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Michigan Review: High Expectations, Poor Results

[1]There are many drivers who were expected to do well at Michigan, but did not follow through with a good finish.

Carl Edwards was expected to do well at Michigan. in 15 starts there, he has two wins, nine top fives, and 12 top 10s. His overall average finish there was 8.2 leading up the Pure Michigan 400.  In the last two Michigan races, he started 24th and 23rd and finished third and fifth. So, when he qualified 22nd, there wasn’t much to worry about. But, on lap 36, Edwards hit pit road one lap after a restart. The hood was up on the car for a short time before the team pushed the No. 99 Aflac Ford Fusion to the garage with engine trouble. He finished 36th and dropped two points positions.

Greg Biffle, also a two-time Michigan winner, seemed to have high expectations going into this race, especially after winning the pole. He led  for most of the first half of the race and appeared to have a  dominant car. But, once he found himself in traffic, and dirty air, his car slowed. He wasn’t able to contend for the lead, but he did manage to hang out in the top 15. He seemed poised for a top 15 finish before a green white checkered finish juggled the field. He wound up finishing 20th.

Denny Hamlin won last year’s race and the race here in May, but this time around, he had troubles that cost him valuable championship points.  His troubles started when he bounced off the wall on Lap 126 and damaged the left front of his car.  He was forced to pit under green to fix the damage.  Hamlin then suffered a flat tire and had to pit again.  One lap later, he drove the car to the garage to repair the damage.  When he returned, he was 15 laps down in 35th position.  He dropped two positions in the points. he currently sits in 14th position.

Most everyone wanted Dale Earnhardt Jr to end his win-less streak at Michigan, but an ill-handling race-car and bad pit stops didn’t allow that to happen.  Earnhardt qualified surprisingly well in 8th position and stayed in the top-10 for most of the race. He was able to pass cars and seemd to have the car hooked up. But, after a bad pit stop, he began complaining of a loose race car. He suspected the culprit was a bad set of tires. On the next stop, he felt the car was a little better, but the car kept switching between loose and tight. On the caution that set up the green-white-checker, Junior was running ninth. Steve Letarte called him to pit road because he thought that the fresh tires would make a difference. Earnhardt slightly disagreed, but brought it to pit road. On the GWC, Earnhardt got bogged down behind David Reutimann and couldn’t pass cars. He finished 14th.

Despite the hardships, the No. 88 team remains 9th in points standings. Earnhardt also remained optimistic because he felt like their car was fast and they ran in the top 10 all day.

I still feel like Dale Earnhardt Jr and Steve Letarte still have to work on their communication.  The team also needs to improve in the pits.  Earnhardt Jr loses many positions on pit road, which leads to inconsistency among the team.  If they could work out the small kinks they are having, I believe Earnhardt could have a winning team.  Until then, they are going to keep being barely consistent.  Earnhardt’s win-less streak now stands at 116 races.

Eye’s on the Trophy

In this sport it’s hard for team to compete every week.  There’s only a handful of drivers that have a chance of winning races every weekend, and I want to give a shout-out to two of those drivers.

Ever since his win at Pocono Raceway, Brad Keselowski has been unstoppable.  He is racing with a broken ankle and he still remains a contender each and every week.  Keselowski rain in the top-10 all race long and finished in third position.  Leaving Michigan, he gained two spots in the points standings, now 12th.  Brad is just 56 points out of 10th position.  He is the No. 1 Wild Card and is confident in his ability to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Jeff Gordon has finished in the top-10 seven times of the last ten races.  He sits sixth place in points, 60 points behind leader Kyle Busch.  This weekend at Michigan he passed the 22,000 mark for laps led in his NASCAR career.  He may not be the youngest driver out there, but he is the most consistent and he has he sights on that championship trophy.

Kyle Busch had never won a race at Michigan and started the race back in 17th position.  He didn’t crack the top-10 until Lap 58, but by Lap 75 he was already up to fourth place.  With 13 laps to go Busch took the lead from Jimmie Johnson for good.  This is his fourth win this season and he remains first in the points standings, 10 points ahead of Johnson. He clinched his spot in the Chase with the win.

We have only three races to go before the Chase cut-off at Richmond International Raceway.  Who do you think will make the Chase?