NASCAR's cautions, Hamlin's title hopes and Stewart's revenge
(Photo by ASP, Inc.)
Trust and belief are core issues the Backseat Drivers Fan Council delves into this week. Members state how much they trust NASCAR in regards to debris cautions. Belief centers on what Fan Council members think about the title chances of Denny Hamlin, who has a series-high four wins, including the last two races. Belief also centers on what they think of Tony Stewart’s various comments last week toward Matt Kenseth and if Stewart will seek revenge. Here’s what members of the Backseat Drivers Fan Council had to say on those topics and more.
Do you trust NASCAR on calling debris cautions?
55.9 percent said only part of the time 33.0 percent said yes, all of the time 11.1 percent said no, never
What Fan Council members said:
• I have to be honest here and say that sometimes I think NASCAR throws a caution for no apparent reason to change the outcome of the race ... plain and simple!
• If you can't trust NASCAR then why are you watching?
• How many times does this need to be talked about?! Seriously, I am tired of it! Face it, NASCAR is a dictatorship; they are judge, jury and executioner. They are in business to make money, and what makes money in racing? Excitement! What doesn't make money in racing? Boring-ass, single-file, follow-the-leader (who is eight seconds ahead) racing. So if NASCAR wants to toss out a phantom yellow once in a while to create some action — which creates profits — I am all for it.
• I'm sorry, but I just don't buy the conspiracy theories. There is just too much at stake, financially, for the powers-that-be at NASCAR to go around manipulating results. It's a legitimate sport, not wrestling.
• The lack of consistency has always irked me. If brushing the wall brings out a caution on lap 10, it should bring out a caution on lap 110.
• I do believe that NASCAR does, at times, consider what will make a good TV finish and may be inclined to abuse the caution flag to create that situation. That's my honest opinion, and I hope somebody can argue the other point and change my mind.
• I believe they make mistakes but I also believe that NASCAR has to err on the side of safety and there may be cautions called that are not necessary. However, by and large, they make the right calls most of the time.
• NASCAR is definitely not infallible when it comes to their calls, so they're not going to get it right all the time. But this is racing. You're never going to get it right all the time. And you're never going to please all the fans with the calls — it just can't be done, especially when you consider the coverage that most of us are stuck with. I'm tired of this whole debate.
After scoring two consecutive wins, is Denny Hamlin the championship favorite?
75.1 percent said No
24.9 percent said Yes
What Fan Council members said:
• Denny is too mentally weak. He'll snap and disappoint the team again.
• Hamlin choked the 2010 title away in the final two races after being one of the winningest drivers of that season. Just because he has won two in a row, he looks like the flavor of the month. Remember what happened with Smoke last year? The only favorite is the 48, period.
• That team has not shown the consistency to win the championship so far, but with Darian Grubb as crew chief, who knows?
• With Darian Grubb, a crew chief who did a great job last year with Tony Stewart, on top of the pit box and having momentum heading into the Chase, they could be dangerous.
• I believe this might be Denny's year, he and Darian are really clicking and look very good to win the Championship!
• Serious challenger, but still think JJ is the man to win.
• He hasn't shown the consistency to be the favorite. Betting against Jimmie Johnson in the Chase is the ultimate sucker bet. It’s about time to start singing the praises of Darian Grubb, though — what a 12 months of racing for him!
• Hate to say it, but Dale Jr. is the guy to beat. Top 5s week in and week out.
(Photo by ASP, Inc.)
Will Tony Stewart seek revenge on Matt Kenseth? After wrecking with Matt Kenseth at Bristol, Tony Stewart said: “I’m going to run over him every him every chance I’ve got from now ’til the end of the year, every chance I’ve got.” But then a few days later, Stewart said: “I can’t guarantee anything is not going to happen. It’s not our intention to seek him out. We’ve got along a lot more races than we’ve disagreed. We’ve always got through it in the past.” Fan Council members were asked if they think Stewart will seek revenge on Kenseth by the end of the season?
74.9 percent said no, Stewart won’t seek revenge 25.1 percent said yes, Stewart will seek revenge
What Fan Council members said:
• I'm looking forward to it and will be disappointed if Stewart doesn't.
• Tony is a professional and won't stoop to the level of others.
• If it serves Tony's purpose or if he gets angry, he will wreck anyone at any time. I'm growing tired of NASCAR applauding his childish/angry behavior.
• Now that Tony has lost his primary sponsor, he doesn't dare do anything controversial. It's a shame, because I was kind of looking forward to a punt at Richmond or Martinsville.
• Frankly, Tony is full of a lot of hot air (kind of like Harvick). They both say what they want, in the heat of the moment, and then change their minds later when it suits them.
• Tony is smart enough to know not to get negative publicity by doing something stupid. Will he cut Matt a break? Probably not ... but not at the cost of his racecar. Now having said that, if I were Matt Kenseth, I wouldn't push Tony around for a while because Bad Tony can come back quickly!! But I don't think Tony will actually go out of his way to run him over.
• Racers never forget when they think another driver has wronged them.
Grade Sunday night’s Cup race at Atlanta
51.9 percent called it Good 29.5 percent called it Fair 11.6 percent called it Great 7.1 percent called it Poor
What Fan Council members said:
• It was a good, solid race. I have come to appreciate the races with long green-flag runs. The best cars end up at the front.
• This could have been a 100-lap race, because the first 250 were not that exciting. I am not a huge fan of long green-flag runs with the field so spread apart, and so few people on the lead lap.
• I was there in person. The only good parts were the beginning and the end, unfortunately. Normally in person you can find good racing that is not shown on TV, but sadly this was not the case in Atlanta ... disappointing and boring.
• This was just a great race throughout. There were battles up front all race long and watching some of the drivers master that track was just beautiful.
• Just when racing was getting entertaining again we go back to single-file, spread-out-by-two-three-seconds racing. They need to maybe throw tacks on the track every 70 laps to cause wrecks.
• I have to say I was really bored. I don't know if the track needs repaved or what, but when the cars get so spread out I start web surfing. This is one race that I would not go see in person.
• Another green-flag-plagued race saved by cautions at the end.
• This was by far the most boring Atlanta race I can remember and I was there! No passing, single-file runs. The ending was "fun” but other than that ... very slow.
• Once again it seems aero rules. The race was pretty boring overall. The last 20 laps were exciting. Then total heartbreak.
The Backseat Drivers Fan Council was founded and is administered by Dustin Long. Fans can join by sending Dustin an email at email@example.com.
