Michigan II: Series round 23 preview

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series News & Notes -- Michigan Majority of Top 12 Drivers Know How To Win In Irish Hills There are eight drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Top 10 that won't need directions to Victory Lane at Michigan ...

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series News & Notes -- Michigan

Majority of Top 12 Drivers Know How To Win In Irish Hills

There are eight drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Top 10 that won't need directions to Victory Lane at Michigan International Speedway.

One -- Mark Martin (No. 5 GoDaddy Chevrolet) -- could find it in his sleep after five wins there. So why do some of NASCAR's top drivers love racing in the Irish Hills so much?

"I like a track where the driver can make somewhat of a difference," said Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota), the winner at MIS in June. "Your car's not always going to be perfect, but you can almost make it that way by the way you drive there."

Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet), who has two wins at MIS, said "Whether it's on a doublefile restart late in the race or just racing one guy ahead of you, there are a lot of places to go here ... we can get fanned out and run multiple grooves in the corners and down the straightaways. That makes this one of the best tracks we race on in my opinion."

For Martin, there are no guarantees, even at a track where he's so strong and as he sits in 12th spot in point.

"This team is improving every week, we just have to keep that going in Michigan," Martin said. "It's a good feeling to be back in there (Top 12), but it's not at all a relief. We have four races to go. Anything can happen."

Drivers Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge), Carl Edwards (No. 99 AFLAC Ford), Matt Kenseth (No. 17 Crown Royal Ford) and Greg Biffle (No. 16 3M Ford) all have two wins at MIS, while Tony Stewart (No. 14 Office Depot Chevrolet) has one.

Roush Drivers Rally, Want Another Win For Jack

With a record-setting 11 owner wins (tied with Glen Wood) and three drivers -- Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth -- sitting in the Top 12 coming into Michigan, Jack Roush should have reason to be optimistic.

All three have two wins each at the 2-mile oval.

But as the team's patriarch recovers from a plane crash last month, his drivers are thinking big picture.

"A win at Michigan would be huge, but right now any wins we can get for Ford and Roush Fenway are great. ... It is what we have to do," said Edwards, currently ninth in points with 2,821. "We are on the step, this is the way Jack described it. We have a chance to either step up or step down.

"That would be huge, and Michigan would be a great place to take that next step."

Bubble Drivers Have Four More Races To Make The Chase

With only four races left in the "Race to the Chase," 13th-place Clint Bowyer (No. 33 Cheerios/ Hamburger Helper Chevrolet) knows what he needs to do to get in the Top 12 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup points standings.

"We just need to focus on each race, individually, and perform like we're capable of performing," Bowyer said. "Our finishes the last two races are not necessarily signs of how good our cars have run.

"We're better than those results. We just need to prove by finishing well the next few weeks."

A mere 10 points separate Bowyer and 12th-place Mark Martin after Bowyer's disappointing finish at Watkins Glen International. And though he's not worried, Bowyer is feeling the heat with tracks like Michigan, Bristol, Atlanta and Richmond on deck.

"The pressure is definitely there, but with the way our cars are running, we're still looking ahead," he said.

"We took a hit in the points the last two races, but I'm not too worried just yet. There are still four races left, all at different tracks. So, there's a lot of racing left and plenty of time to get a lot of things accomplished."

Other drivers sitting outside of the Top 12 but within 100 points include Ryan Newman (No. 39 Tornados Chevrolet) in 14th and Jamie McMurray (No. 1 Philips Norelco Chevrolet) in 15th. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 National Guard "Driver the Guard"/AMP Energy Chevrolet) is 121 points out of 12th place.

Michigan could be a lucky charm for Earnhardt Jr. -- it's where he got his last win, in 2008.

Bonus Plan: Johnson, Hamlin Knotted Atop Seeding Standings

For those comfortably inside the top 12 of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings, the mantra is this: "Bonus points; must get bonus points."

After race No. 26 at Richmond, the top 12 drivers will have their points reset to 5,000. Then, 10 bonus points will be added for each win during the first 26 races.

With four races left in the "regular season," just 40 potential points remain. Ten of those just went to Juan Pablo Montoya (No 42 Target Chevrolet), who played spoiler last week. Likely out of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup hunt, Montoya's win at Watkins Glen meant 10 bonus probably vanished.

The statistics going into Michigan suggest that won't happen this Sunday.

Of the current top 12, 10 are ranked in the to top 12 in pre-race Driver Rating at Michigan. The two who aren't: points leader Kevin Harvick (No. 19 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet) [ranked 16th in Driver Rating] and Jeff Burton (No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet) [ranked 18th].

Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) will likely wage the fiercest battle for the precious points. The two are tied atop the bonus points standings, with five wins -- and 50 potential bonus points -- apiece.

They are also both tremendous at Michigan -- even though the two-mile venue remains one of four active tracks at which Johnson has yet to win (the others are Homestead, Watkins Glen and Chicagoland).

