Will Ford-friendly Michigan bring an end to Hendrick dominance?
Ford has captured the last three races at Michigan International Speedway, with Greg Biffle winning twice and Joey Logano celebrating last August. Hendrick Motorsports arrives at MIS with the hot hand, however.
Ford driver Joey Logano celebrates after winning at Michigan International Speedway on Aug. 18, 2013.
Justin Edmonds / Getty Images
By Tom Jensen
It's no secret that Hendrick Motorsports has dominated the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series this season with an able assist from Stewart-Haas Racing, which gets its engines and chassis from Hendrick.
Hendrick drivers have won the last four Sprint Cup points races -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Pocono Raceway, Jimmie Johnson at Dover International Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway, and Jeff Gordon at Kansas Speedway. Add in Earnhardt's Daytona 500 victory and three more between SHR drivers Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch, and the extended Hendrick armada has won eight of 14 races this season.
And, oh by the way, Jamie McMurray won the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race with a Hendrick engine under the hood of his Chip Ganassi-owned Chevy.
But if it does, there's a good chance that someone or ones knock the Hendrick squad out of Victory Lane in each of the next two races. Michigan International Speedway, site of Sunday's Quicken Loans 400, is one of Hendrick's least successful tracks. As a team, Hendrick Motorsports has won just four of the last 25 races at the fast, 2-mile Michigan oval.
Last year in this race, all four Hendrick Chevrolets finished outside the top 25, only the third time in the team's history that has happened.
After Michigan, the Sprint Cup Series heads off to the 1.99-mile Sonoma Raceway, where Hendrick has but a single victory in the last seven years.
For whatever reason, the Chevrolet teams in general have fared poorly at MIS historically. Since 1996, Fords have won 18 races at Michigan, with Dodge winning six more from 2001-2012. Toyota, which came into the Sprint Cup Series in '07, has three victories here. Chevrolet has won only six of the last 36 races at MIS.
Fords have captured each of the last three races at MIS, with Greg Biffle the defending race winner of the Quicken Loans 400 and the winner of the Pure Michigan 400 in 2012. Joey Logano won last year's second Michigan race. All told, teams from Ford and the now-defunct Ford brand Mercury have won 46 of 89 Cup races at MIS.
For his part, Logano likes coming to Michigan, a track his boss, Roger Penske, used to own.
"Any place you win you like but Michigan is cool because it is the fastest race track we go to," said Logano, one of four drivers already locked into the Chase for the Sprint Cup. "I can't remember how fast the pole was last year but it was a track record of like 204 or 205 miles per hour, a really fast speed around that place. That part is really neat and it puts on a great race. This year, with the added drag to our cars, the draft is going to be huge, kind of like a truck race."
Logano himself set the track qualifying record here last August at 203.949 miles per hour and went on to win that race from the pole. He and teammate Brad Keselowski should be fast this weekend.
For Keselowski, a Michigan native, this isn't just another race.
"There seems to be a lot more commitments that weekend than any other weekend, and there's always somebody who wants a ticket or a pass or you name it, which is -- it's good and bad at the same time," said Keselowski. "You're glad that people care, and on the other side, you're like, 'I've got to work here at some point.' It's fun for me personally, and it makes the success rewarding.
"I think the crew guys would tell you that when we don't run well at Michigan that they probably feel it the most because I turn into a real jerk when I don't run well at Michigan because that's how important it is to me," said Keselowski. "I want to be able to showcase to my friends and family the sacrifices that they've made for me and that I make on them, whether it's missing birthday parties or weddings or what have you, that they're meaningful, and the best way I know how to do that is to win and run well."