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Published: Sunday, 6/17/2007

Drivers want to impress Detroit

BY MATT MARKEY
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Ryan Newman, left, and Martin Truex Jr. talk in the garage area of Michigan International Speedway, near the Motor City. Ryan Newman, left, and Martin Truex Jr. talk in the garage area of Michigan International Speedway, near the Motor City.
CARLOS OSORIO / AP Enlarge

BROOKLYN, Mich. - In terms of putting on a show for the guys with the dough, Michigan International Speedway is one important place in stock car racing.

When the Nextel Cup circuit makes a stop here twice each season, the Detroit-based automobile manufacturers are on hand, in numbers, and that gives the outcome of today's Citizens Bank 400 here additional importance.

"This is definitely a home-court racetrack for all the manufacturers," said Elliott Sadler, who drives for Dodge. "As a representative of them, you want to run well and give your team some bragging rights. We came loaded for bear this weekend and hopefully it'll work out for us."

Sadler certainly has some history on the side of his automobile giant, and even more stands with Ford. Those two manufacturers have split the spoils here for the last four years, each winning a race each year. In 2002, Ford swept both races, with Matt Kenseth and Dale Jarrett bringing home wins.

Chevrolet has not won a Cup race at MIS since 2001, when this year's Nextel Cup points leader Jeff Gordon turned the trick. There have been almost a dozen races since then, and Ford has won six of the last 10.

"People say this is a Ford track, and they've certainly had success here recently, but Chevy has been really close a number of times," Chevy driver and Gordon teammate Jimmie Johnson said.

"There have just been a number of weird things happen that have knocked the Chevys out of contention, but we've been good enough to win more than a few times. And we certainly go into this weekend confident we can win here."

Chevy has just four wins here in the last two dozen Cup races at MIS - and two of those came in 1995 when Bobby Labonte pulled off a double, winning both for Joe Gibbs Racing. Gordon has the other two Chevy victories in the past 12 years.

"All the races are important, especially with the points race and how that plays into everything," Johnson said. "But Michigan is a little different, a little special, because so many of the folks that create these cars and work on the lines are here. You want to put on a show for them, and you want to bring home a win for them. I think everybody shares that goal."

Chevrolets are certainly positioned for a good day. J.J. Yeley sits on the pole in a Chevy, and Chevrolets hold eight of the top nine slots in the starting grid. Ryan Newman qualified fourth and Penske Racing teammate Kurt Busch 10th, both in Dodges. Carl Edwards in the 12th position has the highest qualifying Ford.

Matt Kenseth, the 2003 Nextel Cup champion whose Ford starts from the 26th position in the 43-car field, said there is no secret to his manufacturer's history of success at MIS. Kenseth won the August race here last year, and the June race in 2002.

"It's about good race cars," Kenseth said. "We've had good race cars here in the past. It's a really fun track for the drivers. I think it's fun track for the fans, as well. There's three or four grooves on there, and you can get down in the corner, and depending on how your car is handling, you can choose different grooves, choose difference pieces of asphalt to try to make your car handle and look for grip, so it's a lot of fun as a driver."

TRUEX RISING: The racing world has changed significantly for Martin Truex Jr. over the past few weeks. First he gained career Nextel Cup victory No. 1 at Dover. Then, when DEI teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. announced he was leaving the team named after Earnhardt's father, Truex became the DEI flag-bearer by default.

Truex, who qualified eighth for today's Citizens Bank 400 at MIS, said he embraces the change, and the expectations. He is in the 11th position in the 12-man field in the Chase for the Nextel Cup championship, which plays out over the final 10 races of the year.

Truex said his focus is on maintaining a place in that elite group.

"I am excited about it. I feel like my team is up to the challenge of holding the banner up for the company," Truex said. "We look forward to it, and like I said, we just want to focus on our race cars right now. We are in the Chase so far and we want to stay in that and keep getting better and have a shot at the championship at the end of the year."

Truex said MIS is the ideal place for him to continue the pursuit of his place in the Chase, and to settle into his role as the star of the future at DEI.

"I think drivers like tracks where there's options," Truex said. "Where you're not stuck in one groove, you know, if you're faster than someone, you've got a lot of room out there, a lot of grooves out there that are close to the same speed where you can do some passing."

Truex said the two-mile MIS layout gives race car drivers the opportunity to really spread out and race.

"It is a real momentum race track because it is so big, with those multiple grooves," Truex said. "It is usually a really fun race because the guys are spread out all over the race track. If your tires wore out you can move around and find some stuff that really works for you. These are the kind of tracks that I really enjoy. You can kind of move it around and make it work with what you have got."

DAD'S DAY: Drivers' comments on Father's Day.

David Gilliland: "My family's here. My wife and two kids are here, and we're going to race and maybe have a Father's Day breakfast. Racing doesn't leave a lot time, but there's nothing I'd rather be doing."

Kasey Kahne: "My dad took us to a bunch of races, whether it was sprint cars or mini-sprints. That's where I started. Just growing up around him, learning how to work on cars, learning how to use a wrench and tighten the bolts. He was here last year for my first win at Michigan. That's the first time he saw me win in Cup, but I have a lot of good memories with my dad racing. Not just racing, but going on vacations to Canada fishing and to other states racing. We went all over racing and those were good times."

Jeff Gordon: "Father's Day this year has a whole new meaning to it. Just knowing how close we are and how excited I am about being a father. I have a greater appreciation for mothers and fathers and what it takes to get to this point. I can't imagine what it's going to be like next year when I actually am a father."

Matt Kenseth: "The last four or five years my son and my dad have been able to come here and the three of us have been able to spend the weekend here. It's fun. It's still at a race track, but it's cool that all three of us get to be together on Father's Day."

Martin Truez Jr.: "My dad is going to be here, so that makes it special for me. He's here just about every week so it is always nice having him around, but especially this weekend."



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