By CHRISTOPHER SORBEY
1. Martin Truex Jr. — Marty’s long winding road back to the winner’s circle certainly has evoked a carousel of emotions that’s permeated over the last year-and-a-half for NASCAR’s resident Jersey Boy. Uncertainty led to optimism, which fueled a new-found confidence that suddenly turned to heartbreak, but Truex’s bend won’t break spirit has elevated a revitalized driver that some may have left for dead right into the title picture. That’s bittersweet redemption, friends.
2. Kevin Harvick — As the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup season inches closer to the halfway point, the Closer is repaidly closing in on a record of finishes of second or better that may only be duplicated by the man, himself. I think it’s time we start placing our bets on the total number of finishes of second or better Harvick will accumulate from here until Homestead-Miami. My money’s on 21 when it’s all said and done.
3. Jimmie Johnson — All four Hendrick Motorsports drivers experienced some type of difficulty last weekend at Pocono. Although Jimmie Johnson was the highest-finishing Hendrick driver at the Tricky Triangle, he surely can’t be looking forward to this weekend’s trip to the Irish Hills, despite coming into the race as the defending winner. Aside from that breakthrough win last June, Michigan International Speedway has found a way to stifle the six-time champ through the years.
4. Joey Logano — It feels like Joey Logano won the Daytona 500 eons ago, when, in fact, it was only a little over four months ago. Yes, it’s been that kind of season for JoLo, but it feels like the tide is turning, following a fourth-place run at Pocono. Let’s not forget about his recent stroke of good fortune at Michigan. Joey’s finished inside the top-10 in the last four Michigan races.
5. Dale Earnhardt Jr. — Dale Jr. has found his saving grave on two separate occasions at the Michigan International Speedway in the last eight seasons. Coming off a couple of less than stellar finishes, all of JR Nation is up in arms about their driver’s recent shortcomings. How fitting would it be for him to snag his third Michigan victory? Admit it; you totally want this to transpire.
6. Jamie McMurray — Jamie Mac’s currently sandwiched somewhere between Chase contender and Chase pretender. One one hand, he’s on the cusp of breaking a long winless drought, and on the other hand, he’s starting to resemble 2015′s version of Ryan Newman. Either way, Jamie Mac’s looking like a surefire Chase qualifer, finally.
7. Matt Kenseth — Back when Matt Kenseth drove for Roush Fenway Racing, he was a perennial favorite to win any race at MIS. Since his departure from the No. 17 ride, a trip to the Irish Hills feels more like an afternoon of white water rafting withoug a paddle.
8. Brad Keselowski — A homecoming just might be the spark B.K. needs to turn his luck around. since recording his last top-five finish at Texas in April, it’s been a mixed bag of hit or miss for the Team Penske driver.
9. Kurt Busch — It’s completely arbitrary to debate that Kevin Harvick’s dominance over the past year-and-a-half is the only thing keeping SHR relevant. But it’s completely ridiculous to write off how amazing Kurt Busch has run in 2015. If only he could win a few more races, he would be right up there battling the Closer for organizational supremacy.
10. Kasey Kahne — That old familiar good race/bad race trend is obstructing Kasey Kahne’s forward progress once again. Funny how some things never seem to change.
11. Jeff Gordon — Perhaps Jeff Gordon completely jinxed himself by prematurely announcing in February that he would, indeed, give his grand finale on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series tour. For those of you who adore happy endings better break out the Kleenex, because it’s starting to look like this farewell party won’t be all cake and ice cream. Thanks for the invite.
12. Denny Hamlin — Honestly, I kid you not, I completely forgot that Denny Hamlin owns two victories at MIS. And you guess it; since recording those victories, Hamlin’s Irish Hills voyages have been absolutely disasterous.
13. Carl Edwards — Back when Carl Edwards drove for Roush Fenway Racing, he excelled at MIS, collecting two victories in 21-career starts. Wonder if a revitalized Cousin Carl will show up, or will we get more of the same lackluster performances that have impeded Carl’s progress since joining JGR?
14. Kyle Larson — Marking good on his promise of avoiding a sophomore slump, Kyle Larson is starting to turn the corner at the right time. Heading into this weekend’s race at MIS, Larson is on a bit of a roll after recording consecutive top-10 finishes for the first time this season.
15. Paul Menard — Fun fact of the day: all four of Paul Menard’s four-career top-five finishes at MIS have resulted in finishes of, you guessed it, fourth-place.
16. Ryan Newman — The gloves are off. Next time A.J. Allmendinger gets anywhere near the Rocket Man on the track, Newman’s vowed to ruin his day and then some. The plot thickens.
17. Aric Almirola — The fresh prince of Tampa left Pocono on the downward spiral one week removed from his best finish of the 2015 season. Yes, the prince and RPM have a lot of work to do if they want to get back into Chase contention, but you knew that.
18. Greg Biffle — Four-time Michigan winner, Greg Biffle, certainly has shifted his momentum in recent weeks. RFR could be rewarded for their efforts this weekend by getting the team’s best driver into the Chase. Things have certainly changed for this orgarnization, but the Biff’s still a threat to win races at MIS.
19. Kyle Busch — Rowdy’s last three Michigan trips have resulted in finishes of 31st, 41st and 39th. Yikes, that’s not exactly what you want when ever race, at this point, means something.
20. Clint Bowyer — No doubt, watching former teammate Martin Truex Jr. celebrate in victory lane had to feel like a cold dagger to the heart for Clint Bowyer. MWR, perhaps, thought Bowyer would be the first to recover from the spin scandal.