The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Chase for the Sprint Cup has finally arrived. However, things are quite different this year.
In a move to have more drama to NASCAR’s version of the playoffs, there will be four drivers eliminated after every three races. At the end of the season, four drivers will battle it out for the championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway for a one-of-a-kind duel.
With no way to know what to expect, the 16 drivers in the Chase will be gunning it out to make sure they don’t get eliminated. If a driver is out of contention, they can only contend for a position in points within the group they were eliminated with. But this is going to making things eccentric for the sport over the final 10 weeks of the season.
The 16 drivers in the Chase are now set. Here are my expectations for those drivers:
- Brad Keselowski: Keselowski should make it to the final round in the championship. He is on a tear as of late, especially in qualifying. Through just 26 races, he has led a career-high 1,278 laps; that’s more than 17 percent of all laps that he has completed. However, he has to make sure the team is not only contending for wins, but that they are also consistently up front in case someone else gets into trouble.
- Jeff Gordon: Gordon is having his best season in quite some time. There is something different about the driver of the No. 24 this year. He has developed an unbelievable relationship with crew chief Alan Gustafson. Throughout the year, he has been one of the five quickest cars at just about every single event. If he can take the momentum he had from pacing the Sprint Cup Series during the regular season to the Chase, he will undoubtedly become a five-time champion.
- Dale Earnhardt Jr.: He has had a good season, but that’s to his standards – not to Hendrick Motorsports standards. There is no doubt that he is one of the most consistent drivers in the Chase as he has a 10.9 average finish. However, it seems like he races inside of the top 10 for approximately two to four races at a time, and then has something go wrong that causes a setback. Expect him to be right on the border of making it to the final round at Homestead, but he might make it as Martinsville, Texas and Phoenix are each strong tracks for him.
- Jimmie Johnson: Johnson has not been known as the clear favorite this year. It’s likely because of the annual summer drought that the No. 48 team has gone through. However, this team is going to be just as strong in the Chase. Over the past four races, he has four top-10 finishes. A key to winning the title in this format will be consistently running up front, and Johnson did just that last year with just one finish worse than ninth. But Chad Knaus and he have had some awful luck at Homestead. If he can stay out of trouble at Homestead, he will probably be crowned the champion once again.
- Joey Logano: By far, 2014 has been the best year of this young man’s career. It’s hard to believe he is just 24 with six full-time seasons in the Cup Series. However, with his first multi-win season, he has begun to learn how to be a factor for wins on a weekly basis. The intermediate tracks have been insanely strong for the No. 22 Ford. He has never been in a position to win a championship like he is this year, and that could hurt him down the road as he deals with pressure against the veterans. With Team Penske’s speed this year, there is no reason why Logano can’t battle for his first career title.
- Kevin Harvick: This week, Harvick swapped pit crews with his owner, Tony Stewart. The move will likely take away the No. 4 team’s inconsistency on pit road, which has taken away valuable track position for the team throughout the season. Even though he only has two victories this year, Harvick has been in position to win about seven races. If he can have luck on his side for once, he will be right there with Johnson, Gordon and Keselowski at Homestead.
- Carl Edwards: Even though switching teams after the season is completed is not a distraction for the No. 99 team, the entire Roush Fenway Racing organization is going through some blatantly obvious struggles. However, he has been the strongest driver with the team, and with some solid results – he will be there for the Eliminator Round. After that, it’ll be tough for him to make it to the final round, especially with Martinsville and Texas; two tracks he somewhat struggled with this year.
- Kyle Busch: It has been a roller coaster year for all of Joe Gibbs Racing. Clearly, Busch can win a few races given the right circumstances. Things are cleared up with Dave Rogers and he. However, with just nine top 10s this year, he hasn’t shown this is going to be a championship caliber season. With Loudon and Dover in the Challenger Round, Busch can easily make his way into the Contender Round. It’ll be quite the challenge to get past that round, but if he can come out of Kansas, Charlotte and Talladega with a top 10 in each race, he’ll be able to advance.
- Denny Hamlin: Hamlin has been extremely inconsistent all year. However, he has been running rather well lately. If he can have some luck in the Chase, he can get rather far. He had a rough start to the season, but with 11 top 10s to this point, there is hope that Hamlin can at least get by the first round.
- Kurt Busch: Busch finally returned to Victory Lane this year and has shown speed nearly every week. In the Chase, there are a few tracks that he has struggled at. He should race his way into the second round, but beyond that is unlikely with a season full of inconsistency as he has just seven top 10s this year.
