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Virtual Pit Reporter: News on 25 Cup teams

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1) Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports
  • This week: Gordon has four wins, five poles, 10 top-fives and 12 top-10s in the first 14 races of this season -- better statistics through 14 races than any of his previous 14 seasons, including 1998, when he racked up 13 wins. While he leads the point standings by 242 heading into this Sunday's Citizens Bank 400 at Michigan International Speedway, Gordon knows a 1998-type performance through the final stretch would help him achieve his fifth Cup championship. Gordon, who has four Cup championships to his credit when it was the Winston Cup, would like nothing more than to add a Nextel Cup to his resume. "I had reservations about the 'Chase for the NASCAR Nextel Cup' when it was first introduced," Gordon said. "But it has added a level of excitement for the fans during the final 10 races and added a level of intensity for the teams and drivers as well. I believe it is much tougher to win a championship under this format. We've had a great start to the year, but we want to carry it up to and through the Chase. We've been competitive almost every race. When we weren't, we either worked really hard on the car throughout the race and made it better, or my crew chief, Steve Letarte, made the right call in the pits to give us a shot at the win or a good finish. I think our start this year can be traced back to the 'Chase' last year. We finished sixth in the final standings, but that doesn't begin to tell the whole story. I felt we were very competitive during the entire stretch, but a fuel pump failure at Kansas, a blown engine at Charlotte and an accident at Talladega took us out of contention. Those must be limited if you're going to have a shot at the championship." While it will be tough to duplicate, Gordon and the No. 24 DuPont team hope to come close to the consistency they used during the final half of the 1998 season to capture their third championship. During the final 20 races that year, Gordon had 10 wins and 19 top-fives. His worst finish during that stretch? Seventh. And that streak began at the first race in Michigan, site of this weekend's race. Gordon has two wins, four poles, 15 top-fives and 19 top-10s in 28 starts at MIS. "Michigan is one of my favorite tracks -- it's a driver's track," Gordon said. "If your car is not working the way you'd like it to, you can try different lines. You can drive the bottom, middle or top. You can try going into the corner high or you can try entering the corner low. I think that's the reason most drivers like it. I know it's my favorite."
  • Last week: Gordon won Sunday night's rain-shortened Pocono 500 with a pit stop gamble that paid off when he passed Ryan Newman just before the yellow flag for rain stopped the race after 106 laps.
  • Etc.: Gordon is worried about fuel mileage at the 2-mile oval in Michigan. "Fuel mileage is always an issue because there are so many wide grooves and so many options," Gordon said. "We don't see a lot of cautions. Any track where we don't see a lot of cautions, then fuel mileage is an issue."

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    2) Matt Kenseth, No. 17 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing
  • This week: Kenseth has two wins, six top-fives and 10 top-10s in 14 races at Michigan. His average finish of 7.9 at Michigan is second best among the 23 tracks that he has raced at in his Cup career, trailing only Las Vegas (7.6), and is the best all-time among drivers with two or more starts at Michigan. Since he entered the series full-time in 2000, no one has more completed laps on two-mile ovals (Michigan and Fontana) than Kenseth's 5,549. "I always look forward to racing at Michigan, mainly because of the track," Kenseth said. "It's in the Midwest, pretty close to where I grew up. It has three or four grooves, and, really, anywhere we go that there's plenty of room to pass. ... It obviously helps that we've run good there in the past, but I like how you can move around and find a groove that works best for you. There's a lot of passing, and it's always a good show."
  • Last week: Kenseth's ninth-place finish at Pocono moved him into second in the standings. "I feel really good about where we are in the points," Kenseth said. "We're about halfway to the Chase and sitting pretty good in the points. Hopefully we can keep getting these cars better. We haven't been as good as some of the guys around us, where we're able to go out and compete for wins each week, but we have been pretty close. I think we're improving, and hopefully we'll peak at the right time."
  • Etc.: Kenseth is the only driver in the Nextel Cup Series who has completed every lap to this point in 2007, a total of 4,559.

