Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Michigan Storylines

In a season characterized by competitive balance – nine different winners thus far, including two first-timers – the upcoming track fits in perfectly.
A fresh face has entered Michigan International Speedway’s Victory Lane in each of the last seven races. Many of those varied winners came from different teams. The seven different drivers who have won the last seven races have represented six different teams.
Only Hendrick Motorsports have repeated in the last seven Michigan events –Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2008 and Mark Martin in 2009.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will run Sunday at 1 p.m., in the Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips 400.
On Saturday afternoon, the NASCAR Nationwide Series returns to action following an open week, in the Alliance Truck Parts 250.
Following Ron Hornaday Jr.’s 48th career win, at Texas Motor Speedway, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series heads into an open week of its own this weekend.
A number of storylines for all three series follow…
Gordon Solidifies Legendary Status; Moves Toward Top-10 Spot
Jeff Gordon matched some rarified history at Pocono Raceway, tying NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Allison and Hall of Fame nominee Darrell Waltrip for third on the all-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series wins list at 84.
The victory further cemented Gordon’s legendary status, but also added intrigue to the matter at hand – the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup championship outlook.
The win moves Gordon closer to “locked-in” status for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. After race No. 26 at Richmond, the top-10 drivers are locked into the 12-driver Chase field. Spots 11 and 12 – the Wild Cards – go to those outside the top 10 with the most wins, provided they are in the top 20.
Gordon is now 11th in points, six points outside the top 10. He leads all drivers in the hunt for the Wild Card.
But a top-10 position is vital for Gordon. All Chase drivers have their points reset to 2,000, but only those within the top 10 earn 10 bonus points for each victory in the regular season.
Junior: Many Happy Michigan Memories
The winless drought reached 107 races, but Dale Earnhardt Jr. placed his No. 88 Chevrolet in the top 10 for the third consecutive race. That’s the second time this season he has finished in the top 10 in three consecutive races. The last time he did twice had three consecutive top 10s: 2006.
This weekend seems like a good place to make it four-in-a-row. Or, better yet, end the drought. His last win came at Michigan, in 2008, when he was on the right side of Sunoco fuel strategy.
Wild Card Buzz Hits Michigan
Assuming Jeff Gordon’s two wins locks him into one of the Wild Card spots (if he fails to crack the top 10, that is), that’ll leave a rather strong crop of candidates vying for the final spot – including many drivers with Michigan success.
Three of the last four winners at Michigan are currently outside the top 10, and may need to rely on a Wild Card spot – Mark Martin, Brian Vickers and Denny Hamlin.
Many marquee names are outside the top 20, and need a strong push (and, in some cases, a win), namely Marcos Ambrose who is 10 back of 20th-place Martin Truex Jr.; Brad Keselowski, who won at Kansas, is 13 points out; Joey Logano is 25 out; David Reutimann is 26 points out; and Jeff Burton is 33 points out.
Regan Smith, another race winner, is in 27th, 47 out of the top 20.
Time Served: Probation Period Over For Busch, Harvick
The probation period NASCAR placed on Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick will end on Wednesday, June 15. The first time they’ll meet in a race is Sunday, at Michigan.
The probation stemmed from a post-race scuffle the two had after the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on May 7.
The incident enhanced a storybook feud between two of the grittiest – and talented – competitors in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Roush Chasing History
This is Roush Country, for a couple of reasons.
Jack Roush, owner of Roush Fenway Racing, has his business headquarters in Livonia, Mich., and his drivers excel at the two-mile track.
Roush has 11 total victories at Michigan, which ties the Wood Brothers for most all-time there.
In terms of pre-race Driver Rating at Michigan, three of the top four drive for Roush, with Carl Edwards first (110.5), Greg Biffle third (104.8) and Matt Kenseth fourth (101.2). Jimmie Johnson is second with a 110.3.
Daytona 500 Winner Bayne Returns
Trevor Bayne returns to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for the first time since Talladega in April. Bayne’s No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford is locked into the field, owning a top 35 spot. The No. 21 is 35th, two points ahead of the No. 7 Robby Gordon Motorsports Dodge.
A Victory Would Make This A Happier Father’s Day
This Sunday is Father’s Day. A perfect pairing for a NASCAR Sprint Cup driver: Spending the day with your child…in Victory Lane.
Here are a few drivers who welcomed a new addition to the family within the last year:
-          Jimmie/Chandra Johnson – Genevieve Marie (July 7, 2010)
-          Juan Pablo Montoya/Connie - Manuela (July 19, 2010)
-          Jeff Gordon/Ingrid – Leo Benjamin (Aug 9, 2010)
-          Ryan Newman/Krissie – Brooklyn Sage (Nov. 18, 2010)
-          Jamie McMurray/Christy – Carter Scott (Nov. 25, 2010)
-          Matt Kenseth/Katie – Grace Katherine (Feb 22, 2011)
-          Carl Edwards/Kate – Michael (May 4, 2011)
-          Casey Mears/Trish – Hayden James (May 24, 2011)

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