Please include the following information:
Name, city, state, Twitter name, e-mail address and favorite driver.
Hamlin, Johnson, Keselowski separate from the pack
"Hmmm ... what should I ask him?" (ASP, Inc.)
1. Jimmie Johnson Denny Hamlin may be the hottest driver on the Cup circuit at the moment, but Johnson’s team will still be the one everyone keeps an eye on going into the Chase.
2. Denny Hamlin Became the first driver since Tony Stewart in last season’s playoffs to score consecutive wins on the Cup circuit, with victories at Bristol and Atlanta. This is not the Denny Hamlin of 2011, folks.
3. Brad Keselowski Throw out Keselowski’s disastrous night in Bristol (which is a real rarity) and you’ll find a driver with eight straight runs of ninth or better. Along with Johnson and Hamlin, he has to be a title favorite.
4. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Persevered for a respectable seventh-place showing on what was shaping up to be an off night in Atlanta. The consistency is unquestioned, but can Junior post a couple wins in the Chase?
5. Greg Biffle Was expecting more out of the points leader at the fast and slick Atlanta track. That said, his team of intermediate-track specialists will be ready for the Chase kickoff at the 1.5-mile Chicagoland Speedway.
6. Martin Truex Jr. Victory slips through Truex’s fingers once again. He and the No. 56 team’s performance in the closing laps at Atlanta are what separate the “title contenders” from the “playoff participants.”
7. Matt Kenseth One has to wonder how his Roush Fenway bunch will react now that Kenseth has walked the halls and officially announced his Joe Gibbs Racing relationship.
8. Clint Bowyer Moved into the top 10 from a rear-of-the-field starting spot at Atlanta before battery issues cost him three laps. Could Bowyer be a guy who breaks up the Kyle Busch/Jeff Gordon battle royal in Richmond?
Truex's 2013 Toyota. Pretty spiffy. (ASP, Inc.)
9. Kasey Kahne Looking to make up the 19 points he’ll need to slide ahead of Tony Stewart in the standings and take advantage of the bonus points he’ll receive for the two wins. That may be a lot to ask.
10. Jeff Gordon Gordon regretted not putting the fender to Hamlin on the final lap at Atlanta. Considering all that’s riding on a win, I’m scratching my head as to why he didn’t, either.
11. Kyle Busch Busch can win at Richmond, no doubt. But can JGR give him a piece that lasts the whole race?
12. Kevin Harvick The last couple of weeks makes me wonder why Harvick and Gill Martin split up in the first place.
13. Tony Stewart Point to ponder: Danica Patrick is currently the only driver at SHR with full sponsorship for 2013.
14. Marcos Ambrose Valiant performances by Ambrose and the team over the last month is example of too little, too late.
15. Paul Menard Here’s betting the “Paul Menard Empire” is the only group that knew he has three straight top 10s.
Just off the lead pack: Carl Edwards, Sam Hornish Jr., Joey Logano, Mark Martin, Ryan Newman
Jay Pennell looks at favorites and darkhorses for the Bristol Night Race
The Blue Deuce, looking racy at Bristol. (ASP, Inc.)
The Race for the Chase is heating up and after two weeks of late-race drama the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Thunder Valley for the Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
When the series hits the high-banks, it will be on a much different racing surface than the drivers have been accustomed to over the past few seasons. After the 2007 reconfiguration of the track, progressive banking was added in the corners, allowing for multiple grooves and two- and three-wide racing.
The racing on the new configuration was exciting and competitive, however many fans bemoaned the changes and called for a return to the Bristol of old. While it may have been the changes to the track, a lagging economy, or a host of other reasons, attendance fell from 160,000 in August 2007 to 102,000 earlier this year.
Listening to the fans, Speedway Motorsports, Inc.'s Bruton Smith took measures into his own hands and altered the track layout for the second time in six years. By grinding down the top racing groove, Smith hopes to create the style of racing Bristol was synonymous with when the grandstands were full and there was a waiting list for tickets.
Yet for many of the drivers, the change to Bristol is an unwelcome sight. Making changes based solely off the opinion of fans, Smith did not consult the competitors before taking away the top groove, boasting, "I do not consult race drivers when I am building a speedway."
After a painstaking process of removing embanked concrete intended to last “15 to 18 years,” according to track general manager Jerry Caldwell, Goodyear brought in Tony Stewart, Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer for a two-day tire test of the new configuration.
Each of the drivers confirmed the field would be unable to race around the top groove, forcing drivers to fight for space on the bottom of the track.
“The drivers aren’t going to be happy, but the spectators probably will be because it is going to put more cars in a closer space,” Burton said following the June tire test. “By taking away that groove, it is going to change your mind about going up there. I think it is going to be two grooves, unless Goodyear brings a tire with a lot of grip. If that is the case, you’ll want to run around the bottom. Making the groove smaller is a good thing, it is going to put the action back to the bottom and middle of the track.”
So, now that the track has changed, what can you expect for your fantasy outlook?
Well, I wouldn’t stray far from the statistics — new Bristol or old. While the groove may have changed, the drivers that excel at Bristol will continue to do so this weekend under the lights.
To find the hottest driver at BMS the past two events, look no further than the man that has finished second the last two weeks: Brad Keselowski. The Penske Racing driver is the defending race winner, went to Victory Lane in dominant fashion here in March and is looking for his fourth win of the 2012 season.
Currently fifth in the Sprint Cup standings, Keselowski is tied with former champions Stewart and Jimmie Johnson with the most wins on the season. A win Saturday night would not only mean a sweep of the year's Bristol races, but would also move Keselowski into the top seed heading into the Chase.
In March, Keselowski dominated the final race on the multi-groove surface, leading 232 of the 500 laps. In the past two weeks, the No. 2 car has been in contention for the win, losing out by only a slight margin to Marcos Ambrose at Watkins Glen and Greg Biffle at Michigan.
Since his victory in Kentucky seven races ago, Keselowski has five top 5s and seven top 10s. So obviously, this team has been on a roll as of late — and that roll should continue right through the mountains of East Tennessee. With confidence on his side and the team gunning for another win or two before the Chase, it is hard to bet against Keselowski Saturday night under the lights.
Much like last weekend, if Keselowski wants to end up in Victory Lane, he will have to beat Johnson. Looking as if he was on his way to his fourth victory of the season last week at Michigan, a blown motor in the final laps resulted in a frustrating 27th-place finish.
