NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers are done twisting on the road course at Watkins Glen International and head into the wide two-mile oval with 18-degree banking at Michigan International Speedway on Aug. 18.
MIS is often considered NASCAR’s fastest track because of the wide turns and long straightaways.
Speed will mean more this week as only four races remain before the Chase contenders are determined. Some drivers have to win to get in. Others have to finish strong if they hope to cling to their lofty spot and be ready for 10-race playoffs.
Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 team have a comfortable 75-point lead owing to consistent performances, and that makes it tougher for other teams to advance. It seems Johnson and crew discover an extra cylinder or spare frontal lobes when needed.
Clint Bowyer has no wins, and Carl Edwards has only one win, but they both tenaciously hold the No. 2 and No. 3 positions in the points.
Kyle Busch scored yet another win, this time at WGI, and set up a good spot for the Chase configuration. But he has had that often in the past and falters just when he and the No. 18 team need precision and good luck the most. This might be his year.
Kasey Kahne could have all the bad luck with his five critical crashes out of the way this season and roar back near the middle going into the Chase. All year it seems like Kahne and team pull out a win, near-win or crash.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 88 team just want to win a race even though a dozen top-10 finishes in 2013 keep him high in points. Legions of fans just want him to win, too.
Johnson has 64 NSCS wins, but MIS is not one of them.
“I have done everything but win there,” Johnson said. “When we win there, I know we are going to win there, and when we do it’s going to be a very enjoyable Victory Lane, and I hope it comes soon.”
Winless Bowyer is running well this year, just not first to checkered flags.
“I’m superstitious when it comes to talking about anything related to (the Chase) until I know for sure if I’m going to be there,” Bowyer said. “I like our chances, but a lot can happen in the next couple races. I’d rather just focus on the race at Michigan this weekend.”
Busch is coming off a big win at WGI and carries strong momentum into MIS.
“Regardless of new pavement or not,” Busch said, "it’s wide-open racing and you can run from top to bottom. With the new surface, there is a ton of grip now. The wide racetrack is good. That’s what makes Michigan so exciting and so fun.”
Earnhardt slipped to sixth in points and needs to have top finishes, maybe even one win to ensure playoff time in the Chase.
“I’m looking forward to getting back to Michigan,” Earnhardt said. “It’s a track where we always seem to have good speed. Last time we had a car that was flying at the end. I’m looking forward to going back there and trying to get a win.”
Kahne has been clearly upset with Joe Gibbs Racing drivers this season causing his No. 5 Chevrolet to crash. Matt Kenseth added to that situation with a crash at WGI that collected Kahne’s car. Few should disagree with Kahne’s thoughts on frequent crashes that have tainted his two wins and second-place finishes.
“The only reason we're in this position isn't because of my consistency or my team's consistency,” Kahne said. “We've had that all season. It's been other people not being able to control their race cars at times.”
A good finish at Michigan could be critical for several drivers with Chase for the Sprint Cup contender hopes.
Fans without tickets to one of the 85,000 seats overlooking the D-shaped oval at MIS can enjoy the action on ESPN at 1 p.m ET.
FYI WIRZ is the select presentation of topics by Dwight Drum at Racetake.com. Unless otherwise noted, information and all quotes were obtained firsthand or from official release materials provided by sanction and team representatives.