NASCAR manufacturers push Michigan hard

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We’ve got 10 different winners through the first 14 NASCAR Sprint Cup races as the series heads to Michigan International Raceway for Sunday’s Quicken Loans 400, the first of two races this season on the wide 2-mile D-shaped oval.

Sitting in the backyard of the Motor City, this is always a huge race for bragging rights between competing manufacturers. In 91 total races since the series first started competing at Michigan in 1969, eight different manufacturers have won led by Ford with 34 wins followed by Chevrolet with 22. The new kids on the block, Toyota, have won four times, but none since Kyle Busch in 2011.

While Ford and Chevy executives perched atop the luxury boxes may quietly snicker at the Toyota brand imported from Japan, let it be known that the Toyota Camry is made in Georgetown, Kentucky while the Ford Fusion has its final assembly done in Sonora, Mexico, not Detroit.

After Toyota’s first win at Michigan in 2009 by Brian Vickers, they’ve been welcomed to the NASCAR club at Michigan, but there still is no love lost. They all want to win badly, and the drivers and owners feel that pressure from the manufacturers more than any race during the season.

Chevy swept last season with Hendrick Motorsports’ Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon. For Gordon, it was his third win 44 career starts. For Johnson, it was his first win ever in 26 starts making it only four tracks he’s never won at – Chicago, Watkins Glen, Kentucky and Homestead are the others. At the time of Johnson’s win, it was five straight wins on the season for the Hendrick brigade.

When looking at who is hot coming into this week’s race, you have to start with last week’s Pocono winner Martin Truex Jr. who has led the most laps in the past four races, which is no ordinary feat. The last to do it was Jeff Gordon in 2001 and he went on to win a championship.

Truex Jr. has been a model of consistency all season with 13 top-10 finishes in the 14 races, including all the horsepower tracks that are applicable to Michigan. Even though Michigan’s sister track at Fontana is almost identical, they don’t run the same and we rarely see someone win at both during a season.

The perfect example is Johnson winning five times at Fontana, but being so ordinary at Michigan, or rather experiencing lots of bad luck, with a 15.8 average finish. But what is required on all the 1.5-mile tracks, Pocono, Fontana and Michigan is horsepower.

You can take a sampling from each of those seven races run already and get a quick read on who should run the best.

The driver who stands out the most is Kevin Harvick who has a win, five second-place finishes and a ninth at Charlotte among those seven races. He hasn’t won since March 8 at Las Vegas, but does have quite the recent history at Michigan finishing runner-up in the past four races.

Harvick also won his only race there in 2010. Like Truex Jr., he has 13 top-10 finishes to lead the series and is the only driver with 10 top-5 finishes – two wins and eight second-places.

Harvick’s run is simply amazing, but for all his dominance, he’s only has two wins which gives plenty of hope for bettors looking to play odds to win. This week he’s going to be fast again, but you don’t want to take 4-1 odds, and his win drought makes it easier to make a move on a few other drivers.

Right at the top of the list with best career Michigan average finishes are Carl Edwards (9.7), Matt Kenseth (10.6) and Greg Biffle (11.5) who all used to be teammates at Roush Fenway Racing and helped Jack Roush become the all-time winner among car owners at Michigan with 13.

This is Roush’s home track and he takes competition here just as serious as all the Ford executives do, but it wasn‘t until last month that the team started to show some power that could compete with the elite teams. They had almost become a laughingstock of the series until Biffle finished second in the Coca-Cola 600.

Edwards and Kenseth each won twice for Roush, but both drive for Joe Gibbs now. Biffle is a four-time winner, the last coming in 2013, and might be worth at stab at 100-1 to win.

In addition to the Joe Gibbs drivers, including two-time winner Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch, you also want to pay close attention to what the Penske Racing team does in final practices on Friday.

Team owner Roger Penske built this track, as well as the one in Fontana, and Brad Keselowski hails from Michigan and wants to win this race more than any other. He stole the Fontana race in March by leading only one lap, the last one, in overtime. His teammate Joey Logano won at Michigan in the fall of 2013.

Micah Roberts is a former Las Vegas race and sports book director, one of The Linemakers on SportingNews.com , and longtime motorsports columnist and sports analyst at GamingToday. Follow Micah on Twitter @MicahRoberts7 Contact Micah at [email protected].

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