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    3) Denny Hamlin, No. 11 Chevrolet, Joe Gibbs Racing
  • This week: This will be Hamlin's fourth start overall and third Cup start at Michigan. Last year, he finished 12th in the rain-shortened Michigan race in June. He started ninth and finished ninth there last August. "Michigan is a big-motor track, and bodies play a huge factor -- an area where we've had good advancement since last year," Hamlin said. "We were just starting to find a groove where the car was at its best last year when the rains came, and with the new Chevy R07 engine performing the way it has been, we're pretty optimistic heading into Michigan. We've improved on most of our finishes compared to last year, and we'll be looking to continue that here on Sunday."
  • Last week: Although he appeared to be the driver to beat and led much of the race, Hamlin was sixth when rain fell at Pocono, forcing the race to be called after 106 laps. "(Pocono) was disappointing, but we've moved past that," he said. "I guess we feel good about being third in the standings right now considering where we were last year at this time, but there is a lot of racing left with 12 races remaining before the Chase. With the new format putting emphasis on wins, we're really working on getting to Victory Lane so we can have a good seed when the Chase starts. We can talk about top-10s and top-fives all we want, but we won't be satisfied until we have a couple of wins under our belt and are leading the points going into the Chase."
  • Etc.: Hamlin will continue the FedEx 2007 "Wear Your Heart on Your Helmet" campaign by wearing the fourth of 11 helmets designed by children's hospital patients and Make-A-Wish® recipients. Hamlin will be wearing a special FedEx Freight helmet designed by 15 year-old Carly J. from Flagstaff, Ariz., who is having her wish granted by the Make-A-Wish Foundation during the Citizen's Bank 400.

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    4) Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports
  • This week: Johnson's fourth-place finish at Michigan in June 2004 is his only top-five finish there and one of just three top-10 finishes he has in 10 races at the track. He finished sixth in this race last year and 13th at MIS last August. "We've had some decent, competitive runs at Michigan, but nothing where we've won. Hopefully we can change that," he said. "But it's been a track that has challenged us a little bit. We've had a lot of success at Fontana, but haven't been able to have the same success at Michigan. It's one of the tracks that we really want to improve on and we're focusing a lot on and putting a lot of effort on it." Despite his lack of a victory, he likes racing on the wide two-mile oval. "It just always puts on great racing," he said. "It's a track we can always count on to see good side-by-side racing and lots of grooves and lots of action. I'm excited to go back. I know it's a favorite for a lot of the drivers. There's so much room to race. If your car is not handling great, you can move around. But more than anything, if you've got a good car and you can get some track position, you can get outside and start passing people."
  • Last week: The 2006 Nextel Cup Champion finished 42nd at Pocono and fell from second to fourth in the points race, 305 behind Jeff Gordon.
  • Etc.: Johnson has won four times this year, tying Gordon for the most on the Nextel Cup circuit. Johnson will drive a Chevrolet Monte Carlo at Michigan this weekend. ... Although race engineer Greg Ives is from Bark River, Mich., he didn't grow up anywhere close to Michigan International Speedway. Bark River is on the Wisconsin border in the Upper Peninsula, which means the track is closer to Buffalo, N.Y., than Ives' hometown.

