Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Michigan Preview: Lifelock 400

by Micah Roberts

The atmosphere at Michigan International Speedway this Sunday for the NASCAR race will be a little different than in years past thanks to the American Automobile Industry‘s current plight.

You see, these Michigan races used to be somewhat of the Super Bowl for all the big wigs of the big three auto makers. It was a homecoming of sorts for all the major cars to be on display. It still is special, but it won’t have the same feel and appeal, at least for the bragging big wigs who would sit in their luxury boxes patting each other on the back because of how fast their cars represented on the track were.

The group of Ford suits drinking their mimosa’s would continually discuss their recent domination at Michigan, boasting how they have won 29 races at Michigan since 1985 while GM used three different divisions over the same span and could win only 13 times. Some one asks about Dodge’s record, and the smug Ford Executive says, “Who?”

Over in the GM box, they’re all laughing and having a good time eating quiche. You know, the whole bankruptcy/bailout thing can be so stressful; getting away from the office and laughing at

Ford’s expense is just what is needed. One of the GM executives points over at the Ford box and says, “Should we do it again?”

Another executive asks, “Do What?”

Then he replies, “Let those dummies over there win this race again in exchange for us winning another Championship.”

I’m pretty sure that is the type of banter that goes on, or may be not. But the thought sure sounds funny.

A GM car has won the Cup Championship 19 times since 1984 while Ford has won 6 times. On the flip side of Chevy’s dominance over the course of a season, Ford has dominated on their home track winning 29 times since 1985.

There is no real logical explanation for the continued dominance. Ever since Bill Elliott took six of eight races beginning in 1984, Ford has never looked back in Michigan. They have gone on a tear that has seen the likes of car owners Jack Roush, Roger Penske, and Robert Yates all equally taking rabbit punches at GM.

Since making their re-entry in NASCAR in 2001, Dodge has been successful at Michigan from the very start. They won that first year there and have won a total of 6 times over that span to now. Over the same time period, a Chevy has won only twice.

What is really shocking is that a driver like Jimmie Johnson, who has dominated on the sister track in Fontana, has only two top 5 finishes in Michigan with no wins. It remains one of the few tracks that Johnson has never won on in his brief seven year career. He may have three straight titles, but he doesn’t have any Michigan hardware.

Chevy’s other main Championship contender is Jeff Gordon who has won four titles for the manufacturer, but only has two Michigan wins in 32 attempts over his career. Like Johnson,

Gordon has won at California three times, but the success hasn’t translated over to Michigan. Prior to Dale Earnhardt Jr’s lucky win in this race last season, Gordon was the last Chevy to win at Michigan, way back in 2001.

Even though Michigan and California are almost exactly alike, they run much different as evident by both Johnson and Gordon. However, if you look at what the Roush-Fenway guys are doing on both tracks, you’d say they were in fact very similar.

A Roush driver has won at least one Michigan race a season for the last seven years. At the same time, they have also won five straight California races, including Matt Kenseth’s win there this season.

Last season, the Roush brigade flexed their muscles at Michigan giving the Ford big wigs something to really boast about. In this race, four of the five Roush drivers finished in the top 10 with each of them leading a lap, and all doing so with only thirteen laps remaining. They all had to pit for a splash of fuel while Dale Jr gambled and won by staying out.

In the fall race, Roush took it up a notch further by placing all five of his cars in the top 10, including having four finish in the top 5. Carl Edwards won the race and culminated one of the most decisive whippings Ford has ever laid on it’s competitors.

In all, Jack Roush, who hails from nearby Lavonia, MI, has won at Michigan ten times. Should one of his cars win this week, he’ll tie the Wood Brothers for most wins by an owner at the track.

The driver who ruined a succession of Fords finishing 1-2-3-4 in the fall race was a Toyota driven by Kyle Busch. Now, the combination of Toyota and Busch in Michigan isn’t though of too highly. Busch has thrust himself out there as NASCAR’s villain and Toyota is though of in a negative light because it’s perceived as not being American.

What’s funny about the perception is that of all the cars in the Cup circuit, the Camry is the only car manufactured in America. While Ford, Dodge and Chevy make those models in Canada and Mexico, the Camry is built in Georgetown, Kentucky. That little piece of funny is a constant joke in the Toyota luxury box by their executives who joined the NASCAR party at Michigan just three seasons ago.

Toyota is still looking for their first elusive win at Michigan and it‘s likely that Kyle Busch will be the one to do it when it does happen. He came close last season with the 2nd place run in the fall, but Carl Edwards was just too good.

TOP 5 Finish Prediction:
1) #18 Kyle Busch - Toyota (6/1)
2) #17 Matt Kenseth - Ford (13/1)
3) #16 Greg Biffle - Ford (12/1)
4) #48 Jimmie Johnson - Chevy (6/1)
5) #99 Carl Edwards - Ford (10/1)

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