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Keeping Pace

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series News & Notes - Michigan

 (The Spokesman-Review)
(The Spokesman-Review)

Returning to Michigan International Speedway, Mark Martin (No. 5 Kellogg's/CARQUEST Chevrolet) is going for back-to-back wins and what would be his fifth trip to Victory Lane at the track he calls “comfortable.”

Courtesy: NASCAR Media Relations

Fresh off a win at what he considers his “house,” Watkins Glen International, Tony Stewart (No. 14 Office Depot Chevrolet) merely needs to start Sunday’s CARFAX 400 at Michigan International Speedway to become the first owner-driver to earn a Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup berth.

But that doesn’t mean Stewart will ease up any when he runs this weekend at MIS, the sixth event in the “Race to the Chase.”

“We keep the eye on the prize at the end of the year,” Stewart said. “And those 10 bonus points (for winning at Watkins Glen) could be a big factor at the end.”

Another factor is likeability – and Stewart likes MIS.

“We look forward to going there obviously because the manufacturers are there and it’s a driver’s track,” Stewart said. “You can help yourself out as a driver by moving around on the race track. It does give you that flexibility as a driver to not be just stuck with whatever your balance is. You can search around and try to find a spot that’s better for it.”

Stewart’s not the only one who can clinch a spot in the 12-driver Chase for this weekend at Michigan. Any driver 586 points ahead of 13th place leaving Michigan clinches a spot.

Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet), 496 points ahead of 13th-place Kyle Busch (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota), needs at least a 90-point gain on 13th to secure a place in the Chase. Johnson – who is second in points – has made every Chase since its inception in 2004. Only one other driver has qualified for every Chase: Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Ford), currently 12th in points.

The battle to make the Chase is heating up just behind Kenseth.

A few drivers just outside the top 12 not only want to make the Chase, but are looking for their first trip to Victory Lane this season. Those just below the “Chase bubble” include:

  • Kyle Busch, 13th in points. Busch has one second-place finish (August 2008) at MIS.
  • Brian Vickers (No. 83 Red Bull Toyota), 14th in points. Vickers earned his first pole of the season at Michigan last summer and followed with a pole at Michigan in June. On the other hand, he has only had one top-five finish at the track, a fourth in June 2008.
  • Clint Bowyer (No. 33 Cheerios/Hamburger Helper Chevrolet), 15th in points. Bowyer’s best finish at Michigan in seven NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races is his solo top-10 finish (10th in June 2009).

Michigan Sweep Should Help Carl Edwards Find Victory Lane

A third-place finish this past Monday at Watkins Glen International. …

A sixth-place spot in the series standings, as the Race to the Chase winds down. …

Now, as Carl Edwards (No. 99 AFLAC Ford) returns to Michigan International Speedway, there’s a good chance he could finally nab his first win of the 2009 season.

After all, he’s earned two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series wins at the track, in June 2007 and August 2008. He swept the August 2009 weekend with a win in the NASCAR Nationwide Series race in addition to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win.

This time last year, Edwards was on a tear – Michigan marked his fifth win of the season and the beginning of a three-win streak.

And this past June at MIS, Edwards finished fourth.

“It’s a real special track,” Edwards said. “That will be the five-year anniversary of my first Cup start – which blows my mind. I can’t believe I’ve been doing this for five years. I’m very fortunate.”

Mark Martin Aims for Back-To-Back Wins At ‘Comfortable’ Michigan

Returning to Michigan International Speedway, Mark Martin (No. 5 Kellogg's/CARQUEST Chevrolet) is going for back-to-back wins and what would be his fifth trip to Victory Lane at the track he calls “comfortable.”

“I think about Michigan and I think: ‘Ahhhhh, that will be fun’,” Martin said. “It’s always been a great race track, and our car ran really well up there for the first race.”

Fuel mileage was Martin’s best friend this past June when NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers took to the two-mile oval.

In the final two miles of the 400-mile race, Martin clinched his third win of the season as LifeLock 400 race leader Jimmie Johnson and second-place runner Greg Biffle (No. 16 3M/Scotch Tough Ford) ran out of gas.

“I can’t believe we won this thing,” Martin said at the time.

Martin now sits in 11th place in points with four poles, four wins, six top-5 finishes and 11 top-10 finishes.

