* Former champion Busch on the Chase bubble * Kasey Kahne hopes for a Michigan sweep NEWS AND NOTES Busch Hopes to Follow Kenseth Model ... Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge) is not having the success he hoped for in his first season with...
* Former champion Busch on the Chase bubble
* Kasey Kahne hopes for a Michigan sweep
NEWS AND NOTES
Busch Hopes to Follow Kenseth Model ... Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge) is not having the success he hoped for in his first season with Penske Racing South. The former series champion finished 38th in the Daytona 500 and has not been able to recover. He has yet to reach the top 10 yet this year, but still has gradually pulled into contention for a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup.
Busch's season has mirrored the 2005 season of his former teammate Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Ford). Kenseth finished 42nd in last year's Daytona 500 and spent the next 25 races inching towards a spot in the Chase. After Watkins Glen last year, Kenseth was in 16th place, 165 points out of 10th. Busch is currently in 12th place, but finds himself 172 points behind 10th place Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet).
The road to the Chase looks to be easier for Busch than it was for Kenseth. At the four remaining tracks in the Race to the Chase (Michigan International Speedway, Bristol Motor Speedway, California Speedway and Richmond International Raceway), Busch has a Driver Rating of 105.8 -- third highest of all drivers. He has won at least one race at each of the four tracks, including five victories at Bristol, and is the defending race winner at Richmond. Although he needs four strong performances if he wants to make the Chase, a win will take him that much closer. After all, Kenseth finally made the jump into the top 10 after winning at Bristol last August.
Kasey Kahne Hanging On ... Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge) needs to regain his early season form in order for his team to compete for the championship. After jumping out of the gates to four wins in the first 15 races, Kahne has faded lately, dropping to 11th in the point standings. The team was as high as third in the point standings after winning the first Michigan race of the year, but has only finished in the top 10 once since then.
The first step for Kahne is to repeat his performance at Michigan. Kahne was able to win the first race at the track because of his speed on the straightaways. Kahne was the Fastest Driver on the Backstretch at 180.053 mph and second Fastest on the Frontstretch at 183.813 mph. A closer look at the Loop Data shows that Kahne was second Fastest in Turns 2 and 4. He was able to use his momentum coming out of the turns to propel down the long straightaways. Maintaining a good car for long runs also helped Kahne. He was the third Fastest Driver Late in a Run, averaging 172.919 mph over the last 25% of green-flag runs.
Keys to Victory: Proper Cornering, Aerodynamics are Key to Victory at Michigan ...
Michigan International Speedway is a 2-mile track with 18 degrees of banking in the corners. The track has long straightaways that make the aerodynamic set up of the car an important factor. There are several keys to consider when developing a game plan for Michigan:
Proper cornering is of the utmost importance. Drivers must carry their speed through the corners as they approach the long straightaways. It is vital to have a car that rolls through the center of the corners. Drivers must find their groove. With more than one groove to choose from on the wide track, a driver needs to pick the groove that he is most comfortable in. Engines are critical. The 2-mile track puts a lot of strain on engines. Teams must prepare their engines to last the full 400 miles. Aerodynamic setup is key. Drivers build up a lot of speed on the long straightaways and must have the right aerodynamic setup. Finding the delicate balance between the proper downforce and drag could mean all the difference.
In The Loop: The Numbers Don't Lie -- Bubble Drivers Excel at Michigan ... If past performance is an indication of future success, expect a shakeup of the top 10 following Sunday's race at Michigan. Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards and Kurt Busch occupy the top three spots in Driver Rating (121.5, 113.5 and 108.5) and Average Running Position (6.533, 7.367 and 8.389) in the Michigan pre-race Loop Data. Only five drivers currently in the top 10 in points are in the top 10 in Driver Rating at the track, and Kevin Harvick (No. 29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet) is the lowest with the 24th-best Driver Rating of 68.6. With only 153 points separating fourth and 10th, there is a good opportunity to gain -- or lose -- positions in the standings.
Among drivers that have performed well at Michigan, having a fast car Late in a Run has been a key factor. Since the Loop Data technology was introduced last season there have been five drivers who have averaged a top-10 finish at Michigan -- Tony Stewart (3.5), Biffle (3.7), Edwards (3.7), Matt Kenseth (6.7) and Busch (9.3). All five of those drivers are among the top eight Fastest Late in a Run.
Another key stat shows that Biffle, Busch, Kasey Kahne and Edwards are the top four drivers in Fastest Laps Run. One of the four drivers has had the fastest lap in 196 of the 529 laps run at Michigan (37.1%). Those four drivers have combined to lead 230 laps.
On the Right Track ... Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) has finished in the top 10 in five consecutive races at Michigan. That is the longest active streak. ... Since falling out of the top 10 in points after New Hampshire International Speedway, Tony Stewart has reeled off three consecutive top 10s and is seventh in the standings. ... Kevin Harvick has six straight top-10 finishes in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series and seven straight in the NASCAR Busch Series. The last time he finished outside the top 10 in any race was at Infineon Raceway on June 25 when he finished 24th. He finished 19th in the NASCAR Busch Series race at Milwaukee Mile the day before. ... There have been 12 different race winners in the past 14 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup races at Michigan. Greg Biffle and Ryan Newman (No. 12 Alltel Dodge) are the only repeat race winners since August 1999 and both posted back-to-back victories. ... Mark Martin (No. 6 AAA Ford) leads all active drivers with 26 top-10 finishes at Michigan. ... Brian Vickers (No. 25 GMAC Chevrolet) and Scott Wimmer (No. 4 Morgan-McClure Motorsports Chevrolet) are both expected to make their 100th series starts this weekend.