- Kasey Kahne: Besides his win at Atlanta, 2014 has been a season to forget for Kahne. With 10 top 10s this year, he hasn’t been horrific, yet there is plenty of room for improvement. The No. 5 team will make it past the first round, but since they have been so inconsistent, it’s unlikely that they’ll go past that.
- Aric Almirola: Almirola was extremely lucky with his win at Daytona. Without that, there was not a shot that he would’ve been in the Chase. Even if he does awful in NASCAR’s version of the playoffs, he’ll finish 16th at the worst, which would be a career-best for the driver of the No. 43 car. Chicagoland and New Hampshire have been good tracks for him. Although he is a long shot to make it past the first round, there is a slight chance that he can do so with a little bit of luck.
- AJ Allmendinger: Allmendinger’s situation is similar to that of the No. 43 team. It’s unlikely that he’ll get past the first round, but stranger things have happened. With four top 10s this season, he has the potential to do well if he can get the most out of the limited equipment that he has. Running with an alliance with Richard Childress Racing has certainly helped JTG Daugherty Racing, but it has not solved all of their on-track issues. Worst case scenario – Allmendinger will finish 16th in points instead of outside the top 20.
- Matt Kenseth: Kenseth has yet to score a win this year. He has run better than his JGR teammates all season, but just hasn’t had the luck he’s needed. With his 16 top 10s, Kenseth should make it far into the Chase. However, he won’t make it to the final round. Even if he can score a victory before the end of the season, it is going to be difficult for the No. 20 team to consistently be right there for wins as the entire crew has struggled somewhat this year.
- Greg Biffle: Biffle probably won’t make it past the first round of the Chase. He has had a brutal year. Somehow or another, the No. 16 team made the Chase based on points, albeit he has just three top fives. However, with five straight top 10 finishes prior to Richmond, he jumped six positions, which led him to 10th-place. If he can race like that, Biffle will make it past the first round. But if he struggles at the intermediate tracks like he has, then he won’t last too long in the Chase.
- Ryan Newman: This year, Newman has made a quiet, yet steady transition at RCR. He has 10 top 10 finishes, but he hasn’t really shown he is capable of winning races. Newman’s average finish is 14.1 through 26 races. Unless he earns a top five in one of the races in the first round, it’s going to be tough for him to advance. For the majority of the year, he has been a 15th-20th-place car, and he will need to improve upon that now.
Three. It doesn’t seem like a big number, yet it is a significant one for Jeff Gordon.
In a fierce battle with Joey Logano over the course of the Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway, Gordon was able to take the checkered flag for the third time in the 2014 season. Leading 69 of the 200 laps, he tied his Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. with three wins each through 23 races.
With the victory, Gordon retakes the lead in the championship standings – giving him the top seed in the Chase for the Sprint Cup as long as Johnson, Earnhardt Jr. or Brad Keselowski do not score more wins than he does until Richmond. This is the first time since 2011 that Gordon has scored three victories in a season, and the last time he won more than three races in a single year was back in 2007, where he fell just short of winning his fifth title.
“It’s never easy to win at any of these tracks, especially when aerodynamics and track position mean so much,” Gordon said. “I thought we learned a lot the last time we were here on track position. Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) just called a perfect race. I kept getting on that inside lane and just not getting very good restarts. I knew it was going to get exciting with Kurt (Busch) and Joey (Logano). Those two are very, very aggressive; and of course Kurt got loose.”
“I didn’t have any trouble with my car sticking all day and I could be really aggressive with the car through the corners. But, the No. 24 and the No. 22 kind of got jammed up a little bit there and I was able to get a good run. The No. 22 tried to move up, but I was going to stay in the throttle one way or the other. We don’t have anything to lose at this point and that was our only chance to have a win.”
Logano led a race-high 86 laps on Sunday afternoon, but he just didn’t have enough for Gordon on the final restart. After debris was found in Turn 2 from Kurt Busch’s car, the caution flag flew with approximately 20 laps to go. The No. 22 car had a comfortable gap over Gordon’s Chevrolet, but he just couldn’t hold on during the restart. Kevin Harvick was able to get by Logano to finish in the runner-up position; scoring his fifth runner-up finish of the year.
