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Ingram: Michigan Oval Retains The Magic

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, August 17 2010

The checkers dropped for Kevin Harvick Sunday afternoon at Michigan. Great race at a great old track. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

From the Monday Morning Crew Chief:

Race tracks are a quirky sort of sports arena. The same week a California track loses a Sprint Cup race in part due to relatively boring racing, the original blueprint for its 2.0-mile, D-shaped layout hosts an outstanding race in Michigan. Am I missing something or does this just prove you can’t transfer the racing magic as easily as changing the schedule or building a new facility?

These things are hard to predict. The same week a second Sprint Cup race is added to the schedule in Kansas City – with every expectation that it will sell most of its seats to ticket buyers – a very similar track in Chicago gets switched into the opening date for the 2011 Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship. Unless I’m mistaken, this particular twin track – a very similar 1.5-mile layout as in Kansas City – needs a boost in ticket sales for its lone date.

Like the California track, now known as the Auto Club Speedway, the Chicagoland Speedway is in the midst of one of the largest population bases in the U.S. The white flag usually signifies the last lap, but after aborted efforts in the state of Washington and New York City to establish new tracks, let’s hope the white flag of tactical retreat to just one race a year shown in the Los Angeles area is just that.

In five years time, we may be wondering what all the shouting was about when it comes to schedule realignment, a process that has been ongoing since “Big Bill” France launched NASCAR’s first season in 1948. In five years time, the Great Recession may be over, all the facilities may be full, the racing action solid and those who would reduce Sprint Cup race weekends to one of a kind in highly competitive major markets may just look like geniuses.

But for many fans, the great receding of a once great lake of events in the deep Southeast into a, well, smaller lake, will never be anything but another defeat for a region of the country too often bilked of its resources. At least Darlington and Atlanta, yet another major market that will be down to one race a year, are likely to be active enough to have races re-instated, should it come to that. Rockingham and North Wilkesboro, RIP. Fans in Martinsville, meanwhile, have been spared the axe, perhaps a concession to the fact NASCAR needs its roots after all.

Up north, winner Harvick proved he’s for real in the upcoming Chase. Johnson continues to fade and the slippage in the clutch, so to speak, of the entire Hendrick team may leave Earnhardt Jr. and Martin on the outside looking in. Even among its viable candidates, Gordon appears to be on a record streak of finding ways to lose events he might have won.

One thing about ol’ Earnhardt Sr., he rarely lost races he should have won, usually salvaged points if he did lose, and sometimes pulled off the stunning upset. ‘Twas a bit stunning to learn that the Childress team had not won at Michigan since the days of yore, i.e. 1990, when the Intimidator was still years away from having a teammate or his last championship.

Now it looks like one of NASCAR’s few remaining legacy teams –  the ones that grew out of  good ol’ racing operations – may have a shot at the championship due to the resurgence of Childress. In any event, Harvick stole a march on Hamlin and the Toyota brigade by out-horsepowering the FedEx Camry on the back stretch to the tune of banging the rear bumper in order to stymie any blocking maneuvers on the next lap. Hello!

Despite going from fifth to 15th in the late stages, Ambrose, still trying to prove he can win on ovals, was a pleasant surprise, as were the valiant efforts of Montoya, still trying to prove he can win on ovals.

The double-file restarts are a mess, but then that’s the idea. The Chase format continues to keep the drivers who are having an average season for a good team pushing, bringing up the question of whether we’d feel cheated by strumbos without the chase to get into the Chase?

It’s entirely possible that the COT finally coming into its own as a race vehicle arrived too late to save certain tracks.  At least we’re finally back to the days when drivers and crew chiefs are confident about making chassis adjustments over the course of  a race in addition to taking big strategy swings on two tires, four or none?

The lucky Cat in the Hat was back from a second life-threatening plane crash, again making one wonder if team owner Roush should give up some of his more overbeating motivational techniques in favor of something more inspirational? His guys ran like scalded cats at Michigan. Then again, the inspiration is not working for Hendrick at this point in time. And, it’s probably asking too much for this Cat to keep walking away from crashed planes.

Quote of the Week: “I had a lot of fun racing today. There were a lot of position changes and a lot of passing going on.”

– Kevin Harvick, who brought team owner Richard Childress his first victory at the Michigan Speedway in 20 years

See ya…at the races!

– Jonathan Ingram can be reached at jingram@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, August 17 2010
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