Sunday, June 19, 2011

Rating the Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips 400: 3 Stars ***

Matt Kenseth gave it everything he had in the final laps Sunday at Michigan, but he couldn’t quite catch Denny Hamlin, who finally won his first race of the season. Overall, the first race of the year at Michigan gets a 3 Star Rating.

Except for a rare spin by Jimmie Johnson early in the race, everything went as planned throughout the first half of the race. Several Roush-Fenway Racing drivers traded the lead, Robby Gordon hit the wall and the race stretched out to make for a couple of green-flag pit stops.

By the halfway point Kyle Busch appeared at the front, and as is typical on days when he has a good car, Busch jumped out to a comfortable lead. Had the race stayed green, Busch and Kenseth would have battled for the win, barring their respective fuel-mileage situations.

However, Juan Pablo Montoya’s spin on lap 158 came right at the beginning of a green-flag pit stop sequence, and Kenseth again became the big winner as he came out of the pits with the lead. Busch dropped several spots and never could make his way all the way back and finished third.

Finally, Dale Earnhardt Jr. hit the wall with eight laps to go and eliminated the fuel-mileage game because everybody hit the pits and Hamlin came out with a lead he would never relinquish, even though it got close at the end.

This race was nothing out of the ordinary for Michigan International Speedway. These races usually go one of three ways: The race comes down to fuel mileage, a late caution makes for a decent battle to the end or neither happens and the margin of victory is more than a few seconds.

Sunday had the second option, as well as the closest finish since Regan Smith edged out Carl Edwards to win the Southern 500.

Also, after four debris cautions last week at Pocono, there were no such cautions this week on a track that generally has a few. The number of debris cautions at Pocono was awful, but it looks like that may be the exception this season rather than the rule, as it has been in past seasons.

As for Hamlin, this win should quiet the critics who say his team is off its game and he barely has a chance at the Chase. The win puts Hamlin up to ninth in the points standings with 11 races left in until the Chase begins. Don’t worry, the #11 team is fine, and it will be a factor come Chase time.

On the other side of the results, several big-name drivers struggled throughout the race, including Jeff Burton, who started outside the top 30 and never could make his way to the front.

Burton currently sits 25th in the points standings and has not proved yet this season the #31 team can consistently contend in a race, much less contend for a Chase spot. Burton could make a comeback late this season like he did two years ago, but this time the Childress organization is succeeding while Burton lags behind, whereas both the #31 team and Richard Childress Racing struggled for most of the 2009 season.

So, next week the Sprint Cup Series takes a break from the ovals and heads out west to Sonoma for the first of two road-course events.

Prepare for the annual “Should NASCAR have more road-course races?” and “Should a road-course race be in the Chase?” debates in the coming week. The two issues will likely never change, but people will still talk about them each time the sport visits a road course.


  1. Meh I'll give it two stars...but will admit I sped thru it on the DVR so might have missed some of the details. Lost the drama of fuel mileage and but at least there were plenty of green flag passes for lead and elsewhere. Guess I am looking forward to next week so MI had no chance of living up to in person!

  2. Two stars, at most, from me. Just enough cautions to keep me awake. Surprising after I slept through most of the NW race on Saturday.

  3. Very generous jmayer... There was one area that I thought TNT did a good job of covering, that being the green flag pit stops. It was especially telling how poorly Kenseth's crew performed early in the race. I believe they ultimately cost their driver the win...

    Now I'm wondering who's contracts are up this season and if there will be some established drivers relegated to retirement or at best part-time duty. Burton comes immediately to mind...

    Thanks jmayer!

  4. Two stars here... Glad it did not come down to fuel mileage, but it may have had a little more excitement at the end if it had. Did TNT get the record for the most commercials in the last 20 laps??

  5. klvalus - Next week would be quite a disappointment if it is similar to a Michigan race. Have a great time!

    Gene - Just another race at Michigan. Next year at least there will be some intrigue with the repave.

    Dwindy1 - I'm sure somebody would stick with Burton. He's had too much success and too many big sponsors to immediately go from Chase contender to retired. Also, both Burton and Caterpillar signed a multiyear extension in April.

    JD - Those commercial breaks are incessant! TNT makes it tough to stay interested in the race when they take so many breaks. So far TNT has shown commercials with race breaks, not the other way around. Can't wait until Daytona so we don't have to deal with that.