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Nascar at Michigan: Qualifying May Not Say Much About the Race…again.

As a Nascar fan (and former local short track racer), I just can’t seem to understand why they call it “race” qualifying. It seems it could better be named “pit stall” qualifying rather than qualifying for a good starting spot for the race.

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If past weeks tell us anything, it would be that qualifying tells us very little about how the race is going to go. Sure, I know this isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned this and it sure won’t be the last. It’s just that I put very little stock in the qualifying times especially when the first practice (or practices) don’t tell us that much anyway.

With the length of the race and all of the possible changes that will be made during the final practices, I don’t expect the finishing order at the end of the race to be anything at all like the beginning will be on Sunday.

Past races at Michigan International Speedway speak of long green flag runs and a wide racing surface that gives up to four-wide racing which, in the end, will dictate the winner, (well that and the car that handles the best, gets the best fuel mileage and has the most horsepower.)

Just take a look at the starting lineup. I admit there are some pretty strong cars starting up front, but, I also know there are some pretty strong cars starting in the middle and back of the pack.

Jeff Gordon blew his engine before qualifying, so he was definitely only qualifying for a pit stall. He will start in the back no matter what his qualifying time was. This may not prove to be such a bad thing since Tony Stewart proved last week that starting in the back wasn’t that much of a problem for someone with a fast car and fast pit stops (and the yellow flags falling at the right time). Up to this point, though, Jeff Gordon hasn’t been going fast enough to make me think he is going to just blow by everybody although I will be watching him to see how today’s final practice goes. Besides, one of the large contributing factors for Tony winning the race last week was his number one pit stall. I don’t think many will argue that point.

This week, many of the qualifying times were much faster than the times recorded in the first practice when the cars were in race trim. That may tell us something. Very little of the qualifying trim will actually be used for the race since most people know that that setup is mostly for one lap, (two at the most) and only gives an advantage to them for that period of time. (Once again, I bring up the point of MIS being about long green flag runs and consistent speeds. A couple of fast laps followed by much slower laps doesn’t really help move you to the front very quickly.)

It is ‘just this fan’s view’, but I firmly believe fuel mileage and where the caution flags fall will have much more bearing on the outcome of the race than the qualifying lap times and the lap times in general. Let’s not forget the double-file restarts and the associated strategies that will go along with that. This could prove to be a more interesting race than it usually is.

This is another one of those weeks that the recorded lap times and the way the field lines up will make it hard to predict a winner, but that hasn’t stopped us from making fools of ourselves before (and I don’t think it will stop us today.) Personally, I just like to see how well I can pick ’em, I guess. (Believe me, it’s nothing personal against anyone.) Lately my choices have been mediocre, at best.

I won’t take a lot of time giving you all of the reasons why I think someone is going to do better over the rest, but I have to say some look to have a better chance to win than the others.

Denny Hamlin needs to have some good luck this week and he could take the victory. He looks strong, but he did last week, too. Kyle Bush is going to be right there, also. He is about due to flex a little muscle this week and he is starting on the front row.

I also think the Roush teams are going to be pretty tough this week. Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth in particular are hungry and look pretty tough. Michigan is a place they generally shine and I am sure they want to make a strong showing this weekend.

I can’t make the final choice without mentioning Brian Vickers, Mark Martin and Jimmy Johnson. This is what makes it so tough to choose, too many strong cars and teams and many of them will have good pit stalls.

Oh well, I guess I shouldn’t put it off any longer since I know you’re just beside yourselves with anticipation. I really think Carl Edwards could pull off the victory this weekend, but, I know Greg Biffle is running strong too. Jimmy Johnson is looking to make Michigan another track he has won at and that means he and Chad Knaus are out to prove something. Mark Martin has just been plain solid all year and can’t be ruled out as the possible winner.

Let’s see, Carl Edwards…? Denny Hamlin…? Greg Biffle…? Mark Martin…?

Aw, geez! This is way too hard … Oh well, I’m picking Jimmy Johnson … or … oh, never mind…

See ya next time…
(all opinions expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer)

© June 2009 – all rights reserved

Just A Fan’s View and Rusty Norman

By Rusty Norman

Amateur writer, NASCAR Fan, musician and former local Stock Car racer.