Looking ahead one week, Mark Martin will make his 1,000th NASCAR national series start at Bristol Motor Speedway, joining only Richard Petty and Michael Waltrip as the only drivers with 1,000 national series starts.

Roush, Wood Brothers Have Rich Histories at Michigan – Thanks To Some Legendary Drivers

Folks can debate indefinitely that Michigan International Speedway is Jack Roush territory or Woods Brothers stomping ground – that’s a given with both team owners chalking up 11 wins at the Brooklyn, Mich. 2-mile-oval.

And while both are worthy of the title of most winning team owner there, they had a little help from some talented drivers to get those record-setting wins. Here’s a look at some facts about the current drivers and famed ones of the past that have helped bring team owners Jack Roush and the Woods Brothers to MIS’s Victory Lane:

  • Cale Yarborough captured the track’s inaugural checkered flag in 1969, earning the Wood Brothers the first of two wins there with him as driver.
  • David Pearson dominated the track in the 1970s, bringing the Wood Brothers to Victory Lane eight times between 1972 and 1978. Three of those wins came from the pole.
  • Pearson’s last win at MIS for the Wood Brothers was the Champion Spark Plug 400 in 1978. The team then went through a winless 1980s. A first-winner – Dale Jarrett – broke the streak at the 1991 Champion Spark Plug 400.
  • Drivers in the Roush Fenway Racing stable to win at MIS? Mark Martin gave Roush his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Michigan checkered flag in 1993, and continued to bring home the wins two more times in 1997 and 1998. Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge) has given Roush a win, and Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards each have earned two.
  • On the entry list for this week’s CARFAX 400 at Michigan for the Wood Brothers will be Bill Elliott (No. 21 Motorcraft Ford). Two Roush Fenway drivers,  Edwards and Biffle, will vie for a third win at MIS and their first wins of 2009.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Return To Michigan Marks Site Of Last Win, 350th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Start

Heading back to the track where he had his most recent win, Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 National Guard/AMP Energy Chevrolet) will mark his 350th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start.

Earnhardt’s first (and only) trip to Victory Lane at Michigan International Speedway came in June 2008, breaking a 76-race winless streak.

Here are some interesting firsts associated with the NASCAR Sprint Cup series six-time “Most Popular Driver":

  • Beyond Earnhardt’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series success, he was a back-to-back NASCAR Nationwide Series champion (1998 and 1999) who battled fiercely for the titles with rival Matt Kenseth. His first title in 1998 made him NASCAR’s first third-generation champion coupled with his father Dale Earnhardt's record-tying seven NASCAR Sprint Cup titles and grandfather Ralph Earnhardt’s 1956 NASCAR Sportsman Division title.
  • The site of his first NASCAR Nationwide Series victory – Texas – also was the track where he earned his first NASCAR Sprint Cup victory (April 2, 2000).
  • In 2000, he became the first rookie to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup All-Star Race. That same year, he came up only 42 points shy of winning the Raybestos Rookie of the Year title behind former NASCAR Nationwide series foe Kenseth.
  • First win of 2001 – and arguably the biggest win of his career – was the emotional July 2001 win at Daytona International Speedway, just under five months after the death of his father, following an accident in the Daytona 500.
  • He first earned the title of NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver in 2003, marking the first time a father and son received the award (Dale Earnhardt won posthumously in 2001).

Loop Data: Jimmie Johnson May Have Stellar Statistics At Michigan, But Still Battles Bad Luck

Jimmie Johnson, with 43 career wins, has captured victory at 16 of the 22 active NASCAR Sprint Cup Series tracks.

Of the six tracks Johnson has yet to conquer, two are immediately on tap: Michigan and Bristol. Statistically speaking, Michigan seems the most likely to fall.

Though the actual finishes might not suggest a Johnson win, his performances certainly do. His June Michigan race might be the best example of his hard luck at Michigan.

In that race, Johnson battled for the win but ran out of gas in the closing laps – relegating him to a 22nd-place finish. But as is often times the case, the finish doesn’t tell the entire story of a driver’s race. That’s where Loop Data comes in.

Johnson owned some of the race’s top Loop Data statistics. He had a race-best Driver Rating of 131.2, a race-best Average Running Position of 1.6 and a race-high total of 91 Fastest Laps Run.

