Three winless drivers who can win at Michigan
August 16, 2014, Brad Norman, NASCAR.com
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BROOKLYN, Mich. -- The Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup picture could sharpen considerably come Monday. Then again, it may become even more nebulous with just three regular-season races remaining.
It all depends on who wins Sunday's Pure Michigan 400 (1 p.m. ET, ESPN).
A repeat winner would ensure that any driver with one win and a locked-up top-30 spot in the standings would clinch a Chase berth -- five drivers are eligible to join the seven already in the field under this scenario.
A first-time winner, though, would produce no guarantees because it means NASCAR could still end the year with 16 different winners and a points leader without a victory -- the lone exception to that being if Matt Kenseth, currently third in points, is victorious.
It's that second scenario most of the field is looking for Sunday at this sweeping 2-mile oval in the heart of the Irish Hills, considering 31 of the 43 drivers in the lineup have not won this season.
Here's a look at three winless drivers who have the numbers to suggest they may break through Sunday:
• Greg Biffle
Biffle is the lone driver to have an average running position of less than 10.0 at Michigan in the past nine years (8.9), and his four career wins here are a personal best at any track.
The No. 16 Roush Fenway Ford was uncharacteristically slow here in June but showed speed in practice in qualifying, a change no doubt brought on by gleanings from a Roush Fenway Racing test session at Michigan in July.
Biffle is 12th in the driver standings, eight points back of Clint Bowyer -- the driver who currently holds the 16th and final seed in the Chase field.
"It is a huge improvement from June, (but) we still have a little ways to go," Biffle said Friday following his 11th-place qualifying run. "I didn't want to come here and run 10th, but I felt like if we came here and legitimately ran 10th on speed then that would be a huge improvement. I feel good about that. It is a start. We still have some to go and I don't know exactly where the rest of it is at, but we will keep working on it and see where we end up."
The No. 16 team finished fifth in Saturday's final practice.
• Clint Bowyer
Bowyer didn't qualify well Friday -- he'll start 19th -- but recent history indicates that will matter very little come Sunday.
In the last seven starts here, no one can come close to Bowyer's consistency. His finishes during that timeframe, in chronological order: eighth, eighth, seventh, seventh, seventh, fifth, 10th. His average start during that time? Exactly 20.0.
As the current 16th driver in the Chase field, Bowyer is in a unique position. He needs to win, but to also avoid unnecessary risks that could cause him to plummet out of the postseason picture.
"(We need to) win, plain and simple," Bowyer said. "But if we don't, we just need to keep focused on not making mistakes. A lot can happen and a lot of that is somewhat out of our control. … Fuel mileage seems to be a factor a lot of times at the end of the race so you have to be on it as far as strategy and (crew chief) Brian Pattie always does a good job of that."
• Kyle Larson
Sure, he only has one Sprint Cup start at Michigan, but the 22-year-old rookie had one of the best cars at the June race earlier this year.
He finished a respectable eighth place there, but was in contention for the win before being assessed a pass-through penalty with 40 laps to go after getting caught speeding on pit road.
Larson has run well at both 2-mile Michigan and Fontana in multiple series, and he was second on the leaderboard in Saturday's final practice.
"I have three good finishes here," Larson said. "I got close to winning a Nationwide race last year and possibly could have had a Cup win earlier this year if I didn't speed on pit road. I think we learned a lot last time we were here. We have learned even more throughout the races since then, so I think we should have a good run."