FYI WIRZ: NASCAR's Michigan Is 1 of of 4 Must-Wins for Chase Hopefuls

Dwight DrumCorrespondent IIIJanuary 21, 2017

Credit: Dwight Drum

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase elimination playoffs, which emphasize wins for the top 16 performers, has turned winning into an even more coveted achievement.

Smaller teams with limited resources can now hope for a win to carry them into Chase for the Sprint Cup territory. That reality would have been only dreamland before format changes this year. Just ask A.J. Allmendinger and JTG Daugherty Racing after their huge win in Watkins Glen last week.

Drivers without a win have only four races to step up. Season hopes are focused on dwindling laps. The Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway on Sunday, August 17, is a chance for a driver to join the elite club of 12 contenders with one win or more.

Many NSCS drivers need a win soon to make 2014 memorable. Drivers mentioned here are an accomplished group that have won in the past, so MIS could be a chance for them to upset Chase contenders with momentum. 

Comments from these NSCS hopeful winners tell much about the fast two-mile D-shaped oval with 18-degree banking. 

Paul Menard has nine top-10 finishes in his RCR No. 27 car. He defined MIS.

“It's the fastest track we go to,” Menard said. “You don't get that sensation. The track is wide and smooth. Cars handle well with the Aero. When you look up in the stands and see how fast the catch fence goes by, then you understand just how fast you're going."

David Ragan hasn’t had a banner year in 2014, but he is not racing for a top resource team, either. 

"Michigan is a super-fast track, but you don't really feel it in the car,” Ragan said. “Not like at Texas or Atlanta. Michigan is so smooth and so big that 200 miles an hour doesn't feel as fast as you'd think.”

David Gilliland races for the same team as Ragan, but he did secure a pole at Daytona in July. He agreed with Ragan about MIS speed.

"Michigan is extremely fast.” Gilliland said. “Probably the fastest I've ever gone in a race car. The track is starting to get some of its character back. After they repaved it a few years ago, the groove was narrow. It's starting to widen out. You can get racier now." 

Matt Kenseth sits third in points without a victory and probably will make the Chase even if he doesn’t win. He added some thoughts about MIS. 

“Our hope is that it changes so that we can widen out the lanes a little more like how it was before the repave,” Kenseth. “One of the keys to Michigan is having a car that can get through the corners fast, as well as being able to get down the straightaways.”

Greg Biffle has won four times at MIS and would like to get his big win of the season there. He and the No. 16 team have been running well lately.

“I’m excited about going to Michigan,” Biffle said. “We’ve been doing a tremendous amount of testing, working hard at Roush Fenway to catch up. Our most recent week off we tested at Michigan and felt like we found a lot of speed that we were missing.” 

NASCAR drivers always want to win. It’s in their racing DNA. But with NSCS format changes, wins have more meaning now. Drivers have to adjust to that. As always, they all still need to have the fenders on at the end of the race, but taking chances with pit decisions and track position is essential now. 

Perhaps a driver without a win will be a part of a team effort that prevails on the speedy track.

Fans without MIS tickets wanting to catch the fast NSCS action can view ESPN at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday.

Paul Menard smiles at a press conference in Charlotte.
Paul Menard smiles at a press conference in Charlotte.Credit: Dwight Drum

FYI WIRZ is the select presentation of topics by Dwight Drum at Unless otherwise noted, information and all quotes were obtained firsthand or from official release materials provided by sanction and team representatives.