The Yawner at Michigan
Another race at Michigan International Speedway has come and gone, and I have trouble remembering the last time one of these affairs was exciting, but it was either 1969 or 1970. In that particular race, Cale Yarborough and Pete Hamilton raced side by side for what seemed like forever and Yarborough won the race. That was 39 or 40 years ago when I was in junior high school. Today was no exception.
Sure, we didn’t have a gas mileage run, and I’m thankful for that, but the artificial way that NASCAR usually manufactures a close finish didn’t happen on this day. Concerned with boring finishes, NASCAR came up with the green-white-checker rule last year along with double-file re-starts. It has helped somewhat, but instead of addressing the problems with their IROC-style “Car of Tomorrow,” this is what they came up with. Sadly, there were only four cautions during the whole race and none within the last few laps, so Denny Hamlin ran away with the win.
That seems to be the pattern since the advent of the COT. Someone gets hooked up and that’s all she wrote. I’m not sure it would have made any difference today, but the lack of chances teams had to adjust on their cars limits the crews from making a car better, if that’s possible with this spec car. I consider that one reason why defending champion didn’t run so well today. Chad Knaus had little opportunity to work his magic.
The drivers love this place and there’s no wonder why. There are several grooves to race in the racing surface is wide. The only problem is low banking (so open wheel cars could run there) and that makes it a bad place to run stock cars. If the COT isn’t problem enough for the competition, tracks like this compound the problem. In my visits to the track, there’s not a better place to watch a race. If a race actually broke out there.
NASCAR or track officials, I can never figure out who sets the attendance figures, say there were 95,000 souls in attendance today. It sure didn’t look like it on television, but with the horrible economy in Michigan, I guess that was a major accomplishment.
This was the day the Fords were supposed to shine. You can go back to when the track opened and it’s always been a Ford track. The Wood Brothers, with Yarborough, Pearson and others, and Jack Roush’s drivers have always done well here. The two main Ford teams, Roush-Fenway and Richard Petty Motorsports didn’t live up to that expectation. In the end, only Kasey Kahne, the soon to be departed driver of the No. 9 Fusion, was the only car competitive in the race. He finished second, but a country mile behind Hamlin. More work needs to be done.
Roush complained this week that his computer simulators weren’t up to snuff, especially important when no testing is allowed, but a winless streak of nearly 50 races might point to other problems. Truth is, Jack is on a losing streak. He let Rick Hendrick and Richard Childress snooker him into not testing two years ago and paid the price. Then, he chose David Ragan over Jamie McMurray when he had to downsize to four teams. McMurray has immediately shown what he can do in good equipment. Lately, the usually uncontroversial Matt Kenseth has made comments about Ford placing all its eggs in one basket (ouch) with Roush and it’s a mess.
Regardless, this was supposed to be a day for the Fords to shine, but it didn’t happen. In fact, a lot more tweaking is necessary for Ford to win again, and this might have been their best chance for awhile. It was obvious in practice and qualifying. Only Kahne was running anything close to competitive times and so it was in the race. Much work needs to done in the Ford camp.
The circuit has become competition between the Chevrolets and Toyotas and the occasional sterling performance by Kurt Busch in his Dodge. Is the competition good? No.
Of course, that’s not Michigan International Speedway’s fault. Back when this track was built, in the late 1960’s, crews had the ability to make their cars better regardless of how many opportunities they had. As we saw today (Sunday), those teams who hit the setup fly away and those that do not flounder. The track plays a part in this, of course, but competitive races are possible there. Things just have to fall into place, but they rarely do. That’s a shame. And the COT only makes it worse.