Michigan II: News of note, schedule

* Earnhardt Combative, Confident Regarding His Chase Chances * Kyle Busch Says 'Comfort Level' Led To JGR Deal * On The Air: ESPN Debuts 'NASCAR In Primetime' Keys to Victory Michigan International Speedway is fast and wide, allowing for ...

* Earnhardt Combative, Confident Regarding His Chase Chances
* Kyle Busch Says 'Comfort Level' Led To JGR Deal
* On The Air: ESPN Debuts 'NASCAR In Primetime'

Keys to Victory

Michigan International Speedway is fast and wide, allowing for the multiple-groove racing that drivers love.

MIS gives drivers many options, enabling them to run on the bottom of the 2-mile oval or on the top -- or in between. No matter which way around is chosen, there are some constants to consider -- and respect -- at Michigan.

* Using the draft is paramount, as MIS is one of the fastest tracks in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series.

* Fuel mileage always comes into play because there are a lot of green flag pit stops. Crew chiefs have to be on their games, managing the fuel mileage numbers.

* Pit crews must handle the pressure of those green-flag stops. Make a mistake during a pit stop under yellow and you might lose a few positions. Making a mistake at Michigan during a green-flag stop can cost you a half a lap sometimes.

In The Loop: Earnhardt, Johnson, Roush Fenway Have The Numbers at MIS

If Chevrolet hopes to end its Michigan International Speedway 12-race winless drought, the burden may fall on a driver battling to get back into the top 12 -- Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Over the last five races, only Jimmie Johnson has been more successful than Earnhardt at MIS among Chevy drivers.

Earnhardt has a Michigan Driver Rating of 99.0 (sixth-best), an Average Running Position of 11.2 (fourth-best), 49 Fastest Laps Run (seventh-best), 648 Laps in the Top 15 (fifth-best) and 229 Quality Passes -- passes of cars in the top 15 under green -- which is third-most. With four races remaining before the field is set for the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup, Earnhardt sits 100 points behind 12th-place Kurt Busch in the series standings. He has three consecutive top-10 finishes at Michigan.

Johnson could halt the Chevy drought as well -- and stop a winless drought of his own in the process. Johnson has not won a race since May 6 at Richmond, a span of 12 races. But Johnson has excelled at the 2-mile Michigan layout. Over the past five races, Johnson has a Driver Rating of 100.6 (fourth-best), an Average Running Position of 11.2 (third-best), 64 Fastest Laps Run (third-most), 732 Laps in the Top 15 (third-most).

Recently, drivers in the Roush Fenway Racing stable have grabbed the Michigan hardware. Carl Edwards snapped a winless drought of 52-races in June with a win at MIS, and Matt Kenseth returns as the defending champion of this race.

Edwards, with an average finish of 6.8 at MIS, leads all drivers in Driver Rating (114.2), Average Running Position (7.6), Fastest Laps Run (76), Laps in the Top 15 (806) and Quality Passes (274).

Kenseth, who had an early exit in June because of an accident, has an MIS Driver Rating of 101.4 (third-best).

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Still Eyeing Chase

As this week's Loop Data report indicates (see page 3), the 100-point gap between Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the top 12 could be trimmed this weekend.

Earnhardt offered some stern words this week to compliment the hard numbers. The collective message is clear: He's going nowhere, in the Race to the Chase slugfest.

"I'm sure some people are gonna write us off for the Chase after our problems at Watkins Glen," said Earnhardt, who finished 42nd at the Glen because of engine problems.

"But, I think it's foolish to do so because we're a great team and we're gonna do everything we can to scratch and claw and fight for wins and every position on every lap.

"We have four races coming up at four tracks where we've been very, very good lately. No one has been better or more consistent at Michigan than we have the last few years. We're taking our favorite car -- chassis No. 39 -- that we've been using there and it just seems to really get up and go at Michigan."

In 16 starts at Michigan, Earnhardt has five top-10 finishes including a career-best third last summer. Also, in the summer races of 2000 and 2002 at MIS, he captured the Bud Pole.

