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First On Race Day – F.O.R.D.

NO PLACE LIKE HOME
Greg Biffle led the charge for Ford at Michigan International Speedway.
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Darrell Waltrip

Darrell Waltrip — winner of 84 career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races and a three-time champion — serves as lead analyst for NASCAR on FOX. He was selected for induction into the prestigious NASCAR Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2012. Want more from DW? Become a fan on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.

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Back in the day, fans of the Ford race teams had a catch-phrase – it was that Ford = First On Race Day. Sunday at Michigan that slogan was spot-on. While it clearly was a big win for Greg personally, it might be one of the biggest wins in Ford’s illustrious history.

It was Ford’s 1,000th win in NASCAR competition. It was in Michigan in their own backyard. We always talk about how important is to win at Michigan because that’s considered Ford and Chevrolet’s home turf with their plants in Detroit. Jack Roush’s huge operation is also just down the road.

Greg had his hands full and for a while there it didn’t look like it was going to work out for him. When others started having problems there late in the race, Greg was in position to seize the opportunity and bring home the win.

You all know I am a big fan of irony. So I consider Sunday’s win somewhat ironic on two fronts. First, Greg has been very vocal as of late that he felt all the Fords were behind in both motor and aero. Sometimes calling out your team, your organization and even your manufacturer gets results. Sometimes it lights a fire where it needs to be lit.

Then the second part of the irony was that after the race Jack Roush revealed that he had met with and formed an alliance with Penske Racing last week. Roush-Yates has been supplying Penske Racing with their engines since the switch to Fords at the end of 2012. Jack cited front suspensions and aerodynamics were the areas where the Ford Fusion needs to make up ground.

So, at least on the surface, it looks like the new alliance already has paid dividends, at least for Jack. One of his cars driven by Carl Edwards sat on the pole at over 202 mph and then his other driver, Greg Biffle wins the race. It’s like one of my old sayings “your 2 and my 2 make 5.” Penske brings a little something to the table and Jack’s camp does the same with the end result both camps see better results.

One of Roger’s drivers and our defending series champ, Brad Keselowski, caused a dust-up of his own at Michigan. He called out both Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing for supposedly “stealing” key employees away. Trust me, there has been tool boxes being moved from one shop to another since the inception of NASCAR. If you are making a certain wage and another organization feels your more valuable and offers you more money to come work for them, why wouldn’t anyone do that? It happens in NASCAR and in the business world all the time.

So it’s really nothing new or different there. I think Brad is a little bit wiser than that and not that naïve to think these things don’t happen. You saw both Rick Hendrick and Joe Gibbs fire back vehemently at Brad about his comments. Brad’s owner, Roger Penske, did issue a statement before the race backing Brad, but also pointing out that maybe some of Brad’s facts were wrong.
Jimmie Johnson decided to take a poke at NASCAR on Sunday. Remember at Dover when he was black flagged and lost the race for jumping the restart? Well there they were on a restart at Michigan with Dale Earnhardt Jr. as the leader and Jimmie restarting second. Jimmie almost beat Dale Jr. to the line, but then basically slammed on the brakes which almost caused the field to back up and wreck behind him.

Then Jimmie took his shot at NASCAR on the radio with his comment of “hope you’re happy NASCAR.” Obviously it wouldn’t be Jimmie’s intention to wreck everyone behind him, but the NASCAR rule is clear, you are to slow down and let the leader of the race cross the Start/Finish line first.

So sometimes you try to send NASCAR a message and yours can be pretty subtle. I’ve found over the years however that NASCAR can send you one back and it’s normally not so subtle. So if were Jimmie, I’d be careful testing those waters.

Now obviously not by any of NASCAR’s doing, but the Hendrick cars had an absolutely miserable day at Michigan. Kasey Kahne leading the race blows a tire and hits the wall. Jimmie Johnson was catching Greg Biffle and blows a tire. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is leading the race and starting to pull away for a repeat Father’s Day win and the engine goes south on him. I talked to Dale Jr. Monday night and he said that was the most awesome car he’s ever had at Michigan and then the engine blows.
It’s been something like 2005 since the last time there was not at least one Hendrick car in the Top 25 at the end of the race. Jimmie was the highest finishing Hendrick Motorsports car coming home in 28th one lap down.

