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Driver Reports: Champ readies for stretch run

August 12, 2013, Brad Norman, NASCAR.com

Driver Reports: Champ readies for stretch run
Keselowski back in top 10; Kurt Busch lurks; Gordon must recover

1. Jimmie Johnson (No. 48)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Where he stands: Johnson leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings with 808 points.
Last week: Johnson gained 10 spots on the afternoon after a subpar qualifying effort -- at least for him -- and finished eighth at Watkins Glen International. It’s the 15th top-10 showing of the year for Five-Time through 22 races, and his lead over second-place Clint Bowyer is 75 points with four races to go before the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup field is set.
What he said: “Man I passed a lot of cars today. 8th isn't bad but I feel we could have been better. That caution for the 43 killed our track position.” (Via Twitter)
This week: In 23 career starts at Michigan International Speedway, Johnson has four top-fives and nine top-10s. In the past eight years at Michigan, Johnson ranks fourth out of 53 drivers with an average place of 10.2. He finished 28th at the first 2013 race at Michigan.
Last year: Johnson’s past two races at Michigan ended with car problems. Last year’s was more painful. The No. 48 caught leader Brad Keselowski and expertly passed him on Lap 190 (of scheduled 200) to assume the lead. He maintained the lead until Lap 195, when his engine blew up. It was a devastating conclusion to a race Johnson was poised to win; he finished 27th.

2. Clint Bowyer (No. 15)

Michael Waltrip Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Bowyer is second in the standings with 733 points.
Last week: Bowyer is still searching for that elusive first victory of the season, but at the very least he snapped a three-race streak of finishing outside the top 10 on Sunday. At home on a road course, the No. 15 Toyota finished sixth after starting second. Bowyer is close to clinching a spot for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, but a win would be nice considering the Chase field gets reseeded based on the number of wins each driver has.
What he said: “We stuck to our pit strategy and didn’t get a lot of opportunities to make adjustments, so we kind of just had to go with what we had. It was a good day -- not great, but good. We gained a couple points on the 48 team and gave ourselves a little more room over 11th.”
This week: In 15 career starts at Michigan International Speedway, Bowyer has seven top-10s. In the past eight years at Michigan, Bowyer ranks 16th out of 53 drivers with an average place of 16.4. He finished seventh at the first 2013 race at Michigan.
Last year: Bowyer was one of 13 drivers to lead at least one lap at Michigan, pacing the field through 19 laps to finish seventh. It was another strong day for Bowyer at Michigan. The 2-mile superspeedway isn’t considered one of the No. 15 team’s best tracks, but it’s hard to find someone more consistent since 2011. During that span of five races, Bowyer has five top-10s. He’s finished seventh for three consecutive races.

3. Carl Edwards (No. 99)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford 

Where he stands: Edwards is third in the standings with 728 points.
Last week: Edwards had his best finish since the last time the Sprint Cup Series raced on a road course -- at Sonoma on June 23rd. The No. 99 finished third in California, and backed up that road effort with a fourth-place finish at Watkins Glen. Edwards held his spot on the late restarts after climbing into the top 10 with 20 laps remaining. It was a great late surge after he started 16th on the grid.
What he said: “I wish we raced here more than once a year. This is a lot of fun. It’s a great race track. I love racing here. Kyle (Busch) and Brad (Keselowski) put on a heckuva show. That was neat to watch.”
This week: In 18 career starts at Michigan International Speedway, Edwards has two wins, nine top-fives, 14 top-10s and one pole. In the past eight years at Michigan, Edwards ranks third out of 53 drivers with an average place of 10.1. He finished eighth at the first 2013 race at Michigan.
Last year: Edwards knew he had a fast race car, but he also knew that he needed a victory in his march toward a potential Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. So although he finished sixth, the No. 99 team was disappointed. Edwards mentioned his car was as fast as Biffle’s No. 16, but at the end of the race, he didn’t have the position Biffle had.

