COMMENTARY | Dale Earnhardt Jr., the defending winner of the June race at Michigan International Speedway, picked up his first top five finish since late March last weekend at Pocono Raceway, while his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson picked up the victory. Not only have these two drivers had differing records during their tenures with Hendrick, they've also had different results at Michigan, where they'll race this Sunday, June 16. Both drivers will be playing catch-up, however, with Roush Fenway Racing, which has 22 victories across NASCAR's top three series, including 12 in the Cup Series.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. - "Junior's" win in last June's Michigan race ended a four-year winless streak, his last win before that coming in the June 2008 race at Michigan. Earnhardt Jr. has two wins at MIS, along with two poles and 10 top 10 finishes.
Currently fourth in points, Earnhardt Jr. is having one of his best seasons as far as points are concerned - his last top-five finish in points was in 2006 (fifth). Since joining Hendrick Motorsports in 2008, he's had three Chase appearances and a top finish of seventh (2011), and won just twice - a stark contrast to his eight-season full-time tenure at Dale Earnhardt Inc., which saw him win 17 races and finish in the top 10 in points four times, with a best finish of third (2003). That's also a stark contrast to his teammate Johnson's record.
Jimmie Johnson - "Five-Time" has never finished worst than sixth in the championship chase, and has amassed 63 wins in his 11-plus seasons with Hendrick Motorsports, including three wins in 2013. Currently leading second-place Carl Edwards by 51 points in the standings, Johnson has won at all but five tracks currently on the Sprint Cup Series schedule - one of those five is Michigan.
Johnson has nine top 10 finishes in 22 events there, with a best finish of second in August 2011. In spite of not winning, Johnson has led the most laps at MIS over the last eight seasons - 484 (15.4-percent of laps run). His biggest heartache at Michigan came last August, when he was leading with seven laps to go and blew an engine.
Roush rules Michigan - Both Hendrick teammates, and 38 other competitors, will be chasing Roush Fenway Racing drivers Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle and rookie Ricky Stenhouse Jr. at Michigan, which is a "home track" for the nearby Roush Industries. With 22 overall victories in NASCAR's Cup, Nationwide and Truck Series, Roush is tough to beat at MIS. Edwards and Biffle have combined for five wins (Edwards with two, Biffle with three), while Stenhouse Jr. has runner-up finishes in both the Nationwide Series and ARCA Racing Series at the track. Roush also has Ford power behind them, and the manufacturer has won 32 times in Cup Series competition at MIS.
Who else to watch - Former Roush driver Mark Martin, who accounted for four of the team's wins, has a total of five wins at MIS, along with 31 top 10 finishes in 54 starts. He'll be driving a Toyota Camry for Michael Waltrip Racing this weekend. Danica Patrick will become the fourth female driver to race at Michigan in the Cup Series; Janet Guthrie had the top finish by a woman, 10th-place in August 1977. Patrick's boss, Tony Stewart, was in 22nd-place in points following Talladega five races ago; after a win at Dover and three consecutive top 10 finishes, "Smoke" has moved up to 13th in points, just 17 points out of the top 10, and currently holds the first Chase Wild Card spot.
Sources: "Storylines: Michigan International Speedway," NASCAR Media, June 10, 2013
''Statistical Advance: Analyzing the Quicken Loans 400," NASCAR Media, June 10, 2013
Paula is a freelance writer and photographer specializing in motorsports. She also covers NASCAR at Skirts & Scuffs and Examiner.com.
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