The Sprint Cup schedule is made up with a variety of racetracks. You have the short tracks of Bristol, Richmond and Martinsville as well as the restrictor plate tracks of Daytona and Talladega. Infineon and Watkins Glen are both road courses and the number of intermediate tracks a mile and a half in length is too numerous to list.
There is definitely a class for every track that makes up the 36- race schedule, but it may be time to put the Michigan International Speedway in a class of its own. Sunday’s running of the LifeLock 400 from the track once again came down to which driver could conserve the most fuel after the last pit stop until the green flag waved.
Fuel mileage races seem to always get a bad rap, but Sunday’s race provided us with as good an ending as any other race so far this season. How many times this season has the car that took the white flag in third place come around to take the checkered?
A final lap with two passes for the lead is exciting regardless of the circumstances. A fuel mileage race forces a driver to decide between running for the win or just making sure that he gets the best finish he can without running out of fuel. That was the decision that every driver had to make after the last round of pits stops and many chose to get the best finish they could — but that wasn’t the case for Greg Biffle and Jimmie Johnson.
Biffle had a safe lead over Johnson with both drivers saving fuel over the last laps, but Johnson decided he wanted to go for the win and in the process forced both himself and Biffle to abort their fuel-saving tactics. Johnson finally made the pass but it came at a great cost as he ran out of gas as he took the white flag and ended up finishing 22nd. Biffle’s tank also ran dry on the last lap but he was close enough to the finish line that he was able to coast across in fifth place.
While Biffle and Johnson were battling for the lead and burning up their fuel, Mark Martin sat in third with the same fuel concerns. After the race, he said he felt like he could run with either driver but knew he needed to save fuel to make sure he ended up with the best finish possible and in the process register a big day in the points. That kind of thinking is better known as keeping your eye on the big picture, which is nothing more than making the Chase and having the opportunity to run for the title.
Martin entered Michigan one spot out of making the Chase in the 13th position but left in eighth as the win enabled him to climb five spots in the standings. The eighth position may sound safe but when looking at the points, the lead is only 61 points over David Reutimann who now sits in the 13th spot.
Big picture racing forces you to settle for the best finish you can but the way the point system is tweaked for the drivers making the Chase, sometimes it’s hard not to drive for the win. The point totals for the 12 drivers making the Chase are reassigned with every driver receiving 5,000 points. Ten additional points are added to each driver’s total for every race victory posted by that driver during the first 26 races of the season.
Martin got off to a horrible start this season and has had to claw his way into the top 12, but along the way his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet has been good enough to win three races which would now give him a 30-point bonus if he makes the Chase. He is tied with Kyle Busch for the most wins and is followed by Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson with two wins.
It’s only 10 points per win, but you have to remember that the Chase is made up of only 10 races. Once a driver is comfortably entrenched in making the Chase, he has the luxury of not having to drive with the big picture in mind. He is able to race for a win instead of worrying about points. It’s a definitely a different attitude but its one that only a handful of drivers have as the final races wind down. For the majority of drivers when the green flag waves it is all about the points and a chance to make the Chase or as they say in racing, “It’s driving with an eye on the big picture.”
Race Preview — Event: Toyota/ Save Mart 350. Track: Infineon Raceway (1.99-mile road course, 10 turns). Date: June 21, 3:30 p.m. TV: TNT. Radio: PRN. Defending champion: Kyle Busch.