Johnson had a roller coaster day in his No. 48 car. His crew had to hand him vice grip in the middle of a green-flag pit stop due to a problem with his shifter. As he drove his vehicle back on track, he attempted to put the grip on his shifter, but that didn’t work to the team’s planning. During a caution several laps later, a crew member was able to put it in his car, but at that point – Johnson was a lap down. He was able to come back to finish in the ninth position, albeit he did have a run in with Ryan Newman following the race.
Paul Menard finished the 400-mile event in the fourth position. He finished in the same position in the race at Michigan earlier this year; his best result of the season. Greg Biffle was able to capture a top-10 finish on Sunday afternoon. He was the strongest of the Roush Fenway Racing cars during the event. With an eighth-place finish, Biffle recorded his eighth top 10 of the year and is now in position to make the Chase.
Kyle Busch had trouble at Michigan; marking the third straight week he finished 39th or worse. On Lap 4, Busch hit the wall hard and was forced to go to the garage area. However, even with the poor finish, he clinched a spot in the Chase.
Following the competition caution, Danica Patrick got loose in Turn 2. Patrick spun underneath her teammate Jeff Burton. Trevor Bayne, Michael Annett, Matt Kenseth, Justin Allgaier and Martin Truex Jr. were each involved in the incident. On Lap 97, Kyle Larson blew a tire after running strong early in the race. Larson fell back outside of the top-20, but was making his way back towards the front of the field. However, when his car hit the wall, the No. 42 Chevrolet caught on fire. This was the first time in the Sprint Cup Series that an incident like this has occurred with the new policy that was announced on Friday morning. He was enabled to exit the car immediately, but did so extremely carefully.
The Chase for the Sprint Cup is approaching. Jimmie Johnson, the six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, is searching for consistency.
Johnson is coming off of three straight rough races. After recording back-to-back 42nd-place finishes, the No. 48 team finished 14th at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. However, it is not the first time that the Hendrick Motorsports crew has struggled at this point in the season. Entering the Chase last year, Johnson had three consecutive events of 28th or worse – spanning from Bristol until Richmond. In the past, the same thing has happened to the team nearly every year.
“It’s no secret that the middle portion of the year has always been a challenge for the No. 48 team. At the start of the season and end of the season – a lot of those tracks are the same venues that we go to. The Chase era has been an advantage for us. The summer stretch has just been tough for us – it always has been. There have been years where we make it through similar than others, but this year – we have been as inconsistent as any other performance,” Johnson said on Friday morning.
“We want to stop that and start here with a very smooth weekend and successful weekend, and carry on to the Glen. Bristol is out there. That is a tough track for us. There are still a few challenges ahead, but literally – when the Chase starts – we roll into our 10 best tracks. We’ll try to maintain sanity until then. Obviously, we have to keep progressing our cars.”
The No. 48 Chevrolet has been known to have a rough stretch during the summer months, yet this year seems to be more consistent than year’s past. Through 20 events, his average finish is 13.9. Although that ranks sixth in the Cup Series, it is below his career-worst average finish of 13.6 in his rookie season back in 2002.
Johnson’s crew chief Chad Knaus, is attempting to lead the team back to championship form. But before they do that – the inconsistency must dissolve. The team has 12 top-10s this year, but six finishes of 23rd or worse.
“We are not running as well as we need to. I think everybody knows that. We have had some struggles this year. We’ve won a few races, which is great. But on a consistent level we are not as fast as what we want to be. Quite honestly I don’t think anybody is,” Knaus said.
“Well nothing matters leading into the Chase, it’s what happens once you get into the Chase obviously. Look momentum is a great thing. We all understand that. Momentum on your side is always good; it’s always good to have the sun on your face and the wind in your sails. Let’s be honest because everyone is always happier. But the fact of the matter is you can overcome anything if you have the right tools. That is what we are fighting for right now to make sure that when we show up in Chicago, Loudon and all those races that we have the proper race cars.”
The highly anticipated summer spectacle at the Daytona International Speedway is set to get under way on Saturday evening. After a wild Daytona 500, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns to its most famed track. This isn’t just any regular track, however, it is a place where you need more luck than usual to come out as the winner.
At Kentucky – an event which saw a season-low 2.3 rating for NASCAR’s highest-tier division, only 42 cars showed up for the first short field since 2001. But at Daytona, the paycheck is a lot higher for underdog teams as they attempt to make a name for themselves. Teams either love or hate Daytona, and this could be a weekend in which an underdog locks their way into the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup.