4. Kevin Harvick (No. 29)

Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Harvick is fourth in the standings with 707 points.
Last week: Harvick led eight laps Sunday but ultimately extended his streak of finishing outside the top 10 to three consecutive races. In the No. 29 Chevrolet, Harvick finished 13th at the Glen. His car was fast -- leading those laps proved it --but his pit strategy faltered when a late caution was displayed just as Harvick planned a green-flag, fuel-only pit stop.
What he said: “We had a really fast Budweiser Chevrolet today. We just couldn't get the break we needed on pit strategy.”
This week: In 25 career starts at Michigan International Speedway, Harvick has one win, four top-fives and nine top-10s. In the past eight years at Michigan, Harvick ranks 12th out of 53 drivers with an average place of 15.9. He finished second at the first 2013 race at Michigan.
Last year: Michigan isn’t one of Harvick’s best tracks. The driver is coming off a runner-up finish earlier this year, but last year’s effort was more in line with his career trend. The No. 29 team started 20th and couldn’t get the car in good enough shape to make a serious run through the field. He finished 16th.

5. Kyle Busch (No. 18)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Busch is fifth in the standings with 693 points.
Last week: After two years of missed opportunities, Kyle Busch had his Watkins Glen breakthrough, winning his second career race at the road course after a heartbreaking finish (for him) in 2012. Last year, Busch was the leader on the final lap, but spun out when Brad Keselowski and Marcos Ambrose surged forward. There was no catching the No. 18 this time around as Busch held of Keselowski on the final restart to win his third race of the season. Watch video from his victory below.
What he said: “My car wasn’t turning as good as it needed to on four tires, so I was really having to muscle it and try to get it around here as best as I could. But, man … it’s awesome to be back in Victory Lane. … Not quite as good as it needed to be -- I think we could make it better. I’m always a perfectionist, so I always want to be better.”
This week: In 17 career starts at Michigan International Speedway, Busch has one win, four top-fives, six top-10s and one pole. In the past eight years at Michigan, Busch ranks eighth out of 53 drivers with an average place of 14.1. He finished fourth at the first 2013 race at Michigan.
Last year: As the defending race winner, Busch entered Michigan with a No. 18 Toyota that just wasn’t fast enough to compete for the victory. That much as evident all weekend, and after Busch finished 13th place, crew chief Dave Rogers took the blame for Busch not having enough speed.

6. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Where he stands: Earnhardt Jr. is sixth in the standings with 670 points.
Last week: Junior put himself in position to have one of his better finishes at Watkins Glen, but all of that careful work was undone late. When Matt Kenseth and Kasey Kahne bumped, Earnhardt Jr. was in the unfortunate position of gunning it through the esses. He had no chance of avoiding Kahne’s spun car on the track, and he drilled it head-on, crumpling the hood of the No. 88 and essentially ending his day. He finished 30th. Watch video of the incident below.
What he said: “I’m fine. The (No. 20) was going after the No. 9 and tried to wreck the No. 9 and ended up hitting the No. 5 (Kasey Kahne). The No. 20 was going after the No. 9 and missed him or got him a little bit. I don’t know if the No. 9 ended up wrecking or not, but ended up knocking the No. 5 out of the race and knocked ourselves out of the race and a couple of other guys.”
This week: In 28 career starts at Michigan International Speedway, Earnhardt Jr. has two wins, six top-fives, 10 top-10s and two poles. In the past eight years at Michigan, Earnhardt Jr. ranks fifth out of 53 drivers with an average place of 12.6. He finished 37th at the first 2013 race at Michigan.
Last year: Following his win at Michigan earlier in the season, Earnhardt Jr. finished fourth after starting 22nd. All in all, a great year at the track for Junior.

