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Last week’s race continued NASCAR’s storybook season with crowning the 5th first-time winner and the 15th different driver to reach 2011’s Victory Lane. But these records are not the best NASCAR has seen but are well above the average. One predictable weekend does not break the capricious spell cast on the season, but Michigan is another track that is often prone to streaks, which makes handicapping races there a little easier than normal.

Look to the Auto Club to deepen the data pool because these two tracks are closer to one another than any others on the schedule. That is great news for two drivers who crashed in last week’s Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at the Glen after going there in need of a strong run. Denny Hamlin has been stellar at Michigan in recent years and Stewart has been solid on both two-mile tracks combined.

Rolling the Dice…

Michigan is particularly susceptible to fuel-mileage strategies because this race can settle into long green-flag runs. Wide corners and multiple grooves allow drivers to conserve fuel by rolling through the corners without losing a ton of speed. In fact, the real surprise this week would be if several drivers in the top 10 did not get there by employing some kind of alternate strategy.

This track is also long enough and the field gets spread out enough that drivers employing the reverse strategy opting for speed instead of fuel conservation, can make up significant ground and etch their names in the top 10 as well.

The Favorites…

Keep an eye out for the Cat in the Hat, Jack Roush. He has two of his drivers on the front row and both Biffle and Kenseth need a win. The Cat in the Hat’s drivers always run good at Michigan too.

Joe Gibbs Racing tops that list in recent seasons with solid performances by all of their drivers. Hamlin in particular has been unstoppable with two victories, a second-, and a third-place finish in his past five attempts. The only race in which he didn’t finish among the top three netted a 10th in the second Michigan race of 2009. His situation is a little direr because he currently needs to rely on the wild card to get into the Chase. With so many other drivers rolling the dice and only four races remaining, he could find that one win is not enough to get in.

Dark Horses and Underdogs…

Dark horse at Michigan has to be Brad K. With a broken ankle, Brad has become the Wild Card man to beat! Don’t let the broken ankle fool you; he is in it to win it! The underdogs are Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne. Both drivers have been experiencing good and bad fortunes of late. Look for both drivers to capitalize and capture a victory.

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