Sunday, August 21, 2011

Rating the Pure Michigan 400: 3 Stars ***

In a season full of different winners, the final trip of the season around Michigan International Speedway had the most common winner out front. The race itself was also common for Michigan, minus the fuel mileage, and gets a 3 Star Rating.

Kyle Busch became the first driver to lock himself into the Chase with his fourth win of the season Sunday. This race was a little bit back to normal after a stretch of surprising contenders and unusual finishes.

The big-name drivers came to the front and the different lanes in the corners at Michigan actually gave drivers a chance to pass each other. Some of what has caused all of the different winners of late is that it’s just so darn hard to pass.

That finally wasn’t the case Sunday. Busch won from the 17th starting position and Jimmie Johnson finished second after starting 19th, even though he caught a break with a caution coming out while he was in the pits.

So what happens after a race where drivers can find ways to improve their position without having to use strategy? They repave the track that gave them that ability. Who knows what the track will be like next year. There will be slight progressive banking, but new pavement doesn’t often make for really good races. Sunday’s race was classic Michigan, and it’s a shame that type of race is in jeopardy.

In the big picture, Brad Keselowski continued an amazing stretch with a third-place finish at Michigan and moved up to 12th in the points. He has now moved up 11 positions in the points standings in the past four races. That is incredible. He’s gone from an also-ran that lucked into a win early in the year to a driver that will likely make the Chase. He could have one of the biggest in-season turnarounds in the history of the sport.

People talked a lot about how much more a bad finish would hurt a driver in the standings when the new system was announced before the start of the season. While that has been true to an extent, the real difference is how much ground a driver can gain with a good run.

What may have taken two months to achieve in making big gains in the standings now takes about one month, as Keselowski has proved. Maybe it is easier to make up ground under this format even though many thought it would be harder.

All of that means a lot could still change in the final three races before the Chase is set. Denny Hamlin’s 35th-place finish really opens the door for about eight drivers who either have to get a win to have a shot at the Chase or already have a win and need to pass Hamlin in the standings to grab that second wild-card spot.

Now the Sprint Cup Series heads to one of the best stretches of the season. Bristol, Atlanta and Richmond are all fun tracks and the uncertainty in the points standings will make those races all the better. This is going to be a great final push to the Chase.


  1. Yes, MIS will be even more of a follow-the-leader type track after it's repaved. It'll be a lot faster, maybe too fast, but even more boring.

  2. Gene - It might be the fastest we have seen Cup cars go since the late '80s at Talladega. It will be interesting to see how they handle that.

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