NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion from 2012 Brad Keselowski returns home this weekend as the NASCAR Sprint cup series heads to Michigan International speedway for Sunday’s running of the Quicken Loans 400. Keselowski fresh off two impressive second place finishes at Dover & Pocono waltzes into his home state carrying a great deal of momentum. Momentum that has Keselowski poised to collect his second victory of the 2014 season. Finishing in the runner up position for the past two weeks seemingly has reignited a fire deep within the former champ’s soul. That’s the same burning desire that lead the Michigan native to upset Jimmie Johnson to claim his first career title back in 2012.
Keselowski all but had his second win of the season wrapped up last weekend at Pocono before a lapse in judgement cost the Team Penske driver in the closing laps of the race. Keselowski modestly held himself accountable for the hiccup that relegated the #2 team to a second place finish. Another victory by the Michigan native would all but guarantee himself a position in the chase after missing out on the party last season, one year removed from winning the title. For the Team Penske driver it may feel good to be back home again.
Having never won a race in his home state Keselowski remains focused on crossing that off his career bucket list on Sunday. His best finish at MIS was a second place run in August of 2012. Everybody loves happy endings and would love nothing more than to see the Miller Lite Ford in victory lane on Sunday, but the reality of the matter is Brad’ s never had a great deal of success at this track. Expect him to record another runner up finish this weekend as he inches closer to reclaim his championship form.
While Brad Keselowski may be riding high as of late, Team Penske’s other driver Joey Logano seems to have come down to earth in recent weeks. Since recording his second victory of the season at Richmond in April, Logano has only managed one top five finish since (4th at Kansas in May) Logano’s recent cold spell hasn’t caused a great deal of panic within the Penske camp just yet since Joey Logano is guaranteed a sport in this year’s chase by virtue of recording two victories earlier this season. Michigan could be the perfect destination for Logano to get his season back on track. As Michigan’s most recent winner Logano should feel confident going back to a place where he pulled off a huge victory last summer. Overall Michigan has been a fairly good track for the Team Penske driver in ten career starts Logano owns one victory, one top five, and five top ten’s. Respectable numbers to say the least.
Sooner or later Kyle Larson’s going to breakthrough and win his first career NSCS race it’s inevitable. Eighteen races into his NSCS career Larson’s done a fantastic job of adapting to the demands that go with competing on the NSCS tour. Currently sitting tenth in the NSCS standings Larson’s outshined his fellow rookie classmen by a country mile in 2014. Larson managed a second place finish to Kyle Busch at Fontana earlier his season, his career best finish. Fresh off a solid top five finish in his first visit to Pocono, Larson hopes to attain that same measure of success in his first career trip to Michigan, a track fairly similar to Fontana.
Stewart Haas Racing continues to bring incredibly fast cars to the track on a weekly basis. While qualifying hasn’t been an issue for all four SHR drivers this season, finishing races with any type of consistency has cast a dark shadow over the entire organization. Kevin Harvick has suffered the most of the four SHR drivers. He should easily have four victories under his belt this season as opposed to only two. Seemingly bitten by ill-fated luck far too often in 2014 Harvick remains in the thick of the championship conversation. But before he can be taken seriously as a threat to dethrone Jimmie Johnson the #4 team’s performance has to improve drastically. Mistakes on pit road combined with mechanical failures can only hinder Harvick’s title hopes down the stretch fortunately for the number four team the chase hasn’t started yet. Harvick should feel good about his chances of having a great day at MIS on Sunday. Harvick has finished second in the last two Michigan races, he also a former MIS winner claiming the top spot in the summer of 2010.
Typically the summer months bring out the best in Tony Stewart. Historically known as a notoriously slow starter Smoke usually capitalizes on the summer race season to make his move towards the front of the standings. This season Stewart has looked completely unfocused. Some critics have suggested Smoke’s days as a competitive NSCS driver are over. Whether you buy into this analogy or not is totally up to you. Stewart admittedly acknowledged numerous times this season that he hasn’t completely recovered from injuries sustained from an accident while competing in sprint car competition. Ok that’s partially the reason for his struggles this season, but if you scratch beneath the surface you know Smoke is a fierce competitor that often refuses to lay his sword down for anyone. Worrying about the current state of SHR seems preposterous. Stewart could overcome some of his recent troubles this weekend at MIS a place where he’s found success recently. In the last three races at MIS Stewart has scored two solid top five finishes.
Michael Waltrip Racing is quietly putting together a great 2014 season. Flying under the radar is rather easy if you don’t drive for the big money teams the likes of HMS, JGR, or even RFR. Somehow MWR mange’s to compete with these teams on a weekly basis often outperforming them on occasion. The reason for this is the resurgence of Brian Vickers who looks as if he hasn’t lost a step since returning to full time competition this season following some serious health issues. Then there’s Clint Bowyer a driver often criticized for his conduct on the track, but there’s no denying Bowyer can change the outcome of a race six ways to Sunday. Bowyer is in search of his first win of the season this Sunday as well his first at MIS, a track he’s finished inside the top ten in the last six events. Brian Vickers will make his return to Michigan this weekend for the first time since 2011. Prior to his hiatus from the NSCS Vickers recorded an incredible consecutive string of top ten finishes at MIS spanning six out of seven races, including a victory for now defunct Red Bull Racing in 2009.
Last weekend Greg Biffle once again made it known he intends on returning to RFR next season despite rumours linking him to MWR. On Sunday Biffle will go for his fifth victory at MIS the most of any active driver on the NSCS tour. In the last ten years RFR as an organization has won seven races at MIS. Two of those seven wins belong to Carl Edwards who’s finished inside the top ten in the last three Michigan races. Given the current landscape at RFR a win by any of it’s three drivers would serve as a serious morale booster. And MIS would serve as the perfect place to get this done.
Believe it or not! Jimmie Johnson has never recorded a victory at MIS in twenty four career starts. Although Johnson’s been on the ball as of late I don’t see him ending his drought at Michigan on this particular visit.
A familiar face returns to the NSCS this weekend. Juan Montoya returns to make his first start of the season on Sunday afternoon. Montoya will pilot the #12 Penske ford for the first of two races selected for him by team owner Roger Penske. Montoya left the NSCS ranks following last season after eight years of service driving for Chip Ganassi. Montoya’s next race is slated for July at the Brickyard 400.
Rookie sensation Brett Moffitt fresh off his impressive NSCS debut at Dover returns to the track for his second career start, he will pilot the #66 Toyota in a joint effort for MWR/Jay Robinson Racing.
Dale Earnhardt Jr’s impressive 2014 campaign has given his loyal followers something to hold on to. Junior’s huge victory last weekend at Pocono gave him his first multiple win season since 2004. Now the leader of junior nation heads to a place that’s been good to him over the years. Dale Jr has ended some of his worst career winless droughts at MIS. Junior would score his first career victory driving for Hendrick Motorsports in June of 2008 ending a winless streak of nearly two years. Junior would accomplish that same feat once again in 2012 this time ending a drought of three years. Going for his third win in the Irish hills, Dale Jr aims to capture his first three win season since 2001. I predict Junior will come out on top this weekend. Earning back to back wins for the first time in his career.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Photo courtesy of Andrew Weber- USA Today Sports