7. Matt Kenseth (No. 20)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Kenseth is seventh in the standings with 659 points.
Last week: A boom-or-bust season continued for Kenseth. The No. 20 team has four wins, but also three DNFs and four additional finishes outside the top 20. One of those four finishes came at The Glen, where Kenseth finished 23rd Sunday. He was involved in a Lap 83 incident that involved six cars, and the No. 20 Toyota actually started it by bumping Kasey Kahne in the esses.
What he said: “I honestly don’t really know what happened after we got up the esses. I guess I must’ve hit Kasey (Kahne). I went into Turn 1 sort of too wide and came off … I was three-wide on top, which was fine. We shoved up the middle and then I went to get back on the track and there’s no room to get back on the track. I didn’t know where I was supposed to go. So, I’m trying to get back on the track -- me and Marcos (Ambrose) hit a little bit and then by the time we got we got to the esses I wasn’t trying to get Marcos back. It probably looked like that. I was trying to carry my momentum so I didn’t have four more cars pass me and I just lost control of my car and went across and I guess somebody was outside of me. I guess it was Kasey. That part is my fault.”
This week: In 28 career starts at Michigan International Speedway, Kenseth has two wins, 12 top-fives and 18 top-10s. In the past eight years at Michigan, Kenseth ranks second out of 53 drivers with an average place of 10.0. He finished sixth at the first 2013 race at Michigan.
Last year: Nothing went right for Kenseth at a track where Fords usually do pretty well (Kenseth drove the No. 17 for Roush Fenway Racing last year). Although Kenseth started fourth, he fell back in the field for good with about 60 laps to go. After running in the top five most of the day, Kenseth was 16th on Lap 140 and then 25th on Lap 150. His fuel strategy was off, his pit times were slow and to cap it all off, he had a flat tire that needed service and forced an extra pit stop out of him.

8. Brad Keselowski (No. 2)

Penske Racing, Ford 

Where he stands: Keselowski is eighth in the standings with 634 points.
Last week: What is it about Keselowski and Watkins Glen. One year after finishing second in perhaps the most dramatic final lap of the season, Keselowski finished second again in 2013. This time, Keselowski finished behind Kyle Busch one year after he spun the No. 18 driver on the last lap. It was a finish the No. 2 team sorely needed. The defending Sprint Cup Series champion rose four spots in the rankings to No. 8, but is still searching for that all-important first victory.
What he said: “We were strong, but we just weren’t quite strong enough. We were definitely really close and we’ve been close over the last three years, but just came up a little bit short on the last lap on all three of them. That stinks, but that’s racing. We had a shot at it. I was gonna have to wreck (Kyle Busch) to really get it and I didn’t want to do that. I thought I could cross him over here on the last corner and the car just slid the back end a little too much and I just couldn’t quite pull off the move.”
This week:
In eight career starts at Michigan International Speedway, Keselowski has two top-fives and two top-10s. In the past eight years at Michigan, Keselowski ranks 18th out of 53 drivers with an average place of 17.1. He finished 12th at the first 2013 race at Michigan.
Last year: In one of Keselowski’s best races of the season, he gained 17 spots on the day and finished second after starting 19th. He benefited from Jimmie Johnson’s late trouble and led 17 laps before ceding the lead to Greg Biffle, but Keselowski held strong on a green-white-checkered restart for his third runner-up finish in the past four races.

9. Greg Biffle (No. 16)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford 

Where he stands: Biffle is ninth in the standings with 627 points.
Last week: Biffle finished 16th at Watkins Glen, yet gained a spot in the standings. That’s because Kasey Kahne wrecked and finished 34th, allowing Biffle to gain a spot. The Biff, who has one win on the season, will take it with one of his best tracks coming up. See video below of Biffle’s win at Michigan earlier this year. | Click here to read a roundup on the six members of the Coca-Cola Racing Family
What he said: Biffle was unavailable for comment.
This week: In 21 career starts at Michigan International Speedway, Biffle has four wins, 10 top-fives, 13 top-10s and one pole. He is the defending race winner. In the past eight years at Michigan, Biffle ranks first out of 53 drivers with an average place of 8.2. He won the first 2013 race at Michigan.
Last year: Biffle won the 2012 Pure Michigan 400, leading 26 of 201 laps and held off the field from the front position on a green-white-checkered restart. Coupled with his win earlier this season at the superspeedway, Biffle is the first driver to win consecutive races at Michigan since, well, Greg Biffle. The veteran accomplished back-to-back wins at the track in 2004-05 as well. Now he’s trying to become the first person to win three consecutive at the track since Bill Elliott, who won four in a row from 1985-86.

