus with no lapped traffic ahead of him to draft off, he used more fuel.
It became a case of deja vu as once again, Johnson's tank ran dry two laps from the finish. He was forced to pit for fuel, relegating him to a 33rd-place finish.
I cannot help but feel bad for Johnson, Chad Knaus and the entire Lowe's team. They had the dominant car, but once again it was fuel mileage that cost them the win. Even Johnson himself said that fuel mileage races are not their strong point. It was a big hit for the Lowe's team as they fell from second to third in the points.
All was not bad for Hendrick Motorsports on this day as Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. posted top-five finishes.
It was great to see Gordon rebound from that violent accident last week and run strong. The entire week everyone was talking about his back pain and how it was affecting him, and Gordon just didn't want to talk about it anymore. He sure gave them something to talk about instead as he finished behind Vickers.
As good as it was to see Gordon rebound the way he did, it was an incredible rebound for teammate Earnhardt Jr.
Earlier in the weekend, Junior was critical of both the new car the Cup Series was using and the racing this season. Some drivers say it was Junior talking out of frustration because of his struggles this year. NASCAR President Mike Helton even commented on his remarks stating that NASCAR has no intention of making major changes to the car.
After all that, Earnhardt Jr. runs near the front all day and brings home a third-place finish, his best finish since getting new crew chief Lance McGrew. Awesome job by the No. 88 team.
Looking ahead, it is time to go back to some short-track racing as Saturday night it's a classic shootout under the lights at Bristol Motor Speedway. Historically, this is one of the most exciting races on the schedule, but recently it has been a little sub-par as far as on-track action.
When the track was resurfaced and given a progressive, 30-degree banking, there has not been as much beating, banging and aggression as in years past.
There has been more side-by-side racing, which is exciting, but at a short track everyone expects there to be some aggression. Last year's event was evident of that when Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards had their late-race spin fest following Edward's victory.
It will be quite a transition from the high-speed, multiple grooved race track of Michigan to the short, tight and fast half-mile of Bristol. My pick for this race is going to be Kyle Busch. As much as it pains me to say it, this track suits his driving style perfectly.
He won the spring race at Bristol and will be strong once again under the lights, and no one would be surprised if he didn't use his bumper to get the win.
Michigan gave a boost to many drivers in the point standings, now let's see if Vickers, Gordon and Earnhardt Jr. can continue the momentum at Bristol, and see if Johnson can rebound from his misfortune.
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