A New Leader Leads NASCAR Drivers To Michigan

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is back to where it started after the Daytona 500. After a spring and early summer of seeing Greg Biffle atop the standings, his recent struggles have finally caught up to him and Matt Kenseth is back on top for the first time since winning the Daytona. Its Kenseth’s only win of the year but a strong consistency kept him on Biffle’s heels the last several weeks and have now resulted in a 10-point lead in the wake of a standings shakeup following Joey Logano’s surprise win last week.

The other significant part of the Sprint Cup standings is that the wild-card drivers are now designated. In our previous race previews we’ve alluded in general terms to drivers that are in position to grab the two spots available for non-Top 10 drivers in the final push for the Cup starting in September.  NASCAR has now designated the leaders and it’s Kyle Busch at #12 and Ryan Newman at #14. The key reason that these two drivers currently have the edge of Carl Edwards and Paul Menard, at #11 and #13 respectively, is that the former two have won races while the latter two have not. Edwards, however, is only three points back of the 10-spot, so he’s still in good position to enter the playoffs.

On to Sunday’s race in Michigan. TheSportsNotebook’s NASCAR consultant, my brother Bill, told me that the track in Michigan is one of the cookie-cutters, similar to California and Chicago, that lack the uniqueness of places like Talladega or last week in Ponoco. Just like in baseball, the lack of uniqueness in track means there’s less intriguing elements on how it will affect the race.

What we do know is that Denny Hamlin, currently in fourth place, is feeling comfortable here lately, winning two of the four races held over the past two years. Looking at the track over a five-year cycle shows two wins for Edwards as well, although none since 2008. Let’s remember that just last year Edwards went to the wire with Tony Stewart for the championship and lost only on a tie-breaker. While Stewart is struggling this season, he’s been settled into the Top 10. Edwards needs a win—this is the equivalent of a Super Bowl runner-up sitting on a 4-3 record approaching the halfway point. It’s nothing that can’t be overcome, but the sluggishness has to be put aside. Past history and current need mark Edwards a driver to watch on Sunday in Michigan’s Quicken Loans 400.