The big news last week going into Pocono happened on Wednesday when it was announced by Toyota Racing Development that they would be reducing horsepower on their engines for Pocono and Michigan.
Toyota has experienced five wins on the season and had shown more horsepower than any other team on the type of tracks that required the most.
With that massive output, there was also a negative effect. Three Toyota engines had expired in the previous two races. With Joe Gibbs and Michael Waltrip Racing having cars that are trying to win a championship, expiring engines are not a good thing.
The first thought when I heard the news was that it’s going to rapidly change the odds of all the Toyota drivers, most of whom were considered the favorites to win based on the Toyota horsepower. No track requires more horsepower than Pocono to get down the long front straightaway, so if they’re reducing that power, there go the chances of Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin.
Until I actually saw something on the track, I would hold off any judgment. When they finally got to practice on Saturday after being rained out on Friday, it was apparent that Toyota was slower than they had been all season. None of the Toyota teams were happy with the new version of the engine, which made them all look extremely mediocre.
On race day, Kyle Busch and Hamlin made the most of it with top-10 finishes, but they weren’t ever really competing for the win. They were light years behind what Jimmie Johnson was bringing, and now that takes us to this week’s race at Michigan, where we will again see Toyota-light performing.
Without having a Toyota driver to consider this week, it opens things up for others to compete with Johnson like Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick or maybe even Michigan native Brad Keselowski.
We’ll have to wait and see what happens in practices on Saturday to really determine the shape of these Toyota engines, but if it’s anything close to last week, we can put a slash across the name of anyone driving a Toyota this Sunday.
What makes this even more interesting is that Johnson has never won at Michigan. He’s been close several times, but for a driver of his stature with 63 career Cup wins and dominating at Michigan’s sister track in Fontana over his career, it’s amazing that this race has eluded him.
So if we bring Johnson down a notch based on his past history, and eliminate the Toyota drivers, we have the makings for a pretty wide open race with the possibilities of cashing in with a winner at a big price, depending on how much the sports books adjust the numbers.
It’s likely that most of the odds posted won’t reflect the Toyota situation and will be posted like a normal race where Kenseth will be 6-to-1, Busch 7-1 and Hamlin 10-1.
If that’s the case, then siding with a Roush-Fenway Ford might be the way to go this week. We could even see a driver like Dale Earnhardt Jr. win his first race since winning at Michigan last season.
Edwards looks to be the driver to key on because of his past history and how fast he was in Saturday’s Pocono practice. Although the Pocono and Michigan layouts are nothing alike, they both require lots of horsepower. Edwards has the best average finish (8.2) among active drivers at Michigan along with two wins, the last coming in 2008.
Greg Biffle won at Michigan last fall giving him three wins on the 2-mile oval. He comes off an outstanding Pocono race that saw him finish second to Johnson. It was Biffle’s second top-5 finish on the season.
Think outside the box this week and take a shot with a couple drivers at longer odds early in the week. Review what happened in practice on Saturday and then bet a couple more, or reinforce the bets on drivers already bet upon.
Micah Roberts is a former Las Vegas race and sports book director, and longtime motorsports columnist and sports analyst at GamingToday. Follow Micah on Twitter @MicahRoberts7 Contact Micah at [email protected].