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    5) Jeff Burton, No. 31 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing
  • This week: Burton has two poles, four top-fives and eight top-10s in 26 starts at Michigan. He will drive chassis No. 155 from Richard Childress Racing. This is the same AT&T Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS that Burton raced to victory at Texas Motor Speedway earlier this year. The car also was used at California (started eighth, finished fourth), Las Vegas (started fifth, finished 15th), Atlanta (started 32nd, finished fourth) and Lowe's (started 25th, finished 24th). "I think the thing that really sticks out is the width of the groove," Burton said of MIS. "There are a lot of options at Michigan. You can run all the way down on the white line or run almost up by the wall. You don't have to follow somebody around. It's certainly not a one-groove track. That makes it so the driver has options. It also makes it a challenge for the team because the car has to work in multiple grooves. Running the groove that you feel good about in practice is important but you also need to run the groove that you may have to run in the race. Getting the car to work well in multiple grooves is important."
  • Last week: Burton's 13th-place finish at Pocono was his 11th top-15 finish in the season's first 14 races. Burton has five top-five and seven top-10 finishes and has finished outside the top 25 only twice.
  • Etc.: One member of Burton's over-the-wall pit crew hails from of Michigan. Jackman Bill Ferguson grew up in White Lake, Mich. In addition to his race day duty on the No. 31 AT&T Chevrolet, Ferguson is also the engineer on the No. 21 AutoZone Chevrolet team that competes in the NASCAR Busch Series.

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    6) Tony Stewart, No. 20 Chevrolet, Joe Gibbs Racing
  • This week: Of Stewart's 29 career wins in the Cup Series, only four have come before June. Stewart heats up when the weather heats ups, with June typically being the month where the two-time Nextel Cup champion kicks into high gear. Stewart has four wins in June, along with three second-place efforts, eight top-threes and 10 top-fives. One of those wins came in June 2003 at Michigan International Speedway, site of this weekend's Citizens Bank 400. Stewart will be making his 17th career Cup start at Michigan. In his 16 previous starts on the 2-mile D-shaped oval, Stewart has six top-threes, seven top-fives and 10 top-10s. In seven of Stewart's last nine outings at Michigan, he has finished in the top-10, his most recent result being a third-place finish last August. "It's so wide and there are so many lines that you can run -- that's what makes Michigan fun for drivers," Stewart said. "You have to figure out how to gauge your momentum and know where you want to be on that race track when you enter those corners. Michigan's layout gives the drivers the flexibility to really make a difference in their car's handling. Yes, you can definitely move around at Michigan. The thing about Michigan is that it's been there for so long now that there's no one, specific groove anymore. You can literally race from the white line on the apron all the way to the wall. That's the groove. Depending on how your car is driving, you can move around on the race track and help yourself. That's what makes Michigan such a fun race track for the drivers. The drivers can really help themselves out if they don't have a car that's working right. You can move around on the race track and find a spot that helps your car do what you need it to do."
  • Last week: Stewart is coming off a fifth place at Pocono.
  • Etc.: Mechanic Bill Byrne is from Marne, Mich., and fabricator and catch can man Brian "Shaggy" Larson is from Escanaba, Mich. Just to the south, mechanic Jerry Cook is from Toledo, Ohio; engine specialist Jarrad Egert is from Elmore, Ohio; and engineer Adam Stevens is from Portsmouth, Ohio.

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    7) Carl Edwards, No. 99 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing
  • This week: Edwards has no wins, three top-fives and four top-10s in five Cup starts at Michigan. Sunday will be his 100th career Cup start. "I'm really excited about that. It is truly amazing how fast time flies," Edwards said. "It seems like just yesterday I got the call from Jack (Roush, team owner) letting me know I'd be taking over the No. 99. I remember being so excited and really nervous. Now 100 races later, I am just as excited about the opportunity he gave me." Edwards made his Cup Series debut at Michigan in August 2004 -- he started that race 23rd and finished 10th. He is seventh in the standings with 1,710 points, 539 points behind leader, Jeff Gordon. "Michigan is a kind of a bragging-rights track," Edwards said. "It's in Roush's backyard, Ford's backyard, so a win there would be huge. Crew chief Bob Osborne and the team have worked so hard this year, and I can't thank them enough for really making tons of improvements."
  • Last week: Edwards was 14th at Pocono.
  • Etc.: Edwards will travel between Michigan and Kentucky to compete in both the Nextel Cup and Busch Series events. Edwards is coming off a Busch Series win at Nashville and leads the Busch Series standings.

