The Sprint Cup Series makes its first trip of the season to the Michigan International Speedway this weekend for the Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips 400. Mark Martin won this event last year, while Brian Vickers (get well soon) won the last Cup event at Michigan late last summer.
For the third weekend in a row, the Cup cars face a grueling endurance event.
First came the Coca-Cola 600, the longest event of the year. Last week gave us 500 long miles at Pocono. Now, drivers head to one of the fastest tracks on the circuit, where pole speeds frequently flirt with 190 miles per hour.
So who looks good for this weekend’s tilt?
My personal pick is going to be Jeff Gordon. Last week I took Denny Hamlin as my lead driver, and he rewarded me with a victory, so I’m looking for Gordon to continue my streak. He has two wins and 22 top-10s in 34 career Michigan starts. Additionally, he is one of only two active drivers with an average Michigan start in the single digits. Last year he finished second in both Michigan races.
My dark horse for the weekend will be Bill Elliott. Nowadays, the Wood Brothers only run a limited schedule with factory Ford backing, but you can bet that they’ll be looking to impress at the home track of the American manufacturers. Elliott’s Michigan record isn’t too shabby either—seven wins and 29 top-10s in 59 starts. Both are tops among active drivers.
Who else looks good at Michigan?
I hesitate offering up a Carl Edwards pick, because he’s burned me every time I’ve suggested him all year. He’s done very little to suggest that he’s still the same driver who won nine races in 2008. But Edwards has two wins and 10 top-10s in only 11 Michigan starts. His 6.1 average finish at the track is by far the best of any active driver, nearly four spots better than second-best Matt Kenseth.
Of course, that also makes Kenseth a viable Michigan pick, his last win coming at the track in 2006. Michigan is owner's Jack Roush’s home track, and he always does his best to take a win at the track each year. Last year was the first since 2001 in which a Roush car didn’t take the checkers in a Michigan Cup event, and you can bet that the Cat in the Hat will do everything he can to change that.
Finally, it’s time for Junior Nation to get on its feet, because Dale Jr. is my final pick of the weekend.
Sure, his one win at the track (and only win in the No. 88) came on fuel mileage, but he has led at least one lap in eight of the last nine Michigan events. In that span, he has all four of his career top fives at the track, and has completed 1734 of a possible 1735 laps. Clearly he can take a car to the front and keep it in the hunt.