A former winner at Bristol, Johnson is always a threat on the high-speed short track. In his last seven races at BMS, the five-time champion has one win, four top 5s and six top 10s.
While Keselowski took advantage of Johnson's issues last Sunday, it was Kyle Busch who lost the win late in the race two weeks ago in Watkins Glen. Currently 14th in the standings, Busch is third in the Chase wild card hunt behind Kasey Kahne and Ryan Newman. While the past few months have been more than frustrating for the driver of the No. 18 Toyota (only three top 10s in the last 11 races), there could be no better track for Busch than Bristol to get back into contention.
With the second-best average finish (10.6), Busch has five wins at Bristol, including four of the last seven races. With time running out before the Chase cut-off, Busch will need to get up on the wheel and get the job done.
Admittedly off at Bristol since his March 2011 win, he and crew chief Dave Rogers will have to dial the car in to the new configuration without over-thinking the setup, as they have done in the past.
Also consider last week's winner (and current points leader) Biffle, as well as fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. for your lineup Saturday night. Both have been extremely strong as of late and have run well at Bristol in the past.
MWR's Brian Vickers and Martin Truex Jr. at Bristol. (ASP, Inc.)
When part-time driver Brian Vickers gets the chance to pilot the Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota, he does his best to make the most of the opportunity. He certainly did that in his first start for MWR at Bristol in March.
Despite starting from the 25th spot, Vickers made his way to the front in the No. 55 car and led 125 of the 500 laps en route to a fifth-place finish. In Vickers' five starts thus far for MWR, has two top 5s, an 18th at Martinsville, a 15th at Loudon and a disappointing 43rd at Watkins Glen, due to a grenaded engine.
Running strong in the bottom groove so successfully in March, Vickers is optimistic he can have a solid showing under the lights.
“We had a great car that ran very well on the bottom and led a lot of laps,” he said. “It will be interesting to see how the upper groove has changed and how it will effect the racing. They wanted it like the ‘old Bristol,’ so we'll see. But again, we had the best car in the lower groove so hopefully it won't effect us too much.”
In fact, all of the MWR cars should be strong at Bristol this weekend. During the March race, the trio was in contention, with Martin Truex Jr. leading the team to third-, fourth- and fifth-place finishes with Clint Bowyer and Vickers following suit, marking the first time MWR had all three cars finish in the top 5.
Five Undervalued Picks: Brian Vickers, Martin Truex Jr., Clint Bowyer, Jeff Burton, Joey Logano
With only three races left before the Chase field is set, Kyle Busch is not the only driver in desperate need of a win. Both Jeff Gordon and Carl Edwards have had their fair share of struggles over the season, but now is the time to put those behind and get the job done.
While both are former winners at Bristol (Gordon has five wins, Edwards two), they are darkhorse picks for the second week in a row considering the desperation that is setting in at this point.
The potential for a win is there for both drivers, but in March each found trouble early in the going with Gordon finishing 35th and Edwards coming home 39th. If you use either of these drivers in your fantasy lineup, do so with caution.
Much like the MWR cars, Earnhardt Ganassi Racing had a stellar showing at Bristol in March with Jamie McMurray finishing seventh and Juan Pablo Montoya right behind in eighth. McMurray was able to use pit strategy early in the race to make his way to the front, while Montoya took advantage of late-race cautions and fresh tires to score a solid finish.
This 2012 season has been nothing short of disappointing for the EGR organization after an offseason of drastic changes behind the scenes. The top 10 finish at Bristol was one of only three for McMurray and one of only two for Montoya. If the team can rekindle some of the success they had in March, they could score some worthy fantasy points.
Five Darkhorse Picks: Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards, Jamie McMurray, Juan Pablo Montoya, Marcos Ambrose
For many, the look of Saturday night's race will be a bit of an unknown. With the change in the racing surface, the side-by-side racing could be much more difficult than in the past few seasons.
Judging by Wednesday night's Camping World Truck Series races, though, it appears while the very top goove is gone, the racing has remained much the same. Be sure to pay attention to Friday evening's Nationwide Series race to get a better idea of what Saturday night's race will look like.
Just remember, no matter how strong the stats, short track racing with multiple agendas and Chase implications on the line mean anything can — and probably will — happen.
Best Average Finish at Bristol (Wins/Starts):
1. Brad Keselowski — 10.4 (2/5)
2. Kyle Busch — 10.6 (5/15)
3. Matt Kenseth — 11.6 (2/25)
4. Dale Earnhardt Jr. — 11.8 (1/25)
5. Greg Biffle — 11.8 (0/19)
6. Jeff Gordon — 12.1 (5/39)
7. Kevin Harvick — 12.4 (1/23)
8. Kurt Busch — 13.1 (5/23)
9. Carl Edwards — 13.9 (2/16)
10. Jimmie Johnson — 14.6 (1/21)
The "New" Bristol, the 2013 Cup Schedule and Danica Back to Cup
Bristol in the spring. (ASP, Inc.)
One theme is consistent among competitors as NASCAR returns to Bristol Motor Speedway for the first time since track changes intended to create tighter racing.
“I just hope that they didn’t screw it up,” points leader Greg Biffle says.
“I just hope they didn’t screw up the race track,” Ryan Newman says.
“Nobody really knows what is going to happen,” Jimmie Johnson says.
After lackluster attendance in the spring and complaints by fans about the lack of action, track officials narrowed the groove to force cars to run closer together and create that door-banging excitement some fans said was lacking.
“I think it is going to be exciting either way,” Biffle says. “I heard they ground the corner more down the straightaway so that when you come up off the corner you will go across that patch coming on to the straightaway, which may be difficult to go from the bottom groove. They carried it around maybe further than it needed to be, but we will have to wait and see when we get there how the race track drives now. I hope it is good.”
Newman is worried what type of racing drivers will see.
“I hope they didn’t take the racing away,” he says. “The beating, banging and crashing is not the racing that I like. That’s what some of the fans enjoy, but that’s not the racing I like. I like being able to run side-by-side. The problem we had the tire just didn’t allow us to be able to fall off so the first five laps of the run were like the last five, 120 (laps) later. Your car didn’t fall off, your balance didn’t change, and everybody was virtually the same speed.
“To me, the tires are the biggest issue when it comes to a place like that.”
Goodyear did a tire test this summer. Cup teams will use a different left-side tire than in the spring race. The right-side tires will remain the same version run in the spring.
