Michigan II: Round 23 preview

* 12th-Place 'Bubble' Drama Building As Chase Approaches * On The Line: 13th-place Newman Guest On Teleconference 12th Place Offers No Sanctity, With Chase Approaching DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Aug. 14, 2007) -- Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite ...

* 12th-Place 'Bubble' Drama Building As Chase Approaches
* On The Line: 13th-place Newman Guest On Teleconference

12th Place Offers No Sanctity, With Chase Approaching

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Aug. 14, 2007) -- Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge) is in 12th place in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup point standings, coming into Sunday's 3M Performance 400 at Michigan International Speedway.

It's a good place to be -- but by no means secure.

Trailing Busch are two other drivers within immediate -- meaning, one race -- striking distance of 12th: 13th-place Ryan Newman (No. 12 Alltel Dodge) and 14th-place Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet). Newman is 96 points behind Busch; Earnhardt is 100 back.

Beyond those two are several drivers who could be considered longshots but nonetheless have four precious weeks remaining to make up ground and perhaps qualify for the 12-driver Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup which begins Sept. 16 at New Hampshire International Speedway.

Greg Biffle (No. 16 3M Ford) is 15th, 212 behind Busch; Casey Mears (No. 25 National Guard/GMAC Chevrolet) is 16th, 298 behind; Jamie McMurray (No. 26 IRWIN Industrial Tools Ford) is 17th, 316 back.

Michigan is a great track for this battle to begin. Busch has an MIS win to his credit while Newman and Biffle have two apiece. Biffle has an outstanding MIS Driver Rating of 109.9, second only to the series-best 114.2 of Carl Edwards (No. 99 Office Depot Ford).

Race To The Chase, Round 7: 'Playoff' Berths Beckon

With a ninth-place finish at Watkins Glen International this past Sunday, Jeff Gordon clinched a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup -- the earliest a driver has locked up a spot since the Chase's 2004 inception.

At Michigan International Speedway, a few other drivers may follow Gordon's lead. Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Kinko's Chevrolet), Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Ford) and Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet) all will have legitimate shots at clinching Chase berths.

The "magic number" is 586. If a driver is 586 points ahead of the 13th-place driver after Sunday's race, he clinches a spot.

Currently, Hamlin is 604 points ahead of 13th-place Newman. Kenseth is 519 in front of Newman and Stewart is 506 ahead

Of the three potential clinchers, Kenseth could be the "most likely" based on past success at Michigan: 10 top-10 finishes in 16 starts including two victories, an average finish of 10.1 and a solid Michigan-specific Driver Rating of 101.4, third-best in the series. (Driver Rating is compiled from an amalgam of electronic-scoring Loop Data gathered since the start of the 2005 season.)

Seeding Situation: Drivers Vie For Bonus Points

The battle for Chase "seedings" continues to intensify.

After 22 races in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup season, 13 different drivers have won races and earned potential bonus points to bolster their effort in the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup.

Starting this season, make no mistake: "Emphasis On Winning" is the new catchphrase but it's also much more than that. Race victories are indeed more important than ever. Here's why:

The 12 drivers qualifying for the Chase will have their point totals "reset" to 5,000. They then will have bonus points -- 10 for each victory during the 26 races preceding the Chase -- applied. Of the 13 race winners thus far this year, nine are in the series standings' top 12. The only driver outside the top 12 is Jamie McMurray, who won the Pepsi 400 last month at Daytona International Speedway. McMurray is 17th in points, coming into Michigan.

Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) and Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet), first and seventh in the standings this week, currently stand to benefit the most from the bonus points. Each has four wins and potentially 40 bonus points, which would make them the top two seeds to start the Chase with 5,040 points apiece.

Seeding ties are broken by the comparison of drivers' best finishes beyond victories. The increased emphasis on race victories is not lost on drivers. Here's what some are saying about the importance of accruing bonus points.

* Jeff Gordon: "Every point is crucial during the final 10 races, so any bonus points you get before the Chase begins is a huge benefit. And it's all about the bonus points for us right now, so we can be risky. We can afford to lose some points by taking bigger risks and possibly getting those bonus points. With wins comes momentum."

* Tony Stewart: "The big thing is to just get as many wins as you can get before the Chase starts to get those bonus points. Whether you're first or 12th doesn't matter. It's how many races you can win in the meantime."

On The Line: Newman Talks About Chase Chances On Weekly Teleconference

Ryan Newman is "slightly south" of the Chase "bubble" heading into the 3M Performance 400, 96 points behind 12th-place Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge) -- his teammate at Penske Racing South. Tuesday, on the weekly NASCAR Teleconference, Newman talked about the outlook for his team going into this week's events, and the chance of moving up in the standings.

Q: Ryan, you have had some really good success at Michigan in the past, two victories there, seems like a good week to be going back to that track. How do you feel about your chances of making a move up the standings this week?

Newman: I think we have got a good opportunity. This past weekend in itself was a good opportunity we didn't per say capitalize on it, but we made some small gains. So I look forward to Michigan. It is a fun race track, as far as a driver goes, you can do some really good racing there. Like you said we have been in Victory Lane before; so we are still looking for our first win of the season but our first win of the last two seasons. So we have got some work ahead of us. I think that we will have the capabilities now, it is just a matter of getting the job done.

Q: With you and Kurt battling for that final Chase spot, how does that change the dynamic of the teamwork? Is it fair to say teammates don't mean that much when there is so much on the line between you guys?

Newman: Well, my best answer for you there is we're not competing against each other. We have two teams going for the last two spots in the Chase, and that is how we look at it. Obviously, we are 96 points out of 12th but Kurt isn't too far behind. Eleventh and 10th is close to us too. So with four races to go, there still is plenty of opportunity for both of us to get into the Chase.

Take Ownership: No. 21 Has Crucial 35th Spot In Owners Points

At Bill Elliott's invitation, Boris Said was a stand-in for Elliott this past Sunday at Watkins Glen International in the No. 21 Little Debbie Ford owned by Glen Wood -- and the road-course ace responded with a 14th-place finish that boosted the team into 35th in owner points. That gives the team a guaranteed berth for the 3M Performance 400. Such top-35 status was the goal earlier this season when Wood tabbed Elliott to take over the No. 21, knowing that if Elliott didn't qualify the car on time, he would have six "past champion" provisionals to rely on, to get the Ford into the field. (Teams outside the top 35 in owner points must rely on qualifying times to make the race.)

Prior to Watkins Glen, Elliott posted a string of solid runs that inched the No. 21 closer to the top 35 "bubble."

Said provided the breakthrough.

"I still can't believe the gesture from Bill to allow me to drive," Said commented afterward.

"I hope he and the rest of the guys think it all worked out OK. They're such a great group of guys and I was really honored to be able to run a race in the famed 21 car. I can't say enough about it -- it was a thrill."

Added Elliott: "I've received a lot of attention for turning the wheel over last weekend, but I certainly believe it was the right thing to do. It got us back in the top 35."

-credit: nascar

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Bill Elliott , Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Tony Stewart , Boris Said , Greg Biffle , Kurt Busch , Ryan Newman , Casey Mears , Jimmie Johnson , Jamie McMurray , Carl Edwards , Denny Hamlin
Teams Team Penske