The statistics suggest that a Johnson win will come sooner than later. Two notes about Johnson at Michigan:

Ignore the finishes. Three of Johnson's last four Michigan finishes have been outside the top 15. But in those races his Driver Ratings were at least 97.8. In this race last year, Johnson had an Average Running Position of 2.9, a Driver Rating of 124.0, but a finish of 33rd.

He's consistent. His Driver Rating over the past 11 races -- 110.7 -- is second best in the series behind Carl Edwards. Over that span, he leads in Laps Led (429), Fastest Laps Run (252) and Quality Pass percentage (71.5%).

As for Hamlin, this weekend couldn't come at a better time. He's finished outside the top 10 in five of the last seven races, including a 37thplace run last Sunday at Watkins Glen.

But at Michigan, Hamlin excels.

Hamlin has three consecutive top 10s at Michigan, including a dominant win last June.

In that race, Hamlin had an Average Running Position of 2.3 and a Driver Rating over 145.5 (a perfect rating is 150.0). In each of his last three Michigan races, Hamlin scored a Driver Rating over 100.0.

Overall, in nine starts there, Hamlin has a Driver Rating of 98.4, an Average Running Position of 11.0, 80 Fastest Laps Run and the top 15 percentage of 74.5%.

Great Lakes State: Not Only Home To Manufacturers

Races at Michigan International Speedway hold more than home state pride for one thirdgeneration driver.

For Brad Keselowski (No. 12 Penske Dodge), it's about being on team owner Roger Penske's turf.

"It's in Dodge's backyard and we certainly know how important of a race it is for them," Keselowski said.

"They've been a tremendous help to our program this year and to get them in Victory Lane would be awesome."

Wins anywhere would be good right now. Dodge is fourth in manufacturer points with 93, nine behind third place Ford (102), and 65 behind leader Chevrolet (158).

But aside from pleasing the boss, Keselowski has a more personal reason.

"It's one of those tracks that mean so much to me and my family," he said. "I remember going there watching my dad race back when I was a little kid and can remember coming through that tunnel amazed at how big this place was to me.

"I have a lot of family and friends up there that don't get to see me race very much in person. That alone makes it special."

Keselowski has never won at the track he calls home -- his best finish is 24th. His only NASCAR Sprint Cup win came in 2009 at Talladega Superspeedway.

Brad Keselowski (left) Driver No. 12 Penske Dodge Rochester Hills

Jonathan Billy Rear Tire Changer No. 33 Cheerios Chevrolet Detroit

Jake Brzozwski Rear Tire Changer No. 82 Red Bull Toyota Sterling Heights

Dave Elenz Engineer No. 82 Red Bull Toyota Gaylord

Kevin Meendering Engineer No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet Grand Rapids

Jason Hedlesky Spotter No. 99 Aflac Ford Clinton

Stevie Reeves Spotter No. 98 Menards Ford Lansing

Gary Frost Mechanic No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet Romeo

Bobby Clark Mechanic No. 18 M&M's Toyota Wyandotte

Eric Bilyeu Front Tire Changer No. 42 Target Chevrolet Waterford

Andrew Turner Jack Man No. 39 Tornados Chevrolet Coloma

Bill Ferguson Jack Man No. 33 Cheerios Chevrolet White Lake

Noah Hein Transport Driver No. 99 Aflac Ford Portage

Vickers Credits Fans For Helping Him Through Tough Year, Vows Return to Track

After winning last year's CARFAX 400 from the pole and giving Red Bull Racing its first win in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Brian Vickers is "itching to get back to racing."

"I hate that I won't be back this year, but I am very excited to return next year to defend our title," he said.

Sidelined earlier this season after an emergency hospital stay, Vickers has been spotted at track but hasn't raced since May. An update on Vickers' medical condition and outlook for next year is expected soon.

But for now, Vickers is focusing on one thing -- learning.

"Being out of the car has been tough to deal with, but it is what it is," he said. "I think these things happen for a reason, and I'm trying to make the most of my time away and learn something from the experience."

The 26-year-old North Carolina-native driver credits one group of people for keeping his spirits up while he's off the track and out of race cars.

"The fans have been awesome," he said. "It's been a tough year, and I appreciate all the support through everything that has happened. I look forward to getting back on the race track next season and being able to thank my fans."

Up Next: Bristol Motor Speedway

Fast Facts

The Race: CARFAX 400
The Date: Sunday, Aug. 15

The Track: Michigan International Speedway (2-mile oval)
The Time: 1 p.m. ET

The Distance: 400 miles/200 laps

Radio: MRN and Sirius NASCAR Radio Channel 128; WITL-FM 100.7-FM local

2009 Polesitter: Brian Vickers
2009 Winner: Brian Vickers

Friday -- Practice, Noon-1:30 p.m. Qualifying, 3:40 p.m.
Saturday -- Practice, 9:15-10 a.m. Final Practice, 12:20-1:20 p.m.

-source: nascar

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya