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Driver Reports: Previewing the Quicken Loans 400

June 12, 2014, Brad Norman, NASCAR.com

Which drivers are the Ford favorites?; Analyzing Junior's chances

Editor's note: The following drivers are ranked according to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings. Driver Reports includes the top 16 in the points standings and drivers currently in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup field.

1. Jeff Gordon (No. 24)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet 

Standing: Gordon leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings with 498 points.
Past five races: 8th at Pocono, 15th at Dover, 7th at Charlotte, 1st at Kansas, 39th at Talladega.
Season stats: 1 win, 5 top-fives, 10 top-10s.
Track history: At Michigan, Gordon's average finish is 16.7 and his average running position is 14.4 over the past nine years. In 42 career starts at Michigan, he has two wins, 18 top-fives, 25 top-10s and five poles.
Quick hit: Three consecutive finishes outside the top 15 in the "Irish Hills" is reason to pause when considering Gordon's chances this weekend. Working in his favor, though, is a dominant showing at Auto Club earlier this year -- a track very similar to Michigan's 2-mile layout -- and the knowledge that Hendrick Motorsports typically produces strong cars at this track, even if those cars don't win as often here as at other venues.

2. Matt Kenseth (No. 20)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Standing: Kenseth is second in the standings with 482 points.
Past five races: 25th at Pocono, 3rd at Dover, 3rd at Charlotte, 10th at Kansas, 37th at Talladega.
Season stats: 5 top-fives, 10 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Michigan, Kenseth's average finish is 10.1 and his average running position is 10.1 over the past nine years. In 29 career starts at Michigan, he has two wins, 12 top-fives and 18 top-10s.
Quick hit: Kenseth ranks second at Michigan in average place and running position since 2005, but most of that data was accumulated while he was driving a Roush Fenway Racing Ford. His No. 20 Toyota wasn't as dominant in last year's two races, but Joe Gibbs Racing does have a successful history here -- Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch swept the 2011 Michigan races.

3. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Standing: Earnhardt Jr. is third in the standings with 476 points.
Past five races: 1st at Pocono, 9th at Dover, 19th at Charlotte, 5th at Kansas, 26th at Talladega.
Season stats: 2 wins, 7 top-fives, 9 top-10s.
Track history: At Michigan, Earnhardt Jr.'s average finish is 13.4 and his average running position is 12.8 over the past nine years. In 29 career starts at Michigan, he has two wins, six top-fives, 10 top-10s and two poles.
Quick hit: Coming off the second win of his season, Junior heads to arguably his best track on the circuit. It was at Michigan where he ended long winless streaks in both 2008 and 2012. Given how well he's running and how high his confidence is, Junior is in excellent position to join teammate Jimmie Johnson as drivers with back-to-back wins this year.

4. Jimmie Johnson (No. 48)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Standing: Johnson is fourth in the standings with 475 points.
Past five races: 6th at Pocono, 1st at Dover, 1st at Charlotte, 9th at Kansas, 23rd at Talladega.
Season stats: 2 wins, 5 top-fives, 9 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Michigan, Johnson's average finish is 16.4 and his average running position is 11.5 over the past nine years. In 24 career starts at Michigan, he has four top-fives and nine top-10s.
Quick hit: Johnson's bid for a three-peat ended with a wreck on pit road at Pocono, but now he can focus on one of the more puzzling aspects of his Sprint Cup career -- the lack of a win at Michigan. It's one of just five tracks on the Cup tour at which Johnson hasn't won -- his engine blew up while chasing Greg Biffle down for the win in last year's first race, and he suffered more car trouble in the second Michigan event. After that second misfortune, "Six-Time" said his woes would make it "sweeter" for when he finally got to Victory Lane. Expect him to be among the favorites to get there Sunday.

5. Brad Keselowski (No. 2)

Team Penske, Ford 

Standing: Keselowski is fifth in the standings with 448 points.
Past five races: 2nd at Pocono, 2nd at Dover, 10th at Charlotte, 13th at Kansas, 38th at Talladega.
Season stats: 1 win, 6 top-fives, 7 top-10s, 2 poles.
Track history: At Michigan, Keselowski's average finish is 16.9 and his average running position is 15.9 over the past nine years. In nine career starts at Michigan, he has two top-fives and two top-10s.
Quick hit: No pressure, right? Not only is this considered Keselowski's home track (he grew up 30 miles north of Detroit), but it's the home track for manufacturer Ford as well. Oh, and Keselowski has finished runner-up in two consecutive races. Given how we've seen the 2012 Sprint Cup Series champ respond to pressure in the past, expect him to rise to the occasion and deliver one of his best performances of the season.