As for their fourth teammate, Jeff Gordon, his string of bad luck continues. I’ve said it before, he’s over-drawn at the Luck Bank. He’s had some unbelievable luck in his illustrious career, but it just seems right now the only luck Jeff has is bad luck. He and my buddy Bobby Labonte got together and Jeff is out of the race early.

We had some other drama during the race with Carl Edwards and his teammate Greg Biffle. Carl was a little miffed that Greg, who was leading, didn’t back up to Carl and help Carl get some debris off of his grill. I think Carl over-reacted on this one. Carl should have been looking someone behind him to help him and not expect the race leader, teammate or not, to slow down and let Carl catch up to him. I know I sure wouldn’t have done that. Look at it this way, if Greg had slowed down to help Carl, it sure wouldn’t have been only Carl to catch up to Greg. It would have been the rest of the field.

I sure am proud of how the No. 11 team paid tribute to driver Jason Leffler who was killed earlier in the week at a dirt track race. The No. 11 car was wrapped in the colors the way Jason drove it in 2005. That was a great tribute by Joe Gibbs Racing. Unfortunately the car struggled all day long and it looks like Denny’s hopes of possibly being the first-ever NASCAR driver to miss races yet make the Chase have faded.

We saw that and many tributes to Jason. Other teams carried decals of Jason on their car. I think Jason would have been very proud at the out-pouring of support from the NASCAR community. Someday his young son, Charlie Dean, will be able to look back with pride at how loved his Dad was within the NASCAR family.

It was just a horrible situation made worse when you consider we were at Michigan on Father’s Day and to struggle through a tragedy like that. I just think the NASCAR community, like it has time and time again, rose to the occasion to handle it very well.

Tony Stewart’s hot streak just keeps on sizzling. Remember now, it wasn’t that many weeks ago that all the talk swirled around not only Tony missing the Chase but firings of key personnel were coming soon. Don’t look now but Tony jumped another three spots in the points Sunday. He has a win and is in the top 10.

Tony told the media after his win at Dover that "I'll be honest, it pissed me off because it was a big distraction to my team, my organization. It kept us from doing our job, because people are hearing humors and reading what you guys write, and it was totally inaccurate and unprofessional in my opinion." All I know is a pissed off Tony Stewart is a motivated Tony Stewart. Just look where he’s come from since before the Coca Cola 600. He was something like 21st in points and didn’t even have a Top 5 finish. Like I always tell you, when the weather heats up, so does Tony and he is pretty darn hot right now.

His rookie driver at Stewart-Haas Racing also had a good day at Michigan. She kept her nose clean all race long and came home 13th. That’s her best finish since finishing 12th back at Martinsville in early April. Crew chief Tony Gibson kept making the car better. That’s a great effort on her part plus she won rookie of the race by finishing ahead of Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Some other young drivers had a great day at Michigan. Richard Childress’ grandson, Austin Dillon in the No. 33 car finished 11th, right behind Richard’s other car driven by Jeff Burton who got 10th. Trevor Bayne finished fifteenth in that legendary #21 car Sunday as well. So we saw a lot of good young talent there at Michigan and they had good finishes to back it up.

One of the biggest storylines to follow as we move forward to the road course this weekend is how the Wild Card battle is really heating up. Kasey Kahne lost four spots and fell out of the Top 10 to 12th but he at least has a win in his pocket. Believe it or not, there isn’t a single driver below Kasey with a win.

Right around Kasey though is Paul Menard, Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano and Aric Almirola all right there but they all need the same thing – a win or even two if they hope to get into the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase. Their only other option naturally would be to work their way into the Top 10 in points where you are automatically granted a spot in the Chase, but there are some very good cars up there that they would have to leap-frog over.

As I mentioned earlier, it’s off to the Wine Country…or in some cases with drivers who don’t really care for road racing…Whine Country. It’s the 25th Anniversary of Sonoma Raceway in NASCAR. I was so honored that Track President Steve Page invited me to be the Grand Marshal as part of their 25th Anniversary celebration, so Stevie and I will go out there and have a great time. I’ll work for SPEED that morning and then it’ll be time for ol’DW to get those gentlemen and lady to start their engines!

Tagged: Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Jeff Gordon, Jeff Burton, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Greg Biffle, Jason Leffler, Kasey Kahne, Tony Stewart, Martin Truex Jr., Carl Edwards, Brad Keselowski

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