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    8) Clint Bowyer, No. 07 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing
  • This week: Bowyer is ready for his third start at Michigan, where he finished 39th last June and 33rd last August. He will drive the same Chevrolet he raced to a sixth-place finish in March at Atlanta. The car was built new in 2005, and Dave Blaney drove it at Dover in September 2005 (started 24th, finished 20th) and at Texas Motor Speedway in November later that year (started 13th, finished 28th). Bowyer raced this car last season in Las Vegas (started 20th, finished 15th) and in May at Texas (started 12th, finished 19th). Before Atlanta, this Chevrolet was rebuilt from the ground up, including a new body and front and rear chassis clips. "I like Michigan a lot," Bowyer said. "You can slip and slide all around. You can run on the bottom, you can run on the top -- basically, you can run all over the place at Michigan. As soon as the rag falls you go off into turn one and it's like, 'Man, everybody is everywhere.' You'll have cars on the bottom, on the top and in the middle. Trust me; it doesn't take long to get three- and four-wide. Michigan is kind of like dirt racing. The groove moves around. You can be good on the top and before you know it, you're struggling up there and then the bottom starts rolling. To me, that's a lot like dirt racing. You search around for the line and you'll hit it and run good for a while, but then it will fade and you have to go searching around again. That's what makes Michigan a fun race track for me."
  • Last week: Bowyer is coming off a 10th place at Pocono.
  • Etc.: Over the season's first 14 races, Bowyer has earned one pole and seven top-10 finishes. He has a 16.3 starting average and a 15.9 finishing average. The 28-year-old driver has completed 4,451 of 4,559 total laps contested (97.63 percent) and sits solidly in eighth in the Cup Series championship point standings. Over the first 14 races last season, Bowyer had a 22.2 average start and a 19.1 average finish. He was 16th in points heading into the first Michigan race last year.

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    9) Kevin Harvick, No. 29 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing
  • This week: Harvick's second-place finish in August 2003 and third-place in August 2002 are his only two top-five finishes at Michigan. He has four top-10s in 12 Cup starts there and will drive chassis No. 174. Built new in 2006, this is the same car in which Harvick battled Matt Kenseth for the win at California in February before a flat tire forced him to make an unscheduled pit stop and left him with a 17th-place finish. This chassis also saw action this year at Texas Motor Speedway, where he started 11th and finished 29th, and last year at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (started 10th, finished third) and at Lowe's Motor Speedway in October (started fifth, finished 18th). "Michigan is a little different than most tracks," Harvick said. "You can run from the white line to the wall on the first lap if you want to. At tracks like Chicago and Kansas you have to slowly creep up the race track and wait until rubber builds to make your way up near the wall. At Michigan you can go right to the wall on lap one or lap 100. It really doesn't matter."
  • Last week: Harvick barely missed the top 10 with an 11th at Pocono.
  • Etc.: Harvick leads all drivers in the Green Flag Passes category with 1,445 this season. Harvick also will race Kevin Harvick Incorporated's No. 2 Chevrolet Silverado at Michigan on Saturday in the Michigan 200 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race.

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    10) Kyle Busch, No. 5 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports
  • This week: Busch has no top-fives and one top-10 in four previous Cup starts at Michigan. He does have one Busch Series victory there; after starting on the outside pole in August 2004, he led 87 laps and cruised to a win. Busch believes Michigan is hard on the race engines. "It's because of sustained rpm (revolutions per minute)," Busch said. "We're at full steam the entire race. The valves, valve springs and the overall motor takes a beating, so reliability is a big factor. Hendrick Motorsports' engine department works hard in preparation for Michigan. When the cars spread out and you are three- or four-wide, the place can be pretty deceiving. It's a really wide track and you can use so many grooves, so it's good to have a good spotter who can tell you which guys are running which grooves and what is working better for everyone. It also helps to have a smart spotter so we don't run into someone coming off the corners using different grooves."
  • Last week: Busch was eighth when the rain fell to end the Pocono race.
  • Etc.: Busch will join fellow Cup driver Kenny Wallace and others for the NASCAR Night of Stars II at Macon (Ill.) Speedway on Thursday. Busch will race a UMP Modified on the 1/5-mile dirt oval at Macon. The gates open at 3 p.m. local time and racing starts at 7 p.m. ... Busch will pilot the No. 51 Chevy Silverado for Billy Ballew Motorsports in Saturday's running of the Michigan 200. Busch started from the pole position and posted a runner-up finish in his lone NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series outing at Michigan (June 2005). ... The No. 5 Kellogg's/CARQUEST Chevy will have a special decal on the rear bumper this weekend at Michigan International Speedway. Sponsor Kellogg's has an affiliation with the FLW Outdoors Bass Pro Fishing Series. The bumper will feature the FLW Outdoors logo in anticipation of the Wal-Mart FLW Tour Chevy Open event, scheduled for July 12-15 in Detroit.