There's more to boost Earnhardt's confidence. In the last three MIS events, he has the best average finish (4.6) of any driver -- finishing third and sixth in 2006 then finishing fifth at MIS two months ago. In the same period, only one other driver, Jeff Gordon, has three top-10 finishes at Michigan. Earnhardt has led in the last four Michigan races.

Kyle Busch To JGR

Kyle Busch (No. 5 Kellogg's/CARQUEST Chevrolet) is headed to Joe Gibbs Racing next year, it was announced Wednesday, ending weeks of speculation about where Busch might land after leaving Hendrick Motorsports.

Here's how Busch explained the move:

"After talking with a lot of different teams and visiting their shops, Joe Gibbs Racing is where I want to be ... the moment I saw the shop and began talking with Joe and J.D. Gibbs, there was a level of comfort that made me feel like this is where I belong. I want to win races and championships, and Joe Gibbs Racing's three-car/one-team philosophy gives me the best opportunity to do that."

Atlanta Test Added

NASCAR NEXTEL Cup teams will test at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Oct. 29-30 (Monday and Tuesday). The two-day test will be with the Car of Tomorrow only. Teams will test from 9 a.m.-Noon and 1-5 p.m. both days.

The next scheduled NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series test is Sept. 10-11 at Talladega.

On Deck: Night Spectacle Set At Bristol

In Round 8 of the "Race to the Chase," Matt Kenseth will try to win the Sharpie 500 for the third consecutive time next Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway's .533-oval.

Select company awaits, if Kenseth can pull it off. Only two drivers have won the event three straight years: Cale Yarborough (1976-78) and Darrell Waltrip (1981-83), who also are three-time NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series champions.

NNCS, Etc. ...

Contemporary blues musician Jimmie Vaughan will perform a guitar rendition of the national anthem prior to the 3M Performance 400. Vaughan's a good fit; the former Fabulous Thunderbirds member is also a noted designer of classic and custom cars, with his work featured in publications such as Rod & Custom, Rodder's Journal, and Custom Rodder. His first restoration was a 1951 Chevrolet Fleetwood. ... schemes in celebration of the classic car's milestone. ... Ricky Rudd (No. 88 Snickers Ford) is slated to make his 60th MIS start on Sunday, extending his all-time series lead in that category. Rudd has completed 10,408 laps at MIS, also an all-time best. ... Bill Elliott also has two all-time Michigan records, for top-10 finishes (29) and lead-lap finishes (30), sharing the latter mark with Mark Martin (No. 01 U.S. Army Chevrolet). ... David Stremme (No. 40 CGRFS Dodge) will return to his hometown of South Bend, Ind. on Tues., Aug. 21 for "David Stremme Day" as proclaimed by South Bend Mayor Stephen J. Luecke. Stremme will take part in a fan-friendly event at the Century Center in downtown South Bend from 5-9 p.m. The event will also raise funds for "Coaches Vs. Cancer," headed locally by Notre Dame Basketball coach Mike Brey, as well as St. Jude's Children's Hospital.

***

The Race: 3M Performance 400

The Place: Michigan International Speedway
The Date: Sunday, August 19

The Time: 2 p.m. (ET)
TV: ESPN, 1 p.m. (ET)

The Track: 2-mile oval
The Distance: 400 miles/200 laps

The Purse: $5,138,579

2006 Winner: Matt Kenseth
2006 Pole: Jeff Burton

Pre-Race Schedule (local/ET time): Friday -- Practice, 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Qualifying, 3:10 p.m.; Saturday -- Practice, 10-10:50 a.m. and 1:50-2:50 p.m.

-credit: nascar

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Burton , Bill Elliott , Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Kurt Busch , Jimmie Johnson , Carl Edwards , David Stremme , Cale Yarborough , Kyle Busch , Mark Martin
Teams Hendrick Motorsports , Roush Fenway Racing , Joe Gibbs Racing