BROOKLYN, Mich. – Mr. Margolis was off this weekend, but there still are observations to be made. So here are some thoughts, observations and questions following Sunday's rain-shortened 3M Performance 400 at Michigan International Speedway.
- Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and (despite currently struggling) Tony Stewart already had cemented their names into the list of top '06 championship contenders.
Kasey Kahne added his name to the list Sunday.
Not only does this Evernham team continue to put a stout car on the track virtually everywhere (and lead Dodge's charge along the way), but Kahne and the No. 9 gang showed some moxie in overcoming so many obstacles to win here at MIS on Sunday.
Some of the credit goes to team director Kenny Francis. What really is the difference between a crew chief and team director? On Sunday, it was knowing how to do an effective rain dance.
- Not long after the race was called, the skies cleared and the sun came out – and it remained clear and dry for several hours afterward.
Of course, it would have taken NASCAR a long time to dry the two-mile race surface after that final downpour, but the post-9 p.m. sunsets the area has been enjoying must have made officials at least mull it over.
Still, wrapping it up probably was the call NASCAR had to make.
- There was some speculation that the damage to the right side of Kahne's car from his crash during practice Saturday actually might have given him a slight aero advantage if the sheet metal was banged in just a little, but Francis said that wasn't the case.
Though NASCAR did give the team a little extra time on Saturday and Sunday to repair the car, prerace inspection is prerace inspection, and the No. 9 car had to (and did) fit all the templates Sunday morning.
- Michael Waltrip announced Sunday that one of his Toyota teams next season will have primary sponsorship from both Domino's Pizza and Burger King. And on hand for the announcement was Burger King's creepy king from the commercials. I'm so looking forward to that continued presence at the track.
(Although maybe creepy king guy will duke it out with the creepy dice-head guy at Vegas. That'd be groovy.)
If UPS does follow Dale Jarrett to Waltrip's team, it would pave the way for a three-car effort – which is what Waltrip wants.
- Bill Lester managed to stay on the lead lap Sunday in his second career Cup start. Sure, cautions had something to do with that, but he once again ran a clean race and was far more competitive at Michigan than he was at Atlanta.
The hype was toned down this weekend, but Lester did seem more comfortable with the idea that what he is doing does has an impact on diversity in the sport – but he also still wants to earn the attention he gets via strong performances rather than skin color.
- Brian Vickers was the only Hendrick driver not roundly booed during prerace driver introductions. Hmm, maybe that's why he's leaving. He doesn't fit in there because he's not hated enough.
- For a little while in the early stages of the race, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. were battling back and forth, sometimes for the lead. Sure, some fans are sick of hearing about those two so often, but it's hard to deny the buzz and energy that is generated when Gordon and Junior are mixing it up.
Incidentally, huge performance for Junior. And a solid one for Gordon, too.
- There was, for a while, a good deal of passing in this one. Are two-milers, at their best, more exciting than some of the cookie-cutters?
- Kahne's win wasn't exactly a shock, but the weekend did feature several mild to significant surprises.
First, David Stremme lapped the entire field in the Michigan ARCA race. Then local boy Johnny Benson scored his first career Craftsman Truck Series win. Finally, David Gilliland (yes, David Gilliland) stunned a full slate of Buschwhackers with a Busch Series win at Kentucky.
- Egg and meat and cheese and meat and cheese.
- Video games and their (lack of?) usefulness in NASCAR suddenly is a hot topic in the garage, partly thanks to Denny Hamlin's win at Pocono last weekend on his first visit there. In an ESPN segment, some veterans claimed there is no way video games can have much of an impact on a driver's performance. But isn't it hard to imagine that Hamlin spending hours racing Pocono in his simulator didn't at least give him some basic knowledge of the track?
- Nobody should have doubted two months ago that Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards would rebound and make the Chase. Are there any doubters left?
- A female track security worker could be seen literally jumping up and down after taking a picture with race grand marshal Adam Sandler, who was at the track promoting his new movie, "Click," which also was promoted on Kahne's hood.
The movie co-stars Kate Beckinsale. That just seemed worth mentioning. Again.
- The small fuel cells at Charlotte forced crew chiefs to try various pit strategies. The frequent cautions and threat of rain forced the same Sunday at Michigan. The alternative strategies seem to have worked better at Lowe's than MIS, save for Reed Sorenson's strategic top-five.
- That commercial where Jeremy Mayfield has a truck back into and crush Stewart's No. 20 car seems slightly less funny at the moment.
But how about Stewart beating the dents (and frustrations) out of his car after Jeff Green wrecked him? He says the shoulder is fine. Guess he's trying to prove it.
- Stremme lapped the ARCA field. The entire field. Sure, Cup drivers in ARCA bring cars that are much better than what the regulars have, but still …
(Yeah, we already mentioned this, but we just wanted to make sure the message got through. Cell service was iffy in some areas near the track. Heck, there were some areas where you couldn't get a smoke signal, much less a cell signal.)
- The Hard Luck of the Race Award goes to the fans who endured the rain but were robbed when the weather forced a very good race – which could have had a terrific finish (is there anything more anticlimactic than finishing under a red flag?) – to be cut short. Honorable mention to J.J. Yeley.
It's time for some road racing as Nextel Cup hits Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., next weekend.
Fans generally are split on the road courses, but Sonoma and Watkins Glen do provide a nice change of pace. And even some die-hard open wheel purists I've talked to have admitted that the good road course drivers in Cup put on an entertaining show.
To make it worth the expense of building special cars, some teams would rather NASCAR include three or four road courses on the schedule rather than just two (much like there are four restrictor plate races).
I agree with three. These races almost always are among the most intriguing of any on the schedule.
Cookie-cutters they are not. Unless you bake some messed-up cookies.