6. Kyle Busch (No. 18)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Standing: Busch is sixth in the standings with 443 points.
Past five races: 12th at Pocono, 42nd at Dover, 9th at Charlotte, 15th at Kansas, 12th at Talladega.
Season stats: 1 win, 3 top-fives, 6 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Michigan, Busch's average finish is 16.5 and his average running position is 14.1 over the past nine years. In 18 career starts at Michigan, he has one win, four top-fives and six top-10s.
Quick hit: Busch has been boom-or-bust at Michigan, with four top-fives and four finishes outside the top 30 in 18 starts. Lean more toward the "boom" on Sunday, considering he won at sister track Auto Club Speedway in March. A top-10 is the goal, with Busch having notched only one of those in the past five races.

7. Carl Edwards (No. 99)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford 

Standing: Edwards is seventh in the standings with 441 points.
Past five races: 41st at Pocono, 14th at Dover, 4th at Charlotte, 6th at Kansas, 30th at Talladega.
Season stats: 1 win, 3 top-fives, 7 top-10s.
Track history: At Michigan, Edwards' average finish is 8.2 and his average running position is 10.2 over the past nine years. In 19 career starts at Michigan, he has two wins, nine top-fives, 15 top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: Edwards' average finish here in the loop data era is easily the best in the series. This is also one of the best tracks for Roush Fenway Racing, with the team earning wins in two of the past three events. A victory Sunday could help quell questions about why RFR is behind Team Penske this year -- but it could also raise some about whether Edwards will return to the No. 99 after his contract is up.

8. Denny Hamlin (No. 11)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Standing: Hamlin is eighth in the standings with 420 points.
Past five races: 4th at Pocono, 5th at Dover, 22nd at Charlotte, 18th at Kansas, 1st at Talladega, 22nd at Richmond.
Season stats: 1 win, 4 top-fives, 5 top-10s, 2 poles.
Track history: At Michigan, Hamlin's average finish is 15.0 and his average running position is 14.2 over the past nine years. In 16 career starts at Michigan, he has two wins, five top-fives and seven top-10s.
Quick hit: Hamlin has finished outside the top 10 for five consecutive Michigan races, and three of those results have been 30th or worse. It's been a strange decline for a driver who had two wins and one second-place finish in a three-race stretch from 2010-11. Two of those five recent finishes are explained by car trouble and a wreck, so getting back to top-10s could be in the picture if Hamlin keeps his No. 11 Toyota clean.

9. Joey Logano (No. 22)

Team Penske, Ford 

Standing: Logano is ninth in the standings with 418 points.
Past five races: 40th at Pocono, 8th at Dover, 12th at Charlotte, 4th at Kansas, 32nd at Talladega.
Season stats: 2 wins, 6 top-fives, 7 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Michigan, Logano's average finish is 16.7 and his average running position is 16.3 over the past nine years. In 10 career starts at Michigan, he has one win, one top-five, five top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: Logano is the most recent winner at Michigan, and Ford has won here three consecutive races. In addition to two top-10s last year, Logano qualified sixth and in the Coors Light Pole position. Given the strength of Team Penske in both qualifying and race trim, Logano is among the Ford drivers with a good shot at winning the Quicken Loans 400 and extending the manufacturer's streak to four.

10. Kyle Larson (No. 42)

Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, Chevrolet  

Standing: Larson is 10th in the standings with 417 points.
Past five races: 5th at Pocono, 11th at Dover, 18th at Charlotte, 12th at Kansas, 9th at Talladega.
Season stats: 3 top-fives, 6 top-10s.
Track history: Larson does not have a Sprint Cup Series start at Michigan. In one NASCAR Nationwide Series start, he finished second in 2013.
Quick hit: This might be Larson's best shot to win a race -- at least so far -- this year. The 21-year-old is coming off a top-five in his first-ever NASCAR national series race at one of the most unique venues on the circuit. He finished second at Auto Club, a similar 2-mile track, earlier this year one day after winning the NASCAR Nationwide Series race there. All the signs point to a real shot at visiting Victory Lane.

11. Ryan Newman (No. 31)

Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet 

Standing: Newman is 11th in the standings with 411 points.
Past five races: 7th at Pocono, 31st at Dover, 15th at Charlotte, 11th at Kansas, 18th at Talladega.
Season stats: 5 top-10s.
Track history: At Michigan, Newman's average finish is 18.9 and his average running position is 18.8 over the past nine years. In 25 career starts at Michigan, he has two wins, five top-fives, seven top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: Newman now has three seventh-place finishes this year, with the most recent top showing coming last week at Pocono. Yeah, it's strange Newman doesn't have a top-five yet (he averaged one every six races in 2013), but stringing together consistent finishes is fine -- so long as Newman avoids disastrous finishes. And while his top-fives are way down this year, so are his DNFs. He had four DNFs through the first 14 races last year and zero in 2014.

