Even though Tony Stewart will miss his second consecutive race, he is a significant part of the discussion about Sunday's Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway.
Stewart, who will likely be sidelined for the remainder of the season, due to the broken tibia and fibula in his right leg, suffered in a sprint-car accident on Aug. 5 in Iowa.
With the head honcho of Stewart-Haas Racing sidelined and out of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, SHR's lone Chase hope remains in Ryan Newman, who comes into Sunday's race ranked 14th.
Now, while the Chase will only be made up of the top 10 in the standings after the race in Richmond on Sept. 7, plus two wild-card entrants with the most wins, Newman is currently seeded as the second wild card if the Chase were to begin today.
To bolster his Chase hopes, Newman couldn't be at a better track Sunday, as he has two wins, five top-five and seven top-10 finishes in 24 career starts at the wide and fast two-mile MIS oval.
What's more, Newman has some decent tracks for him coming up in the remaining three pre-Chase races after Michigan. At Bristol, while he hasn't won in 23 starts, he has one top-five and an impressive 13 top-10 finishes.
At Atlanta in two weeks, his past performance isn't all that good: no wins, one top-five and six top-10s in 20 starts.
Finally, in 23 starts at Richmond, Newman has one win, five top-five and 13 top-10s.
The irony about Newman is he already knows he'll be out of a job at season's end, yet he's SHR's only hope to make the Chase.
Oh, and by the way, in case you're wondering who's filling in for "Smoke" in the No. 14 Sunday, it'll be Austin Dillon. Great choice!
In other news, Joey Logano won his first Sprint Cup pole of the season Friday at MIS and will lead the field to the green flag on Monday.
Also, keep your eye on Dale Earnhardt Jr. His last two Cup wins have come at MIS (June 2012 and June 2008). "Junior" slipped one spot to sixth place in the standings after Watkins Glen, and, while he's still 45 points ahead of 10th-ranked Martin Truex Jr., Earnhardt needs a win desperately in the next four races to assure his spot in the playoffs.
Interestingly, Earnhardt practiced his post-victory burnout this past Monday in Chicago in front of the fabled Chicago Theatre as part of a promotion for the Chase-opening Geico 400 on Sept. 15. The question is, will he have the car to do the burnout for real on Sunday at MIS?
Also of note, Greg Biffle goes for a three-peat Sunday, having won the last two races at MIS, further extending Ford's overall dominance at the track over the years.
Lastly, pay attention to Kurt Busch (qualified second) and Juan Pablo Montoya in Sunday's race. Like Newman, they are all essentially auditioning for new rides next season.
While Busch seems to have found a home at Furniture Row Racing and is on the verge of making the Chase for the one-car team for the first time, if a team like Richard Childress Racing or Earnhardt Ganassi Racing come knocking on his door, it'll be interesting to see if Busch jumps ship or stays put.
As for Montoya, while he'd likely be a good fit for another NASCAR team, don't be surprised if he starts considering other options, including racing in 2014 in either the Grand Am Series or, perhaps, go back to his open-wheel roots and compete on the IndyCar circuit.
Pure Michigan 400—Sunday, Aug. 18
Location: Michigan International Speedway, Brooklyn, Mich.
Distance: 400 miles (200 laps)
Coverage of the race: TV—Sunday starting at noon ET on ESPN; Radio—MRN and SiriusXM Ch. 90
Green Flag drops: Shortly after 1 p.m. ET
Michigan International Speedway Fast Facts
Last Five Winners: Greg Biffle (June 2013, August 2012), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (June 2012), Kyle Busch (August 2011), Denny Hamlin (June 2011)
Most Wins by Active Driver: Bill Elliott (seven)
Most Poles by Active Driver: Bill Elliott (six)
Best Average Starting Position by Active Driver: Jimmie Johnson (9.565)
Best Average Finishing Position by Active Driver: Carl Edwards (8.222)
Worst Average Finishing Position by Active Driver (four or more starts): Michael McDowell (40.5)
Most Laps Led by Active Driver: Bill Elliott (1,004)
Most Laps Completed by Active Driver: Bill Elliott (11,212)
Most Lead Lap Finishes by Active Driver: Mark Martin (37 in 55 starts)
Most Top-10s by Active Driver: Mark Martin (31 in 55 starts)
Most Wins by Manufacturer: Ford (32 of 88 races)
First Win at Track by Active Driver: None
First Pole at Track by Active Driver: Marcos Ambrose (June 2012), J.J. Yeley (June 2007), Jeff Burton (August 1996)
Most DNFs by Active Driver (four or more starts): Joe Nemechek (15 in 39 starts), Derrike Cope (15 in 32 starts)
Fewest DNFs by Active Driver (four or more starts): Greg Biffle (0 in 21 starts)
Top 25 Driver Ratings at MIS (over last eight years)
1. 16 Greg Biffle: 110.0
2. 20 Matt Kenseth: 106.0
3. 99 Carl Edwards: 105.1
4. 48 Jimmie Johnson: 104.0
5. 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr.: 97.5
6. 14 Tony Stewart: 95.9
7. 18 Kyle Busch: 93.1
8. 83 Brian Vickers: 91.5
9. 11 Denny Hamlin: 91.1
10. 24 Jeff Gordon: 90.7
11. 5 Kasey Kahne: 89.0
12. 78 Kurt Busch: 87.7
13. 55 Mark Martin: 86.5
14. 56 Martin Truex Jr.: 85.0
15. 29 Kevin Harvick: 84.2
16. 15 Clint Bowyer: 81.2
17. 2 Brad Keselowski: 80.6
18. 22 Joey Logano: 79.1
19. 39 Ryan Newman: 75.9
20. 17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: 75.4
21. 33 Austin Dillon: 74.1
22. 31 Jeff Burton: 73.9
23. 43 Aric Almirola: 72.8
24. 34 David Ragan: 70.8
25. 42 Juan Pablo Montoya: 70.4
Follow me on Twitter @JerryBonkowski.
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