Michigan Viewer's Guide

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Steve Byrnes

Steve Byrnes is a host and reporter for NASCAR on FOX. A broadcast veteran, he has covered racing for more than 20 years. Follow him on Twitter.

Traditionally, races at Michigan International Speedway have been a big event because Detroit is the Motor City. I'm staying in a hotel across the street from the home site of Edsel Ford. When NASCAR started, people weren't so much Richard Petty fans as they were Chrysler fans or Chevrolet fans. The manufacturers were the stars, not the drivers. The slogan has always been: "Win on Sunday; sell on Monday." There's a very strong link between the manufacturers and the teams. While the cars may not look like the ones you see in the showroom anymore, Chevrolet, Dodge and Ford provide tremendous support technically and financially for these teams. NASCAR's newest manufacturer, Toyota, is showing signs of improvement. It's unfortunate that Dale Jarrett, a former champion and four-time Michigan winner, went home again, but Brian Vickers was good in practice and the top qualifier (16th) among the go-or-go-home drivers. Michael Waltrip was elated about making his third race of the season.

Toyota expected to have a difficult season, but I would be surprised if they thought it was going to be this difficult. Race teams always say the same thing, "As long as we're headed in the right direction, we can hang together." While they may not win in the backyard of the Big Three — Chrysler, Ford and General Motors — this weekend, any improvement and sign that they're going in the right direction will be good for Toyota.

Who to Watch

  • Carl Edwards: Starting 12th this week, the No. 99 team has shown a lot of life lately. He can break his winless streak, which dates back to November of 2005.
  • Martin Truex Jr.: The No. 1 team's momentum is real, coming off a win at Dover and a 3rd-place finish at Pocono. You can just hear it in the way Truex talks. He and crew chief Kevin "Bono" Manion got confidence.
  • Ryan Newman: Starting 4th, the No. 12 team has made solid and steady improvement. They're not good one week and off the next. They've been consistently gaining on the competition.
  • Denny Hamlin: Starting 7th, Michigan is a fast track that suits Hamlin's style.
  • Matt Kenseth: Qualifying way back in 26th, Kenseth has a long way to go to get to the front, but he has two wins and 10 top-10 finishes in 15 starts at Michigan. He's going to be good.
  • Jimmie Johnson qualified 2nd and Jeff Gordon starts 6th, and I'm going to group them together. Hendrick Motorsports has won 10 out of 14 races, and it's hard to think that one of those guys won't be in victory lane at the end of 400 miles on Sunday.
  • What to Watch

  • Racing all the way around the track: The drivers love Michigan. It's a very wide two-mile track with big sweeping turns and 18 degrees of banking, which provides multiple grooves of racing. There isn't one preferred line or one preferred groove. You run high, middle or on the bottom. There's room to race and get out of trouble so you'll see the cars run four-wide.
  • Sneaky fast: Jimmie Johnson went into Turn 1 during qualifying at 208 mph. It's very deceptive and sneaky fast. On television, perhaps it isn't as obvious how fast they're going, but it's pretty spectacular to see cars run over 200 mph into the corners.
  • First Chevy winner since '01?: For a while, the Fords had the superior car, but it's just a coincidence that a Chevy hasn't been to victory lane since Jeff Gordon won this race six years ago. In recent years, the Fords of Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth have run well here so the Blue Ovals may have an advantage, but I also think it's a little bit of a freak stat that the Bowtie Brigade has gone so long without a victory in the Irish Hills.
  • Getting better all the time: A team doesn't have to be the best car when the race starts. You need to be in the ballpark with horsepower and performance, but you can sort of sneak up on the track and get a little bit better each time you stop. If you were to come onto pit road, just bolt on four tires and go back out, you're eventually going to lose your advantage. Jimmie Johnson with crew chief Chad Knaus and Matt Kenseth with crew chief Robbie Reiser are favorites because they make adjustments and stay ahead of the racetrack so it doesn't bite them when it changes.
  • Speed Mail Steve

    Pit Perspective

    As the season wears on, the tire — with its different compound — has become more of an issue. Some teams struggle with it more than others. It's difficult for these teams and drivers to find the feel that they want. They're constantly searching for more grip. According to Chip Ganassi, racing is basically getting horsepower to the ground and getting the best grip out of your tires. That's the elusive quest for many teams. The more I talk with crew chiefs this year, it just seems like the new construction of the tire is making it a little more difficult for their drivers to say exactly what they need. This week's race is kind of like Pocono, where you've got to have a lot of horsepower as well as a good handling car. You've also got to be able to turn, and even during qualifying, drivers had a hard time getting their cars turned.

    Finish Line

    If you don't live in Michigan or if you aren't directly linked to a race team, it's hard to understand how much NASCAR has always wanted the support of the auto manufacturers. The sport works hard with those manufacturers to make sure that they're getting out of the sport what they need because they're in the business of selling cars. It's important to win in Detroit, a great sports town as well so. During the race, we'll see if there's a NASCAR version of Justin Verlander, the Detroit Tigers pitcher who threw a no-hitter on Tuesday.

    NASCAR on FOX and SPEED host and reporter Steve Byrnes has covered racing for more than 20 years.

    Tagged: Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Jarrett, Greg Biffle, Michael Waltrip, Brian Vickers

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