Thursday, June 10, 2010

Michigan Preview: Ford's Hoping New FR9 Engine Can Assist Lack of Horsepower

By Micah Roberts

This week’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Michigan will have more hype than it usually does. Twice a year we get usual motor city banter back and forth between the executives from all the competing automobile manufacturers, but it‘ll be much different this week just because of the great lead-in they got throughout America from the fireworks that went off at Pocono last week.While the “I’m better than you” trash talk between Ford, Chevy, Dodge, and Toyota is always entertaining, watching angry drivers settle scores is a little bit more gripping.

We knew a gasket was going to blow some day, and it finally did last week at Pocono. Joey Logano finally blew up at someone for being picked on. The young phenom had enough of Kevin Harvick’s bully tactics after being punted and then had a meltdown on national TV calling Harvick “stupid” and bringing Harvick’s wife into the fray. It was pretty entertaining, the best of the year thus far.

Then we got to hear Tony Stewart blow some smoke; he’s not happy with a lot of the drivers and threatened to be like the old Tony this week, and we also got to see two more sets of teammates, Kasey Kahne and A.J. Allmendinger, go after it.

The whole manufacturer angle is taking a back seat at Michigan this week which may be good news for the Ford brand. Ford had absolutely dominated Michigan since the tracks inception in 1969, but they have only won one race there in the last five. The demise can be directly linked the Roush-Fenway group and their current struggles. From 2002 through 2008, a Roush driver had won seven different Michigan races and has won 11 all-time, tied for the most by an owner in track history. When you throw in the four additional wins from the Nationwide series and five from the Truck series, Roush drivers should have a luxury in pedigree over every other team in the garage.

However, the woes from 2009 have continued for the Roush stable as they can’t seem to find the right mix on the down-force tracks. They remain winless through 14 races in 2010 and haven’t looked like they’re going to compete anytime soon. The three top Roush drivers, Matt KensethGreg Biffle, and Carl Edwards, are all currently within the top-12 in points, but don’t look like the 2008 group that combined to win 11 races.

If there is any track that could change Roush’s fortunes, it could be Michigan. The importance of the race being run in Ford’s backyard is stressed even more because Ford will debut their new FR9 engine for the first time collectively in a non-restrictor plate race. All nine of the regular Ford entries will be using the new engine this week between the Roush, Petty, and Wood Brothers drivers.

The timing is obvious because the race is in Michigan, in front of all the executives, and they hope to flex some new muscle under the hood, but why haven’t they used this engine yet. It’s apparent that there still is some skepticism within the organizations, but with all the money that has been spent on the engine and with all the teams struggling to find a win, these are desperate times and they feel they need to at least gamble a little bit.

Taking a shot to be faster with an engine that has question marks and compete for a win sounds much better than racing for 10th place, as seems to be the case every week with Edwards, Biffle and Kenseth. The engine becomes the one variable that could sway value in the bettors favor on all three of those drivers along with Kasey Kahne. All four can be found with odds at 20/1 or higher. By the time practice rolls around and we all get to see some of the speeds and influence from the new engine, those odds are not likely to be there. So if you think they’ll be faster, which they should, make your bets before Friday on the Fords.

The best value on the board may be Carl Edwards who has an amazing NASCAR loop rating of 112.5 which tops all drivers. Edwards is listed 20/1 this week just because of the horrendous slump he’s mired in, but if there is any track that can get him out of the funk, Michigan would be it. He’s a two-time winner on the track and has an all-time track best career average finish of 6.1. Last season, while in the midst of a similar run of mediocrity, Edwards still managed to scrape up two fourth-place finishes in each of the Michigan races.

Matt Kenseth has been almost as good as Edwards over his career at Michigan which includes two wins. Of the Roush drivers this week, Kenseth looks to be an equal candidate to win with Edwards for the Ford brand. He‘ll be using the chassis that got bumped out of the way by Jeff Gordon in the final laps at Martinsville taking him from at least a top-5 finish to 18th-place after all the lead lap cars passed him.

It’s not going to be easy getting by the Chevy bow-ties, the Gibbs Toyota’s, or even Kurt
Busch’s Dodge this week.

Leading the charge for Chevy will be Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson. Gordon finished second in both Michigan races last season and has been fantastic on all down force tracks the last season and a half.

Jimmie Johnson, surprisingly, has never won at Michigan, one of only five on the circuit he’s never won at and the only one that the series races twice a year on that he’s never won at. He has one of his worst average finishes of any track at 16.0, however, I like Johnson to do very well this week; maybe get his best finish ever on the track. It also helps that he’ll be using a chassis this week that finished first in Las Vegas and runner-up at Texas.

Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin might just be too good for anyone at this point. They finished 1-2 last week at Pocono and have combined to win six of the 14 on the season. Neither has ever won at Michigan with Hamlin having the better runs of the two with a 13.3 average finish in eight career starts.

Kurt Busch should be considered a great candidate to win because of his team’s success on the down force tracks this season that include a win at Charlotte and Atlanta, along with a sixth-place finish on the sister-track of California. Busch is a two-time winner at Michigan over his career winning in a Roush Ford and a Penske Dodge.

The two winners from last year don’t appear to be solid contenders this week. Brian Vickers is out for the season, but his car wasn’t very good in any race while he was driving. Mark Martin won this race a year ago, but he doesn’t seem to have the same stuff like he did all year. He looks closer to teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. this year rather than the version he looked like a season ago, which was closer to his other teammate, Jimmie Johnson. However, Martin is bringing the exact same chassis that won this race last year and finished fourth at California in February.

Speaking of Dale Earnhardt Jr., this is the last track that he won at, two years ago, and it was done somewhat with mirrors and magic as he miraculously crossed the finish line on fumes.

Top 5 Finish Prediction:
1) #24 Jeff Gordon (8/1)
2) #48 Jimmie Johnson (5/1)
3) #17 Matt Kenseth (20/1)
4) #2 Kurt Busch (8/1)
5) #18 Kyle Busch (6/1)

Be sure to listen to my Post Practice report and preview for each race on Prime Sports Network following the final practice sessions three hours after happy hour. Listen live or at your leisure; all shows are archived. Host Greg DePalma and I will review each of the top drivers and steer you in a direction you should be going based on past/recent history along with critical practice information for your NASCAR Fantasy teams or wagers.


Eluvsracing said...

Jeff Gordon: then, now, and forever. Video by Chris Robertson

terryruth2004 said...

If Bill can remember his glory days then he could make real COME BACK RUN.......Wood Bros have built him a winner......