Michigan race marches to different beat

Aug 17, 2004 6:22 AM

This playoff stuff is getting pretty good.

The drama is intense and the anticipation by fans all over the country glued to their TV’s is why the new points system is one of the greatest advances NASCAR has ever made.

The Nextel Cup series moves to Michigan International Speedway, called "the manufacturer Super Bowl" because all of the home offices for America’s automakers are in nearby Detroit. All the execs sit high atop the track rooting for their cars to win.

Since 1984, Ford has done the most celebrating. That year Bill Elliott started an amazing stretch of wins, taking the checkers in six of eight Michigan races. Ford has won at Michigan 25 times, compared to a combined 13 victories for General Motors. Lately, Dodge has dominated with three wins in the past six races.

The Michigan layout is almost identical to its sister track in California, both built by Roger Penske. Both are wide and spacious two-mile D shaped ovals. Michigan is slightly more banked than California, but minimal. That makes preparation relatively the same for the two tracks.

Jeff Gordon (8-1) won the California race in May with his teammate Jimmie Johnson (7-1), a 2002 California winner, right behind him in second. Gordon is a two-time winner at Michigan with the last time being in 2001. While Gordon struggled at Michigan this year, Johnson finished third despite all his own past struggles on the track.

Ryan Newman has won the last two Michigan races. Newman beat Kasey Kahne (8-1) down the stretch to get his first and only win on the season back in June. Last season, he beat Kevin Harvick (18-1) by almost two seconds.

This year’s version of Ryan Newman just isn’t the same. We all had visions of Newman taking over the series much the way Jimmie Johnson has. His team isn’t the same as evident by their lack of competitiveness.

After hanging on to a top 10 position in the points by a finger nail for several weeks, Newman finally fell out last week with Jeremy Mayfield (12-1) passing him for 10th and Kahne passing him for 11th. There still are four weeks remaining, but Newman’s chances are dwindling and needs a big run this week. He should produce.

In the last 10 races at Michigan there have been nine different winners. Dale Jarrett (18-1) is the last multiple winner at the track before Newman joined him. Jarrett should be good again this week, but his teammate Elliott Sadler (15-1) will be the one to watch. Sadler ran strong on the horsepower tracks of Pocono and the Brickyard. In the first race at MIS, he finished fifth.

Roush racing has always done well at Michigan. Mark Martin (15-1) is a four-time winner on the track. Kurt Busch (10-1) won last year and Matt Kenseth (12-1) took the title the previous season.

The DEI Chevy team of Dale Earnhardt Jr (10-1) and Michael Waltrip (20-1) have been pretty good at Michigan. So has the Gibbs Chevy team of Tony Stewart (9-1) and Bobby Labonte (14-1). Stewart won at Michigan in 2000 and has three other top 5 finishes.

The Ray Evernham Dodges of Kahne and Mayfield will also be worth watching.