10. Martin Truex Jr. (No. 56)

Michael Waltrip Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Truex Jr. is 10th in the standings with 625 points.
Last week: With the Wild Card standings getting tighter every week, Truex Jr. moved himself into the top 10 in the standings -- and, if it holds, an automatic berth in to the Chase -- with his third-place showing at Watkins Glen. It marked a wildly successful year for the No. 56 team at road courses. Truex Jr. won at Sonoma Raceway earlier this year, giving him an average finish of 2.0 for the year on the road.
What he said: “All in all it was a good weekend. After we put that last set of tires on we almost got the lead and after that just couldn’t quite run with (Kyle Busch) after all of those restarts, all of those heat cycles in the tires. Both the 2 (Brad Keselowski) and the 18 (Kyle Busch) were just a tick better than we were on the longer runs and on the older, built-up air pressure. A couple more to go -- just have to keep chipping away at it.”
This week: In 15 career starts at Michigan International Speedway, Truex Jr. has three top-fives and five top-10s. In the past eight years at Michigan, Truex Jr. ranks 14th out of 53 drivers with an average place of 16.1. He finished third at the first 2013 race at Michigan.
Last year: Truex Jr. earned the fifth top-10 of his career at Michigan, finishing 10th after starting seventh.

12. Kasey Kahne (No. 5)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Where he stands: Kahne is 12th in the standings with 622 points.
Last week: Kahne’s postseason hopes are in wonderful shape, thanks to his two victories. Still, the No. 5 team of Hendrick Motorsports would like to finish the year strong and leave no doubt. That didn’t happen Sunday as Kahne wrecked late after a bump from Matt Kenseth, relegating the Chevrolet team to a finish of 34th. The 10-point day dropped Kahne four places in the standings. He currently holds the first of two Wild Card spots.
What he said: “I was trying to just get through there. There were some openings. I’m not sure what happened. I know I got hit in the left-rear. I don’t know how it all happened because I haven’t seen it. I felt like I was kind of over on my side of the road, but I would have to see it to know for sure.”
This week: In 19 career starts at Michigan International Speedway, Kahne has one win, seven top-fives, eight top-10s and two poles. In the past eight years at Michigan, Kahne ranks 11th out of 53 drivers with an average place of 15.6. He finished 38th at the first 2013 race at Michigan.
Last year: Kahne’s been somewhat of an enigma at Michigan, but he was on the right side of it in last year’s second race at the 2-mile track. A third-place finish was the cap to a stellar weekend in which Kahne qualified fifth and further solidified his march to the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. In the past four races at Michigan, though, Kahne has finished seventh, 33rd, third and 38th.

14. Ryan Newman (No. 39)

Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet

Where he stands: Newman is 14th in the standings with 605 points.
Last week: What a turn of events for Ryan Newman. From being told he wouldn’t have a job at Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014 to being in the Chase field in just a month’s time. Newman, who finished 14th at Watkins Glen, is the biggest beneficiary -- if you want to call it that -- of Tony Stewart’s broken leg. Newman passed his friend a current boss in the standings and holds the final Wild Card spot with four races remaining. That’s a reason to feel great after leaving The Glen, although Newman didn’t sound too pleased with his showing. | Click here to read a roundup on the six members of the Coca-Cola Racing Family
What he said: “We lacked the track position that we needed all day. We couldn’t really make any forward progress; we just maintained our position throughout the first two-thirds of the race.”
This week:
In 24 career starts at Michigan International Speedway, Newman has two wins, five top-fives, seven top-10s and one pole. In the past eight years at Michigan, Newman ranks 22nd out of 53 drivers with an average place of 19.1. He finished 18th at the first 2013 race at Michigan.
Last year: Newman finished eighth in the Pure Michigan 400 to carry the torch for Stewart-Haas Racing -- co-owner Tony Stewart finished 32nd.

