Thursday, June 14, 2012

Junior is going to win, it's just a matter of when

There's really only one question to be asked this week. OK, well, there's more than one, but the main one that many are talking about: Can Dale Earnhardt Jr. win at Michigan on Father's Day? The reason it's such a big deal is that the last time Junior won it was at Michigan ... on Father's Day ... four years and 143 races ago.
And it became a bigger question after last week's race at Pocono, where Junior finished eighth, but led 36 laps, including 16 laps late in the race where he appeared to have the strongest car. But with Junior being second in the points standings, and with fuel being an issue, crew chief Steve Letarte made the call to bring him in, rather than going for the win and risk running out of fuel and finishing somewhere in the 20s.
Another factor is that Junior has 11 top-10 finishes this season, the most of any driver. Along with not getting a win, of course, the one black eye on Junior's record has been his inability to lead leaps. He has led 123 laps this season, the fewest of any driver in the top 12, with the exception of Clint Bowyer, who has just led five laps.
If Junior fans want more encouraging numbers, there are more. He is the only driver to complete every lap this season and he is also third, behind Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch, in quality passes, which are defined by passing cars in the top 15 during a green flag.
Also, in 25 starts at Michigan, Junior has started on the pole twice, has the one victory, and has eight top 10 finishes. Those aren't the best numbers at Michigan, but they do offer hope.

There's also the little matter of it being Father's Day as it has been over 11 years since Dale Earnhardt died in a crash on the final lap of the Daytona 500. And for sure, there have been other famous father-son duos in NASCAR, but none more polarizing than the Earnhardts. And a win on Father's Day again would sure make Victory Lane seem like a scene straight out of a Disney movie ending.

Then there is also a factor that all drivers will be dealing with and that's the new pavement at Michigan. Junior and Letarte seemed to figure it out at Pocono last week, so it would be easy to speculate that they will get it right again.
So, unlike before Talladega this year, I'm not guaranteeing that Junior will win. However, all of these factors just can't be ignored. The fact is, Junior is going to win sometime this year. He's  run too strong for too long in too many races not to find Victory Lane. Whether it happens at Michigan Sunday on Father's Day remains to be seen.
So, after all of that, here's a look at this week's picks as we basically decide how many Roush-Fenway cars to pick.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. - I was probably going to pick him anyway before looking up all the facts, but now I pretty much have to.
Matt Kenseth - Roushkateer No. 1. He leads the points standings, has two wins at Michigan and an impressive 11 top five finishes in 25 starts there.
Greg Biffle - Roushkateer No. 2. He's also got two wins, to go with 10 top 10s and has been strong most of the season before engine woes dropped him to 24th last week at Pocono.
Tony Stewart - The defending champion has always been strong at Michigan with one win and 10 tops fives in 26 starts and it's about time for his usual summertime surge, which may have started with a third last week at Pocono.
Denny Hamlin - He has just 12 starts at Michigan, but there are two wins, five top fives and seven top 10s on his record already.
Shoulda, woulda, coulda - My inability to not pick Jimmie Johnson here is scary. There's no doubt he could end up in Victory Lane. He hasn't won at Michigan yet, which means he might be destined and even more determined to win there.

Here's a look at how last week's picks fared in the first 400-mile race at Pocono.
Jimmie Johnson:  4th. Caught speeding on pit road twice and still fourth. Not bad.
Carl Edwards: 11th. Not a terrible day, but not a factor to win either.
Jeff Gordon: 19th. Another difficult day for Wonder Boy, or Underdog, or whomever.
Denny Hamlin: 5tth. Tricky Triangle never been too tricky for him.
Brad Keselowski: 18th. Last year's fall winner not a factor Sunday.

 Here's a look at my results after 14 races and 70 picks.
7 wins
24 top fives
31 top 10s

Grade for the week: C. My winning streak ends at six as Joey Logano slices up the field, and particularly, Mark Martin in Turn 1. Hamlin was reliable as always, and Johnson, who is in typical five-timer form, made this an OK day.
One Last Thing:  The No. 55 car has been driven mostly by Martin this season, along with team owner Michael Waltrip and Brian Vickers. The car sits 13th in owners points heading into this weekend with Martin behind the wheel. That's not a bad ride to have. 

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