Michigan remains Ford country

Jun 14, 2005 6:34 AM

This week’s race takes us to Michigan International Speedway, the heartbeat of NASCAR or at least where the horsepower is given birth to by America’s automobile manufacturers.

Ford has dominated on this track throughout the years, which has allowed the executives to strut around the track with a little more zest. Dodge has been gaining with three wins in the last seven races there, but Chevrolet has been M.I.A. on its home track. The last Chevy to win was Jeff Gordon’s four years ago.

Things don’t look to be more promising this week, considering how powerful the Yates-Roush engine program has been the last two seasons for their Fords. Engine builder Doug Yates has created the Monster Frankenstein of all engines currently in NASCAR with Ford.

Not only has Ford won the last two drivers championships, but has dominated NASCAR?s horsepower tracks like Michigan.

To get a better idea of this year’s race, we’ll examine what happened in California earlier this season and in the fall last year, then go over the last few Michigan races. All that data together should determine which drivers should contend.

Michigan and California Speedways were both built by Roger Penske before merging with International Speedway Corporation. The two-mile tracks are nearly identical in width and banking and require the same set-ups.

The first driver that comes to mind is Greg Biffle (7-1), mainly off winning the last race at both California and Michigan. He has all the horsepower one car could possibly use.

Kurt Busch (8-1), like Biffle, has done the Mich-Cal win thing also back in 2003. Last week, Busch was great in all the practice sessions but they couldn’t get it together on race day. Look for Busch to compete for the win this week.

Matt Kenseth (20-1) has been good at Michigan always, including last season when he started his slump. He’s a good long shot possibility.

Dale Jarrett (22-1) is an even better longshot. Jarrett seems to save his best for Michigan in front of the big wigs. He has won four times there over his career, but none may be as impressive as his two third-place finishes there last season off tough campaigns.

Elliott Sadler (18-1) won in the fall at California last season and also had a fifth in this race last year. For good measure you might as well mix in the other two Roush drivers (Carl Edwards and Mark Martin) to complete the Ford domination. Edwards had a sixth and a fifth at California, while Martin is a four-time winner at Michigan in a Ford.

The drivers with the best chance at beating a Ford this week all drive Dodges. Kasey Kahne (10-1) had two top 5 finishes as a rookie last year. Ryan Newman (10-1) is a two time winner at Michigan. Jamie McMurray has also done very well on the two sister tracks despite starting poorly in almost all of them.

From the Chevy camp you have to mention Jimmie Johnson (9-1), who is capable of winning on just about every type of horse power track. He has a fourth place finish at Michigan, which comes as a shock since he’s been so dominant at California over his career. Johnson leads in points and has the weight of General Motors on his shoulders. He probably won’t get much help from anyone else on the Chevy side.

New Evernham team

Some pretty good sources have Ray Evernham starting a new team within Evernham Motorsports which would give him three cars running full time joining the No. 9 Dodge of Kasey Kahne and the No. 19 of Jeremy Mayfield. Mayfield, incidentally, just signed a long-term contract after much speculation that he would be with another team next season. Bill Elliott has been driving the No. 91 Evernham car on a limited basis.

Who will drive the car is up in the air, but the odds on favorite would have to be Las Vegan Brendan Gaughan because of his great relationship with Dodge and their commitment to him.

Brendan could be taken to the next level with Evernham behind him. Gaughan is liked because of his great attitude, willingness to listen, ability to market himself and his sponsors in front of the camera, and drive a car pretty well. He’s thought of very well at Dodge head quarters.

There were some possibilities that Gaughan would drive for Carl Haas in the No. 0 Chevrolet before the season started, but Dodge stepped in with an alleged promise of a Cup ride soon.

Other drivers that are possibilities are Sterling Marlin, Jamie McMurray, and Ricky Craven. Should either McMurray or Marlin leave Chip Ganassi’s team, that again would be a spot that Gaughan would be welcomed.

Driving the No. 42 Texaco Havoline Dodge may be the best fit for Gaughan because it’s an established quality team already. The No. 91 car from Evernham will take some time before it jells.

When Rusty Wallace and Mark Martin retire at the end of the season, there will be two pretty good cars left vacant. The leading candidate for Wallace’s Penske ride is Jamie McMurray who has grown close to Wallace and also drives Wallace’s Busch Series car on a limited basis.

The No. 6 Roush Racing Ford has Sterling Marlin, Jon Wood, and Ricky Craven as candidates. It would be nice to see an old-schooler like Ken Schrader, who will need a new car next year, get a quality ride like Roush can provide.

I’d love to see Roush give Kenny one year to see what he can do against all these young guns on the track with great equipment like they have.

NEXTEL CUP, c/o Station Casinos
DRIVER june 14 june 7

Jimmie Johnson 5-2 5-2

Jeff Gordon 4-1 7-2

Dale Earnhardt Jr 15-1 10-1

Tony Stewart 10-1 10-1

Kurt Busch 7-1 8-1

Ryan Newman 7-1 8-1

Mark Martin 10-1 12-1

Matt Kenseth 100-1 75-1

Kasey Kahne 14-1 14-1

Elliott Sadler 13-1 16-1

Greg Biffle 4-1 9-2

Dale Jarrett 125-1 125-1

Kevin Harvick 25-1 25-1

Jamie McMurray 15-1 15-1