NASCAR: “Roushkateers” on rebound in Michigan qualifying

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This past June at their traditional stronghold of Michigan International Speedway, Roush Fenway Racing struggled mightily, with Greg Biffle leading the stable with a 20th place finish.

It was a loud reminder of how much RFR has struggled in 2014, outside of Carl Edwards’ two wins at Bristol and Sonoma that secured his place in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

But two months later, the team’s seemingly in position to have a revival this Sunday at MIS.

In today’s qualifying for the Pure Michigan 400, Edwards, Biffle, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. followed up their strong practice speeds by making the final round of 12.

Edwards will start third on Sunday, while Stenhouse and Biffle won’t be too far back in 10th and 11th respectively. Those are good places to be in as they seek a payoff on their hard work in a test session at MIS last month.

“I believe at this point, we did the right thing,” Edwards said after qualifying in reference to the test. “I feel like we have a very fast car here, and yeah, it shows us that we’re doing the right thing. We’re working on things. It is paying off.

“Now, the race is another story. But we’re gonna enjoy this today. It’s been a lot of work for a lot of people and hopefully, we keep moving forward. We’ve been making progress and this is a good step.”

Edwards was one of several drivers to break the old track record in today’s qualifying session before Jeff Gordon rose up to take the pole with a stellar lap of 206.558 mph; Edwards came close in the final round by popping a 206.115.

The Missouri native credited Goodyear for being able to build a tire that can stand up to the forces endured as cars whip through MIS’ wide turns.

“As a driver…You start thinking about the fact that there’s just a little bit of rubber and some air holding that car up – with that much force on it – I have to stop thinking about it, because it’s pretty amazing,” Edwards said.

As for Stenhouse and Biffle, they were equally glad to see improvements.

“It has been awhile since we were able to put our [Ford] Fusion in the final round and it was nice to do that here at Michigan and it is nice to start the weekend off on the right note,” Stenhouse said. “Obviously we would like to be a bit higher up the board, but I will take it.

Said Biffle: “It is a huge improvement from June. We still have a little ways to go though. I didn’t want to come here and run 10th, but I felt like if we came here and legitimately ran 10th on speed then that would be a huge improvement. I am looking for pieces. We aren’t going to get it all at once. [But] I feel good about that. It is a start. We still have some to go and I don’t know exactly where the rest of it is at but we will keep working on it and see where we end up.”

Here’s who were picking to win the Indy 500 — who are YOU picking?

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Several members of the NBC Sports motorsports staff have made their predictions on who will win Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Of the six voters, two are going with 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series champ Josef Newgarden, while two others are going with Helio Castroneves to win a fourth 500, which would tie him with A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears.

Here’s our picks. Who are YOU picking?

Leigh Diffey: Helio Castroneves — He drives the place better than anyone else. For me (for what its worth) he deserves a fourth 500 ring for the frustration he went through never getting the IndyCar title!

Townsend Bell: Josef Newgarden

Nate Ryan: Simon Pagenaud — All of his 2018 misfortune on the track has disappeared in May, and it culminates in the biggest victory of his career.

Jerry Bonkowski: Helio Castroneves – There’s no pressure as he pursues his fourth Indy 500 win. All Helio has to do, as late NFL owner Al Davis would say, is “Just win, baby!” (But if Helio falls short, watch for Marco Andretti)

Kyle Lavigne: Josef Newgarden — I think he has everything he needs to get it done this year.

Dan Beaver: Robert Wickens – Has driven like anything except a rookie and his second-place finish at Phoenix proves he’s just as good on an oval as the road courses.

Follow: Jerry Bonkowski