The Frontstretch: Who's Hot / Who's Not in Sprint Cup: Michigan-Sonoma Edition by Brad Morgan -- Tuesday June 18, 2013

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Ford Motor Company has a history of success at Michigan International Speedway, with Roush Fenway Racing usually proving a dominant force at the 2-mile track.

This year, Greg Biffle provided a victory for the celebrated team, making their recently announced alliance with Penske Racing seem all the more potent.

An Irish Hills inspired edition of Who’s Hot and Who’s Not signifies a new level of Gen-6 mastery for RFR and sends another elite organization back to the drawing board before Sonoma.


Greg Biffle strutted across the finish line with nobody in sight to challenge him. That was one HOT performance.

HOT

Greg Biffle outlasted Jimmie Johnson to claim his first victory of the year at Michigan International Speedway, his second consecutive in the Quicken Loans 400. It’s a triumph that marks the 1000th victory for Ford across NASCAR’s three touring series and signals a momentum shift within Sprint Cup.

The 3M “Give Kids a Smile” Fusion rolled off the grid 19th then began to dominate once Biffle reached the front of the pack – leading for 48 circuits before crossing the line first.

Post-Pocono grumblings of troubles within Roush Fenway Racing preventing the No. 16 team from contending at a high level are now but a fleeting memory. Instead, the four-time Michigan winner expressed satisfaction in beating Johnson at “his game” after dedicating the victory to Charlie Dean, the 5-year-old son of the late Jason Leffler.

Now 8th in points, Biffle prepares for Sonoma, where he finished seventh last year – his fourth career top 10 at the California road course.

Kevin Harvick followed Biffle to the checkered flag to record his fifth consecutive top 10 finish, enough to keep his extensive hot streak alive. Outside of a 40th-place run at Talladega, the veteran has looked reminiscent of the driver that finished third in points from 2010-11 after his April win at Richmond.

Throughout the race, crew chief Gil Martin changed tire strategies depending on the situation to keep the No. 29 Chevrolet from suffering flats similar to other teams. Harvick eventually recorded a runner-up finish despite dealing with a vibration during the final 27 lap green flag sequence.

When Harvick travels to Sonoma, history shows that he’ll most likely be a factor during the closing laps. While sporting a 9.33 average finish over the past three years, the Richard Childress driver has also been very reliable during his career – completing 1328 of 1329 laps there.

WARM

With a seventh-place finish at Michigan, Clint Bowyer continues to exhibit the type of consistency that made him successful during the ’12 Chase. After blowing an engine at Fontana, the Michael Waltrip Racing driver has successfully finished 18th or better in every subsequent race.

Bowyer’s Camry suffered front-end damage after colliding with Trevor Bayne on the first lap when cars were forced to check up ahead of him. For the remainder of the event, Brian Pattie’s crew continued to make repairs, before Bowyer became the beneficiary of a mid-pit cycle caution that set him up inside the top 10 with 27 laps remaining.

He’ll arrive in California as a pre-race favorite after winning this race in 2012 when he led a race-high 71 circuits. Including that event, Bowyer has four top-five’s in seven career starts, making a repeat performance seem all the more likely.

Jeff Burton finds himself 17th in points after posting his third top 10 finish of the season, his highest mark in the standings since Phoenix.

The No. 31 team made adjustments to the Caterpillar Chevrolet throughout the day to counteract a loose-handling condition that disrupted the car after the drop of the green flag. Then Burton made up several positions as other drivers ran out of fuel during the closing laps.

A 10th-place run makes it four consecutive top 12 finishes, which is impressive compared to the inconsistency that has plagued the 46-year-old driver for much of the year. Continuing a rise through the Hot or Not ranks means Burton will need to revert back to his 2006-07 ways (seventh and third) at Sonoma to avoid the unpleasant finishes he has experienced there since.

COOL

Jamie McMurray appeared to have Earnhardt Ganassi Racing headed back in a positive direction after a flurry of seventh-place finishes in April had him on the verge of cracking the top 10 in points; but a 33rd-place finish at Michigan, paired with an identical result two weeks ago, has stalled that progress.

He paced the field for 21 laps, but later fell victim to a blown tire that ended his day from a competitive standpoint. Afterwards, when the No. 1 McDonald’s team was forced to make repairs, the EGR driver lost four laps.

For McMurray, a solid run at Sonoma would reverse a trend of eight straight finishes outside the top 10 at the venue.

Denny Hamlin’s lone bright spot during the Michigan weekend was a decision to honor Jason Leffler with a special FedEx scheme dating back to 2005 when the former Joe Gibbs Racing driver first debuted with the No. 11 team.

Once the race commenced Hamlin began to struggle with handling and faded to mid-pack before the competition caution was waved. Afterwards, the Toyota’s condition didn’t improve and he eventually fell off the lead lap before finishing 30th.

Since returning from a collapsed vertebra in the lumbar section of his spine, he hasn’t been able to show enough consistency to progress back into Chase contention. Currently he’s mired in 26th in the standings, 118 points behind 10th-place Tony Stewart and has no wins to assist his wildcard chances. With Sonoma looming next, Hamlin could be in serious trouble. The 2.52-mile track is his worst, with a 22.9 average finish and only four career lead lap finishes.

COLD

A seemingly routine trip to the Irish Hills proved highly costly for Hendrick Motorsports after each of the organizations drivers failed to record top 25 finishes because of wrecks, untimely blown tires, and an engine failure.

Jeff Gordon failed to avoid a spinning Bobby Labonte on lap-7 and was sent to the garage for an extended period before finishing in 39th position.

While leading, Kasey Kahne’s No. 5 Chevrolet then met a fiery demise after a blown right-front tire caused it to collide with the outside wall on lap-105.

Next, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was also leading when his motor slowly expired on lap-132.

Last was Jimmie Johnson, who suffered a flat right-front tire – resulting in contract with the Turn-2 wall – while attempting to chase down eventual winner Greg Biffle.

Altogether the rough afternoon proved the worst showing for HMS since Sonoma in 2005.

Contact Brad Morgan

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Lydia
06/18/2013 12:55 PM
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Well I would have added Stewart to the warm category..but otherwise nice list. I need someone to rationally explain how the 48 bunch is…week after week.. Heads above the rest of the field. (I know ALL the garage wants that info!). Kayne has had flashes and Junior here and there…but the 48…it’s just…hmmm for lack of a better word…ODD! I wonder..do you think Chad will write a bio years and years down the road and tell the world..and NASCAR..just what he’s doing that they never caught on to??