Five in the rearview mirror …

Kurt Busch (No. 78)

Furniture Row Racing, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Busch is 11th in the standings with 623 points.
Last week: Busch said he wasn’t on his “A game” following the race, but even a less-than-stellar Kurt Busch is better than a lot of drivers in the field. That much was obvious when the No. 78 car of Furniture Row Racing finished ninth place, a 35-point effort that vaulted Busch to 11th in the points standings. He’s just two points behind 10th-place Martin Truex Jr.
This week: In 25 career starts at Michigan International Speedway, Busch has two wins, three top-fives, eight top-10s and two poles. In the past eight years at Michigan, Busch ranks 15th out of 53 drivers with an average place of 16.1. He finished 35th at the first 2013 race at Michigan.

Jeff Gordon (No. 24)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Where he stands: Gordon is 13th in the standings with 610 points.
Last week: A driver error sent Jeff Gordon spinning into the barrier early at Watkins Glen, resulting in a 36th-place finish. The wreck also gave his Chase hopes a hard jolt. The winless Gordon fell from ninth in the standings -- an automatic berth -- to outside the top 10. He’s 15 points behind 10th-place Martin Truex Jr. with four races to go before the postseason field is set. Watch video of the wreck below.
This week: In 41 career starts at Michigan International Speedway, Gordon has two wins, 18 top-fives, 25 top-10s and five poles. In the past eight years at Michigan, Gordon ranks ninth out of 53 drivers with an average place of 14.2. He finished 39th at the first 2013 race at Michigan.

Jamie McMurray (No. 1)

Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: McMurray is 15th in the standings with 600 points.
Last week: McMurray finished 11th at Watkins Glen, giving him a solid 34-point day (he earned a bonus point for leading a lap). The driver of the No. 1 Chevrolet remains on the fringe of the Chase picture. He’s 25 points out of 10th place, but almost certainly needs a victory to have a serious shot at the postseason. Kasey Kahne (two wins) and Ryan Newman (one win) are still above him in the standings.
This week: In 21 career starts at Michigan International Speedway, McMurray has one top-five and four top-10s. In the past eight years at Michigan, McMurray ranks 25th out of 53 drivers with an average place of 20.2. He finished 33rd at the first 2013 race at Michigan.

Joey Logano (No. 22)

Penske Racing, Ford 

Where he stands: Logano is 16th in the standings with 598 points.
Last week: With four races remaining, Logano remains in the hunt for a spot in the postseason. In the No. 22 Ford, Logano finished seventh at Watkins Glen to continue his late-season surge. Afterward, Logano said he has “a really good shot” at the postseason, if he gets a win. | Click here to read a roundup on the six members of the Coca-Cola Racing Family
This week: In nine career starts at Michigan International Speedway, Logano has four top-10s. In the past eight years at Michigan, Logano ranks 20th out of 53 drivers with an average place of 17.6. He finished ninth at the first 2013 race at Michigan.

Tony Stewart (No. 14)

Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Stewart is 17th in the standings with 594 points.
Last week: Stewart’s season is essentially up in smoke. The driver broke his right leg in a sprint car crash and missed the race at Watkins Glen, dropping him six places in the standings. He won’t race again any time soon. Even if he returns for a race in 2012, it won’t be as a member of the Chase field. | Click here to read a roundup on the six members of the Coca-Cola Racing Family
This week: In 29 career starts at Michigan International Speedway, Stewart has one win, 12 top-fives and 20 top-10s. In the past eight years at Michigan, Stewart ranks sixth out of 53 drivers with an average place of 12.7. He finished fifth at the first 2013 race at Michigan.