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    11) Martin Truex Jr., No. 1 Chevrolet, DEI
  • This week: Truex's best finish a year ago at Michigan was 16th. He finished third and fourth in his two Busch Series starts at the two-mile track. "We're bringing our Pocono car, so I know we'll be competitive when we unload off the truck," said Truex, who will be shooting for his third straight top-five finish. "It gives you a lot of confidence as a driver when you know you're sitting in a car that you've had success with in the past."
  • Last week: Truex came close to winning his second consecutive race. "I was hoping for maybe five or 10 more laps before the rain," said Truex, who was third when the race was stopped after 106 laps. "We were catching the 12 (Ryan Newman), and the 24 (Jeff Gordon) was coming back to both of us pretty quick. We're bringing strong cars to the track each week."
  • Etc.: Truex stood 38th in the standings after the second race of the season. "We could've given up (at that point), but we didn't," said Truex, who has climbed all the way to 11th. "The team just buckled down and rallied around each other. We never lost our focus or confidence. Now it's just a matter of keeping everything pointed in the right direction."

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    12) Mark Martin, No. 01 Chevrolet, Ginn Racing
  • This week: Martin will be seeking his fifth win at Michigan. In 42 starts at the track, Martin has 27 top-10s, including 16 top-fives. He has seven top-10s in the last 11 races at MIS. "Typically, Michigan is one of my best tracks on the circuit, and we've had some really strong runs there over the last few years," said Martin. "There is no reason that we should not be pretty strong this weekend."
  • Last week: Despite a poor starting position (35th) and a pit-road miscue, Martin finished seventh in the rain-shortened Pocono race for his seventh top-10 finish of the season in only 11 starts. "We got behind in qualifying but passed a lot of cars early," said Martin. "Then we had a mixup on pit road (when he missed his pit stall and had to pit a second time) and had to come back from that as well. So it ended up being a pretty good day."
  • Etc.: The Army will celebrate its 232nd birthday this weekend at Michigan. Martin will take part in a pre-race ceremony to honor the event. "It's the first time that I've be part of that, and I'm looking forward to helping with that celebration," said Martin, who also will compete in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race Saturday at MIS.

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    13) Ryan Newman, No. 12 Dodge, Penske Racing
  • This week: Newman hopes to add to his Michigan win total this weekend. He scored his two wins at MIS in back-to-back races in 2003 and 2004. Newman also has two Busch Series wins at the track. "We are getting so close to getting our next win, and it would be awesome to get that win at Michigan," said Newman, who quickly adds, "Michigan is my favorite track to race at."
  • Last week: If the rain had started a half a lap later at Pocono, Newman would have been the driver in front when the race was called after 106 laps. "We were four feet short," said Newman, who was getting ready to pass Jeff Gordon when the caution came out for the rain. "But there is no controversy about it. It was pouring at that point." The second-place finish was his second consecutive runner-up finish and fifth top-10 finish in the last six races.
  • Etc.: Newman will be seeking his fourth straight pole position this weekend. The car he will race at Michigan is the same one with which he started the streak three weeks ago at Lowe's Motor Speedway. "I'm excited to get to Michigan," said Newman, a native of South Bend, Ind. "We've been running so well, and this is my home track."

