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Michigan drought on Roush Fenway drivers' minds

August 18, 2012, Seth Livingstone, Special to NASCAR.COM, NASCAR.com

Matt Kenseth understands why winning at Michigan is so important to team owner Jack Roush. (Getty Images)

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Not so long ago, Roush Fenway Racing and Ford were dominant at Michigan International Speedway.

"When we come here, I have it marked on the calendar -- or in my head, anyway -- that this is a place where we can definitely dominate and win," said Greg Biffle, part of that history of success.

"When we come here, I have it marked on the calendar -- or in my head, anyway -- that this is a place where we can definitely dominate and win."

--GREG BIFFLE

Between 2002 and 2008, Biffle and teammates Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards each won two Sprint Cup races on the 2-mile oval. Kurt Busch won a 2003 race in a Roush Ford. Prior to that, Mark Martin posted four Cup victories in the 1990s.

Those wins have Roush tied with Glen Wood for most victories by an owner at Michigan. Wood, also running Fords, earned eight of his 11 wins there with David Pearson at the wheel. The Wood Brothers and Holman-Moody combined to win 12 of the first 15 Cup events at Michigan.

But since Edwards' wins in 2007 and 2008, the road to Victory Lane has grown cold for Roush and Ford.

Toyota and Chevrolet have combined to win the past seven Cup events at Michigan -- Denny Hamlin is the only driver to win twice since Edwards' win in August 2008. Adding to the sting, Edwards is the only Ford driver to win a Nationwide Series race at Michigan since then.

Martin, who knocked Edwards off the pole for Sunday's Pure Michigan 400, remembers the feeling of having a car strong enough to dominate on the big oval.

"I did [have dominant equipment] for a time or two," said Martin, now driving a Michael Waltrip Toyota part-time in Cup. "I think we came from two laps down to win here once. In 1993, we were insanely fast. And many a time we were really fast here and didn't win.

"To me, if a Ford or a particular make dominates at a particular race track, it's more what the people are doing with that Ford that makes it dominate."

Drivers know how much success at Michigan means to Roush, whose business is headquartered in Detroit and nearby Livonia.

"Jack has built his business here and has a lot of folks here that are supportive of him -- so many people here that are passionate about Jack Roush and what he does for the sport," Edwards said.

"I can tell you this: Of all the Victory Lanes I have been in, I have never seen Jack happier than the one here at Michigan. Hopefully, we can do that this weekend. It would be huge for us and for Jack."

The Roush Fords continue to be fast at Michigan. In June, Kenseth and Biffle finished third and fourth, respectively, and Edwards 11th despite starting 42nd.

On Friday, Biffle qualified 13th. Fords took four of the top eight spots, with Edwards second, Kenseth fourth, Wood Brothers Racing's Trevor Bayne sixth and last week's Watkins Glen winner Marcos Ambrose eighth. It took Martin's lap at 199.706 mph to boot Edwards from the pole.

Biffle said there have been reasons -- extenuating circumstances if you will -- that have prevented Roush from taking checkered flags at Michigan.

"We pitted, and a caution came out. We ran out of gas twice. We botched a pit stop. When you lead the most laps and something happens, you don't win," Biffle said. "It's that simple."

Biffle, who hasn't won at Michigan since 2005, thinks it's time for Roush's and his luck to change.

"We are definitely due. [Roush] is due," Biffle said.

On Friday, however, Biffle said he felt like he was "swatting flies," trying to cope with an ill-handling car in the corners.

Pure Michigan 400

Lineup
Pos.DriverSpeedTime
2.C. Edwards 198.626 36.249
3. J. Johnson 198.440 36.283
4.M. Kenseth 198.183 36.330
5. K. Kahne 197.878 36.386

"We just need a little more time [to get it right]," Biffle said. "We had two problems, with oil on the track and, literally, nine minutes of [meaningful] practice. [On Saturday], we'll have a couple hours, so we will get it dialed in. We did have the speed."

Edwards was almost as happy with his qualifying lap as he was impressed with the 53-year-old Martin's.

"It's a good starting spot. I believe that is key here," said Edwards, one of six drivers to clock a lap of 196 mph in Friday's practice. "If this race goes on long green-flag runs and speeds are as high as they seem to be, at least for the first part of the race, it will be tough to pass. So this will be great for us. The issue right now is the [racing] groove is really narrow.

While Kenseth and Biffle, sitting one and two points behind series leader Jimmie Johnson (third in qualifying), can mathematically lock themselves into the Chase for the Sprint Cup this weekend, Edwards needs at least one victory in the next four races to have a shot at a wild-card spot.

"We are coming into Michigan with our guns blazing," Edwards said. "We have a very fast race car, and we've been working very hard on it. [Crew chief] Chad [Norris] and all the guys have pulled out all the stops."

Edwards thinks Roush's inability to continue its dominance in Michigan is rooted at least as much in external factors as it is in the Roush Fenway shop. A repaved track at Michigan plays into that.

"There is so much happening in the sport right now, technically, with people trying to get the cars positioned the way they want and the splitter just right," Edwards said. "I think once you repave it and it is very smooth and a very uniform surface, people are making leaps and bounds, technically.

"Before, it seemed like when the track was rough and worn out that guys that could hang the cars out a little and guys like Greg Biffle, or guys with big horsepower, ran really well."

Kenseth said failure to win at Michigan doesn't bother him any more or less than it does at any other track. But he understands how it impacts those around him, including the boss.

"Not necessarily for me, but maybe for Jack because it is close to Livonia and Roush Industries and Ford and all that," he said. "It has been one of our better tracks through the years. So, whenever you go to the tracks that you perform better at, you want to try to take advantage of that. When you don't, it is a little disappointing."