News & Media

Chase bubble drivers know pressure is on at MIS

August 20, 2011, Mark Aumann,

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Biffle, Stewart, Junior, Bowyer post top-15 speeds in final practice on Saturday

Greg Biffle has two wins at Michigan International Speedway in 17 starts. Tony Stewart visited Michigan's Victory Lane in 2000 and Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s last Cup victory came here in 2008.

And all three drivers, along with Clint Bowyer, realize their Chase for the Sprint Cup hopes would brighten considerably with a win in Sunday's Pure Michigan 400.

Pure Michigan 400

Final Practice
2.Ky. Busch187.41738.417
3.J. Johnson187.40738.419
4.G. Biffle187.39338.422
5.J. Gordon187.24638.452
12.D. Earnhardt186.59638.586
13.C. Bowyer186.22938.662
15.T. Stewart186.04638.700

With four races remaining before the Chase field is set, drivers on the bubble -- particularly those without a win in 2011 -- are feeling increasing pressure to record a victory. So for Biffle, sitting 13th in the points, winning the pole Friday was a big first step.

Biffle backed up that performance in Saturday's 100-minute practice session, running the fourth-quickest lap. Mark Martin paced Happy Hour with a lap of 187.642 mph, almost 3 mph slower than Biffle's pole-winning speed.

But what might put a bigger smile on Biffle's face was putting together a 10-lap stretch that was among the top six in average speed.

"We have to have a win to get in the Chase, that is obvious," Biffle said. "Here, Bristol and Atlanta are good tracks for us. I think this is probably our best opportunity. This is a huge deal for us and huge momentum for us, going into Sunday."

After terrible finishes at Infineon and Kentucky, Earnhardt seems to have at least righted the ship a bit. He finished 15th at Watkins Glen, allowing him to leapfrog Stewart into ninth in the points.

"We're not in the Chase yet, but we had a good week last week where some other guys had bad weeks," Earnhardt said. "We got some fortune there when it came to the points. Hopefully, that can help us maintain our position, if not improve it. I think we can even improve our position if we do well enough."

Earnhardt qualified eighth, so the car is obviously fast. The key, though, will be finding speed on long runs.

"We thought our setup was pretty good the last time we raced here," Earnhardt said. "We were really, really, really fast on the first two or three laps of a run and we weren't that good after 10 laps. We tried to talk ourselves into believing that we were better than we were."

October 2010. That's the last time Biffle, Stewart and Bowyer each won a Cup race. For Bowyer, being 11th in the standings isn't a pleasant feeling. It also doesn't help that he'll roll off 35th Sunday.

However, on a longer run Saturday, Bowyer's average speed on 10 consecutive laps was surpassed only by Paul Menard, Kyle Busch and Kurt Busch.

"I'm bummed out that we're in the situation we're in," Bowyer said. "We've just had too many DNFs this year and got ourselves back there, but it is what it is.

"We're in that box. We've got to go out there and work hard to be a part of the Chase. We've been there three out of the [past] four years, and I plan on being there [again]."

Stewart was running inside the top 10 in the closing laps at Watkins Glen, but was involved in an incident in the bus stop chicane and finished 27th. Stewart holds a 25-point cushion on Bowyer but knows he needs to regain the consistency he showed earlier in the year.

"There's days we've got a great race car and there's days we're off a little bit," Stewart said. "So we've got to figure out how to be more consistent first, then worry about getting better."

The final practice session was caution free, although Vickers scraped the outside wall with the right side of his No. 83 Toyota with about five minutes remaining. He drove back to the garage area to the attention of his crew. It appeared the car suffered only cosmetic damage and should be ready for the green flag Sunday.

Carl Edwards, Marcos Ambrose and Trevor Bayne all practiced their cars before hurrying off to the airport for flights to Montreal for the Nationwide race later in the afternoon. The fourth driver doing double duty this weekend -- Joe Nemechek -- flew to Canada overnight, and J.J. Yeley filled in as driver of the No. 87 Toyota.