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NASCAR At Michigan: On-Track Rivalries, Fords New FR9 Engine and High Emotions Equals the Formula For Excitement

There is no doubt this has been a year of on-track rivalries between NASCAR drivers whether they’re on the same team or another team and it has made for great conversations during the week after the races. Add to that the Ford teams all running the new FR9 engine, fans expecting some carry-over fireworks from last weeks high emotions after some on-track happenings and it equals a formula for added excitement and drama at Michigan International Speedway.

Will this be a week where NASCAR has to step in to avert some possible out of control actions on the track? Nah… probably not, but…

It is usually much more speculative hype than actuality when it comes to expectations of pay-backs and run-ins for these type situations. The media shows up hoping they will have something really controversial to write about in the coming week and the fans show up hoping their guy will take an opportunity to show they won’t take being pushed around anymore. It is this fan’s opinion that, usually, the weekend race proves to be uneventful when it comes to the hoped for circumstances by both media and fans and often gives a whole new perspective and circumstances to talk about over the days following such high expectations. To some, that is a let down; to the rest of us, well, it’s just racing.

There are several things that catch my attention as I look at Sunday’s race; one is the Ford FR9 engine. All of the Ford teams will be running the new engine this weekend and it is hoped they will gain some power under the hood they have been lacking so far this year. Several drivers have commented on the stronger “feel” the FR9 gives under the hood and they are looking forward to the weekend encouraged they will be able to be more competitive.

This particularly holds true for the Roush teams. Even though three of them are in the top twelve in points, Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth don’t think they are as competitive as the Chevys, Toyotas and Dodges and have been frustrated with their overall performance pretty much over the last year and a half.

It is true they’ve hardly shown any strength at all this year and even though they are in the top twelve, two of them are on the edge of falling to thirteenth or worse every week lately. It is just my opinion, but I think they’re lacking more than just horsepower. They haven’t shown the ability to put what power they have to good use in handling, especially since the return of the spoiler to the rear decks of the cars.

I personally don’t think the FR9 is going to solve all of the problems they (or the rest of the Fords) have been facing. To me, it does appear they have been lacking horses but they have been lacking handling and the ability to use what horses they have, too. In my observations over the last several races it has appeared they have been trying to make what they have work rather than actually working what they have, (because they just don’t have enough.) No matter how good the driver, he can only make up so much. Until they find what they’re missing, I don’t expect to see much more from them even with the FR9. I know that won’t sit well with you Ford fans out there, but even you have to admit the overall performance of the Ford teams has been lack-luster on the year.

Because of the rain and changing conditions during qualifying yesterday afternoon, I think there could be some interesting possibilities for winning on Sunday. As I know you’ve already discovered, I don’t put much stock in qualifying for picking winners, but it is hard to argue with past statistics on where the winners for many races start. More often than not, the winner at MIS starts in the top five. That is hard to argue with, but because of what I mentioned earlier, there is still room for a dark horse winner on Sunday.

So who’s gonna win on Sunday? That’s a good question and a challenge I’m willing to address, at least from my view as a fan.

It is awfully hard to discount the performance of Kurt Bush and crew chief Steve Addington over the last several weeks and he is sitting on the pole with a new track record. Because of when he qualified, I’m not totally convinced he has the strongest car any more than I think Jamie McMurray has the second fastest. Now I’m not saying they won’t run up front, I’m just saying I’m not so sure they will win simply because they qualified fastest. After all, they were kinda surprised that they ran as fast they did, too.

Although I could be surprised, I do expect the winner on Sunday afternoon could come from either the Joe Gibbs or Hendrick teams. I’m not totally ruling out anyone, but I do expect them to be at the front at the end of the day. Whether it will be Denny Hamlin or Kyle Bush for JGR, I don’t know. Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon always seem to perform well at Michigan but both of them haven’t shown real consistency lately. Mark Martin is looking for a good run and I expect he will be at, or near, the front when the checkered flag falls. As for Dale Jr, well… you know…

The real problem I see for picking the winner is that this is a fuel mileage track and although it can happen, I don’t expect a late race caution to close the field back up at the end and then have a double file restart and shootout. With that being said, I do think fuel will be the issue that decides it in the end and that could mean a definite shake up in positions during the final laps. That’s why I’m picking Jeff Gordon to break into the win column this weekend… (But it could be Tony Stewart, Jeff Burton or Kevin Harvick.) Hm-m-m… Oh well, I guess we’ll see who runs out of gas last, won’t we?

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© June 12, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and NascarFansView.com

(All audio productions by www.podcastnorm.com and PCNProductions.com)

By Rusty Norman

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