With that being said – here is our statistical analysis for the Coke-Zero 400:
- Jamie McMurray: It has been hit or miss for McMurray at Daytona. In 23 starts, he has just five top-10s at the 2.5-mile track. However, he has a pair of wins (2007 and 2010), and he has led 22 laps at Daytona since 2011. He enters this weekend 21st in points, but Daytona could be the wildcard he has been looking for to enter the Chase.
- Brad Keselowski: Coming off of a dominating victory at the Kentucky Speedway, Keselowski has all but solidified a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. He has finished eighth or better at Daytona in three of the past four races, but he has finished worse than 20th in six races at the track with an average finish of 20.2 in 10 starts.
- Austin Dillon: Dillon won the pole for the Daytona 500 in February as he was making his second Sprint Cup Series start at the famed track. He earned a top-10 that day, and he has been running strong as of late. He enters this weekend 17th in points, but he will need to make sure to stay out of trouble to have a chance at the victory.
- Kevin Harvick: Harvick has eight top-10s this year, but he has consistently been the fastest car at each race this season. He hasn’t won at Daytona since his victory in the July race back in 2010. Over the past five races at Daytona, Harvick has just two top-10s. Entering this weekend, his average finish in 2014 is 15.4 after recording two DNFs.
- Kasey Kahne: Kahne enters Daytona at the perfect time after recording three straight top-10 finishes. However, his success has been subpar at Daytona over the past three events – finishing 31st or worse in each of them. But Kahne has had some success at Daytona – including a runner-up finish in this race during the 2010 season. In 21 Daytona starts, Kahne has seven top-10s and an average finish of 19.5.
- Michael Annett: Annett finished a season-best 16th at Talladega, but he was involved in a wreck at Lap 161 during his first Daytona 500. Last year, Annett was seriously injured in Nationwide Series competition at Daytona – forcing him to miss more than two months while racing for Richard Petty Motorsports. In 10 Nationwide Series races at Daytona, Annett has two top-10s with an average finish of 21st.
- Marcos Ambrose: Ambrose is coming off of two solid finishes. Moreover, he has just one top-10 at Daytona in 11 starts. He finished inside of the top-20 in both restrictor plate races this year, but was not a contender for the win. Entering Daytona, he is 20th in points and is still looking for his first win on an oval track.
- Danica Patrick: A lot of eyes will be on the No. 10 Chevrolet this weekend. She has a pair of top-15 finishes at Daytona in four starts. However, she has begun to turn the corner this season with five finishes inside of the top-20 this year.
- Denny Hamlin: Hamlin won one of the Budweiser Duel’s this year and he also won the Sprint Unlimited. Finishing runner-up in the Daytona 500 – Hamlin is bound to have success this weekend as he looks to capture his first victory at Daytona during a points paying event. In 17 starts at Daytona, he has just three top-10s with an average finish of 20.4. However, he won at Talladega a few months ago, and he sits 17th in points even after missing the race at the Auto Club Speedway.
- Casey Mears: Mears has had success at Daytona in the past – including back-to-back top-10 finishes at the track. Mears is 24th in points for Germain Racing, and they have finished inside of the top-20 in each of the past two events. In 20 starts at Daytona, he has four top-10s, and he will be a factor on Saturday evening.
- Tony Stewart: Stewart’s No. 14 team has been inconsistent this year – producing an average finish of 17.1. However, he has run stronger than that as of late – including at Pocono where he was on pace to contend for the win until a pit road speeding penalty derailed his efforts. Stewart has won the July race at Daytona on four different occasions with the last coming in 2012. He is still looking for his first win of 2014, and this might be the weekend he does just that. In 31 Daytona starts, Stewart has 14 top-10s with an average finish of approximately 17th.
- Clint Bowyer: Bowyer hasn’t had the season he expected after re-signing with Michael Waltrip Racing. Entering Daytona, he has a pair of top-fives and six top-10s as the No. 15 team sits 14th in points. Bowyer has never won at Daytona, but has had success at its sister track – the Talladega Superspeedway. In 17 starts at Daytona, he has seven top-10s, and he has led 19 or more laps in four events at the 2.5-mile track.
- Greg Biffle: Like Bowyer, Biffle is also winless entering the third restrictor plate race of the year. However, he finished in the runner-up spot at Talladega, and he recorded his seventh career top-10 at Daytona in February. In 23 starts at Daytona, Biffle has an average finish of 19.2, and has three top-10s in the last five races at the track.
- Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: This could be an opportunity race for Stenhouse as he has struggled on the intermediate tracks this year. Entering Daytona 27th in points with an average finish of 24.1, he needs a good run to get back into contention to make the Chase. In four career starts at Daytona, he has never finished worse than 20th, and he has improved his finishing position in each race he has run at the track.
- Kyle Busch: Busch is running the Nationwide Series race on Friday evening as well as the Cup Series race. However, he has just one win at Daytona in the Nationwide Series as well as one in the Sprint Cup Series. In 19 Cup Series starts at Daytona, Busch has six top-10s, but none have come since 2011. After a runner-up finish at Kentucky, he enters Daytona 10th in points.
- Matt Kenseth: Kenseth has been the victim of the runner-up curse this year. The two-time Daytona 500 is looking to capture his first July victory at the speedway as he will make his 30th career start at Daytona. Kenseth has 14 top-10s at Daytona along with six top-fives – leading 50 or more laps in three of the past five races at the track. He enters this race fifth in points as the No. 20 has still not secured a spot in the Chase.
- Trevor Bayne: Running his partial schedule for the Wood Brothers, this will be the final time Bayne races the No. 21 car at Daytona. Bayne, the 2011 Daytona 500 winner, is looking for his first top-10 at the track since that victory.
- Joey Logano: Logano has two wins entering Daytona, so he can go for broke this weekend. With nine top-10s this season, he enters this weekend seventh in points. In 11 career starts at Daytona, he has three top-10s with an average finish of 20th.
- Alex Bowman: Bowman finished inside of the top-25 in his Cup Series debut at Daytona in February. His best finish this year is 22nd at Fontana.
- Jeff Gordon: Gordon is the point’s leader entering Daytona, and he has 13 top-10s this season with an average finish of 8.5. In 43 starts at Daytona, Gordon has six wins with 20 top-10s. He has also led 621 laps after completing more than 94 percent of all laps run at the speedway.
- Cole Whitt: After swapping teams before Richmond, Whitt has settled in as the leader at BK Racing. Whitt ran well during both restrictor plate races this year, and should be able to lock up his third top-25 finish this year if he can avoid wrecks.
- Paul Menard: Menard enters Daytona with nine top-10s this year as he is 11th in points. He has three top-10s at Daytona in 14 starts. In February, Menard led 29 laps as he was one of the strongest cars in the field.
- Joe Nemechek: Nemechek is attempting to make RAB Racing’s Sprint Cup Series debut this weekend. They attempted to make the Daytona 500 a few years ago with Kenny Wallace, but the team had mechanical issues during the Duel race.
- Ryan Newman: Newman ran his best race of the season at Kentucky last weekend. Entering Daytona, he has six top-10s this season with an average finish of 13.9. In 25 Daytona starts, Newman has one win (2008 Daytona 500) along with six top-10s.
- Terry Labonte: Labonte is making his last Sprint Cup Series start at the Daytona International Speedway. This will be his 889th Cup Series race and he will be making his 63rd career start at Daytona.
- Bobby Labonte: He has not raced since the Daytona 500 this year after recording a 15th-place finish. This will be his 44th career start and he is still searching for win No. 1 at Daytona.
- David Ragan: This will be Front Row Motorsports first of two chances to win a race after getting wrecked out of both plate races this year. Ragan won at Talladega in the past along with a Daytona win in 2011. In 15 Daytona starts, he has four top-10s with an average finish slightly worse than 20th.
- Reed Sorenson: Sorenson has three top-10s in 10 starts at Daytona. This is going to be an opportunity race for this team as well. Entering Daytona, he is 33rd in points with an average finish of 31.5.
- David Gilliland: Gilliland, like his teammate, wrecked at both plate races this year. However, he recorded a pole in his first Daytona start and has a pair of top-10s at the track in 12 starts.
- Landon Cassill: Cassill has had career-best runs at both plate races so far this season with 12th and 11th-place finishes, respectively. In five Cup Series starts at Daytona, Cassill has an average finish better than 25th.
- Kyle Larson: Larson has seven top-10s entering Daytona this weekend as he is 12th in points. However, after finishing outside of the top-30 during the Daytona, he ran inside of the top-10 at Talladega. He has an average finish of 16.2 this year.
- Aric Almirola: Almirola has had some bad luck at Daytona in the past as he has never recorded a top-10 finish at the track in six starts. He has three top-10s this season, but currently sits 23rd in points after being involved in three wrecks this year which forced him to park early.