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    14) Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 8 Chevrolet, DEI
  • This week: Earnhardt will be going for his third straight top-10 finish at Michigan this weekend. He finished third and a sixth a year ago. "Michigan has always been some sort of Twilight Zone race for us," said Earnhardt. "We have two Bud poles and have been very, very fast at any given time but always seemed to end up on the short end of the results when the race was done. But that changed last year. So we have our sights set on climbing back into the Chase this week."
  • Last week: A gamble to take fuel only didn't pay off for Earnhardt as he finished 11th in the rain-shortened Pocono 500. "The guys made the decision to take fuel only (on lap 65) because we thought the rain was going to fall much sooner," said Earnhardt. "If it had rained before halfway (100 laps), we would have had to come back Monday and we would have been in pretty good shape." The rain started falling on lap 103, and the race was stopped three laps later.
  • Etc.: Earnhardt announced Wednesday that he has signed a five-year contract with Hendrick Motorsports. Earnhardt will replace Kyle Busch in the four-team organization as Busch has asked to be released from his contract. Hendrick said no decision has been made on which of his four cars Earnhardt will drive or who the sponsor will be. There have been reports that Casey Mears will move to the 5 car in 2008 with Earnhardt taking over as the driver of the 25 car.

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    15) Jamie McMurray, No. 26 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing
  • This week: McMurray has only one top-five finish in eight starts at Michigan. He will be racing a new car Sunday. "It's never been on the track but has performed well on the chassis dyno as well as in the wind-tunnel tests," said McMurray. "It's always a tossup when you take a new car to the track, but Larry (Carter, crew chief) and Derek (Stamets) have done a great job when it comes to building these new cars and knowing what I like in them."
  • Last week: McMurray pitted for fuel and tires only nine laps before the rainstorm hit Pocono, forcing NASCAR to call the race after only 106 of the 200 scheduled laps. As a result, McMurray ended up 29th and fell one spot in the point standings to 15th. "We totally missed the setup today, and then we weren't even able to finish out the race," said McMurray. "It was a really disappointing day."
  • Etc.: McMurray started his charity foundation a year ago to promote awareness of and raise funding for research, education and support for individuals and families afflicted with autism. As part of that program, McMurray launched an online auction on Tuesday on eBay of the fire suit, helmet, driving gloves and driving shoes that he wore two weeks ago at Dover. All proceeds will go to Autism Speaks.

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    16) Kurt Busch, No. 2 Dodge, Penske Racing
  • This week: Busch scored his lone win at Michigan in June 2003. He has three top-10 finishes in the last five races at the track and knows he needs another top-10 run this weekend if he is to continue his quest to become "Chase-eligible." Busch stands 16th in the standings, 132 points behind 12th-place Mark Martin. "It'll be a hard climb, but we're determined to do it," said Busch.
  • Last week: After being fined $100,000 and docked 100 points for his pit-road incident at Dover on June 4, Busch was relieved he was able to race at Pocono. And for that reason, he couldn't complain too much about a 16th-place finish. "We were working our way up through (before the rains came that ended the race after 106 laps)," said Busch. "At times we were as fast as the leader."
  • Etc.: Crew chief Troy Raker admits the team is in a "precarious position" in its bid to rally from the 100-point penalty. "We have to go to each of the next 12 races looking for top-fives, top-10s and leading laps for the bonus points," said Raker. "We have to view each race as a perfect opportunity to close the gap, and that's what we plan on doing."

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    17) Bobby Labonte, No. 43 Dodge, Petty Enterprises
  • This week: Labonte has three wins and 15 top-10 finishes in 29 starts at Michigan, which he calls his "favorite track." Labonte said the team is "looking for a lot out of Michigan. It's time to have good finishes and make that climb to the 12th position (and qualify for the Chase for the Championship)." Labonte stands 17th in the standings, 140 points out of 12th place with 12 races left before this year's Chase begins.
  • Last week: After finishing 19th at Pocono, Labonte said, "We did a lot better than I thought we would. We were too tight early on and now (when the race ended), we're all right. But it seems like we're running the same speed as everyone around us. We can't pass anybody."
  • Etc.: Labonte said the summer stretch of races is important. "You have to come out of each race with a good finish," he said. "You can only control what you do. You can't control what others are going to do or what happens to them. It's just not the time to have any mistakes."