12. Kevin Harvick (No. 4)

Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet 

Standing: Harvick is 12th in the standings with 403 points.
Past five races: 14th at Pocono, 17th at Dover, 2nd at Charlotte, 2nd at Kansas, 7th at Talladega.
Season stats: 2 wins, 4 top-fives, 6 top-10s, 2 poles.
Track history: At Michigan, Harvick's average finish is 12.6 and his average running position is 15.4 over the past nine years. In 26 career starts at Michigan, he has one win, five top-fives and 10 top-10s.
Quick hit: Harvick finished second in both Michigan races last year, and his cars have been more powerful since moving to Stewart-Haas Racing. Automatic win, right? Well, not quite. Sure, the No. 4 Chevrolet will be among the best cars in the field -- perhaps the very best. That's been the case several times this year, and the team always seems to run into a problem, either something totally random or of their own doing on pit road.

13. Brian Vickers (No. 55)

Michael Waltrip Racing, Toyota 

Standing: Vickers is eighth in the standings with 392 points.
Past five races: 19th at Pocono, 43rd at Dover, 6th at Charlotte, 14th at Kansas, 4th at Talladega.
Season stats: 2 top-fives, 5 top-10s.
Track history: At Michigan, Vickers' average finish is 14.8 and his average running position is 16.1 over the past nine years. In 14 career starts at Michigan, he has one win, two top-fives, eight top-10s and three poles.
Quick hit: Vickers won three consecutive poles at Michigan from 2008-09, and it's one of three tracks on the circuit in which he owns a victory. The veteran has never won a race in back-to-back seasons throughout his Cup career, and this track presents one of his best opportunities to follow up last year's New Hampshire win with another.

14. Greg Biffle (No. 16)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford

Standing: Biffle is 14th in the standings with 385 points.
Past five races: 16th at Pocono, 38th at Dover, 21st at Charlotte, 16th at Kansas, 2nd at Talladega.
Season stats: 2 top-fives, 4 top-10s.
Track history: At Michigan, Biffle's average finish is 10.4 and his average running position is 8.3 over the past nine years. In 22 career starts at Michigan, he has four wins, 10 top-fives, 14 top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: The rules were different last year, but Biffle's win in this event helped secure his future berth in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Winning his second consecutive June race would almost certainly guarantee a return trip to the postseason. Biffle has won two of the past three Michigan races and has three top-fives in the last four races at the 2-mile track. Count him among the Ford favorites.

15. Austin Dillon (No. 3)

Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet  

Standing: Dillon is 15th in the standings with 385 points.
Past five races: 17th at Pocono, 20th at Dover, 16th at Charlotte, 19th at Kansas, 15th at Talladega.
Season stats: 1 top-10, 1 pole.
Track history: At Michigan, Dillon's average finish is 16.3 and his average running position is 21.6 over the past nine years. In three career starts at Michigan, his best finish is 11th in 2013.
Quick hit: More than 10 percent of Dillon's career Cup starts have come at Michigan. He finished inside the top 15 in both of last year's events, driving two different cars in the process -- the No. 33 (June) and the No. 14 (August). Driving in his own equipment this year seems to indicate Dillon is in position to earn his second top-10 this year, and first since the season-opening Daytona 500.

16. Clint Bowyer (No. 15)

Michael Waltrip Racing, Toyota

Standing: Bowyer is 16th in the standings with 383 points.
Past five races: 11th at Pocono, 4th at Dover, 17th at Charlotte, 23rd at Kansas, 3rd at Talladega.
Season stats: 2 top-fives, 4 top-10s.
Track history: At Michigan, Bowyer's average finish is 15.4 and his average running position is 16.6 over the past nine years. In 16 career starts at Michigan, he has one top-five and eight top-10s.
Quick hit: Welcome back to Driver Reports, Mr. Bowyer. With an average finish of 7.5 over the past two races, Bowyer has produced his best back-to-back performance this year. That streak should continue. No one in the past three years has been as good as Bowyer at Michigan. In order, he's finished eighth, eighth, seventh, seventh, seventh and fifth in the past six races. Start him in Fantasy Live, and expect him to challenge for the win -- or at the very least, get another bump in the standings.

27. Kurt Busch (No. 41)

Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet

Standing: Busch is 27th in the standings with 283 points.
Past five races: 3rd at Pocono, 18th at Dover, 40th at Charlotte, 29th at Kansas, 33rd at Talladega.
Season stats: 1 win, 3 top-fives, 3 top-10s.
Track history: At Michigan, Busch's average finish is 21.2 and his average running position is 15.6 over the past nine years. In 26 career starts at Michigan, he has two wins, four top-fives, nine top-10s and two poles.
Quick hit: Like his brother, Kyle, Kurt is also boom-or-bust pick at Michigan. In this case, though, it seems bust is more appropriate. You can't discount Busch's third-place finish in the 2013 August race, but he finished 30th or worse in the previous four. Given that the No. 41 has struggled with consistency this year, we'll have to assume he won't keep up the strong run produced at Pocono.