The NASCAR Sprint cup series heads back to the two-mile D-shaped superspeedway situated in the Irish Hills region of southeastern Michigan for the second and final time of the 2011 tour. Being one of the fastest tracks on the NASCAR schedule (with corner entry speeds in excess of 205 mph), NASCAR races continuously draw upwards of 125,000 fans to the 1,400 acres that makes up the MIS complex.
The wide sweeping corners of Michigan International Speedway were not very kind to my picks in the Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips 400 back in June, so I am looking to rebound and continue my short streak of solid picks this weekend.
Watkins Glen Recap
[media-credit name=”CIA Stock Photo” align=”alignright” width=”235″][/media-credit]With last week’s race being at the track that I am most familiar with, there is no reason my picks should have played out any differently than they did. Watkins Glen International is the track that I call home, and the race Monday reinforced my decision to travel to the races each year at the historic 2.45-mile road course at The Glen. No matter where you were situated along the track on Monday Morning, there was action in front of you.
First, Kudos to WGI in their efforts to improve fan-viewing areas in erecting new grandstands (which look more like 6-story towers than grandstands) in turns 1, 10, and 11. I climbed to the top of the grandstands in turns 1 and 10, and they truly enhance the historically-difficult fan’s viewing perspective at Watkins Glen International. My family has sworn by the same seats in the Ninety Grandstand for the past 15 years, and I believe they will be seeking to make the change to one of the three brand new monstrosities ISC has erected at The Glen when NASCAR makes its return in 2012.
None the more fitting for my home track, Monday’s Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at The Glen boasted my best results of the season thus far with a win for my Winner Pick and a 4th place Dark Horse finish.
Marcos Ambrose went into the weekend at Watkins Glen as the favorite for not only me, but for many writers in the racing industry. It was only destiny for Ambrose to win a Sprint Cup race after coming so close so many times throughout his brief history in NASCAR.
Ambrose had a sniff at the track record during qualifying, only to be outdone 69-seconds later by his teammate A.J. Allmendinger, and then again by Kyle Busch. This meant that Ambrose would start third for the Cup race, but wasted no time showing why he was many people’s pick to win at The Glen.
I will quote my column from last week, “Ambrose has the car to beat this weekend…he’s going to win.” Now I’m not trying to toot my own horn on this one, but that was a ‘Nostradamus of NASCAR’ pick last week (Almost as solid as picking Dale Jr to win the Fan Vote in the All-Star Race back in May).
The No. 9 car didn’t get the win very easily on Monday, coming from third on the Green-White-Checkered start to taking the checkered flag for his first victory in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Marcos Ambrose had this to say in Victory Lane on Monday “Just a dream day. The sacrifices you make, we all make to get here, Todd and all the team, the Petty family, my family to get here, to be a contender in the Cup Series, to finally get to victory lane, it just is a dream come true for me.”
My Dark Horse Pick also faired well on Monday, finishing fourth. Martin Truex Jr.’s car was “just a bit off” on Monday morning. He had enough to run towards the front of the pack all day long, but fell just short at the end when the checkered flag flew.
Truex explained the chaos of the final restart after his fourth-place finish “I’m not really sure exactly how the last restart went. All I know is I was three-wide so I was kind of paying attention to the guys around me and not so much what happened up in front. I know I saw Kyle (Busch) way out off the curb off of (turn) one so I knew he was in trouble, and they were two-wide under him I guess. I was just glad to get out of there alive. I was a little nervous that last three-white checker.”
As I said before, it was a great weekend for Matty’s Picks at The Glen marking my two best picks yet this season. I hope I can carry my momentum into Michigan this week with two picks even better than last week.
Since I picked a Chevy and a Toyota to win in June, I’ve decided to pick the other two makes this week at MIS despite two JGR Toyotas finishing in the Top-3.
For my winner pick, I’m going with the runner-up of June’s race at MIS. Three of the four Roush Fenway Racing cars were in the Top-5 earlier today in Sprint Cup practice. Matt Kenseth is also one of three active drivers that average a Top-10 finish at Michigan; Carl Edwards (6.2), Kenseth (9.5), and Denny Hamlin (10.0). He has two wins at the track, his last coming in 2006, and also has a Top-5 finish in his last two starts at MIS.
Kenseth was quickest in practice earlier this afternoon, edging out Ryan Newman by just 6-thousanths of a second. Matt Kenseth is sitting in fairly good shape as far as the Chase is concerned, but his third win of the season could be on the horizon this weekend at MIS. Look for Kenseth to be aggressive in his march towards the front, but conserve a Top-5 for his points run.
Dark Horse Pick
I think I’m going to get some backlash on qualifying this next driver as my Dark Horse pick for this weekend, but the numbers are the numbers.
Brad Keselowski is arguably the hottest driver in racing right now, but has never finished better than 24th at MIS. Following a crash that could have possibly ended his season or his driving career, Keselowski has been on a mission to prove his toughness and existence in the Sprint Cup Series. Many drivers in the garage gave him props last week for his courage to not only stay in his car for the weekend, but to take the Blue Deuce and finish second.
Since his horrific crash in testing at Road Atlanta, Keselowski has a win at Pocono and a runner-up finish on Monday at Watkins Glen. He sits atop the leaderboard for one of the two Wild Card spots in the 2011 Chase for the Sprint Cup with his two wins. A win on Sunday would all but seal-the-deal for his Chase hopes, and put the Blue Deuce in contention for a Driver’s Championship, something no other driver of the Miller Lite Dodge has ever been able to accomplish.
Brad Keselowski will put his average finish of 27.5 at Michigan behind him this weekend and put the Blue Deuce in the Top 5 for the fifth time this season.
On a side note, I was glad to see all the drivers involved in the horrific crashes on Monday at Watkins Glen International walk from their cars under their own power. It is really unfortunate that drivers have to find those dangerous spots on the track before the owners of the facility do, but hopefully WGI will continue to improve the safety in and around the track. I commend the track on what they’ve done so far, and am 100% certain they will investigate the incidents at the facility very closely, and institute an action plan to alleviate the dangerous situations we saw on Monday.
Until Next Week…You Stay Classy NASCAR NATION!!!