Following an eventful weekend for NASCAR as a whole, the Sprint Cup circuit added yet another name to the Chase Grid.
With the victory at Watkins Glen, AJ Allmendinger clinched a spot in the Chase if he remains in the top 30 of the points standings. Not too shabby for a driver who just notched his first checkered flag at the Sprint Cup level.
After Allmendinger essentially secured his berth, just four more spots remain on the Chase Grid for drivers without wins. Just four races remain, so the chances to make NASCAR's postseason are dwindling.
While a new name slid into the Chase, the face at the top remained the same. Dale Earnhardt Jr. wasn't able to finish inside the top 10 at The Glen, but he still has a grasp at the top of the Chase and traditional points standings.
Before the Sprint Cup drivers move back to the oval at Michigan, here's a look at the schedule, latest news and top drivers for the Pure Michigan 400.
Pure Michigan 400
Site: Michigan International Speedway, Brooklyn, Michigan
Date: Sunday, Aug. 17
Start Time: 1 p.m. ET
Latest Team News
Apart from the obvious, actual NASCAR news has been heating up this week heading into Michigan.
Two of the biggest stories surround Hendrick Motorsports drivers on the track. The first, of course, is the remarkable success of Junior, who is atop both standings and in control of the Sprint Cup circuit.
Earnhardt is set to lose his sponsorship with National Guard in the future, but he's still put together one of his best seasons at the Sprint Cup level. Rather than boasting, Junior took the news of taking over the points lead in stride:
Oh ya, Points Leader.— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) August 10, 2014
While Earnhardt might be losing a sponsor, one of his teammates will have a brand new primary sponsor.
Jeff Gordon, who holds several sponsors already for his Chevrolet, will partner with 3M for 11 races following this season. Nate Ryan of USA Today provided the news on Twitter:
3M, which had been the primary sponsor of Greg Biffle, headed to Jeff Gordon's No. 24 for 11 races as a primary. Deal for 2015-17. #nascar— Nate Ryan (@nateryan) August 12, 2014
While this is a huge move for Hendrick, it also gives a better idea of the future for Gordon. With a deal through 2017, that should calm some of the retirement questions surrounding the 43-year-old driver.
The second part of that is crucial for the future of Roush Fenway Racing. Steve Newmark wasn't able to reveal the new potential sponsors for Greg Biffle, but the RFR president appears to have some inkling of where the team is heading.
Though the future is currently up in the air for Biffle and Roush Fenway as a whole, they might have reason for optimism heading into Michigan.
Drivers to Watch
Remember that reason for optimism? Well, it just so happens that Biffle heads to a track he's dominated this weekend.
Looking for a new primary sponsor and some stability at RFR, Biffle has a chance to take his first trip to Victory Lane this year at Michigan. Despite the shifting landscape with Carl Edwards leaving RFR after this season, Biffle has made his intentions clear that he'll be staying.
The 44-year-old spoke about his future, per George Diaz of the Orlando Sentinel:
I look forward to kind of carrying the flag and leading this organization.
There were some interesting seats open and opportunities. I just felt like we can get this thing turned around, so I made the decision to stay and be the anchor for Roush Fenway, and do another three-year contract, regardless of sponsorship at that point.
Sitting just outside of the Chase Grid right now, Biffle would need a win to relieve pressure on his shoulders for the remainder of the season. If he can secure a spot along with Edwards, the RFR team would have two drivers in.
Rather than sitting at 17th and outside of the Chase Grid, a win would put Biffle at eighth. With four wins at Michigan, a series-best driver rating of 107.8 and 10 top fives, the time is now for Biffle to get that elusive victory.
Prediction: Biffle wins and secures spot in Chase.
Though he's gone through a tough stretch in recent weekends, Jimmie Johnson should return to form at Michigan.
The last time out at the two-mile track, Johnson clinched one of his three wins. Ironically enough, it put an end to another winless streak to start the season for the six-time Sprint Cup champion.
Following that win, Johnson noted his struggles at the track in the past, via Ryan:
We've figured out every way to lose this race and today we were finally able to get it done.
For so many years, my dad was here at the track, and I wanted to win this race for him. He's in upper Michigan this weekend, so dad, we did it -- finally. And as a dad, it tickles me deep to win today. I don't want to get old but I look forward to that day.
Those struggles at Michigan appear to be gone, so too might the recent woes on the track for Johnson. Just a few weeks remain before the Chase gets underway, so a win or top five would certainly be a boost for the team.
It will be difficult for Johnson to secure the sweep at Michigan, but he has a good chance of being near the top at the end. Maybe this time his dad will be in attendance.
Prediction: Johnson falls just short; regains confidence heading into Chase.
Who will win at Michigan?
Despite a trying weekend for Stewart-Haas Racing, Kevin Harvick was one of two drivers on the team to finish inside the top 10 at The Glen. Heading back to a more comfortable setting, Harvick has a chance to contend for another win.
He wasn't able to clinch a win at Michigan back in June, but he did nearly everything else right. After taking the pole, Harvick led the most laps with 63 before Johnson held him off late to take the checkered flag.
This time around, look for Harvick to attempt to close out the race if he can keep his car on the track. But with strong competition like Earnhardt, Brad Keselowski and more looking for a crucial victory at Michigan, simply remaining in the top five will be a huge feat.
Prediction: Top-five finish for Harvick; inches closer to top five on Chase Grid.
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