NASCAR Sprint Cup: 7 Bold Predictions for Sunday's Pure Michigan 400
Michigan International Speedway is one of the biggest tracks in NASCAR. Situated in the heart of the auto industry, it is known as Ford's home track and historically Ford drivers have dominated the two mile D-shaped oval.
So what can we expect to see in the Sprint Cup Series race at Michigan on Sunday?
Here are seven predictions for what will transpire.
There Will Be a Last Lap Pass for the Win
I predict that there will be a last lap pass for the lead in Sunday's race. It happened last week at Watkins Glen when Marcos Ambrose got around Brad Keselowski for the victory and I think we'll be in for another exciting finish at Michigan.
There's nothing like a last lap pass to make fans remember a snoozer of a race as a thriller. While I wouldn't be surprised to see long green flag runs on Sunday, I think that the ending will at least be memorable.
There have been six last-lap passes for the lead in Cup races at Michigan. The last time it happened was in 2009 when Mark Martin passed Greg Biffle for the lead after Biffle ran out of fuel on the final lap. Given the year he's been having I don't expect Mark Martin to do it again, but you never know.
Denny Hamlin Will Finish in the Top 5
Over the past five Michigan races, Hamlin leads all drivers in Top 10s (five), top 5s (four, tied with Carl Edwards), wins (2), average finish (3.40), driver rating (111.9) and laps led (134).
Suffice it to say, Hamlin is good at Michigan International Speedway. Scary good.
And he's been good there for a long time. In his 11 races at the track he has just one finish outside the Top 15.
Lately Hamlin has really turned it up a notch at Michigan. Last June he scored his first Michigan win. He followed that up with a runner-up result in August and captured his second win at the track two months ago.
Look for the No. 11 Camry to be near the front of the field when the checkered flag waves.
The Race Won't Turn into a Fuel Mileage Affair
I'm going to make a prediction that I'm sure a lot of fans hope will come true: the race will NOT turn into a fuel mileage deal.
Fuel mileage races tend to produce unexpected story lines and an unusual final Top 10. Many fans feel that fuel mileage affairs aren't real races, as the best cars tend to get shuffled back in the pack and the eventual winner lucks out on fuel strategy, coasting to victory at half-throttle.
Fear not race fans! I predict that we'll see nothing of the kind on Sunday. Instead, there will be a a restart with less than 10 laps to go and the best cars will be going at it four wide, racing for the win.
A Ford Driver Will Not Win
Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle are among the best at Ford's home track of Michigan International Speedway year in and year out. However, none of them will be visiting Victory Lane on Sunday and neither will other Ford drivers such as Marcos Ambrose or A.J. Allmendinger.
Carl Edwards is the last Ford driver to win at the track. His victory came six races ago in the August 2008 event. I'm sure Ford executives would love to see one of their drivers bring home the trophy to the Ford stable, but I don't think it will happen.
Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards ran well in the June Michigan race—second and fifth, respectively—but they were the only Fords in the top 10. Neither driver has been running particularly well lately and I don't expect either of them to win on Sunday.
Brian Vickers Will Extend His Michigan Top 10 Streak to Seven
Vickers didn't race at Michigan in 2010 as he was sidelined while undergoing treatment for blood clots. It's been a rough year for Brian Vickers in his return to the track and the Red Bull driver is mired in 28th place in the standings.
However, Vickers picked up where he left off at Michigan. He qualified fourth and scored one of his five 2011 Top 10s in the June Michigan race.
That result stretched his Top 10 streak at the track to six races. The second best streak belongs to Denny Hamlin, with five consecutive Michigan Top 10s.
Vickers hasn't been in the Top 10 since that race in June, but I think he'll get back on track with a strong run on Sunday. Look for him to lead a few laps and come home with a solid finish.
Tony Stewart Will Challenge for His First Win of the Year
Tony Stewart hasn't gotten hot this summer like we're used to seeing. I predict that Smoke will finally turn up the heat at Michigan after a surprisingly bad run at Watkins Glen last week.
Stewart ran well at Michigan earlier this year, qualifying sixth and finishing seventh. He'll be a factor on Sunday and solidify his position in the top ten in the standings.
With 17 Top 10s and 10 Top Fives in 25 career Michigan starts, it's surprising that Stewart has only one win at the track. That lone victory came back in 2000, but I think he'll be leading the race as the laps wind down only to lose at the last moment to this guy...
Jimmie Johnson Will Win the Race
Michigan is one of just five Cup tracks where Johnson doesn't have a victory, but that will change on Sunday. He has led the most laps here four times, but has just two Top Fives and no wins to show for his efforts.
One thing that has prevented Johnson from winning at Michigan before has been the prevalence of fuel mileage strategies at the track. More than once the fuel mileage game has handed his dominant car a middle of the pack finish.
If my earlier prediction that fuel mileage won't be an issue holds true, look for Johnson to finally break through and cross Michigan off the list of tracks he hasn't conquered.