- A.J. Allmendinger: Allmendinger earned a top-five finish at Talladega and is looking for his fourth top-10 this year. In 10 starts at Daytona, he has just two top-10s, but he’s led 16 laps at the track. Allmendinger enters Daytona 22nd in points.
- Jimmie Johnson: After a slow start to the year, Johnson has won three of the last six races. He sits second in points with 12 top-10s and an average finish of 10.6. He swept the Daytona races last season, but finished fifth in this year’s Daytona 500. In 25 Daytona starts, Johnson has 12 top-10s with three wins (two Daytona 500 victories).
- Justin Allgaier: Allgaier is making his second start at Daytona in the Cup Series, and he has been running well as of late for HScott Motorsports. This could be the team’s best race of the year as they look for their first top-10.
- Brian Vickers: Vickers finished inside of the top-five at Talladega, but struggled in the Daytona 500. The team has struggled over the past five races – finishing 14th or worse in each event. Entering Daytona, he has five top-10s this season as he is 19th in points. In 15 starts at Daytona, Vickers has three top-10s, but has never recorded a top-five finish.
- Michael Waltrip: Waltrip only runs the restrictor plate races at this stage in his career. In 52 Daytona starts, he has 15 top-10s along with three wins (two Daytona 500 victories).
- Martin Truex Jr.: Truex Jr. blew an engine 30 laps into the Daytona 500, but the team’s momentum has slowly been coming back. Entering Daytona, they have three top-10s and sit 25th in points. However, in 18 starts at Daytona, Truex has just one top-10 finish as his average finish is 23.7 with four DNFs.
- Ryan Truex: He missed the Daytona 500, but ran well at Talladega until getting caught up in a wreck. Truex has DNQed three times this season, and he is 37th in points.
- Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Going for the ‘Daytona Double’ this weekend, Earnhardt Jr. is looking for his third victory of 2014. This is his first multi-win season in a decade, and he is tied with Johnson for the second spot in the standings. Entering Daytona, he has 12 top-10s with nine top-fives. In 29 starts at Daytona, he has three wins with 17 top-10s – putting up an average finish of 13.4 for one of the best restrictor plate drivers in the sport.
- Michael McDowell: McDowell struggled during his Duel event at Daytona – missing the Daytona 500 in his first attempt of 20 scheduled events this year. He is coming off of a season-best 24th-place finish at Sonoma. In seven starts at Daytona, McDowell has one top-10 finish, but he has only been running at the finish in three of those events.
- Josh Wise: Wise has missed just one race this year (Phoenix) while driving for Phil Parsons Racing. They made a lot of noise at Bristol, and that created buzz around the internet world with their widely known Dogecoin community backing them. In four races at Daytona, Wise has a best finish of 24th.
- Carl Edwards: Edwards has two wins this season for Roush Fenway Racing – the only wins for the company. Entering Daytona, he has eight top-10s and sits sixth in points. In 19 starts at Daytona, Edwards has a best finish of second (twice), and has eight top-10s with an average finish of 18.1.
After a wild finish at the Pocono Raceway, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has arrived to another high speed track – the Michigan International Speedway. But these two tracks don’t have many similar characteristics other than the fact that they have been known to be extremely fast.
The last three Michigan races have been won by Ford drivers, Greg Biffle and Joey Logano. However, from 2009 until Biffle’s win in 2012, Toyota drivers dominated at Michigan with four wins over the course of seven races. During the first practice session of the weekend, the top-21 drivers ran speeds over 200 mph. Now, let’s take a look at who has the advantage going into Michigan.
-Jamie McMurray: McMurray has struggled at Michigan in the past with just four top-10s in 22 starts at the track with his last coming in 2008. He had a strong car in this race last year, but ended up finishing four laps down after leading 21 laps. After finishing 10th at Pocono, McMurray enters Michigan 21st in the standings.
-Brad Keselowski: Keselowski is coming off of a disappointing day at Pocono. He dominated the race, but with less than five laps to go, gave up the lead due to having debris on his grille and he could never get back around Dale Earnhardt Jr. Michigan is his home track, and he is determined to get a victory there. In nine Michigan starts, Keselowski has led 37 laps with two top-fives, including a runner-up in 2012.
-Austin Dillon: Dillon ran his second NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Michigan back in 2012, and managed to run inside the top-25 for the majority of the race. In three Nationwide Series starts at the track, Dillon has a pair of pole awards, along with a top-five finish. But he also ran both Michigan races in 2013, and he finished inside the top-15 during both of them. He enters Michigan 15th in points and is looking for his second top-10 of the year.