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    18) J.J. Yeley, No. 18 Chevrolet, Joe Gibbs Racing
  • This week: Yeley's rookie season at Michigan was not a good one; his best finish in the two races last year was 37th. But he did score top-10s in both of his Busch Series starts at the track. The car Yeley will be running this weekend is the car he drove to a second-place finish at Lowe's Motor Speedway three weeks ago.
  • Last week: Yeley was one of the few drivers happy to see the Pocono race called after only 106 laps because of rain. "I could see the rain clouds rolling in and I started running harder and harder, and then I heard a pop out of the exhaust and it felt like something in the engine might have given up," said Yeley, who was 17th when the event was stopped.
  • Etc.: Yeley said of Michigan, "If you look up 'race track' in a dictionary, it should have a picture of Michigan. I like Michigan because it's obviously one of the faster race tracks we go to, but also because there are so many grooves to choose from when you go racing there. You can very easily go four abreast through the corners and down the straightaways."

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    19) Greg Biffle, No. 21 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing
  • This week: Biffle will be seeking his sixth straight top-seven finish at Michigan. He began this impressive streak with two wins. "We've had a lot of success there in both the Cup and Busch series, so barring anything out of the ordinary, I feel confident about this weekend," said Biffle. "I can definitely see Michigan as a place where we can get back on the right track."
  • Last week: It was a long weekend for Biffle at Pocono as the team struggled all three days. "I hope that we figure out what the problem was," he said after finishing 30th. "We definitely cannot run like this again (and have any chance of making this year's Chase for the Championship)." Biffle dropped one spot in the standings to 19th.
  • Etc.: Biffle will be running chassis No. 432 this weekend, the same car he used to finish 15th at California earlier this year. Crew chief Greg Ervin said, "Greg has historically run well at Michigan, so it's just up to us to give him a car he can run up front with."

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    20) Elliott Sadler, No. 19 Dodge, Evernham Motorsports
  • This week: Sadler made his first start for Evernham Motorsports last August at Michigan when he qualified second and finished 10th in the race. It was only his third top-10 finish in 16 starts at the track, but all three top-10s have come in the last six races. "We need some momentum right now on this team, so this would be a good place to get things rolling," said Sadler.
  • Last week: Sadler, who finished 21st at Pocono, felt his car was "much better than in practice, but we still have an issue with the handling. The car was tight in the middle of the corner, and on one occasion it was tight in the middle of all three corners."
  • Etc.: Sadler is 20th in the standings, 219 points out of the top 12. And that is why he feels "the next couple of races are very important for this 19 team. We need to get rolling with some good finishes. I think if we're under 100 points when we leave Sears Points (in two weeks), we've got a great chance of making the Chase."

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    21) Juan Pablo Montoya, No. 42 Dodge, Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates
  • This week: As has been the case for most of the season, Montoya will make his first start at Michigan this weekend. He hopes to become the eighth rookie driver to score a top-10 finish at Michigan in the last nine years. His teammate Reed Sorenson accomplished this feat last June when he finished fifth.
  • Last week: Montoya was pleased with his 20th-place finish in his first start at Pocono. "Well, from starting 38th and it only being half a race (the race was called after 106 of the 200 scheduled laps because of rain), we made a lot of progress," said Montoya. "Our race car was getting very good, actually. Being the first experience here, it was good."
  • Etc.: Montoya has won the rookie-of-the-race honors six times in the first 14 races. As a result, he leads David Ragan by six points (152-146) in the Rookie of the Year standings as the season needs the midway point.