A similar trend occurred in last season’s August Michigan race. Johnson finished 17th, but posted a strong Driver Rating of 97.8. In his 19th- place finish in June of 2007, he posted a 121.8.
 So it’s little wonder that though Johnson has only two top fives in 15 races, he owns some of the best statistics in the series at Michigan. Mainly, it’s been bad luck.

In the past nine races at Michigan (which have played to an average finish of 12.8 for Johnson), Johnson has a Driver Rating of 109.6 (second-best), an Average Running Position of 8.5 (third), a series-high 205 Fastest Laps Run and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 81.7 % (third). 

Though Michigan is on the list of Dale Earnhardt Jr. victories, a win this weekend would end a prolonged drought of another kind. Earnhardt has gone 43 NASCAR Sprint Cup races without a win, his last being in the 2008 June Michigan race.

The 2-mile track seems as good a place as any for Earnhardt to end the slide. He owns solid statistics there, including a Driver Rating of 99.3 (fifth), an Average Running Position of 10.9 (fourth), 99 Fastest Laps Run (fifth) and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 73.9% (sixth).

Michigan Natives Fill The Garage With Chase-Contending Talent
No. 24 team engineer Kevin Meendering (No. 24 car engineer) isn’t the only NASCAR Sprint Cup Series crew member with a Chase-contending team to call Michigan home.

Other Michigan natives include:

  • Brad Keselowski (Rochester Hills) – No. 25 driver/ Chevrolet.
  • Gary Frost (Romeo) – No. 31 mechanic
  • Bobby Clark (Wyandotte) – No. 18 mechanic
  • Eric Bilyeu (Waterford) – No. 42 front tire carrier
  • Bill Ferguson (White Lake) – No. 33 jack man
  • Andrew Turner (Coloma) – No. 39 jack man
  • Jake Brzozowki (Sterling Heights) – No. 82 rear tire carrier
  • Jonathan Billy (Detroit) – No. 83 rear tire changer

Up Next: Short-Track Action Under The Lights At Bristol Motor Speedway

Saturday nights are made for short-track action – and short-fuse tempers.

Last year’s Sharpie 500 provided both as Kyle Busch led 415 of 500 laps only to get the “bump” from Carl Edwards who went on to win. Tempers flared afterwards, and Busch retaliated after the checkered flag with a bump of his own – on Edwards.

Going into next weekend’s Sharpie 500, be sure to keep an eye on Edwards to go for his third consecutive Sharpie 500 win.

In other notes:

  • Busch didn’t settle for second when he returned to Bristol Motor Speedway in March for the Food City 500. He dominated the race, leading 378 laps, to earn his second victory of the 2009 season.
  • Fastest qualifying record is held by Ryan Newman (No. 39 Stewart Haas Racing Chevrolet), who went 128.709 mph on March 21, 2003.
  • Chevrolet has the most wins at Bristol Motor Speedway with 41 (Ford is second with 23), and Darrell Waltrip still holds the record of most wins with 12, seven of which were consecutive.

Fast Facts

The Race: CARFAX 400

The Place: Michigan International Speedway (2-mile oval)

The Date: Sunday, Aug. 16

The Time: 2 p.m. ET

Race Distance: 400 miles/200 laps

TV: ESPN, 1 p.m. ET

Radio: MRN and Sirius Satellite; local affiliate WITL-FM 100.7

2008 Polesitter: Brian Vickers

2008 Winner: Carl Edwards

Schedule: (Times local ET) Friday—Practice, 12-1:30 p.m., Qualifying, 3:40 p.m. Saturday—Practice, 12:30-1:15 p.m., 1:50-2:50 p.m.

2009 Top 12 Drivers

    Driver                     Points
 1 Tony Stewart             3,383
 2 Jimmie Johnson         3,123
 3 Jeff Gordon                3,041
 4 Kurt Busch                2,902
 5 Denny Hamlin            2,847
 6 Carl Edwards             2,830
 7 Juan Pablo Montoya   2,781
 8 Kasey Kahne             2,754
 9 Ryan Newman            2,727
10 Greg Biffle                 2,718
11 Mark Martin               2,716
12 Matt Kenseth             2,685

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Keeping Pace

Motorsports correspondent Doug Pace keeps up with motorsports news and notes from around the region.