High speeds dominated the day at Michigan, and for much of the time, it was an old man leading the show. Mark Martin, ageless 53-year-old wonder, won the pole (his fourth of the year!) and led 54 laps before a spectacular crash at the entrance of pit road.
It was also a fairly democratic day, as seven drivers led laps in double digits. Or perhaps that makes it a Marxist day, spreading the wealth around all socialist-style?
But this isn't a forum for politics, so let's get on to the movers, shakers, scalawags, and carpetbaggers of the Pure Michigan 400...
Up: Greg Biffle
Mission accomplished: Biffle has now won two races in 2012, continuing his streak (dating back to 2004) of winning exactly two races in even-numbered years. Okay, I know Biffle has other goals on his plate, such as winning the Sprint Cup title. And he's in good shape to do exactly that: he's currently on top of the Sprint Cup standings, and his two wins would have him seeded fourth if the Chase started today.
Down: Jimmie Johnson
Johnson's loss was Biffle's gain--and it was a huge loss for Johnson. He lost the regular season points lead; he lost the win, and with it three bonus points come Chase time; he missed out on knocking Michigan off his never-won-at list of tracks (a short list for Johnson); and he lost a bit of faith in the infallibility of Hendrickian engine power.
Up: Ryan Newman
For the second week in a row, Rocket Man lands on this list not due to any spectacular heroics on his part, but because he put together a solid eighth-place run that put some distance between himself and his fellow one-win competitors for the final wild card berth. Newman is sitting pretty right now with an 11-point advantage over his closest pursuer, Kyle Busch, who is currently the first man out in the wild card seedings. Another win is still the goal for the No. 39 team, but rattling off top-10 finishes just might be enough to get the job done.
Down: Jeff Gordon
Gordon held down the second wild card spot just a couple of weeks ago, but two bad finishes later, he's staring at a 30-point deficit to Newman with just three races before the Chase (not to mention a 19-point deficit to Kyle Busch). It will almost certainly take a win for the No. 24 for Gordon to get in the Chase. Who wants it worse: Gordon or Busch, both of whom are excellent at Bristol, Atlanta and Richmond, or Newman, who can probably make it in with a few more solid runs, assuming none of his rivals manages a win?
Up: Ford competitiveness
For the first time since 2008, the manufacturer scored a victory at its "home track." Of the three cars of its flagship Roush Fenway Racing, two are at the top of the standings (Biffle and Matt Kenseth) and the other (Carl Edwards) still has a viable shot to make the Chase, if only he can get a win. All in all, the prospects of Ford winning a Cup championship for the first time since 2004 are looking strong.
Down: Regan Smith
The Furniture Row Racing driver had high hopes for Michigan after scoring back-to-back top-10 finishes for the first time in his career at Pocono and Watkins Glen. He qualified 18th and moved up to 12th, but was inadvertently wrecked by an apologetic Marcos Ambrose. Smith finished 47 laps down in 29th, a disappointing end to a promising weekend. The No. 78 remains 23rd in the points, just below Juan Montoya and one spot above Bobby Labonte.
Up: Sam Hornish Jr.
Sam Hornish Jr. didn't exactly start out his audition in the No. 22 car with a bang, but he's come on fast over the last two weekends. He followed up a top-5 run at Watkins Glen with an impressive 12th-place showing in Michigan, leading nine laps in the process. At this point, Hornish is the clear frontrunner for the No. 22 gig in 2013, but with so many free agents desperate for a ride, you can never be too sure. Keep up the good work, Sam!
Down: Kurt Busch
It's been a trying season for the elder Busch brother, driving for Phoenix Racing. There have been some highs, including wins in the Nationwide Series for both his brother Kyle's team and for Phoenix Racing. A former truck series champion, Busch tried his luck in the trucks on Saturday at Michigan, leading more laps than any other driver but ultimately falling short of victory. On Sunday, Busch never had a chance. He qualified 26th and crashed on lap 135 to finish 30th. On the plus side, his crash allowed the field to come down pit road and get full tanks of gas and make it to the checkered with just one more stop, eliminating the fuel-mileage strategies which are so commonly employed at Michigan.
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