Elliotts Second Home

There was a time when Bill Elliott was the king of Michigan. In the mid-1980s, if you beat Elliott at the two-mile track in the Irish Hills of Michigan, you beat Superman.

Elliott won his first race there in 1984, and then swept both races in 1985 and 1986. He won again in the fall of 1987, and, finally, in the spring of 1989, Elliott completed an impressive 7-for-11 streak.

Not only did Michigan become one of Elliott’s favorite tracks, it was also his home-away-from-home track. Though Elliott grew up in Dawsonville, Ga., he considered Michigan International Speedway home because his car owner, Harry Melling, was from nearby Jackson, Mich.

“Michigan is one of my favorite tracks,” Elliott said. “It’s very much a home track for me. I enjoy going there because I know so many people. It always reminds me of the early days with Harry Melling and Jim Knutson. Their support really meant a lot to me and my brothers.”

Elliott is the active leader in victories (seven) and poles (six) at Michigan, trailing David Pearson (nine) and Cale Yarborough (eight) in all-time victories and Pearson (10) in all-time pole winners. He just missed his seventh pole in qualifying on Friday.

Elliott has 16 top-five and 28 top-10 finishes in 47 career races at Michigan.

Most of his success was with brothers Ernie and Dan, who ran the Melling Racing team. Elliott drove for Junior Johnson for three years and then started his own team in 1995. This season, he joined Ray Evernham’s Dodge team.

The results have been sporadic this season. Recently, however, Elliott and the Dodge have run well. In the past four races, he has one Top 5 (at Pocono) and three Top 10s. Last week, Elliott was headed to a top-10 finish before an on-track incident dropped him to 24th.

In June at Michigan, Elliott was ninth. This time, the Intrepid has some aerodynamic help, getting a 2-inch “kickout” of the front air dam.

“Michigan is the kind of place where we could have a good run,” Elliott said. “We’ve got to sort out this change to the Dodge and see what happens. We had a good first race there. We weren’t bad at Indy, and that will help us at Michigan. We’ll just have to see. A lot of people finish the race there.

“It’s a short race. It’s a competitive race. There are usually a bunch of guys that run well there. It’s the type of track that is pretty good for getting up through traffic. Aero is definitely a factor. The guy in the lead has the advantage. The way things are now, it’s a little too aero-sensitive. The rest of the guys can’t get caught up.”

Elliott and his team have been trying to catch up, too. Evernham led Dodge’s return to the series, and running the two-car team with Elliott and rookie Casey Atwood has proven difficult. But Evernham has adjusted to his role as car owner, and the Elliott and Atwood teams have worked to get better.

The rule change might eventually help, but the cars are so refined that any change means more work because you have to adjust the chassis setup.

“We’ve learned a lot lately,” Elliott said. “We’re sorting this stuff out. But we’re getting better each week. It will come with time. The change to a new car with a new motor is pretty dramatic. We’re taking it one step at a time. We’ve just got to keep working in the right direction. The recent changes hampered our setups from what we tested, but we’ll be OK.”

Coming back to Michigan has to help, even if it’s a simple confidence booster. Maybe Elliott can be unbeatable again.

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