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NASCAR Michigan Preview

by Dave Grayson
Thursday, August 12, 2010

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Denny Hamlin won the first Michigan race this year
NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series will be making their second appearance of the year at the Irish Hills of Michigan for Sunday's running of the Carfax 400. They will be racing in the heart of car country. The Michigan International Raceway is located just down the freeway from Detroit, the home of America's big three automakers. and that means the major auto executives will be on hand to cheer their cars on. That's one of the many factors that makes a race at Michigan so very special. For the racing teams there are major bragging rights on the line. Everyone wants to win for their auto maker who plays such an important role in their racing program.

THE STORY BREAKDOWN

In the other major American sports they have a "final four" which is part of their championship playoff system. The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will be staging their own version of the final four this Sunday at Michigan. The Carfax 400 is the 23d race on the series' schedule. It's the first of the final four races before the official line up for the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase For The Championship is determined.

As we all know, only the top 12 drivers will earn the right to race for the championship during the final ten events of the year. Taking a look at the current points there is a small group of drivers just outside of the Chase cut off who are still in position to squeeze their way in the championship line up.

That list is topped by Clint Bowyer, currently 13th in the standings, who is only ten points away from re entering the top 12 following a very frustrating Sunday at Watkins Glen last Sunday.. Also still in the running is Ryan Newman, 14th in points and 83 points from making the Chase. These two drivers are chasing Mark Martin who re-entered the top 12 following a 19th place finish at Watkins Glen. It also needs to be noted that any on track problems among this group at Michigan could open the door of opportunity for Jamie McMurray who is 15th and 94 points away from the top 12.

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Also this weekend you will hear a lot about the schedule realignment for the 2011 season. While NASCAR hasn't released the official schedule yet, there has already been several announcements from speedway executives whose tracks have already felt the realignment impact.

Tracks impacted by the new changes include the Kentucky Speedway, Kansas Speedway, Auto Club Speedway, Phoenix International Raceway, Atlanta Motor Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway, Chicagoland Speedway and the New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

During the NASCAR themed television shows this weekend it's expected there will be some lively opinions from the media and the drivers regarding these changes.

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Finally there's a possible story line that everyone would love to see become a reality. Jack Roush hopes to visit his Roush Fenway Racing teams at Michigan this weekend. Roush is still at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota undergoing treatments for injuries sustained in his recent plane crash. The speedway is practically in Roush's back yard and he loves racing at Michigan. Whether or not he gets to take a break from the hospital to visit the track of course depends upon the progress of his healing this week. But if it can be arranged, it could turn out to be another special get well present for the "Cat In The Hat" similar to Roush Fenway driver Greg Biffle winning at Pocono two weeks ago. The Michigan International Speedway should be called Ford country. Ford has won a series high 31 races there and no one knows that better than Jack Roush.

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By the way, the Michigan International Raceway also has a strong memory for team owner Chip Ganassi whose teams in three different racing series are having a wonderful year. In 1984 driver Ganassi, behind the wheel of an Indy car, was involved in a major crash that led him to trade his driver's helmet for an owner's hat.

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THE VEGAS BREAKDOWN

The Las Vegas based World Sports Exchange, (WSE), has reigning NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson on top of their Michigan rankings at 9 to 2 odds despite the fact this is a track that Johnson has never won at. He's zero for 17 starts at Michigan.

Right behind Johnson is Denny Hamlin, at 6 to 1, who is a former Michigan winner. At 8 to 1 you will find the Busch Brothers who are always worthy of a wager. Kurt Busch is also a two time winner at Michigan. Another wager worthy of your consideration is two time race Michigan winner Jeff Gordon at 10 to 1 odds. The law of averages says he and crew chief Steve Letarte are bound to put together a winning effort sooner or later this year.