-Kevin Harvick: Harvick was extremely fast at Pocono, but once again – he had something go wrong that was out of his control. Even with bad luck, Harvick is 12th in points with two wins. In 26 Michigan starts, Harvick has a win (2010) and three runner-up finishes, including both races in 2013.
-Kasey Kahne: Kahne’s sponsor, Farmer’s Insurance, just signed a contract extension through 2017. He was quickest in first practice, and is looking to gain some momentum after being the worst of the four Hendrick Motorsports cars all year. In 20 Michigan starts, Kahne has nine top-10s along with a win back in 2006.
-Michael Annett: Annett is coming off of a 20th-place finish at Pocono. He has been strong at the larger tracks this year, and he might be able to come away with a solid run.
-Marcos Ambrose: Ambrose has struggled this year. He has only recorded top-10s at short tracks, but he has not run well at the larger speedways. Since the repave at Michigan, Ambrose has run very well at the track – earning three top-10s over the last four races.
-Danica Patrick: Patrick has started to turn the corner on her NASCAR career. Instead of struggling to run inside the top-25 weekly, she has started to run no worse than the top-25, especially at the sport’s larger tracks. Patrick is coming off of three rough weeks, but she recorded a 13th-place finish at Michigan last year, and is looking for some momentum.
-Denny Hamlin: As mentioned earlier, Toyota dominated Michigan for a few years, and Hamlin won two of those races. Since the repave, Hamlin has struggled at the track as he finished inside of the top-15 just once over the past four races at Michigan. He has momentum on his side, however, as he has run inside of the top-five for back-to-back weeks.
-Juan Pablo Montoya: Montoya is making his return to NASCAR competition for the first time since Homestead last year. He just earned his first IndyCar Series podium finish of the season with a third-place finish at Texas. Montoya has never been outstanding at Michigan in NASCAR with three top-10s in 14 starts at the track, but this is more of a preview for what is to come at Indianapolis later this year.
-Casey Mears: Has three top-10s at Michigan, but his best finish at Michigan was 20th since he joined Germain Racing. Mears is solidly 25th in points as that is about where he has been running week-in and week-out.
-Tony Stewart: Stewart gave up a victory at Pocono last weekend with a speeding penalty. He is coming off of three straight solid runs, but this might be the weekend where he gets back to victory lane. Stewart has 20 top-10s in 29 Michigan starts with an average finish of 11.7.
-Clint Bowyer: Bowyer has not been incredibly strong this season as his average finish is worse than 17th, but he is starting to turn the corner. Over the past eight Michigan races, Bowyer hasn’t finished worse than eighth with a career-best finish of fifth last season. He is coming off of two straight top-11 runs, and is currently 16th in points.
-Greg Biffle: The entire Roush-Fenway Racing team has struggled mightily this year at the intermediate tracks – which has historically been their strong suit. However, Biffle’s best track is Michigan as he has won four times in 22 starts at the track. Biffle has 14 top-10s at Michigan, and has won two of the last three races at the track. He has just two top-10s at non-restrictor plate tracks this year, but Michigan is the right place to turn things around.
-Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Like Biffle, Stenhouse Jr. is just searching for consistency. He has three top-10s this year, but he has multiple finishes of 25th or worse. He finished inside of the top-20 for both Michigan races last year, and this could be a vital time in the No. 17 team’s season.
-Kyle Busch: Busch has sparked some controversy over the past two weeks with incidents that involved Bowyer and Kahne, respectively. Busch has been strong at the larger tracks this year, and he has an average finish of 13.2 this year. He won at Michigan in 2011, but he has just six top-10s in 18 starts at the track.
-Matt Kenseth: Kenseth is still searching for his first victory of the season after scoring seven wins in 2013. He has 10 top-10s this year, but he is going back to his old form where he struggles to start races but then gets stronger late in the event. At Michigan, Kenseth has a victory (2006) with 18 top-10s in 29 starts. He has an average finish of 9.6 at Michigan as he looks to capture that elusive victory.
-Trevor Bayne: Bayne will race in NASCAR’s highest level on a full-time basis next year. As of now, he is still racing for the Wood Brothers as he attempts to earn his first finish that is better than 19th this year. He has an average finish of 23.8 at Michigan, but he has two top-20 finishes at the track.