“I’m more interested in the changes done to the tire compound than anything else,” says Brad Keselowski, who has won the past two Bristol Cup races. “I think that’ll be the bigger key to the puzzle and we’ll just have to see how that unfolds. Obviously, I’m going to run all three series Wednesday, Friday and Saturday and if there’s a difference in the track I should be the first to know.”
The Camping World Truck Series races Wednesday night at Bristol with the Nationwide race Friday night and the Cup race Saturday night.
Danica Patrick at Darlington in May. (ASP, Inc.)
LEAVE HER ALONE This weekend’s race at Bristol will mark a busy stretch for Danica Patrick as she prepares to move to Cup full time next season. She’ll compete in four of the next six Cup races, running at Bristol this week and then Atlanta, Chicagoland and Dover in September.
She’ll face added attention, which team owner Tony Stewart says is unnecessary.
“I’ll be honest, I wish everybody would get off her back and just let her go race and let her learn,’’ Stewart says. “Everybody is putting so much pressure on her and so much focus on her. Going to a place that you’ve been to is obviously going to help, but everybody needs to take a step back and let this girl learn and do what she is trying to do there.
“It’s kind of a double-edge sword. It’s been great from the publicity side, but for her, I don’t know how she handles it. It’s making me nervous having to talk about her all the time, let alone, she is the one that has to actually do it. I just hope everybody respects her enough to give her the room to know that whether she makes three laps or whether she finishes the whole race, the whole goal is to just learn.”
His advice for Patrick?
“Go out and learn. That is exactly what I told her,” Stewart says. “It’s not been rocket science. The biggest thing is every lap you run in a car the better you’re going to get and the more you are going to learn. Even if you are running fifth or 25th you are learning something. The goal of these 10 races — which is exactly what we said back in the media tour, clear back in January — was that these races are designed to give her laps in the car and get her more time and experience. The good thing is she is excited about it and that is the attitude you have to have going into it.”
PLAN AHEAD The 2013 Cup schedule is slowly being revealed as some tracks have announced their dates. NASCAR isn’t expected to announce the 2013 schedule until next month (this year’s schedule wasn’t announced until late September last year).
Here’s what has been announced for 2013: What was called the Budweiser Shootout at Daytona will be held Saturday, Feb. 16. The Daytona 500 will be Sunday, Feb. 24.
The Cup series will race at Las Vegas on March 10. Texas Motor Speedway will host Cup races April 13 and Nov. 3. Darlington’s Southern 500 remains on Mother’s Day weekend on May 11. Dover’s two Cup races next year will be June 2 and Sept. 29. Indianapolis’ Cup race will be July 28.
PIT STOPS Brad Keselowski has scored seven consecutive top-10 finishes, tying Kasey Kahne for the longest streak this season. ... Matt Kenseth has had six consecutive top-10 finishes at Bristol, the longest active streak for that track. ... NASCAR announced Tuesday that Aaron Fike has completed his road to recovery program and his indefinite suspension for violating the Substance Abuse Policy has been lifted. He was suspended in July 2007 after being arrested on heroin charges. He later admitted in an ESPN The Magazine article that he took heroin on some race days.
Johnson, Keselowski in frenzied battle for supremacy
Junior putting a new meaning to the term, "Dumpster Diving." (ASP, Inc.)
1. Jimmie Johnson Loses a second one in three weeks in heartbreaking fashion. That may derail some teams, but with the 48, you get the feeling it only makes them more determined.
2. Brad Keselowski Keselowski and the boys are rounding into form nicely, with seven consecutive runs of ninth or better. They’re going to be a handful at Bristol this weekend.
3. Dale Earnhardt Jr. After a broken transmission and a spin in the oil knocked Junior’s bunch back the last two weeks, they rebounded in fine fashion to the tune of a fourth-place finish in Michigan.
4. Greg Biffle Earned his second win of the season at the 2-mile Michigan track. His other was at the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway. For those keeping score, there are five such tracks in the Chase.
5. Matt Kenseth It’s been a rocky month for Kenseth, who suffered a cut tire late at Michigan while running in the top 5. As luck would have it, the 17th-place result actually bumped him up a notch to second in the standings.
6. Kasey Kahne Since a 33rd in the June Michigan race, Kahne has been spot-on, recording eight straight top-15 runs. Like Biffle, the tracks in the Chase line up well for Kahne and his engineer/crew chief-extraordinaire, Kenny Francis.
7. Clint Bowyer A solid seventh at Michigan did the trick. However, if this team — albeit a relatively new team — is going to challenge in the Chase, it needs more than a boatload of fifth- to ninth-place showings.
8. Martin Truex Jr. Truex, like his teammate Bowyer, has been as steady as they come this season. However, his No. 56 team must push beyond the sixth- to 10th-place pattern it has fallen into and win races.
9. Denny Hamlin Virtually invisible at Michigan, Hamlin may have notched the most under-the-radar 11th-place finish in NASCAR history. You have to wonder, with a Chase spot virtually sown up, if this team is doing some testing.
"All I'm saying is that "The Pit Bulls" is a cool nickname. "The Geek Squad?" Not so much." (ASP, Inc.)
10. Tony Stewart A failed valve spring felled Stewart at Michigan — the track where he finished second in June. Would have been interesting to see what he could’ve done with a healthy engine.
11. Jeff Gordon Outside of the Pocono surprise, Murphy’s Law has ruled for Gordon and the 24 bunch.
12. Ryan Newman A 7.8-place average finish over the last six races finds Newman in the second wild card spot.
13. Kyle Busch Another win — think Bristol and/or Richmond — would do wonders for Busch right about now.
14. Marcos Ambrose After 10th-, first- and fifth-place runs, imagine if Ambrose won Bristol ... hey, he’s not that bad there.
15. Carl Edwards Gets the 15th-place nod this week for being the highest-finishing “best of the rest-er” at Michigan.
Just off the lead pack: Kevin Harvick, Sam Hornish Jr., Joey Logano, Paul Menard, Regan Smith
Jimmie Johnson blows engine late, hands win to Biffle in Michigan
Greg Biffle in Victory Lane in Michigan. (ASP, Inc.)
Neither Greg Biffle nor team owner Jack Roush is unaccustomed to visiting Victory Lane at Michigan International Speedway. So it was no surprise that the duo ended up spraying champagne following Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400 Sprint Cup race. What was a surprise were the circumstances that landed them there.
