Another weekend. Another race. Another track that does not excite me. Welcome to NASCAR.
Michigan International Speedway, located in the lush, rolling Irish Hills, is about 40 miles southwest of Ann Arbor. The fact it is considered a sister track of Texas, and the basis of the facility in Fontana does not exactly thrill anyone, but they do go fast there. Speeds of over 215 mph can be expected. Will it cause a newbie to tune in for all of the excitement? Nope. However, there are questions those of us who follow the sport will watch in order to uncover some answers.
Will the race change who is in a Chase place and who is not? Erik Jones and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. are less than 20 points to the good, leaving them vulnerable to be caught by Alex Bowman. That could happen. A win by Paul Menard, Daniel Suarez, Jamie McMurray, William Byron, Ryan Newman, or Bubba Wallace would tumble at least one of them out. Are the odds good that this will happen? Nope.
As they are working on their 14th name sponsor since 1969, this track does not have a brand name that much resonates. That is unless you happen to have been a big fan of the FireKeepers Casino Hotel over the past couple of years. Newman has won there twice, in 2003 and 2004, so that should still your beating heart. Kurt Busch, Kyle Larson, and Matt Kenseth each have three to their credit over the years.
If you want tradition, there was nine-time track winner David Pearson. Cale Yarborough had eight. Bill Elliott shook the suds seven times. Mark Martin and Rusty Wallace both won at Michigan five times. Four-time victors there include Dale Jarrett, Bobby Allison, Richard Petty, and Greg Biffle.
This is not to say there have not been exciting finishes. Jarrett won his first in Cup with a razor-thin margin over Davey Allison in 1991. Ernie Irvan took one in 1997, three years after nearly losing his life at the same track. Jeff Gordon claimed a tight contest with Ricky Rudd in 2001. 2009 was the year Martin won when both Jimmie Johnson and then Biffle ran out of fuel on the final lap. Of course, there was 2012 when Dale Earnhardt Jr. finally snapped a 143-race winless streak. Great finishes. Great races? Don’t ask and I won’t tell.
The last four who won this particular event include Johnson, the elder Busch, Logano, and Larson. If it is not Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, or Martin Truex Jr., the smart money is on either Logano or Larson. Anything else would be something of a shock.
Here is a look at our Hot 20 going in.
1. KYLE BUSCH – 4 WINS – 624 Pts
Has won here, but that was August 21, 2011.
2. KEVIN HARVICK – 4 WINS (1 E.W.) – 537 Pts
One pit stop at Pocono made all the difference.
3. MARTIN TRUEX JR. – 2 WINS – 487 Pts
After last weekend, he is back among the Big Three where he belongs.
4. JOEY LOGANO – 1 WIN – 524 Pts
One more win, and we will be talking about a Big Four, and all would belong on that pedestal.
5. CLINT BOWYER – 1 WIN – 453 Pts
I just saw a photo of Carly Bowyer. She looks nothing like Clint. Hey, just sayin’.
6. AUSTIN DILLON – 1 WIN – 269 Pts
It is a very good thing a win is a golden ticket, as he has done nothing since Daytona.
7. BRAD KESELOWSKI – 474 POINTS
Just a 90 mile drive from his Michigan hometown to the track.
8. KURT BUSCH – 447 POINTS
Has won there with Roush Fenway, Penske, and Stewart-Haas. Maybe it was the driver.
9. DENNY HAMLIN – 437 POINTS
With less than 15 laps to go last week, turned a shot at a Top Ten into 35th.
10. KYLE LARSON- 425 POINTS
Has won three of the last four Michigan races, including a spring-summer sweep last year.
11. RYAN BLANEY – 413 POINTS
Took the pole last week, but only dogs truly appreciate a pole.
12. ARIC ALMIROLA – 406 POINTS
He is about as safe as one can be without a win.
13. JIMMIE JOHNSON – 360 POINTS
Five Top Tens in his last seven events. I do believe Mr. Johnson has returned.
14. CHASE ELLIOTT – 334 POINTS
Finished in the top dozen the last half dozen races. The boy is movin’ on up.
15. ERIK JONES – 322 POINTS
The pride and joy of Byron, Michigan has finishes of 13th and third in his two starts near home.
16. RICKY STENHOUSE JR. – 319 POINTS
Have You Driven a Ford Lately? This would be a good time to drive the hell out of this one.
17. ALEX BOWMAN – 310 POINTS
Last week’s meeting with Hamlin tumbled Alex out of his Chase place.
18. PAUL MENARD – 289 POINTS
Unless he has a win up his sleeve, he can not afford to let the points gap grow any wider.
19. DANIEL SUAREZ – 258 POINTS
The best Monterrey, Mexico born driver in NASCAR.
20. JAMIE MCMURRAY – 253 POINTS
The best Joplin, Missouri born driver in NASCAR. Carl Edwards was born in Columbia.