The NASCAR Sprint Cup series travels to Michigan this week for the first of two races this season. Because of being so close to the Motor City, this event takes on an entirely different aspect than what we see week after week elsewhere. This race is about bragging rights among all the executives in the luxury boxes rooting for their model of car to win.
The Ford gang has had the most bragging rights over the years, but they haven't won since the fall of 2008 with Carl Edwards during his shining season. The last two years have seen two Chevys and two Toyota's win. The Toyota win, even though the Japanese manufacturer makes more cars in the United States than the other NASCAR models, was like a dagger to the heart of all three of the other manufacturers.
This year we should see Ford come to forefront again as the Roush-Fenway stable of drivers are once again on top their game after a two year hiatus.
Carl Edwards is a two-time winner at the track and has a track best 6.3 average finish in his 13 starts. His worst finish was 22nd in 2006. Every one of his other 12 starts has seen him finish 12th or better. He's the current points leader and has done so by being one of the best on these types of tracks which requires lots of horsepower and good handling.
Edwards will be trying to get the job done this week with the same car he ran at Dover that finished seventh. Michigan will be the second race run in the car's history.
His teammate, Matt Kenseth, has the next best average finish at the track. Even though Kenseth hasn't won at Michigan since 2006, he has always run well. In the fall race last season he finished fifth, his 10th top-five finish on the track. Overall he has two wins at Michigan and comes in with two wins on the season. He'll be using his Charlotte chassis this week, a race that Kenseth dominated with the most laps led despite finishing 14th.
The next top candidate to win is another Roush driver, Greg Biffle. He won during the 2004 and 2005 season at Michigan and has a12.3 career average finish on the track. He's been just a notch below what his other teammates has done lately in 2011, but did finish fourth in the fall race last season.
The wild card of the race could be Dale Earnhardt Jr. who has three straight top-10 finishes coming in to this weekend. It's been 107 races since Junior last won a race, but that win was at Michigan in 2008, his first season with Hendrick Motorsports. In that race, Junior had fumes in the fuel tank with three laps to go, but won the gamble. He's running very well right now and might be able to win the race straight up on the performance of his car rather needing to gamble. He'll be using a brand new car this week.
Kevin Harvick won the Michigan race last fall for only his third top-five finish in 20 career starts. He also won at Michigan's sister track of California earlier this season showing that he has indeed conquered two tracks that had previously given him trouble. This week he'll be using the same car that he won with at California.
Denny Hamlin won this race last season and then finished runner-up in the fall which should have him considered one of the favorites this week. However, Hamlin just can't seem to get any rhythm going this year. He led the most laps last week at Pocono, a place he was heavily favored at, but had a disappointing finish.
Even though Harvick has won the last races held one the 2-mile tracks of California and Michigan, the correlation between the two isn't a great as it would seem. The biggest mystery between the two is Jimmie Johnson who has dominated Fontana over his career, but has yet to win a race at Michigan. It's one of only five tracks on tour that Johnson has yet to win at.
Johnson's chances become even tougher with the car he's bringing this week, which by his high standards is a clunker. The car finished 15th at Darlington and then 28th at Charlotte. He could be a driver to pick on in several matchups where he is placed as a large favorite just because of reputation.
Red Bull racing has shown at times this season that they have the horsepower needed to compete with the top teams. Kasey Kahne won this race in 2006 and has three other runner-up finishes, including this race last season. Brian Vickers won the last time he was on the track in 2009, but sat out of both races in 2010 due to health issues.
Another long shot to look at this week is Joey Logano who comes in with three straight top-10 finishes at Michigan.
TOP 5 Finish Prediction:
1) #99 Carl Edwards (6/1)
2) #17 Matt Kenseth (8/1)
3) #16 Greg Biffle (12/1)
4) #29 Kevin Harvick (8/1)
5) #88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. (15/1)