Running second to a scorchingly fast Jimmie Johnson, it looked as if Biffle would have to settle for a runner-up showing and “a good points day” after leading a respectable 19 laps and being a top-5 contender throughout the day.
However, as Johnson’s No. 48 Chevy streaked down Michigan’s long backstretch and near certain victory with six laps remaining, the engine sputtered, then detonated, becoming the fourth Hendrick powerplant of the weekend to experience problems.
As Johnson shifted to neutral, coasting to the garage on the track’s apron, Biffle assumed the lead as a yellow flag waved for oil dropped by Johnson’s shattered motor.
On the ensuing green-white-checker restart, Biffle fended off a gaggle of challengers as the field raced into Turn 1, nosing in front of Brad Keselowski and driving away in clean air to his second win of the 2012 season.
“It was going to be a great race no matter what,” Biffle said. “I felt like I could catch (Johnson), but we’ll never know. Passing him might have been a different story. But I certainly think that with seven (laps) to go, I probably could have pulled up close to him.”
Keselowski held on for second, while Kasey Kahne, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Marcos Ambrose rounded out the top 5. Johnson was relegated to a 27th-place finish and left the garage area, and then the facility, without speaking to reporters.
Keselowski, though, had plenty to say in his post-race press conference.
“I don’t know what to say other than I was just close to getting what would have been one of the biggest wins of my career,” the Michigan native said. “That would have been really special, but it wasn’t in the cards today.”
Then he took aim at the Hendrick Motorsports-prepared cars, which seem to have had a chassis advantage after winning seven of the last 13 races since early May.
“There’s parts and pieces on the car that are moving after inspection that make the car more competitive,” Keselowski explained when elaborating on a perceived advantage. “Some guys have it, some don’t. There’s a question to the interpretation of the rule. Penske Racing errs on the safe side because we don't want to be the guys that get the big penalty.
“Obviously, there’s a question to the interpretation (of the rule) that as of right now it’s legal, but I’m sure that Roger (Penske, team owner) doesn’t want to be the one caught red-handed.
“As a group at Penske Racing, we have not felt comfortable enough to risk that name and reputation that Roger has over those parts and pieces. Others have, which is their prerogative — I’m not going to slam them for it.”
He made it well known, though, that while Johnson may still be a pre-Chase title favorite, his No. 2 team is preparing for a 10-race war.
“The 48 has the most speed and the best history as far as the Chase is concerned,” Keselowski stated. “But it’s my job to not roll over and give it to them. We’re doing everything we can do and we nailed it on that last green-flag (pit) sequence (Keselowski beat Johnson off pit road). I’m proud as hell of my guys for doing that.
“The 48 might be the favorite for the championship, but we’re not going to roll over and just let them have it.”
So even in victory, Biffle, ironically the new points leader, flies under the radar — as he has throughout the season. And that seems just fine by him:
“I know that a lot of people don’t expect us to win the championship, don’t expect us to compete for the title. I don’t care what they say or who they want to talk about or what they talk about.
“We will be a factor when it comes down to Homestead, I promise you that.”
News & Notes: Michigan
• Hendrick Motorsports had four engines experience problems — or all-out failures — over the Michigan race weekend. Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart experienced valve train failures in Sunday’s race, while Jimmie Johnson had engine problems in practice, prompting a change. He had another go terminal with six laps to go on Sunday, costing him a fourth win this season.
On the flipside of the Hendrick engine docket was Kasey Kahne, who finished third, Dale Earnhardt Jr. (fourth) and Ryan Newman (eighth). Stewart and Gordon’s issues mirrored one another. As for Johnson, might ace crew chief Chad Knaus simply be testing the limits of durability prior to the Chase? For the time being, one can only speculate.
• Mark Martin was involved in a scary wreck while leading the Pure Michigan 400 on lap 65. After colliding with Juan Montoya, Kasey Kahne and Bobby Labonte, Martin’s car careened into the edge of an opening in the pit road wall. The edge of the wall impaled his No. 55 Toyota, puncturing the oil cooler just behind the seat of the car, nearly striking some bystanders. All walked away unhurt.
• Justin Allgaier nudged his way past Jacques Villeneuve and on to his first Nationwide Series win of the 2012 season at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal. Allgaier used the bumper to move Villeneuve, who appeared to slow, on the final lap at the road course. Coincidentally (or not), Villeneuve used the same tactic to obtain the lead from Alex Tagliani on lap 66 of 81.
Jay Pennell looks at favorites and darkhorses for the Pure Michigan 400
Michigan's June winner, Dale Earnhardt Jr. (ASP, Inc.)
After a wild late-race battle for the win at Watkins Glen, the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit heads to the Irish Hills of Michigan for this weekend's Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway.
Returning to MIS for the second time this season, the Chase is fast approaching and the action is heating up. In June, Dale Earnhardt Jr. ended his 143-race winless streak and made the NASCAR Nation happier than a kid chowing down on some Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia.
This time, however, the series returns in the heat of the race to the Chase. With playoff implications all around and teams on varying strategies and objectives, things could get interesting.
Four drivers — Earnhardt, Jimmie Johnson, Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth — have the opportunity to clinch their respective spot in the Chase in Sunday's race. At the same time, Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman, Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards and others are battling for the two wild card spots.
While the mindset of the teams and drivers may be different from earlier in the summer, one thing that will remain the same is the high speeds created by the new racing surface.
When the series first hit the freshly-paved 2-mile, D-shaped oval, the drivers were laying down some of the fastest speeds of the year recorded in practice and qualifying. After seeing some blistering on the tires, Goodyear officials made a late change in the compound and brought in a tougher left side tire for Sunday's race. Prior to returning this weekend, Goodyear worked with NASCAR, the track and the competitors to test various combinations to bring back a better tire. A total of 27 teams partook in the test on July 30.
One of the drivers most pleased with the test was Roush Fenway Racing's Greg Biffle. The driver of the No. 16 Ford has two wins, eight top 5s and 11 top 10s in nineteen starts in Detroit’s backyard, and is this week's fantasy favorite.
Over the last four Michigan races, Biffle has led a total of 258 of 803 laps en route to a pair of fourth-place finishes (including the June race), a 15th and a 20th (which came after sitting on the pole).
Sitting second in the series standings, just one point behind the five-time champion Johnson, Biffle has only one win this season, meaning he would fall behind Johnson, Brad Keselowski, Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin when the Chase field is reset after the Richmond race. Another win would go a long way in Biffle's quest to earn his first Sprint Cup Series title.