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    22) David Stremme, No. 40 Dodge, Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates
  • This week: Stremme finished 19th and 28th in his first two Nextel Cup starts at Michigan in 2006. Because of the success his teammate Reed Sorenson had at the track last year (two top-eight finishes), Stremme feels confident that he will have a good run on Sunday. "All three Ganassi teams are very optimistic about this weekend after how well Reed ran a year ago," said Stremme.
  • Last week: Stremme finished 23rd in the rain-shortened race at Pocono. "I think we had a solid car that could have run just outside the top 10," said Stremme. "The only problem was we couldn't get the track position we needed." Stremme said the when rain started falling "it was so bad I could hardly see where I was going."
  • Etc.: After seven top-20 finishes, including his two top-10 runs in the first nine races this season, Stremme has only one top-20 finish in the last four events. As a result, he has dropped from 17th to 22nd in the standings.

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    23) Casey Mears, No. 25 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports
  • This week: Mears finished seventh a year ago at Michigan for his lone top-10 finish at the track in eight starts. But he is optimistic that he will add to that total this weekend, especially since he will be driving the same car that he drove to victory at Lowe's Motor Speedway three weeks ago.
  • Last week: Crew chief Darian Grubb's decision to pit out of sequence proved to be a smart decision as Mears finished fourth at Pocono, his second top-five in the last three races. "We had a car capable of running inside the top five; we just needed to get there, and he made a great call," said Mears.
  • Etc.: Mears has climbed from 35th to 23rd in the standings in the last three weeks with three finishes of 13th or better. "This team has been capable of these kind of finishes all along, but some bad luck was holding us back a little bit," said Mears. "We definitely still have a lot of room to grow and improve, but it's nice to be headed back in the right direction."

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    25) Reed Sorenson, No. 41 Dodge, Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates
  • This week: Sorenson finished fifth in his first Nextel Cup start at Michigan last June, and he followed that up with an eighth-place finish in the August event. So it doesn't come as a surprise when Sorenson said he "can't wait to get back to Michigan" as he shoots for his third consecutive top-10 finish at the track.
  • Last week: Sorenson was forced to start at the back of the field at Pocono after an engine change on Saturday. The poor starting position proved too much to overcome when the race was shortened to only 106 laps because of rain. "We definitely had a top-15 car today, if not better," said Sorenson after his 24th-place finish.
  • Etc.: Sorenson is "looking forward" to the second Pocono race on Aug. 5. "We had a really good car all weekend," said Sorenson. "I'm really happy with how the car performed. Hopefully we'll we get the full race in next time."

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    28) Kasey Kahne, No. 9 Dodge, Evernham Motorsports
  • This week: Kahne scored his first win at Michigan in this race a year ago. He backed that up with a fourth-place finish in the August event. Kahne hopes to continue this run of top-five finishes this weekend. But he knows "we've still got a lot of work to do to be where we want to be."
  • Last week: After starting eighth, Kahne had high hopes of a top-10 run at Pocono. But as he noted after finishing 22nd, "We're still having problem getting the car to turn in the corners. It handled better if I was 40 car lengths away from other cars than if I was 20 car lengths away. We've made improvements with the handling, but we're not totally there yet."
  • Etc.: Kahne, who won a series-high six races in 2006, knows that "it's easy to get a step behind in Nextel Cup racing. It's difficult to get it back. Kenny (Francis, the team director) and the team have made a lot of progress in the last few weeks to get us back to that level where we are running up front. We'll get there."

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    Tagged: Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon, Jeff Burton, Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ryan Newman, Jimmie Johnson, Reed Sorenson, Greg Biffle, Kevin Harvick, Casey Mears, Kasey Kahne, Elliott Sadler, Tony Stewart, Dave Blaney, Juan Pablo Montoya, Bobby Labonte, Martin Truex Jr., David Ragan, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, David Stremme, Clint Bowyer, Denny Hamlin, Mark Martin, Kenny Wallace, Jamie McMurray

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