The battle for manufacturer bragging rights takes center stage this weekend at Michigan International Speedway.
Chevrolet, Ford, Dodge and Toyota will all make their case as NASCAR’s top team in the backyard of the birthplace of the automobile. Denny Hamlin will look to take Toyota to victory lane for the fifth time this year and second time at Michigan. Kurt Busch leads the Dodge team, while Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon will represent Chevrolet.
All eyes though, might be on the Fords of Roush-Fenway Racing. Still win-less in 2010 and sometimes world’s behind the competition, owner Jack Roush had nothing but praise and confidence in his team. A RFR driver has seen victory lane at Michigan 11 times over the years and have never been eager for No. 12.
In order to win at Michigan teams must be prepared for anything. Last weekend at Pocono it nearly came down to fuel mileage and this weekend it’s almost guaranteed too. That’s how Mark Martin and Brian Vickers picked up their wins last year.
While fuel mileage races have their lack of interest to some fans, last year at Michigan provided much excitement. Johnson and Greg Biffle traded the lead numerous times over the final few laps, trying to out-conserve each other before both ran out on the last lap. In the August race Vickers scored his second career win, first for team Red Bull, as Dale Earnhardt Jr. came roaring through the field past the drivers that were slowing down to save fuel.
He made it to third before the laps ran out.
Speaking of running out, Joey Logano is out of patience with the point leader, Kevin Harvick. The two-tangled again last weekend at Pocono when Harvick spun Logano with two laps to go, taking away his top five finish. Before Logano provided the highlight of the year with his interview in the garage area, the two met on pit road where they got into a screaming match.
With the long and wide surface of Michigan it won’t be surprising if the two give each other extra room while racing. It’s another part of Michigan’s charm, drivers will be using every inch of the track. Those like Juan Pablo Montoya and Earnhardt Jr. are bound to be up near the wall, while the likes of Tony Stewart and Martin will be around the bottom.
Up off the bottom of the finishing order was our Creature’s last weekend at Pocono. In his latest commercial Hamlin asks, “Who doesn’t love love,” and it was because of him that our Creatures were asking, “Who doesn’t love winning?”
Hamlin’s fourth win of the year, and fourth at Pocono, put a win in the column of a few Creatures and bonus points in the bank for the Chase. This weekend though, they’ll have much to take into consideration when trying to predict the winner. Here are the ones predicted to overcome whatever Michigan throws at them:
Misan Akuya: Jamie McMurray
Jamie McMurray has been strong all year and after struggling early at Pocono it appeared that McMurray had a top ten going, maybe if there was no more cautions a win. But former teammate David Ragan made a terrible mistake taking out McMurray and costing him points. He needs points and Michigan could be the place. He has been decent at Michigan with one top five, four top tens, 13 laps led, and an average finish of 18th. Auto Club Speedway is similar to Michigan and McMurray scored a pole there. Charlotte is also similar and until a late caution McMurray had that race won. Expect nothing less out of him Sunday.
James Broomhead: Kasey Kahne
Kasey was so desperate to get to Michigan that he tried to leave Pocono a lap earlier— through a hedge.
He's been a nit of a disappointment so far this year—tipped for much with Ford, but failing to deliver, even on tracks where the marquee are normally strong. Michigan is a big horsepower track and Kasey's new Ford engine could finally break the barren spell.
Kelly Crandall: Matt Kenseth
This has to be the weekend that not only Kenseth returns to victory lane but the Fords do as well. Right? Michigan was once known as the house of Roush, along with a few other tracks, and there is nowhere else that the RFR drivers want to win more than in the automobile’s backyard.
With an average finish of 10.9 and one win, Kenseth and Todd Parrott have what it takes to run up front. This weekend will be one of their best chances to get back to victory lane.
Billy Fellin: Jeff Gordon
I wanted to pick a Roush-Fenway driver here, I really, really did. But, Gordon finished second at Michigan in both races last season; he has won there twice as well.
Adam Heasley: NO PICK SENT
No pick sent.
Christopher Leone: Jeff Gordon
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.
Kara Martin: Jeff Gordon
He's the original four-time and he'll show why on Sunday.
Dustin Parks: Carl Edwards
It was June 2007 when Edwards was riding a long win-less streak heading into Michigan. Plus, his rig driver had an ugly beard that he wouldn't shave until he won again. Thankfully, on that day, both ended with a patented Edwards back flip and a Gillette razor.
Ford has not been to victory lane yet, but this is Ford's backyard. They have to get one at this track. Roush will be good, and my bet is on the No. 99.
Patti Rodisch: Carl Edwards
This weekend will be a real test for Carl Edwards and his team. This is a track where he has found past success and has a stellar average finish of 5.7 at Michigan International Speedway. His worse finish since 2005 is 22nd and that was in the August race in 2006. Last year in both races he finished fourth and led two laps total. Leading laps and running up front has been missing this season for Edwards and Michigan represents the perfect place to do so.
If Edwards does not win or come out of here with a top five finish their already tough season will just feel a little longer.
Sal Sigala Jr.: Jimmie Johnson
This one of only a few tracks that the No. 48 has never won at, and it seems strange since they have won at Auto Club Speedway, which is an exact replica of this flat two mile oval. Johnson and company has had some good finishes the past few weeks despite being overshadowed by team JGR. This could be the week that Johnson gets back into victory lane, while adding Michigan to his list of tracks he has won at.
Rob Tiongson: Jimmie Johnson
They may have had the funk earlier in the season, but I think they'll pop right back into the picture, especially ones from victory lane. Having won both races at Michigan's sister track at Fontana, I'll not be surprised to see the No. 48 team get 'er done in the automobile capital of America.
Alan Wade: Matt Kenseth
Matt has been due for a win for some time now. Roush and Ford desperately need to pull out all the stops this weekend to turn the corner on what has been a dismal season for the blue oval boys.
Billy Fellin (1,978 ) Tony Stewart finished third (3 )
Kara Martin (1,958 ) Kurt Busch finished sixth (2 )
Sal Sigala Jr. (1,877 ) Denny Hamlin won (1 )
Kelly Crandall (1,848 ) Denny Hamlin won (2 )
Dustin Parks (1,839 ) Denny Hamlin won (2 )
James Broomhead (1,834 ) Denny Hamlin won (2 )
Christopher Leone (1,828 ) Denny Hamlin won (3 )
Rob Tiongson (1,788 ) Kurt Busch finished sixth (0 )
Patti Rodisch (1,714 ) Tony Stewart finished third (0 )
Misan Akuya (1,695 ) Denny Hamlin won (1 )
Adam Heasley (962 ) NO PICK SENT (0 )
Alan Wade (166 ) Jeff Gordon finished 32nd (0 )
Racing at Michigan will be all over the racetrack: high, low and in the middle as each driver will run a different line than the next. Watch for which line seems to be the fastest and which line will be the one that comes in handy when trying to conserve fuel.
Starting positions are not to be worked up about. Over the last few weeks we’ve talked about drivers being able to win from anywhere in the field and at Michigan that will be no different. In this race last season Mark Martin started 32nd before ending the day in victory lane, while Brian Vickers came from the pole position in August.
Summary of Picks
Jeff Gordon - 3
Jimmie Johnson - 2
Matt Kenseth - 2
Carl Edwards - 2
Jamie McMurray - 1
Kasey Kahne - 1