It is hard to fathom that when the checkered flag waved on Sunday that even five days later the NASCAR world is still buzzing over one lap.  It was at that point the most exciting finish that NASCAR had seen in a long time, much less on a road course.

That one lap in time was worth the price of admission and excitement that it brought to the sport.  But how does NASCAR follow up a finish like that?

NASCAR and the entire field of drivers now go from making many right-hand turns to holding the accelerator at full bore for a majority of a lap.  The fastest track in NASCAR, thanks to a complete repaving, welcomes back the Sprint Cup Series to the Irish Hills.  A favorite of many teams, drivers and fans alike, the Michigan International Speedway has provided great memories and spectacular finishes in it's rich history.

If the previous race this year is any indication, there is a lot of anticipation this time around.  But now with the Chase just five races away, some drivers are in dire need of wins, while others are looking to lock in their spot in the title hunt.

It makes for exciting stories, and even better racing.  It also makes it hard for the writers to choose who to pick as their Chase for the Cup approaches as well.

Still, the picks are in, and here's who the 12-writer field has chosen for the Pure Michigan 400:

 

Misan Akuya:  Dale Earnhardt Jr.

That is right, JJunior Nation, Junior is going to bring out the broom this weekend.  He dominated the late stages of the first race and lead the most laps (95) on his way to his first win of the season and first win since 2008 four years ago in that same race.

Junior had two rough finishes and needs to get back on track for the Chase.  Michigan is the perfect place.

James Broomhead:  Kasey Kahne

No reason.

Kelly Crandall:  Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Why not, his luck as been going as good as mine lately.

Billy Fellin:  Tony Stewart

Smoke hasn't finished outside the Top-10 at MIS in the last five races there. Works for me.

Michael Hirshbein:  Kyle Busch

Last year's winner, looking for a repeat.

Christopher Leone:  Jimmie Johnson

Johnson has all the momentum right now, so there's my pick.

Kara Martin:  Greg Biffle

No reason.

Ryan O'Hara:  Jimmie Johnson

No reason.

Dustin Parks:  Carl Edwards

I had a tough time making my pick this week because there are so many good drivers to choose here.  You have Junior who won here in June, Kyle Busch who won this race a year ago, Jeff Gordon who needs at least one more win to get back in the Wild Card hunt.  Then guys like Johnson, Stewart, even Mark Martin...so many to go with.

But I actually got inspired by last week's Nationwide race and the man who won it.  Carl Edwards went to victory lane for the first time in any race this season last weekend, and no question getting back to doing the backflip had to give him a bit of extra swagger.

At Michigan, he's got two wins and averages a finish of 8.4, but what he needs is a win to even be in the hunt for a Wild Card spot.  So, I gotta go with the No. 99 Geek Squad Ford this weekend, just a gut feeling I've got.

Patti Rodisch:  Jimmie Johnson

Johnson has been strong everywhere this season. This team is hitting on all the right cylinders right now and they are going to need that at MIS. Horsepower and engines will be very common words we will hear over the weekend.

The teams that have the most horsepower will be the ones running up front. Johnson third place finish last week at the Glen pushed him to the front of the standings by just one point over Greg Biffle.

The warning shots were fired in May but Johnson this weekend will find victory lane again this season in the Irish Hills.

Sal Sigala Jr:  Jimmie Johnson

No reason.

Rob Tiongson:  Jeff Gordon

Based on the fact that he improved tremendously at Pocono and he actually ran well at Michigan in June, I look for him to duplicate his Pocono repave success with this third career win at this 2-mile superspeedway.


Standings following Watkins Glen:

Sal Sigala Jr. (794) Marcos Ambrose WON (3)

Billy Fellin (793) Marcos Ambrose WON (4)

Christopher Leone (746) Marcos Ambrose WON (2)

Kelly Crandall (726) Tony Stewart finished 19th (3)

Rob Tiongson (722) Marcos Ambrose WON (4)

Dustin Parks (706) Jeff Gordon finished 21st (1)

Misan Akuya (705) Tony Stewart finished 19th (1)

Ryan O'Hara (704) Jeff Gordon finished 21st (2)

James Broomhead (695) Marcos Ambrose WON (3)

Patti Rodisch (693) NO PICK SENT (2)

Kara Martin (674) Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 28th (1)

Michael Hirshbein (646) Kyle Busch finished 7th (1)

 

Final Thoughts:  The focus of this race has always been the endurance of the engines and how much fuel is left in the tank when it matters most.  The first race did not come down to that, but the thought is always on the minds of drivers and teams, even before the first practice begins.

Whatever the case may be, Michigan is always a fun track to watch and race at, so anything can happen when the green flag waves.

Coverage will begin at Noon ET on ESPN with "NASCAR Countdown" hosted by Nicole Briscoe and joined by Hall of Fame inductee Rusty Wallace, team owner Brad Daugherty and championship crew chief Ray Evernham.

 

Summary of Picks:

Jimmie Johnson-4

Dale Earnhardt Jr-2

Greg Biffle-1

Kyle Busch-1

Carl Edwards-1

Jeff Gordon-1

Kasey Kahne-1

Tony Stewart-1