Here's a look back at the winners and losers from the recently completed NASCAR weekend at Michigan International Speedway:
Even as he was winning races last year and this, the question mark surrounding Brad Keselowski was whether he had the consistency needed to contend for the championship. Those doubts, however, have been eradicated this summer. In his last seven races, the Penske driver has finished no worse than ninth – including consecutive runner-up finishes. He's left no doubt that he is fully capable of driving away with Roger Penske's first Cup title.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
When Dale Earnhardt Jr. won at Michigan in June, it was an impressive feat as he did so by over five seconds. But as strange as this may sound, what he did this past weekend was just as impressive – if not more. After wrecking with 10 minutes left in Saturday's final round of practice, Earnhardt Jr. wheeled a backup car with few laps on it and drove it from the back to the front and finished fourth. It was yet another clear signal the 88 team is legit and needs to be taken seriously.
Not only did fans get to see a rare exciting race at Michigan, but they also witnessed the table being set for what should be a riveting next few weeks. After the race, both Greg Biffle and Brad Keselowski declared themselves as threats to win the championship; especially Keselowski who called out the 48, said Hendrick Motorsports was playing in the gray area of the rule book and basically said, "Bring it on."
Then there is the wild card battle between Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman, Carl Edwards and others which will likely hinge on who finds their way to Victory Lane in the next three races.
Hendrick Engine Department
How often do you see Hendrick Motorsports suffer through four – count 'em, four – engine failures in a single weekend? The answer is not very often. But whether it's the high RPMs Michigan produces or something else altogether, it wasn't a good two days for the guys in the Hendrick motor department.
For Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, it was particularly costly. Gordon's bid for a much-needed win went kaboom, while Johnson limped to the garage four laps from the finish with the race seemingly in hand.
On the Cup side of things, Richard Childress Racing as a whole has been lagging behind this year. Knowing this, it's hard to blame Shane Wilson entirely for the subpar season Kevin Harvick has turned in thus far. That said, the 29 team has struggled considerably this summer – since placing second at Dover, Harvick hasn't finished better than eighth in the previous 10 races and has just two top-10s overall in that span.
But fair or not, this has all happened on Wilson's watch. A team that was in title contention the last two years has become ordinary, with little hope to be player in the Chase. All of which is why it wasn't a surprise that it was reported Monday that Gil Martin was replacing Wilson this weekend at Bristol.
Bobby Labonte is about as clean a racer as there is in NASCAR. However, for the second straight week, he played a pivotal role in causing the leader to wreck. At Watkins Glen it was him spewing oil all over the track which ultimately led to Kyle Busch losing what otherwise would have been a surefire win.
This week, Labonte tangled with Juan Pablo Montoya while the duo were about to get lapped by leader Mark Martin. This resulted in Martin hitting the pit road wall in as scary a wreck as we've seen this year.