NASCAR Sprint Cup at Michigan: 10 Bold Predictions for the Heluva Good! 400

Ryan Papaserge@@RyanPapasergeCorrespondent IJune 16, 2011

NASCAR Sprint Cup at Michigan: 10 Bold Predictions for the Heluva Good! 400

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    BROOKLYN, MI - AUGUST 15: Kasey Kahne, driver of the #9 Budweiser Ford and Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet, lead the field at the start of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series CARFAX 400 at Michigan International Speedway on August 15, 2010 in
    Jerry Markland/Getty Images

    After another long race in the Pocono Mountains which featured Jeff Gordon earning an insurance policy by winning his second race of the 2011 Sprint Cup season and essentially punching a ticket into the Chase in the process, NASCAR's premier touring series heads to another romantic destination this weekend—the Irish Hills of Michigan.

    The region known for long periods of daylight is also known for fast, clean races at the two-mile oval. Denny Hamlin took last June's race which featured just four cautions for 14 laps, while Kevin Harvick used fuel mileage to his advantage to win last August.

    What will happen this time around at Michigan International Speedway? Here are 10 bold predictions.

Sunday's Race Will Have Fewer Than Four Cautions

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    DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 14:  Officials wave a yellow caution flag late in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 14, 2010 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)
    Todd Warshaw/Getty Images

    We'll use four cautions as the over/under here, as both last June's race at Michigan and last weekend's race at Pocono featured just a quartet of yellow flags. It's worth noting all four cautions at Pocono were for debris, meaning the race could have gone caution-free without objects on the track.

    As I noted in the previous slide, Michigan has a reputation for providing good, clean racing without an abundance of incidents. In fact, 24 of 83 Sprint Cup races at the track have had less than four cautions.

    Yes, I do realize that my picture is from the 2010 Daytona 500.

Fuel Mileage Will Once Again Be a Late-Race Storyline

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    I realize this isn't particularly a bold prediction, but a race with less than four cautions means this will be a given, with extraordinarily long green-flag runs likely to occur.

    It's common knowledge that Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s last win came in a fuel-mileage race at Michigan in June 2008, but Jeremy Mayfield's Evernham Motorsports teams also used it to race safely into the Chase by winning in August 2005.

    I apologize for the lame music video here, but it's all I could find.

Denny Hamlin Will Dominate Because He Did Last Year and Is Due to Repeat It

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    LONG POND, PA - JUNE 11: Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Groun Toyota waits on pit road during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 5-Hour Energy 500 at Pocono Raceway on June 11, 2011 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jerry Markland/Get
    Jerry Markland/Getty Images

    Last weekend at Pocono, we saw what appears to be the start of a midseason charge for Denny Hamlin, the man everyone expected to be in the thick of the Chase hunt at the start of the season.

    Currently running 12th in the Sprint Cup standings, Hamlin led 32 laps and ran in the top 10 for most of the afternoon, but brake issues late in the race forced the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota onto pit road and an eventual 19th-place finish.

    However, it was a promising sign for the Virginian entering a race in which he led 123 of 200 laps en route to a win last season. He's certainly due for a victory, obviously without one in the 2011 campaign.

A Chaser Could Blow an Engine

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    FONTANA, CA - FEBRUARY 25:  Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #8 Budweisewr Chevrolet, blows an engine during the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series Auto Club 500 at California Speedway on February 25, 2007 in Fontana, California.  (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Im
    Robert Laberge/Getty Images

    For some strange reason, future Chasers have had issues with engines at Michigan International Speedway, meaning that we may see a failure occur that could shake up the points standings this Sunday.

    Here's a list for good measure: Jeff Gordon (June 2004), Jimmie Johnson (August 2004), Jeff Burton (August 2006), Denny Hamlin (August 2008) and Kurt Busch (August 2010).

We Won't See a Repeat of the 1991 Dale Jarrett-Davey Allison Photo Finish...

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    This is almost certainly the greatest finish in NASCAR's run at Michigan.

    By the way, it's amazing how time has forgotten this finish. I realize I was quite young when this actually occurred, but this is a true thrilling run to the line.

...but We Could See a First-Time Winner in David Ragan

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    LONG POND, PA - JUNE 11:  David Ragan, driver of the #6 UPS Ford, looks on during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 5-Hour Energy 500 at Pocono Raceway on June 11, 2011 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
    Chris Trotman/Getty Images

    It took a bit, but this young Georgian is having another breakout season in the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford.

    After recording a career-best second-place finish at the Coke 600 in Charlotte, Ragan has had solid top-20 runs with a 13th at Kansas and a 17th at Pocono. He's had past success at the two-mile oval in Brooklyn, finishing in the top 10 in both races during the 2008 season.

    In a season of first-time winners, Ragan is certainly due.

The Winner Will Come from Inside the Top 10

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    BROOKLYN, MI - JUNE 14:  Mark Martin, driver of the #5 CARQUEST/Kellogg's Chevrolet, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series LifeLock 400 at Michigan International Speedway on June 14, 2009 in Brooklyn, Michigan.  (Photo by E
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    According to Racing-Reference.info, 65 of 83 races at Michigan have been won by a driver inside the top 10 starting positions.

    In fact, the last driver to win from outside the top 10 was Mark Martin, who came from 32nd position to win in June 2009 after Greg Biffle ran out of gas on the final lap.

There Will Be No DNFs (Not Including Start-and-Parkers)

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    BROOKLYN, MI - JUNE 15:  Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M's Toyota, crosses the start line at the green flag during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Lifelock 400 at the Michigan International Speedway on June 15, 2008 in Brooklyn, Michigan.  (Photo by Chris
    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    Last August, only one driver (Kurt Busch) failed to finish the race that originally didn't plan to start and park early. In the race prior, Casey Mears—driving for Red Bull Racing at the time—was the only non-start-and-parker to register a did not finish (DNF).

    With this in mind, it's completely possible that everyone who plans to run the entire race will do so this weekend.

TNT Actually Provides Post-Race Interviews If the Race Ends Early

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    At the surface this seems absurd, but this is a legitimate gripe for many watching at home.

    Last weekend's race at Pocono ended about 40 minutes before TNT's NASCAR coverage was supposed to go off the air at 5:30 p.m. Instead of going through and providing a brief interview for everyone who finished in the top 10, TNT signed off after interviewing the top three or four with over 20 minutes to spare.

    It's not like the 3,000th repeat of Gran Torino this month needs to start early, so please throw NASCAR fans a bone and give us some post-race coverage. After all, we've had to deal with Fox all year.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Will Finally Return to Victory Lane

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    LONG POND, PA - JUNE 12:  Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard/Amp Energy Chevrolet, stands on the grid prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 5-Hour Energy 500 at Pocono Raceway on June 12, 2011 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jerry
    Jerry Markland/Getty Images

    There will be jubilation in Junior Nation Sunday afternoon, as Dale Earnhardt Jr. will finally return to Victory Lane after what seems like an eons-long winless streak at this point.

    In just 14 races, Steve Letarte and Dale Earnhardt Jr. have proven to become the crew chief-driver tandem that may pull off a Sprint Cup title run this season. Junior hasn't been flashy, but he's been remarkably consistent, building up great finishes in a similar fashion to Matt Kenseth's 2003 season.

    He's registered a top-20 finish for the past 13 races, a streak no one else on the circuit can claim. With that type of consistency, any historical statistic can be thrown out the window.

    Dale Earnhardt Jr. will win this Sunday.

    Thoughts? Comment below.