Heat on Chevys to prot-
ect home turf at MIS

Aug 15, 2006 3:50 AM

Ford and Dodge have combined to win the last 10 Cup races at Michigan International Speedway and 26 of the 42 races at that track.

We have seen dominance from time to time at various tracks, but in this case, it’s much more heightened. This is the Detroit Rock City, the Motor City Bowl, and the Heartbeat of America!

The boys with the bow-ties at General Motors and Chevrolet have no time to pay millions of dollars on all their campaigning and sponsorship for NASCAR only to lose on their home turf. That doesn’t sit well with the upper brass. Despite that fact, Chevy has been getting pummeled year after year almost to the same degree the NFC would pound the AFC during the 1980s Super Bowls.

How could this happen? The new Chevrolet SS Monte Carlo on the market now has eight cylinders, the Tigers are about to make the playoffs for the first time since 1987, and the bow-ties have Jimmie Johnson.

Repeat:.Chevrolet has Jimmie Johnson! How could this happen?

Chevy also comes strong for this week’s rumble with plenty of big guns, led by last week’s winner Kevin Harvick. Jeff Gordon isn’t bad, nor is Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jeff Burton has been one of hottest drivers on tour for the last few months, while Kyle Busch has scored the most points over the last seven weeks.

We haven’t even discussed Tony Stewart, a winner at Michigan in 2000, or his Gibbs teammate Denny Hamlin, both adding to the impressive lineup Chevy brings to the race this Sunday.

The last Chevy to win at Michigan was Jeff Gordon in 2001. Prior to that, it was 1998 by Gordon. Stewart did win in 2000, but he was driving a Pontiac Grand Prix. That’s still in the GM family, but no bow tie. Prior to the Gordon wins, the last Chevy victory was in 1995. Not only did Chevy sweep the Michigan season for the first time since 1983, but Bobby Labonte won both races.

In 1983, Cale Yarborough also swept the season for Chevy. Overall, there have been five other season sweeps by one driver. None were Chevy’s.

Over those last 10 races that Chevy hasn’t won, Ford has taken five checkered flags. Greg Biffle won for Ford in June 2005. Dodge also has five wins, led by Kasey Kahne’s rain shortened triumph last June.

Kahne is Dodge’s answer to Jimmie Johnson. Both have four wins on the season, but Kahne is definitely more equipped than JJ to do better. While Johnson has done very well at Michigan’s nearly identical sister track, California Speedway, it hasn’t translated to success in the Motor City. All of Kahne’s wins have come on similar, high-banked 1.5-mile tracks beginning with Atlanta, Texas, and Charlotte. Kahne’s has three top 5 finishes at Michigan in his five starts.

Johnson has had light success at Michigan compared to everywhere else. His best finish is fourth, his only top 5 in nine career starts. At California, Jimmie has a win and four top 5’s in seven starts. Earlier this season at California, Johnson finished second to Matt Kenseth, while Kahne placed fourth.

The Ford brigade for Jack Roush is led by Kenseth, who sits second in points for the championship chase. Kenseth has one win in 14 starts at Michigan with nine top 10’s. It’s the best all-time average finish position in track history. All Ford Motor Company’s eyes will be on Kenseth, but three other Roush drivers must also be considered candidates to win.

Greg Biffle (7-1) comes in the odds-on favorite. He’s had some issues with finishing this year, but he should be able to handle it this week. In the June race, Biffle was fastest in the final practice a day prior to finishing fourth. That race was shortened by 73 laps and there is every reason to believe he could have won had it gone on. Bottom line, he didn’t.

Biffle did win two straight races from ”˜04 to ”˜05 and has five top 5 finishes in seven career starts. His average finish at Michigan is tenth, third best all-time at MIS. He trails only Yarborough (9.6) and Kenseth (8.43) in that category.

Mark Martin has 15 top 5 finishes, and 26 top 10 finishes in his 41 career Michigan starts, easily the best record among active drivers not named Bill Elliott. The Dawsonville, Ga., driver leads with seven wins. Martin’s 26 top 10’s are tied for second all-time with Yarborough and three behind Elliott.

With his second place finish in June’s Michigan race, Carl Edwards registered his seventh consecutive top 10 finish. Since 2003 when he started his career in the Trucks, Edwards has never finished worse than tenth in any series.

Michigan notes:

”¡ This Sunday’s race marks the 75th Cup event at MIS. There has been an August race at Michigan every year since 1969, except in 1973 due to a gas crisis.

”¡ There is relevance when comparing Michigan races. Of the 36 August starts, 28 have been won by a driver who finished in the top 10 in June. The average June finish for an August winner is 8.9.

”¡ Twenty percent of Michigan winners have started from the pole. At MIS, front means a lot. Kahne won in June from the pole, the 15th driver to so. That is the top single start position in regards to producing the winner.

”¡ Also, 66 percent of all Michigan Cup race winners start from the top 5. And, 81 percent start from the top 10.

”¡ Brian Vickers leads all active drivers with an average start position of 8.2 at Michigan. Jeff Gordon has four front row starts in his last five MIS races and there have been 13 different winners in the last 14 events. Biffle is the only repeat winner.

”¡ No rookie has ever won a Cup race at Michigan. The top challengers are Hamlin and Reed Sorenson. Hamlin finished 12th in June, Sorenson fifth.

”¡ Michigan has had two races held on Sunday this season. In both instances the winner (Kahne and IRL’s Helio CastroNeves) came from the pole and it was their fourth win of the season.

”¡ Of the drivers starting each of the last five Cup races at Michigan without a win, Jeff Burton has the highest average finish at 14.6. Jimmie Johnson is at 15.8 and Dale Earnhardt Jr. at 16.

”¡ Four races remain in the Chase for the Championship. Kahne, in eleventh, trails Junior for tenth by 54 points. Five of the top 10 drivers are separated by 30 or less. Only 207 points separate fourth to eleventh. Seven drivers in the top 13 changed point positions after Watkins Glen.