Michigan Viewers 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.

Racing in Michigan has always been important for the race teams, and Larry McReynolds has talked about what a thrill it was to stand in Victory Lane with Edsel Ford. That's still a huge deal. But with only four races left in the Race to the Chase, it's more important than just the second Michigan race in the doldrums of summer. It's right in the middle of the pennant race so its means a lot on different fronts.

Who to Watch

  • Tony Stewart: Earlier this week, Rusty Wallace pointed out something to me that people tend to overlook. Stewart's hot streak began at Michigan in June when he led 97 of the 200 laps and finished 2nd. But before that race, Wallace and Stewart took part in a test at Michigan. Rusty said he tested for one full day, and the No. 20 was good that day but not earth-shattering. The next day, Stewart's crew chief, Greg Zipadelli, said they found something. And Zipadelli says, "You're crazy if I'm going to tell you what it is that we found." Since that race, it's been all Tony. He has a win at Michigan so I don't see any reason why he won't be a factor.
  • Roush Racing: When you look at the numbers, all of the Roush cars are going to be a factor this weekend. Matt Kenseth has a win there, and he's bringing back the car that finished 2nd at Chicagoland. Greg Biffle has won the last two races at the track. Mark Martin's record there is certainly to the plus side with four wins and 26 top-10 finishes in 39 races. Kurt Busch won there in June 2003, and Carl Edwards has two top-10 finishes in his first two Cup starts there.
  • Jeff Gordon: While he has two wins at Michigan, the number that really amazes me is 14 top-five finishes in 25 starts. That's nothing short of amazing.
  • Ryan Newman: If you can call him a sleeper, this week's darkhorse for me would be Newman who won back-to-back races at Michigan in 2003 and 2004.
  • What to Watch

  • Tire talk: Last week, NASCAR announced that it was mandating a maximum front-wheel camber angle of 8 degrees, starting at Michigan. We think of the tires on our passenger cars as being straight up and down. But teams lean tires in or out — positive or negative camber — to get as much of the tire surface or contact patch on the track that they can. If you use too much camber, you're working one side of the tire or the other too hard, and that can cause problems. Goodyear issues a guideline for minimum air pressure, and teams can go to Goodyear engineers and say, "This is the kind of camber that we want to run." Goodyear will work with the teams, but teams have gone beyond the guidelines, not just in tire pressure but in camber and spring rates. It's way too easy to blame Goodyear for having a defective tire. Goodyear isn't always blameless, but it's too easy to blame them. The camber rule will have an impact on the race. It's NASCAR's way of keeping the teams from hurting themselves.
  • Mistakes will make difference: We have seen fuel mileage races at Michigan in the past, but for the guys that are just trying to get in the Chase, it comes down to the team that makes the fewest mistakes at this point in the season. When the Nextel Cup Series went to Michigan two months ago, the smaller spoiler and softer tires were unknowns. Now that teams are returning to tracks for the second time this season, they don't have that excuse. That unknown has been eliminated so it's a matter of how prepared the teams are. It's a wide and sweeping racing surface with a lot of room to race so it can be a forgiving racetrack, but there's no margin for error there.
  • Inside Info on
    I don't know if Jeff Gordon is going to win his fifth championship, but his team's performance at Watkins Glen was really amazing. He had a flat tire at lap 46 of a 90-lap race, dropped all the way to 39th and still made it back to 14th. If Jeff Gordon makes it into the Chase, the No. 24 team will look back at The Glen and point to the 25 positions in the race and the 20 points on 10th place in the standings. Those races are the kinds of days that get overlooked, but they can mean the difference between making the Chase and racing for 11th place.
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  • Pit Perspectives

    In June, I covered Jeff Gordon's pit stall, and I've never ever heard him talk about a racecar the way he did that day. It didn't matter what they tried to do, Gordon was frustrated and admitted after the race that they stunk, finishing 32nd. I can specifically remember Gordon telling crew chief Robbie Loomis, "I'm running this car half-throttle through the corners, and I'm still almost wrecking it." On Trackside last Friday night, Gordon said the No. 24 team went back and tested at Michigan which tells me everything I need to know. Like Stewart's strong run after a test earlier this year, the No. 24 team should be ready to race up front this weekend. Gordon's numbers — 14 top fives, two wins and four poles — are great, but he said those results don't give him an advantage. The fact that he went back and tested speaks volumes about how much they think that they need to improve.
    Speed Mail Steve

    Finish Line

    I'm really interested to see how Roush Racing's announcement of Kurt Busch's decision to leave the organization affects his race team. Busch had problems at The Glen, but it was a mechanical problem, not a performance letdown. Right now, Busch and Roush all saying the right things, but as Jeff Gordon said last week on Trackside if a guy isn't happy where he is, he needs to go. With Busch and Jamie McMurray negotiating contracts for 2007, it will change the sport, and the way contracts are done forever. In the NFL, this practice — referred to as tampering — is banned. It's almost naive to look at on-track performance, great pit stops, horsepower and fuel mileage and not figure the human element of racing into the equation. Look at the Eagles with Terrell Owens. The Philadelphia Inquirer polled fans who said that they wanted T.O. gone by a 2 to 1 margin. As great as he is, he's become a distraction to his team right now. To win a championship in any sport, teams must minimize distractions and follow the same routine so the big question for teams with drivers that aren't coming back is can they keep distractions to a minimum? We'll have to wait and see.

    NASCAR on FOX and SPEED Channel host and reporter Steve Byrnes has covered racing for more than 20 years, and he gives kids a close look at a real stock car and its driver with Ryan's Racecar, a 30-minute video/DVD. For more information, go to

    Tagged: Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon

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