Saturday, June 14, 2008

Jack's House

I will take back what I wrote about bad luck not sticking to my favorite driver. It seems like it has. Hopefully, that won't happen this weekend, as Tony Stewart has pledged his winnings from Michigan International Speedway to the Red Cross for flood relief efforts in the Midwest.

But let's not make this post about Smoke. Instead let's talk about The Guy who, from all reports, should win the Life Lock 400, Sunday. That would be Carl Edwards.

If Lowe's Motor Speedway is, or has been, The House of Hendrick, then MIS would be the House of Roush. The Roush-Yates engines seem to be custom designed for the 2 mile intermediate class track, and, as he did at the most recent MIS race, and at California earlier this year, Edwards should be able to put that engine to good use and dominate the race.

Though MIS is similar to the Auto Club Speedway, in Fontana, CA, there are some major differences in the characteristics. ACS isn't a multiple groove track like MIS, and passing is much harder at California than it is at Michigan. This should actually work to Edward's advantage, as he is a driver who will find the best line for his techniques, and there are many more choices for him at MIS than at California.

If it isn't a backflip we see in victory celebration Sunday, it could be the competition winning burn out by Greg Biffle. He has been very strong this season, often just a breath or a lugnut away from victory. Matt Kenseth has been strong as well, with four top ten finishes in the last four races. He could easily enter the top twelve this weekend, while only a month ago, many writers and bloggers were willing to give up hope of Matt The Bratt making it into the Chase. Nor can we rule out David Ragan who seems to be on the verge of racking up his first win. These are all Roush-Fenway teams, and they all have excellent records at MIS.

If, by some weird act of Fate it isn't a Roush-Fenway car that wins Sunday, we should look at the Dodges, particularly those of Gillett-Evernham Motorsports and Penske Racing. You may remember way back to Speedweeks last February, when Jack Roush waved around numbers from dyno testing of the different manufacturers' cars and claimed that the Toyotas had more horsepower than Ford or Chevy. Ryan Newman looked at the numbers and said, "we've got that kind of horsepower," then figuratively clapped his hand over his mouth, thinking, "Was I supposed to say that?"

While Roush complained about unfair advantage, and the Chevy teams said "we have more work to do," Newman and his Dodge won the Daytona 500. NASCAR, incidentally, denied that any team had a significant horsepower advantage over another.

Horsepower advantage or not, Kasey Kahne and the GEM #9 team have been on a roll since winning the All Star race, and he is liking Victory Lane. There is no reason to believe that he won't run well again Sunday. The Dodge teams hold their cards close to their chests and we don't hear much from them during practice and qualifying, but, somehow, that seems to mean they have something to show the other teams.

Before we close, and just for fun, let's have an imaginary shoot-out between Carl Edwards and the driver who I think is the most similar in terms of talent and technique, Denny Hamlin. Twenty laps at O'Reilly Motorsports Park, Edwards and Hamlin in identically prepared cars, and racing one on one.

Both drivers like to find a line where they feel most comfortable and stick to it. Edwards is slightly better at car control than Hamlin, but Hamlin is just a wee bit gutsier going into the turns. Both drivers like to slide around the corners to give themselves the straightest route for exiting the turns. Carl Edwards is barely more popular than Kyle Busch, by one or two fans, while Hamlin is slightly less popular, which is hard to do since Busch has only eleven or twelve fans (counting me).

Both Edwards and Hamlin have a reputation of acting out their tempers, and both have been known to use their cars as retaliatory weapons. With that in mind we begin our fantasy shootout.

Edwards takes an early lead, but Hamlin follows Edwards closely and matches the exact line Edwards is taking. Around lap ten Hamlin tries to go around Edwards on the outside of turn 2, but Edwards moves up to block him, giving Hamlin the inside at turn 3. Edwards moves down, but Hamlin gets him lose and completes the pass. Edwards retaliates and bumps Hamlin hard in turn 1. Hamlin moves up the track, and as Edwards gets along side him, Hamlin smashes his car into Edwards' right-side door panel. Edwards gets even angrier and smashes back. This goes on for another lap or two, with the anger of both drivers escalating. By lap fourteen, each is more intent on wrecking the other than in winning the race, and, finally, they hit each other so hard they both wreck. Nobody wins. The moral? Don't let your anger get the best of you.

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