-Joey Logano: Logano won his first race for Team Penske at Michigan last year, and since then – he has been incredibly strong at the tracks 1.5-miles long or larger. Entering Michigan, Logano has seven top-10s this year and has already surpassed the most laps he has led in a single season with 447. At Michigan, he has five top-10s in 10 starts, but he did struggle at the track with Joe Gibbs Racing in the past.
-Jeff Gordon: Gordon has two wins at Michigan along with 25 top-10s in 42 starts. Entering Michigan, Gordon holds the points lead as he also has a win this year. He has been strong just about everywhere this year. The last three Michigan races have been not too well for Gordon with his best finish being 17th.
-Paul Menard: Menard has been carrying the torch at Richard Childress Racing this year. With seven top-10s this year, he is bound to have a good run at Michigan as he has been running strong at the larger speedways. In 15 starts at Michigan, he has three top-10s, but each of those has been recorded since 2011.
-Ryan Newman: Newman is coming off of his first top-10 since Richmond over a month ago. He has consistently run inside of the top-15 on a weekly basis, but he has not been contending for wins. In 25 Michigan starts, Newman has a pair of wins (2003 & 2004) along with seven top-10s. Since 2011, he has been up and down at Michigan, but RCR has been strong there in the past which might benefit him on Sunday.
-Kurt Busch: Coming off of one of his best races this year, Busch has plenty of confidence in his No. 41 team. He led a good chunk of both Michigan events in 2013 while driving for Furniture Row Racing. In 26 races at Michigan, he has two wins with nine top-10s, but he has an average finish of 21.2.
-Kyle Larson: Larson has made just one prior start at Michigan in the Nationwide Series, and he finished second in that race. He enters Michigan inside of the top-10 in points, and he is 10th in points with six top-10s. He also announced on Friday morning that his girlfriend and he are expecting a child during the final week in December.
-Aric Almirola: Almirola has had a solid start to the 2014 season. A 43rd-place finish at Fontana dropped him to 26th in points, but he is steadily working his way back up with top-15 runs on a weekly basis. In four starts at Michigan, he has never finished worse than 20th, but he has maxed out at 17th.
-A.J. Allmendinger: Considering it is his first full-time season with this team, Allmendinger has been running rather well with three top-10s. He has struggled over the past month as he hasn’t cracked the top-20, but Michigan has been a decent track for him. Though he has never cracked the top-10 in 11 Michigan starts, Allmendinger has seven top-20 finishes at the track.
-Jimmie Johnson: Michigan is one of the few tracks Johnson has never won at in his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career. He’s been in position to win at the speedway multiple times, but something always goes wrong – especially when it comes down to fuel strategy. During the last three Michigan races, Johnson has finished 27th or worse with two engine failures. His average finish at Michigan is 16.8, but he is on a hot streak with four straight top-10s, including back-to-back wins.
-Justin Allgaier: Allgaier has struggled in his rookie year with HScott Motorsports. The No. 51 team is running better at the shorter tracks, but Michigan has been a good track for Allgaier in the past. In five Nationwide Series starts at Michigan, he earned two top-10 finishes with none being worse than 14th.
-Brian Vickers: Vickers won a fuel mileage race at Michigan in 2009 for Red Bull Racing, but he hasn’t run at the track since the repave just like Pocono. He enters Michigan 13th in points with an average finish slightly below 16th this year. In 14 races at Michigan, Vickers has eight top-10s along with a pair of top-fives.
-Brett Moffitt: Moffitt is running in place of Jeff Burton this weekend. In a joint effort between Identity Ventures Racing and Michael Waltrip Racing, Moffitt is running his second NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.
-Martin Truex Jr.: This team is starting to get on a hot streak with back-to-back top-10 finishes. Busch contended for the win at both Michigan races last year, and Truex finished third in this race. In 16 prior starts at Michigan, he has three top-fives along with five top-10s as his average finish is 15.7.
-Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Coming off of his win at Pocono, Earnhardt Jr. returns to one of his best tracks. He has two wins and 10 top-10s at Michigan in 29 starts, but it has been hit or miss for him. Entering Michigan, he is third in points with nine top-10s and seven top-fives.
-Carl Edwards: Edwards enters Michigan seventh in points after dropping four spots due to a crash at Pocono. The entire RFR team has been inconsistent at the larger tracks, but this is one of his better speedways. In 19 starts at Michigan, Edwards has a pair of wins with 15 top-10 finishes.