by M Roberts
In the last Cup race at Michigan in August, the final practice session gave a sneak peak as to who would do well on race day. Carl Edwards went to happy hour and reeled off the fastest lap, by almost a full second over the 2nd fastest lap and then went on to lead the most laps on race day with a win in dominating fashion.
This season’s first go around at Michigan during Saturday’s practice session has all the fingers pointing at Mark Martin as the driver to beat in Sunday’s LifeLock 400.
Martin ran the 2nd fastest lap in the first practice session while running 26 laps, but was almost a mile an hour faster on average times than Matt Kenseth who had the second fastest average times.
During happy hour, Martin took it up a notch and laid down the fastest single lap along with the best average times among drivers running at least 20 laps.
Martin has four career wins at Michigan, all while driving a Ford, and looks to give Chervolet their best opportunity to win at Michigan based on fast practice times since Bobby Labonte swept the 1995 season for Joe Gibbs. Chevrolet could definitely use the boost, not only because of the economic climate, but because Ford has basically owned Michigan since 1985.
The Roush drivers were all too present in the Saturday speed charts as expected. Last season every Roush driver, with the exception of Greg Biffle, experienced top 10 finishes in both Michigan races. That is pure team dominance that really hasn’t been exhibited by anyone to that magnitude in NASCAR history.
Greg Biffle came back to Michigan in the fall to finish 4th which gave the Roush drivers four of the top five finishers in the race, including the winner in Edwards.
All five of the Roush drivers appear ready to go again Sunday in Michigan. Each of hem experienced great success between both of Saturday’s practices. Edwards and Biffle experienced the most success between both practices with David Ragan, Matt Kenseth, and Jamie McMurray being very good in one of the sessions.
Michigan Post Practice Driver Ratings:
1) Mark Martin has brought his high banked 1.5 mile chassis that ran at Las Vegas, Atlanta, Texas, and Charlotte. In two of those races, the No. 5 team struggled which began the year with the team scratching their heads. However, the team really started to pull things together in the chassis at Texas with a 6th. This is the car to beat Sunday.
2) Carl Edwards is coming off his best three race stretch of the season. While the horsepower still isn’t quite up to 2008 standards, they are coming closer to their first win of the season. He was 4th and 6th fastest in Saturday practices, including great average times in happy hour.
3) Greg Biffle had the 4th fastest lap in happy hour while running 44 laps. In the first session, Biffle was 5th fastest, but had the 3rd best average speeds.
4) Matt Kenseth had the 2nd best average times in the first session and then worked on long runs in the 2nd session which produced much slower times. Kenseth doing well always at Michigan is something you can just about always count on. He finished in the top 5 in both 2008 races and has a run of finishing in the top 5 in six of the last races there. Overall, Kenseth has an average finish of 9.1 in his 19 career starts.
5) Clint Bowyer was very happy with car after the first practice on 23 laps. When happy hour started, Bowyer went and ran 9 laps, had a top 5 lap, and then parked the car saying their good to go for race day.
6) Brian Vickers ran 52 laps in happy hour and slapped own the 3rd fastest lap. More impressive is the fact that he maintained an average speed of over 180 mph when running so many laps. Last year Vickers started on the pole in the fall race and finished 7th. He was leading with 30 laps to go the race. In the first race there last season, Vickers ran 4th. The nice wide open track should be ideal for Vickers to at least equal last seasons run there.
Best of the Rest:
Marcos Ambrose and Joey Logano look very solid and should able to have nice runs on Sunday based on their practice times. Logano looks more comfortable in his car than he has all season and closed out happy hour feeling very good about his strategy for Sunday. Ambrose got better through the day on Saturday and finished strong and ready for Sunday‘s race. Both drivers could be surprise contenders for top 10 finishes.
Jimmie will be Jimmie
Johnson did nothing special in any practice, at least up to the standards he’s set for himself. Despite being the sister track of California where Johnson dominates, it hasn’t translated to success at Michigan, one of the only ovals Johnson has yet to win on. Two top 5’s in 14 career starts looks like stat line more reserved for Johnson at Sonoma than a track like Michigan. At the end of the day, Johnson is likely to have a top 10 finish in business like fashion as he always exemplifies. He definitely doesn’t have the same chassis that saw him lead the most laps in this race last season while also being fast in practice. He brought a brand new chassis specially for this race.
Mears coming Strong
For the third consecutive week, Casey Mears has had a quality practice in preparation for the race. All four Childress drivers looked good, but Mears stands out because he hasn’t traditional been a good practice driver, and also because it has translated over to good runs at Loudon and Pocono. In happy hour Mears was 10th fastest but 2nd fastest in average times.
Dale Junior Fast….
Dale Earnhardt Jr came out swinging to start happy hour and had the 2nd fastest lap overall, and then his times slipped quickly lap after lap. He ran 34 laps and had very mediocre average times. Perhaps he really is fast and he was just practicing late fuel conservation strategy. Why not, It worked last year!