Pit Crew Spotlight: Roush Racing has Several Ties to Michigan ... Team owner Jack Roush resides in Northville, Mich., about 55 miles from Michigan International Speedway. Four of his NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series teams also have crew members who call Michigan home. The following five crew members hail from towns within an hour of MIS: Justin Hines, No. 16 -- engine tuner (Garden City), Mike Janow, No. 6 -- team engineer (Howell), Dave McDonald, No. 17 -- shock specialist and catch can (Clinton), Dale Merwin, No. 6 -- second gas can (Allen Park) and Eric Slade, No. 99 -- shock specialist and catch can (Hillsdale).
Chevrolet Extends Win Streak ... Kevin Harvick's victory at Watkins Glen International this past Sunday gave Chevrolet its seventh straight win and 14th of the season. The streak could be in jeopardy this weekend -- a Chevrolet has not won at Michigan since Jeff Gordon's victory in June of 2001.
Chevrolet has 168 points and has pulled out to a 43-point lead over Dodge and Ford who are tied at 125. Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) leads all Chevrolet drivers with four victories. Kasey Kahne is tied for the series lead in victories with Johnson. His four are the highest among Dodge drivers. Matt Kenseth has two victories, highest among Ford drivers.
Setting The Field: Top 35 in 2006 Owner Points "Locked In" ... Each week, teams ranked in the top 35 of the current NASCAR NEXTEL Cup car owner point standings are guaranteed starting positions, creating a "bubble" between the top 35 and those teams outside of 35th, trying to reach that position. At this juncture -- early in the season's second half -- the bubble remains a precarious place.
After calling in road-course specialist Scott Pruett at Watkins Glen International, the No. 40 Coors Light Dodge owned by Felix Sabates has moved up three spots off the bubble. The No. 14 Ginn Clubs & Resorts Chevrolet owned by Bobby Ginn and driven by Sterling Marlin has slipped down into the 35th and final locked-in position following a 39th-place finish last week.
Raybestos Rookie Update ... Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Freight Chevrolet) captured his 12th Raybestos Rookie of the Race Award in 22 races to extend his lead in the Raybestos Rookie of the Year standings to 44 points. Hamlin now has 233 points to second-place Clint Bowyer's (No. 07 Jack Daniel's Chevrolet) 189 points. Reed Sorenson (No. 41 Target Dodge) is third with 173, followed by Martin Truex Jr. (No. 1 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Chevrolet) with 160 and J.J. Yeley (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet) with 156.
Where in The World is Ken Schrader? ... Ken Schrader (No. 21 Little Debbie Ford) continues to be the busiest driver out there. In addition to the 22 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series events thus far this year, Schrader has competed in 55 other events. ... Beginning Tuesday, Schrader will have a plate full of racing this week. He will run Tuesday at Carolina Speedway in Gastonia, N.C. On Wednesday, he heads to Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio. Thursday night, Schrader will race at K-C Raceway in Chillicothe, Ohio before heading to Michigan International Speedway.
Schrader's 2006 race totals to date
NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series -- 22
NASCAR Busch Series -- 6
Budweiser Shootout -- 1
Copper World -- 2
Short track (dirt, late-model, etc.) -- 46
On Deck: Sharpie 500 ... Race No. 24 on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series schedule will be Saturday, Aug. 26 (7 p.m. EDT, TNT) -- the Sharpie 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway. This will be the series' second visit there this season. Matt Kenseth is the defending race champion after starting the race from the pole position.
The race: GFS Marketplace 400 (Race No. 23 of the 36-race NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series season)
The place: Michigan International Speedway, Brooklyn, Mich.
The date/time: Sunday, Aug. 20, 2:30 p.m. (EDT)
TV: TNT, 2 p.m. (EDT).
Radio: MRN/XM Satellite
Posted awards: $5,028,926
Race length: 400 miles, 200 laps
Track layout: 2-mile oval
2005 winner: Jeremy Mayfield
2005 polesitter: Joe Nemechek
NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10: 1. Jimmie Johnson 3,241. 2. Matt Kenseth 3,117. 3. Kevin Harvick 2,918. 4. Jeff Burton 2,879. 5. Kyle Busch 2,871. 6. Mark Martin 2,815. 7. Tony Stewart 2,794. 8. Denny Hamlin 2,782. 9. Jeff Gordon 2,756. 10. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 2,726.
Practice/Qualifying Schedule: Friday -- Practice, 11:35 a.m. -- 1 p.m. Qualifying, 3:10 p.m. Saturday -- Practice, 9 -- 10 a.m. Final Practice, 10:35 -- 11:20 a.m.