The Frontstretch: Race Trax: 3M Performance 400 by Amy Henderson -- Thursday June 15, 2006

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Race Trax: 3M Performance 400

Amy Henderson · Thursday June 15, 2006


On Track
The 3M Performance 400 is the fifteenth race on the 36-race NASCAR Nextel Cup Series Schedule. The Cup Series will visit the 2-mile Michigan International Speedway twice in 2006; they’ll return in late August. MIS has hosted the Nextel Cup Series since 1969, and Cale Yarborough was the first driver to win in Cup competition at the track. The track is a D-shaped oval track with the corners banked at eighteen degrees and the frontstretch at 12 degrees. The backstretch has five degrees of banking. Drivers will race 200 laps for the checkered flag. The entry list includes 2005 polesitter Ryan Newman and race winner Greg Biffle.

52 teams will compete for 43 starting spots for Sunday, with the Top 35 in car owner points guaranteed a starting position. Beginning this weekend, 2006 owner’s points will determine who is in this group for qualifying purposes. Qualifying runs consist of two laps, with the fastest lap setting a team’s time. The Nextel Cup Series qualifying record at MIS is 194.232 mph, set by Ryan Newman in 2005.

The Nextel Cup Series points race is a barnburner. Jimmie Johnson’s point lead over second place Matt Kenseth has dropped over 50 points in the past two weeks to just 48 markers. Johnson scored Top 10 finishes in both races over that time span – but Kenseth scored two Top 5s. Mark Martin, Tony Stewart, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. round out the Top 5. At this point in the season, ten drivers are currently eligible for the Chase for the Nextel Cup. Kyle Busch currently holds onto tenth spot by 25 points over eleventh-place Jeff Gordon. New to the Top 10 this week is rookie Denny Hamlin, whose Pocono win last week propelled him up two spots in the standings to ninth.

What To Expect
Michigan is a big, fast track, similar in layout to California Speedway, but the two do not always race the same, and success at one does not guarantee it at the other. Who visits Victory Lane at MIS often boils down to fuel mileage – caution-free races are not unheard of, and long runs are the norm. Engine attrition here is not the issue it can be at California, because the races are 100 miles shorter. Still, MIS requires lots of horsepower as well as driving prowess.

That’s not to say that the racing can’t produce some on-track messes. The record for cautions here is nine, or one every 23 laps. MIS is one of the tracks where the SAFER barrier was a critical addition – not that it isn’t everywhere, but speeds at MIS are so fast that a crash is usually very hard. Luckily, the racing surface is wide enough that cars can avoid getting caught up in someone else’s mess, and it’s possible to spin without hitting anything – just not likely.

Who to Watch
MIS is big and fast with wide, sweeping turns; in other words, the type of track where the Roush Racing stable excels. Matt Kenseth would love nothing better than to leave with a victory and the points lead -and given Jimmie Johnson’s 14.5 average finish at MIS in 2005, it’s not a stretch to think he might do just that. Greg Biffle won this event last year, and Mark Martin has seen Victory Lane at MIS as well.

MIS is also a track where Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman and Casey Mears could see their recent luck turned around. Mears finished 14th there last August and drives the intermediate tracks very well – not to mention having his new contract with Hendrick Motorsports as a confidence booster. Newman, meanwhile, holds the qualifying record and has run well at MIS in the past. Gordon has two wins at MIS and his four top-ten finishes in the last four races there is the longest current streak.

Did You Know:

  • Ryan Newman has posted a top-fifteen finish in every start he has made at MIS? He’s done it nine times, and seven of those finishes have been in the Top 10.

  • That 65% of all races at MIS have been won from a starting position inside the Top 10? But…the last three have been won from eleventh on back.
  • The winningest car owners in MIS history are the legendary Wood Brothers? They have eleven trips to Victory Lane at Michigan, with the most recent coming in 1991 with Dale Jarrett at the wheel. The team sends Ken Schrader to the grid this Sunday to try an improve on that number.

You Don’t Say"¦
"Anytime I can do some kind of cool tribute to honor somebody who I think deserves it, it’s great. For my dad on Father’s Day and for my grandfather (Ralph Earnhardt) especially, we sort of have a stage to speak from in this sport about Richie Evans and Ralph Earnhardt and those kind of guys. It’s great to fill people in on what kind of people they were and how cool they were." driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is running a special "retro" paint scheme to honor his racing family

"Hopefully, we got some of the hoopla out of the way during the Atlanta race, and this time around we can focus solely on the racing end of it. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciated the opportunity and all of the attention I was getting from the media and the fans and am glad everyone was so interested and excited about the weekend, but this time around, I hope it will be a little bit more of a normal type of a weekend for everyone involved." driver Bill Lester, who is attempting his second career Nextel Cup race this week

"We all go through a slump now and then and the only thing you can do is work through it and stay patient. This is a talented team – we have proved that. We all didn’t wake up one morning and forget how to run a race team.” driver Joe Nemechek on his team’s recent slump and his confidence that they will work through it

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Today on the Frontstretch:
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Contact Amy Henderson

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