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Our experts pick Michigan podium

8/19/2011

With the Sprint Cup series headed to Michigan, our experts seem to favor the homegrown cars of the Big Three automakers. Can a Ford pull out the checkered flag on Sunday? ESPN NASCAR personalities Ricky Craven, Jamie Little, Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree share their predictions for the top three finishers at Michigan.

Ricky Craven's analysis

I like Carl Edwards at Michigan because it's a track where drivers need to transition. From the low groove to the middle groove to the high groove -- as tires wear you need to move around the racetrack, and Carl Edwards is very good at that. He's led the standings most of the season, but as the Chase approaches, it's time to be looking at bonus points.

Like Edwards, Matt Kenseth drives a Ford and I've always favored those cars at Michigan. Kenseth has been quiet for too long, and that's when he's most dangerous.

When I look at drivers on the bubble, I have to favor Denny Hamlin. He won the most recent race at Michigan, and although he doesn't have to win this weekend, he needs a top-5 finish. In other words, I don't think his team is looking for a win or bust type weekend. Finishing third would be the perfect way to offset his rough weekend at Watkins Glen.

Jamie Little's analysis

Denny Hamlin took the biggest hit of his career last week and has to be sore. But after seeing him come back stronger than ever after knee surgery last year, I am confident he'll be even more driven this weekend to win despite his sore body. He's won two of the past three races here, too, and finished second in the third, so it's hard to take anyone else.

Brad Keselowski is another banged up driver who has been racing well despite a broken ankle and a sore back. He is back at his home track, and that's always good for a few more positions in a driver's mind! He has won at Michigan in the Nationwide series, and it wouldn't surprise me if he won Sunday.

With two wins at on this track and a Roush engine, Carl is primed for a top-3 finish on Sunday. He's been "off" the past two months compared to what he was the few months before that. I expect him to get back into his groove at Michigan, a place Jack Roush loves to win (and has many times!).

Rusty Wallace's analysis

Denny Hamlin strikes me as a driver who has all his issues worked out, and he's done it just in time: His only Sprint Cup win this season came at Michigan back in June. I've got a good feeling about him, and I don't think that victory was a fluke. I'll put him in Victory Lane on Sunday.

Jimmie Johnson always turns it on this time of year, and I expect to see him start kicking it into high gear very soon. He's been on and off in terms of good and bad finishes lately, and 10th-place finish at Watkins Glen sets him up for a better result this weekend. This could be the race that sparks him into Chase mode, so look for him up on the podium on Sunday.

Michigan is Ford country, and I think Carl Edwards is going to be eager to impress the Big Three representatives he's driving for. I think he'll be racing for the win here -- it always feels good to show off in front of the boss(es).

Dale Jarrett's analysis

I'm sticking with Kyle Busch after picking him last week. I thought I had it right until that second restart. Michigan is the type of racetrack where you have to be on the gas a lot, and nobody does that better than Kyle Busch.

Even though Kyle sits atop the standings, I think he'll want to separate himself from Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick -- who also has three wins -- and these next three or four tracks line up perfectly for his team to do that. It's important to take advantage of the tracks Kyle is good on. He'll be aggressive at Michigan, and he gets great mileage on that Toyota. This race could very well come down to that.

I definitely think we're going to see good performances out of the Ford cars this week, but I'm not sold that Edwards and his team have righted their ship yet. So I'm going to jump on Matt Kenseth to take second. He and Jeff Gordon are both fairly comfortable as far as the standings go, but that doesn't mean they won't be going hard at a course that lays out well for them.

Andy Petree's analysis

Carl Edwards has been on top of the points leaderboard all year and no, he's not a guy who needs a win as bad as Denny Hamlin. But Roush cars finish strong on bigger tracks like Michigan. I think their engine packages are a little bit superior, and that really plays to their strength this weekend. As for Gordon, well, I don't really know why I see him finishing third. Just have a feeling.