If Biffle wants to earn his second win of the season and first Cup title, he will likely have to beat Johnson for both. Always a contender at Michigan, Johnson has four top 5s and nine top 10s, but has yet to seal the deal and score a win.
Given the performance of the No. 48 organization over the four weeks, it is safe to say they will be a contender yet again this weekend.
The last time the series was in Michigan, it was Earnhardt Jr. that scored the win and ended the longest winless drought of his career. After a disappointing end to a solid day in Watkins Glen, Earnhardt lost the points lead, but is headed to a track he is very capable of sweeping.
Also keep an eye on Keselowski this weekend. Although he has an average finish of 21.0 at Michigan, Keselowski and crew chief Paul Wolfe always have an eye on pit strategy and could shake things up late in the race and have proven capable of winning on most any type of track at any given time.
Five Favorites: Greg Biffle, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brad Keselowski, Matt Kenseth
While Richard Petty Motorsports was celebrating a win last week at Watkins Glen, the team cars of Aric Almirola and Marcos Ambrose could have another strong showing this weekend.
Although they may not take The King to victory lane two weeks in a row, the teammates have had strong showings in the June race, with Ambrose leading 15 laps and finishing ninth, and Almirola coming home 17th in his first Sprint Cup start on the big oval.
Given their solid performance in June, along with the momentum built from last week's win, you may want to consider including Almirola and Ambrose in your lineup this week.
The ageless wonder, Mark Martin, returns to action this weekend behind the wheel of Michael Waltrip Racing’s No. 55 Toyota. The timing could not be better, as Michigan is Martin's best track.
Although he fell out of the June race with an engine issue, Martin has a career-high five victories at Michigan. Given the success of the No. 55 team — especially with Martin behind the wheel — look for the Rodney Childers-led bunch to have a strong run on Sunday.
Martin’s teammates, Martin Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer, have average finishes just outside the top 10 best at Michigan. Sitting sixth and seventh, respectively, in the series standings, both drivers could further solidify their spot in the Chase with good runs — and tack on bonus points with wins.
Five Undervalued Picks: Aric Almirola, Marcos Ambrose, Mark Martin, Clint Bowyer, Martin Truex Jr.
With only four races left before the Chase field is set, time is running out for Carl Edwards and Jeff Gordon. Both sitting outside the top 10 in points, Edwards is without a win, while Gordon is currently fourth in the wild card battle behind Kahne, Newman and Kyle Busch.
Edwards enters the weekend with the best average finish among active drivers (8.4) and two wins at MIS. However, in his last five starts at Michigan, Edwards has three finishes outside the top 10 (including a 36th in the race last August).
If the 2011 championship runner-up wants the opportunity to make the Chase field, time is running out and the season that has yet to get on track needs to do so this weekend. At this point, solid finishes are not enough.
Much like Edwards, Gordon finds himself outside the Chase field at the moment. Needing wins, before the final cutoff race at Richmond, it is time for the No. 24 team to step up to the plate and get the job done. A victory two weeks ago at Pocono gave the four-time champion Chase hopes, but a late-race spin in the oil at Watkins Glen did his wild card hopes no favors.
The Alan Gustafson-led team has run strong throughout the season, but have struggled to put complete races together at times, albeit the issues were not always of their making. If they can use notes from the in-house No. 88 team, stay out of trouble, play the right strategy throughout the race and be there in the end, look for the No. 24 team to have a shot at the win.
Five Darkhorse Picks: Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon, Juan Pablo Montoya, Jeff Burton, Landon Cassill
Best Average Finish at Michigan (Wins/Starts):
1. Carl Edwards — 8.4 (2/16)
2. Matt Kenseth — 9.3 (2/26)
3. Tony Stewart — 11.2 (1/27)
4. Jeff Gordon — 11.3 (2/39)
5. Greg Biffle — 12.4 (2/19)
6. Mark Martin — 13.6 (5/53)
7. Denny Hamlin — 13.8 (2/13)
8. Jimmie Johnson — 14.7 (0/21)
9. Kevin Harvick — 14.8 (1/23)
10. Dale Earnhardt Jr. — 15.2 (2/26)
Watkins Glen had members of the Backseat Drivers Fan Council talking from what should have been done at the end of the race with oil on the track to what they saw throughout the entire event. Fan Council members also shared their thoughts on Dodge’s recent announcement that it will leave NASCAR after this season. Here’s what the Backseat Drivers Fan Council had to say on those issues:
Grade Sunday’s Cup race at Watkins Glen
46.5 percent called it Great 42.8 percent called it Good 8.7 percent called it Fair 2.0 percent called it Poor
What Fan Council member said:
• OMG! I was there and the final incident between Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski happened right in front of me! It was not only the greatest road course race I’ve ever seen, it was in the top-5 finishes I’ve ever seen!
• Best race all year and my guy wasn’t even in the running.
• I still don’t understand why people don’t like the road course races. They’ve been more exciting than Bristol for the past few years.
• Outside of Smoke’s charge to the front and Junior’s surprise appearance in the top 10 at a road course during the race, this one was a snoozer until the end.
• Please! There was passing, there was spinning-out-of-nowhere, and then there was that FANTASTIC FINISH!!! Holy cow — I haven’t been that involved in a race in AGES! Loved it!
• More. Road. Courses. PLEASE! Especially one in the Chase. Phenomenal racing all day long.
• The race was good. People will say it was great because of the ending, but I was disappointed that a missed call impacted the finish. Even had I been OK with the ending of the race, I do not believe that a race is judged by it’s ending. Instead, it is the pit strategies and side-by-side racing throughout the race that I consider.
• Race was great from start to finish ... and what a finish! That last lap literally got me up on my feet (and I have no idea when the last time THAT happened!!). Probably a bad call on NASCAR’s part to not throw the caution, but damned if you do, damned if you don’t. I agree with BK: Now that was racing!! Kudos to Ambrose!
• I thought most of the race was awful, especially when the cars got strung out with big gaps. The last lap was incredible, but not enough to save the rest of it.
• I’m really beginning to like these road courses — and not just for the last lap. This race was really good all the way through. And the length of the race was perfect!!
• What was not to like? Even if you don’t care for road courses, there was action all over the track, even when it was a little spread out up front for a while. The last few laps with Kyle, Brad and Marcos was fantastic. And seeing Tony Stewart mow through the field after his penalty was pretty outstanding!
