Anthony Ballantoni

Mid-Pack Attack

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Mid-Pack: Pure Michigan 400

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Track history: Built in 1968 by Lawrence H. LoPatin, a Detroit land developer, at a cost of about $6 million, Michigan International Speedway is a 2-mile asphalt D-shaped oval located on 1400 acres in the Irish Hills of southeastern Michigan. Charles Moneypenny, designer of the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway, designed the Michigan oval as well. It has 18-degree banking in turns and 12-degree banking in the tri-oval, which is part of the 3,600-foot frontstretch. The 2,242-foot backstretch is banked five degrees. After LoPatin got overextended financially and filed bankruptcy, Roger Penske took over ownership of Michigan International Speedway in 1973 and invested millions in improving the facility.

In 1999, Penske teamed up with International Speedway Corporation to jointly own the speedway.

In 2004, SAFER walls were added to the track.

In June 2010, MIS unveiled its new suite/media center building along pit road, which features state-of-the-art accommodations for its suite customers and visiting media members.

The track was resurfaced in 1977, 1986, 1995 and once again after the 2011 season.

Since the corners are so long, drivers are in the gas hard all throughout the race. This may contribute to the engine failures seen in past races at MIS. It's not unusual to see cars racing three or four and sometimes five-wide on the long straightaways.

Track Quick Facts (courtesy NASCAR Media):
Last five winners:
Dale Earnhardt Jr. 6/17/12, Kyle Busch 8/21/11, Denny Hamlin 6/19/11, Kevin Harvick 8/15/10 and Denny Hamlin 6/13/10.
First Cup start here (Active drivers): Ted Musgrave 8/19/90, Carl Edwards 8/22/04 and Landon Cassill 6/13/10.
First Cup pole: Jeff Burton 8/18/96, J.J. Yeley 6/17/07 and Marcos Ambrose 6/17/12.
First Cup win: None.

June 15, 1969: Donnie Allison clocked a 160.135 mph lap in the No. 27 Banjo Matthews Ford to start up front for the 1969 Motor State 500. He blew an engine 115 laps into the 250 lap event. Cale Yarborough started the famous Wood Brothers No. 21 Mercury Cyclone fourth in the field of 38 cars and went on to win the event. He beat David Pearson’s No. 17 Ford by five car lengths and earned a $17,625 payday.

August 21, 2011: Kyle Busch won the Pure Michigan 400, his 23rd victory in 245 Cup races. It was the No. 18 Toyota driver's fourth victory and 15th top-ten finish in 2011. With the victory, Busch clinched a Wild Card spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. It was his first victory and fifth top-ten finish in 14 races at Michigan. Drivers leading five or more laps: No. 17 Matt Kenseth 15 laps, finished tenth; No. 48 Jimmie Johnson 18 laps, finished second; race-winner Busch 22 laps; No. 24 Jeff Gordon 60 laps, finished sixth and pole-sitter No. 16 Greg Biffle led the most laps (86 of 203) and finished in 20th place.

June 17, 2012: Dale Earnhardt Jr. broke his 143-race winless streak with the win in the Quicken Loans 400. He started the No. 88 Chevrolet 17th in the lineup and picked up his 19th victory in 450 NSCS races. This was his second victory and ninth top-10 finish in 26 races at Michigan. Drivers leading five or more laps: pole-sitter No. 9 Marcos Ambrose 15 laps, finished ninth; No. 17 Matt Kenseth 17 laps, finished third; No. 14 Tony Stewart 18 laps, finished second; No. 16 Greg Biffle 38 laps, finished fourth and winner-Earnhardt led the most laps (95 of 200).

Fantasy games won’t allow you to pick all track favorites so Mid-Pack Attack is here to help. A mid-packer may not win the race but has as good a shot at a top 15 finish as track favorites Greg Biffle, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart. There were 45 cars on the preliminary entry list for this weekend’s Cup race. Here are our picks for Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400 in Brooklyn, Michigan.

Mid-Pack picks
Why mess with success. Last week, we picked Marcos Ambrose (yeah, we know, so did most columnists!) and he won at The Glen. In the 2011 edition of the Pure Michigan 400, Ambrose ran in the top-ten most of the race and was running in the top-15 just before pitting prior to a green-white-checker restart. He got into the wall in the pits and this turned a good run into a 27th place finish. Before qualifying for the June 2012 race at Michigan, he said he was going to “bring home our first top-ten finish at the two-mile track”. He went out and picked up his first Cup career pole and finished ninth. We think momentum is on his side going into the Irish Hills event.

Sam Hornish Jr. considers MIS his home track since he grew up about 70 miles away in Defiance, Ohio. He made six IndyCar starts at MIS between 2002 and 2007 with an average finish of 7.7 (best was a second). Hornish made his stock car debut here in the ARCA series (2007) where he won the pole and finished second. He had six Cup starts at this track before he moved back to the Nationwide Series. He had a best finish of fifth and a not so great 22.7 average finish. More recently, he logged a sixth place finish in the June 2012 NNS race. We’re looking at him more for his recent performance in the No. 22. His first two starts in the car resulted in finishes outside the top 20. The last three were 16th, 19th and fifth last week at Watkins Glen. Hornish seems to be getting comfortable with the ride.

In 53 Sprint Cup starts at Michigan, Mark Martin owns five victories (the most of any track), five poles, 18 top-five and 31 top-10 finishes and has led 911 laps. In 2011 he had finishes of ninth and fourth. This past June, he was running in seventh place with about five laps to go when he blew the engine (29th place DNF). Goodyear had problems with tire blistering in that race and Martin was one of the drivers running a tire test on July 30th. Of the 25 teams, Martin’s No. 55 was at the top of the speed charts during the test. This week he said: “I thought we ran really well there in June. We had some bad luck at the end of the race that cost us a seventh-place finish. I’m as confident as I can be this weekend.” Look for Martin to be near the front on Sunday.

Bobby Labonte heads to his favorite track this week. “A long time ago when a fan asked me my favorite track, my response was Michigan,” Labonte said. “Today, if you were to ask me, I’d give you the same answer.” In 40 starts at the track, Labonte’s average start is 15.8 and his average finish is 16.9. Alright, it has been nine years since he scored the last of his three Michigan victories and a couple more since the last of his three MIS poles but he did finish 16th in his last two starts at the Brooklyn facility. If you’re saving some drivers for the Chase and need a deep pick that might come in around a top-15, Labonte is a good choice this weekend.

Tony Ballantoni runs the NASCAR coverage at
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