Michigan always treats Elliott well

June 11, 2002 6:05 AM
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The manufacturer showdown occurs this weekend in Michigan for all the major American automobile giants. The bi-annual stock car race at Michigan International Speedway allows for all the CEO’s of Detroit to gather and lay claim to having the fastest car on the track on that particular Sunday.

The suits will be lined up in a row right around the start-finish line in the most luxurious of luxury boxes. In last season’s fall race, Sterling Marlin (10-1) won for Dodge in their re-birth into NASCAR. It was the first Dodge win at Michigan since Richard Petty in 1975. In the last 13 years of this race, Ford has won eight times.

The all-time money leader at this track is Bill Elliott (16-1). Million Dollar Bill has seven career wins at Michigan, one shy of the track record held by Cale Yarborough and David Pearson. Elliott’s last win at Michigan occurred in 1989, but he has had several Top-5 finishes.

During a stretch from ’84-’87, Elliott won six of eight races. Last season saw a rejuvenated Elliott get his first win in seven years. This season, especially of late, we have seen Elliott establish himself as a solid contender with all the necessary tools required to win a race.

The wide-open layout of Michigan demands horsepower from the car and Elliott has been getting plenty of that the last few weeks. Look for Awesome Bill from Dawsonville to be in the running for a victory this week.

California Speedway, the sister track of Michigan, is nearly identical in all configurations. That race, held six weeks ago, used most of the set-ups that will be seen at Michigan. In that race, which is 500 miles compared to Michigan’s 400, Kurt Busch (8-1) dominated late stages of the race.

MICHIGAN TOP 5

1) #97  

 Kurt Busch  

 8-1

2) #48  

 J.Johnson  

 5-1

3) #24  

 Jeff Gordon  

 6-1

4) #12  

 Ryan Newman  

 16-1

5) #9  

 Bill Elliott  

 16-1

Had the race been 400 miles, Busch would have won. A late caution allowed for maneuvering and a crafty two-tire pit stop by rookie Jimmie Johnson (5-1) to take a lead that wouldn’t be relinquished.

Busch has been extremely efficient on the cookie cutter type tracks and will be one to watch this week for sure. One of the main reasons Busch on four new tires could not catch Johnson down the stretch at California was Ricky Rudd (10-1), who also took on only two tires.

Rudd, knowing he had no chance of catching Johnson, decided to play bull-dog with Busch as though he was a Formula-1 driver blocking for the lead driver. Rudd battled Busch for several laps until relinquishing the second spot with only four laps to go.

At this juncture in the season, it is debatable that Rudd has had the best car every week. What isn’t debatable is that he has had the worst case of Murphy’s law come upon him. The last two weeks Rudd has seen victory end up in an also ran position.

The battle with Busch at California had more to do with his ego than anything else. Had Busch been Rusty Wallace, Sterling Marlin, or any other veteran of the series, he would have let him pass without a fight.

Rudd has been the most vocal of all drivers against the current regime of young guns and where their place is in the series. Therefore his bitterness and resentment will continue to be an issue week in and out. Fortunately for the younger, aggressive drivers, who have made this season one of the most exciting in history, Rudd is likely in his last season on the circuit.

The biggest of the Young Guns, Jimmie Johnson, finds himself the favorite this week for the first time of his career. The correlation between Johnson and his boss Jeff Gordon’s (6-1), run last season is almost identical. However, other than the driver, it shouldn’t be a surprise since it’s the same merchandise the No. 24 team ran with last season.

The similarities between Gordon and Johnson during their May and June stretch are eerily similar. At this stage last season, Gordon had done nearly everything Johnson is doing this season. Both dominated all time trials at Charlotte followed by a win at Dover and a Top-5 at Pocono.

Gordon followed that with a win at Michigan last season. What Johnson does this week shouldn’t come as a shock.

Ryan Newman (18-1) is one of the young guns who continually piles up fast time trials, but hasn’t visited the winners circle. This type of track should be ideal for Newman.

Also watch for Mark Martin (10-1), who has four victories at Michigan. Another driver with a shot is three-time champ Dale Jarrett (8-1), who won last week at Pocono. And, of course, Wallace (18-1) who is a five-time Michigan winner.

NEW STATIONS POOL

Station Casinos Sports Books are offering a new pool to wager on in the Winston Cup Series.

"We decided to set up groups of four drivers based on similarities in style and we simply ask to list the top finishers," said Green Valley Ranch’s Kelly Downey.

"We have a group of young guns, old school drivers, Roush drivers, and so on that we’ll offer each week," Downey said. "We’re always asking our guests what they’d like to see as far as options go to wager on. Many of the suggestions were something that they could get good odds on without necessarily winning the race.

"We offer several props, matchups, and odds to win each week," he continued. "This will give bettors an opportunity to get great odds on a driver by just finishing better than the drivers we match them with."