What did you think of the end of the Watkins Glen race? With some drivers saying there was oil on the track, NASCAR did not throw a caution. Series officials said afterward that their spotters positioned around the track couldn’t see the oil. The oil played a role on the last lap with Kyle Busch running through it and allowing Brad Keselowski to close. They hit, with Busch spinning. Then Keselowski and winner Marcos Ambrose ran off course and into each other in a duel to the finish. So, what did Fan Council members think of the finish?
47.5 percent said it was racing the way it should be 38.8 percent were conflicted — they’re not for what they saw but not against the action 13.7 percent said it was embarrassing to the sport to allow oil to impact the finish
What Fan Council members said:
• NASCAR’s hands were tied because there was no oil visible on the track. Drivers scream their heads off about debris when they believe it will benefit them and NASCAR knows better than to call a caution without first confirming it for themselves. Now granted, a majority of the field was reporting oil, but at that point the white flag was already in their air and it would have been a big controversy had NASCAR thrown the yellow and ended the race on the final lap. People would have been livid for not letting it play out. I believe NASCAR got this one right, it was a bad set of circumstances and they went with their gut. It was a fantastic finish we all would have missed out on had a caution been thrown prematurely.
• NASCAR is always saying they don’t want to throw the yellow because it will impact the end of the race. Well, by them not throwing the yellow it impacted it. It seems like there is something clouding their vision lately of making the right calls.
• The drivers almost to a man said that they couldn’t see the oil. If they can’t, how would NASCAR see it? I think that by the time the driver complaints over the radio reached NASCAR, it was too late to stop the race. The best driver won the race, in my view.
• The “that was racing the way it should be” was for the skill of the three drivers — they were very entertaining and put on a good show. But I do think that NASCAR should have heard the drivers complaining of oil. There were lots of comments on Twitter and in-car radios, so (NASCAR) should have known. While it was exciting and fun, it put people in danger. I think we are only talking about the excitement because no one got hurt, but it was lucky that no one did. If we had had the same end to the race that we had last year with a big giant wreck, and if someone had gotten hurt, the “excitement” wouldn’t have been what we talked about on Monday. Shame on NASCAR for not better protecting the drivers.
• As much as I hate it when NASCAR throws bogus debris cautions, a caution for oil at the end was necessary. When oil on the track affects drivers’ finishes and has such substantial impact on the points, something needs to be put in place so it does not happen again. That said, the finish from an action perspective was great. Great car control, great racing — but it is almost invalidated because of the oil that created it.
• So, nobody saw the oil, what were they supposed to do, stop the race because it seemed like something might be slippery due to people spinning out? That happens sometimes in racing. It’s not necessarily because of something on the track. If they start micro-managing split-second moments at the end of races, NASCAR is dead on arrival.
• NASCAR was in a no-win situation. By the time everyone realized what was going on, the white flag had flown. If NASCAR had flown the caution after that, then they would have gotten crucified for not letting the race finish as it would have ended under caution.
• Everyone, including the drivers talking about the oil, said you couldn’t SEE the oil. If that’s the case, then why would NASCAR throw the caution? I believe NASCAR when they said the on-track officials didn’t see anything so they didn’t throw the yellow. Lastly, if the oil was THAT bad, wouldn’t a lot more of the drivers have spun out? Jeff Gordon aside, most of the guys completed the last lap just fine, thank you.
• The end of the race was just silly. NASCAR is supposed to offer real racing, not sliding around like a demolition derby.
• I’m somewhat glad NASCAR chose to follow the old dictum “Leave well enough alone.” Had the outcome been different, I’m certain to have complained with greater vigor.
Dodge is leaving NASCAR after this season. Does it matter to you?
50.3 percent said No
49.7 percent said Yes
What Fan Council members said:
• I really don’t care for Dodge, however, competition amongst the manufacturers is part of what makes the sport great and the money they bring to the sport leads to development of new technologies. I hope Dodge is able to put something together that they can be competitive with and return in 2014.
• Sad to see Dodge go away but I am not biased toward one manufacturer or another. I pull for drivers who race, not corporations.
• I think it is sad that the only two American manufacturers in NASCAR are Ford and Chevy. I have been a fan since way back when all manufacturers (I remember the Matador!) were racing. It added a lot more to the race and manufacturer loyalty actually meant something. NASCAR has its own self to blame for all the rule changes, and the so-called “Car of Tomorrow.” The only thing left to pull for is decals. I’m glad to see the new car changes coming next year and hope it improve things.
• Nope! I have driven a Ford and now own a Chevy so I’m not that worried about Dodge dropping out. Now if we could just get Toyota out so we can once again call it “The Great AMERICAN Sport”…
• Not really. I could give a rip about manufacturers. I have, however, wondered why Nissan isn’t in NASCAR. And frankly, I’d like to see “stock” cars for other manufacturers (i.e., BMW, VW) compete in NASCAR.
• Dodge is my favorite manufacturer in the sport and the Challenger and 2013 Charger are two of the best looking cars I’ve seen in the sport and I’ll be disappointed to not see them again — or in the case of the Charger, never get to see it. I think they could have taken a mid-level team like a Furniture Row or Front Row and given them solid support and made them a contending team.
• I’d rather have every manufacturer be represented strongly at some level, but I’d rather see no Dodges than see a half-hearted effort with a third-level team. Besides, how would Dodge even know how good they were if, say, Front Row Motorsports was their flagship team?
• If it does not make good sense for Dodge to spend millions in NASCAR with little return, they should keep their money and get out. It does not bother me that Dodge is leaving with three other strong manufacturers left in the sport.
• It’s a very bad sign for NASCAR, and that matters to me.
• Sad to see an American manufacturer leave the sport. I just hope it doesn’t lead to another foreign manufacturer.
The Backseat Drivers Fan Council was founded and is administered by Dustin Long. Fans can join by sending Dustin an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please include the following information:
Name, city, state, Twitter name, e-mail address and favorite driver.
"They use this finger to call me No. 1, Kyle." (ASP, Inc.)
