Sunday, August 19, 2012

Rating the Pure Michigan 400: 4 Stars ****

For the second week in a row, the dominant Sprint Cup Series car at the end of the race had a problem that prevented it from driving into Victory Lane. But bad luck for one driver usually means a more exciting finish. The final race of the season at Michigan International Speedway gets a 4 Star Rating.
This week Kyle Busch gave Jimmie Johnson his bad luck as Johnson's engine blew up while leading with only five laps from the checkered flag. That left Greg Biffle and Brad Keselowski to battle for the win. Keselowski made the final couple of laps interesting, but he couldn’t catch Biffle, who got his second win of the season.
That finish comes after Keselowski spun Busch on the final lap last week at Watkins Glen.
Biffle is now back on top of the points standings and could be much more of a factor in the Chase than many people think. Unfortunately for him, Roush-Fenway Racing cars still haven’t shown enough consistency to challenge for a title.
Regardless, Biffle threw down a challenge in his Victory Lane interview.
“We’re going to make a run at the title,” he said. “I know they don’t talk about us a lot, but they will when we get to (Las) Vegas.”
Of course, the championship celebration is held in Las Vegas at the end of the season.
Along from Johnson’s problem, Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon also had engine problems. All three of those teams run Hendrick Motorsports engines.  
But besides those issues and Biffle’s win, the race had a lot of action on the track compared to a lot of Michigan races and a lot of races in 2012.
Mark Martin, Kurt Busch, Regan Smith and Joey Logano all spent time up against the wall. The pit road wall speared Martin’s car as he slid down pit road following a spin caused by Bobby Labonte and Juan Pablo Montoya in Turn 4. It was an ugly looking wreck, but Martin and everyone on pit road was OK.
Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon also had engine problems that ended their day early.
Sunday’s race also had a lot of good racing that didn’t involve wrecks or mechanical problems. The cars can’t yet go four- and five-wide throughout the race the way they did before the track was repaved for this season, but the tighter groove made for tighter racing.
The middle of the field went three-wide on almost every single restart and barely made it through turns 1 and 2.
The cars looked like they were almost on railroad tracks during the first race in June at Michigan, but that was much less of the case this time around. The cars were more unstable and drivers could race much closer to each other than in June.
Hopefully that continues in future years and Michigan could crank out more entertaining races than boring races. At this point it has potential, and that’s more than could be said for several big, wide tracks with relatively new pavement.
Next week the Sprint Cup Series visits the revamped Bristol Motor Speedway for what could be a return of the bullring that made the track so popular in the 1980s and 1990s. Track owner Bruton Smith ordered the top groove of the track to be shaved down after the spring race to create a tighter racing groove. Either way, it is going to be an intriguing weekend.
The potential for explosive tempers at short tracks usually receives a lot of hype that rarely plays out, but this could be a weekend where the postrace show is nearly as interesting as the race.
We’ll see. Have a great week, everybody.

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