The WSE's mid pack rankings start off with series points leader Kevin Harvick and former race winner Tony Stewart at 12 to 1. Harvick will be most interesting to watch during these final four races before the Chase lineup is official. He's a virtual lock to make the 12 team line up and you may see him driving a little more aggressive in an effort to gain the ten bonus points that comes with winning. Traditionally Stewart seems to run extremely strong during the hot summer months. Either one of these drivers would make a great long shot bet.

At 15 to 1 is a quartet of drivers that includes Jeff Burton and former race winner Kasey Kahne. Also in this group is the first appearance by the Roush Fenway Racing brigade: Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards. Both are two time winners at a track dominated by Ford performance, both are anxious to elevate themselves a little higher in the championship standings to lock in a Chase berth and both would love to give Jack Roush another get well present. Both are also worthy long shot wagers.

The WSE's 20 to 1 trio is also very interesting and worthy of consideration. Juan Pablo Montoya will be riding the momentum of last week's win at Watkins Glen. Roush Fenway driver Matt Kenseth is a two time Michigan winner who will be seriously looking at returning to victory lane after a lengthy absence. Clint Bowyer fell from 12th to 13th in the Chase standings following a disaster of a day last weekend at Watkins Glen. Expect him to charge hard to rectify that situation.

Leading the 30 to 1 group is five time Michigan winner Mark Martin. Martin is barely hanging on to the coveted 12th position in the standings and will be looking for a solid run to move up in the points. Martin has not had the season he was hoping for so far this year and Michigan could the point of that turn around. His odds ranking is a little puzzling considering he has won this race five times and is tied with Bill Elliot for the most top five and top ten finishes. This is another long shot wager with potential high yield. Completing the 30 to 1 group are drivers David Reutimann, Jamie McMurray and Dale Earnhardt Jr whose last Cup win, in 2008, occurred at Michigan.

Closing out the WSE Michigan listings are drivers Martin Truex Jr and Joey Logano at 35 to 1 odds. Two time race winner Ryan Newman is listed at 40 to 1 and that could be a long shot to look at.

Now for the disclaimer. NASCAR wants us to remind you that these numbers are for entertainment and information purposes only. They neither encourage or condone the placing of wagers on their races.

Instead you may want to consider donating at least a $100 of your gambling budget to help out one of the underfunded start and park teams. The Benjamin won't buy much more than a spring rubber and a round of hot dogs for the crew but it will get your name on the car. You'll probably need a magnifying glass to read your name but you will still be able to say that you're a major player with a racing team in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

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THE RACE BREAKDOWN

The Carfax 400 is 200 laps/400 miles around the Michigan International Raceway's two mile D shaped oval.

The race has 48 entries vying for the 43 starting berths. 13 of those entries are on the go or go home list meaning they do not have a guaranteed start in the race because they are currently outside of NASCAR's top 35 in owner's points. These teams will have to rely on qualifying speeds to earn a starting berth.

That could present a problem for the go or go home teams due to the weather forecast for the Brooklyn, Michigan area. Saturday's forecast calls for cloudy conditions and rain showers with a high of 89 degrees on qualifying day. The forecast for Sunday race day is variable high cloudiness and a high of 86 degrees.

The defending race winner from last year is Brian Vickers who won the race from the pole position. Mark Martin won the June 2009 event.

When it comes to strong finishes at Michigan, among active drivers, Bill Elliot and Mark Martin own all of the important numbers. Elliot has a series high seven wins at Michigan while Martin has won there five times. Each driver has 17 top five finishes and 29 top tens.

Ryan Newman holds the track qualifying record, 194.232 MPH, set in June of 2005.

The speedway has 18 degrees of banking in the turns. The frontstretch measures 3,600 feet and has 12 degrees of banking. The backstretch measures 2,242 feet and is only banked five degrees. The pit lane is 50 feet wide with 44 stalls. The pit road speed is 45 MPH.

The speedway presently has seating for 137,243 fans.

The Carfax 400 will be aired live by the ESPN Network with the pre race show beginning at 12 pm eastern time. Race re airs will be Monday morning, 2 am et, on ESPN2 and on Wednesday, 12 pm et, on SPEED.

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