1. Jimmie Johnson Once an Achilles heel, Johnson rolled to his fourth consecutive road course top 10 with a third at Watkins Glen. In the process, he vaulted to the top of the championship point standings. Last week: 1
2. Brad Keselowski Dating back to his Kentucky win in late June, Keselowski has racked up six straight finishes of ninth or better — including a runner-up finish at the Glen that will be talked about for quite some time. Last week: 4
3. Matt Kenseth An eighth at the Glen was his best road result since another eighth, which came at Sonoma in June 2008. The timing couldn’t have been better, as Kenseth sits two points behind Johnson in the standings. Last week: 3
4. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Tried his best to not throw NASCAR under the bus for the no-call for oil on the track at the Glen. Try as he might, he didn’t do a very good job. Last week: 2
5. Greg Biffle Slowly (and very quietly) making himself a major player in the championship race. His sixth at the Glen moved him to within one point of Johnson at the top of the standings. Last week: 8
6. Kasey Kahne His wild card position is looking stronger each week, as Kahne sits 11th in the standings with a pair of wins. And the Hendrick engines and chassis aren’t hurting, either. Last week: 9
7. Jeff Gordon The hot streak comes crashing down at the Glen for Gordon, who now sits 10 points behind Ryan Newman for the second wild card Chase spot. Last week: 7
8. Tony Stewart Once the man to beat in Watkins Glen, when he won five events from 2002-09, Stewart has showings of 27th and 19th the last two visits. This is a hard team to figure. Last week: 6
9. Denny Hamlin Hamlin has five finishes of 25th or worse in the last eight races, so he may not deserve this ranking. However, those two wins on his scorecard are hard to dismiss. Last week: 5
10. Clint Bowyer Couldn’t follow up his road win in Sonoma with another at the Glen, but a fourth-place run was impressive, considering the battle royale that was going on at the front of the field. Last week: 11
Despite what the shirt says, he's not lovin' it. (ASP, Inc.)
11. Kyle Busch A win at the Glen would have given him a Chase spot. Maybe Bristol will provide the boost. Last week: 14
12. Ryan Newman Doing his best to be a wild carder, having averaged a 7.8-place finish over the last five races. Last week: 12
13. Martin Truex Jr. Claims a contract renewal with Michael Waltrip Racing and NAPA is all but done. Last week: 10
14. Kevin Harvick Is basically a 13th- to 15th-place finisher at this point. Can they turn it around for the Chase? Last week: 13
15. Marcos Ambrose Hard to keep this week’s winner out of the top 15. Now he must learn how to stay here. Last week: Unranked
Just off the lead pack: Carl Edwards, Sam Hornish Jr., Joey Logano, Paul Menard, Regan Smith
Ambrose's Chase chances, Stewart's grueling schedule and Edwards' winning ways in Michigan
Marcos Ambrose in Victory Lane at Watkins Glen. (ASP, Inc.)
Buoyed by his victory at Watkins Glen on Sunday, Marcos Ambrose said the goal is quite simple for the next four races as he and his team vie for a wild card spot in NASCAR’s Chase for the Championship.
“Our focus has to be being aggressive on our strategy, being aggressive with the car and me on the race track being aggressive to try to get that next win because without that we’re going to be racing for 15th or 16th in the championship and that’s not what we’re after,” Ambrose said in a teleconference with reporters Tuesday.
Ambrose ranks fifth in the wild card standings with only the top two getting into the Chase. Kasey Kahne currently holds one wild card spot with two wins while Ryan Newman holds the other spot by a slim margin. Newman has one win and leads Kyle Busch, who also has a single victory, by six points. Jeff Gordon, who has one win, is 10 points behind Newman. Ambrose is 44 points behind Newman, thus Ambrose needs a second victory to have a shot at a wild card berth.
“There’s no easier formula than if you’re not first, you’re last,” Ambrose said. “That’s the way we’re approaching this weekend and the next three. We have to go out there on full attack mode.”
The one benefit for Ambrose is that the series is heading to Michigan this weekend where he won the pole in June and finished ninth, so he has shown an ability to run well there but will have to be markedly better to score his first career oval win in the Cup series.
NEARING 100 Although the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has only 38 races (36 points races and two exhibition races), Tony Stewart will run in nearly 100 races this year. He’s boosting that total with a number of sprint car races at dirt tracks — where he spent much of his early days in racing.
“I feel like the more time I spend in a race car the better it’s making me as a driver,” says Stewart, who has won a pair of World of Outlaw sprint car races this year. “Everybody kind of has that feeling that you’ve got to get away from it at some point and recharge your batteries, but that does recharge my batteries.
“If we don’t get rained out here these next couple of weeks we are going to be right around 95 races at the end of the year that I’m going to run. It’s going to be a full schedule for sure but it’s a lot of fun. It’s one of the most fun years I’ve ever had in a race car.”
Stewart was the first driver in USAC history to sweep its top three series in the same year, winning titles in the midget, sprint car and Silver Crown divisions in 1995. He admits going back and forth between sprint cars and his Cup car is not much of an adjustment for him with his schedule.
“I’ve run I think 40 races already this year with it so it’s a lot easier for me to adapt because I’m doing it so much,’’ he explains. “It is hard. That is probably the hardest two cars to try to go back and forth between because their handling characteristics and the physics of them. It doesn’t take Kasey (Kahne) as long as he likes to explain to you. He goes out and kicks butt with it too. It would take guys awhile to go from that type of car to here, just like it would take time for anybody that runs a Cup car to go over there and run those cars.”
LOOKING AHEAD After this weekend’s race at Michigan, the Cup Series heads to Bristol where the top lane has been altered to narrow the racing grooves and get cars closer together on the track.
So, what it will be like? It’s something Martin Truex Jr. admits he’s been thinking about.
“I'm interested to see what it's like,” Truex says. “The last few races there, I've ran second and third — pretty much ran the extreme high side, which has been ground away. I'm not really looking forward to finding out if it's going to be that much worse. Guys seem to run the middle of the race track and we were able to run the middle.
“I think it's going to be different because that extreme high side is not going to have the speed it's had in the past few years. I think we'll have to adjust our setup a little bit and work on some things.”
Tony Stewart talks with teammate Ryan Newman. (ASP, Inc.)
RIGHT PLACE RIGHT TIME? Carl Edwards, in need of a victory to have a chance at a wild card spot for the Chase, has an average finish of 8.3 at Michigan — best among active drivers. Edwards has two wins, nine top-five finishes and 12 top-10 results in 16 starts at the track. Yet, he has finished outside the top 10 in each of his last two races there. He was 36th in the race last year and placed 11th in June.
NUMBER CRUNCHING Tony Stewart has five consecutive top-10 finishes at Michigan. ... Greg Biffle has run all but two of the 5,836 laps run this season, best in the Cup Series. ... Brad Keselowski has scored a series-high six top-10 finishes entering this weekend’s race at Michigan. ... Regan Smith has finished ninth each of the last two races.