Friday NASCAR Sprint Cup Notebook Michigan International Speedway
KURT BUSCH WEIGHING OPTIONS - The announcement earlier this week that Juan Pablo Montoya was going to be out of the No. 42 Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Chevrolet next year creates another driver opening. And with Kurt Busch unsigned for 2014, he certainly is someone who could be a candidate to join EGR. That said, Busch said he’s concentrating on trying to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup this year with his current team, Furniture Row Racing.
“Well, the focus is making the Chase and we have four weeks to go and we’re in great position,” said Busch, who is 11th in points heading into Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway.
Busch has helped lead the turnaround at Furniture Row, which this year is consistently competitive for the first time in the organization’s history. Busch could end up signing an extension to remain where he is.
“It’s been neat to feel the energy from the team,” said Busch. “… It’s cool to have talks with Furniture Row about what we can do in 2014 and beyond. The Ganassi thing came up and other phone calls have happened. Nothing’s going to change. We’re just still really focused on the Chase and what we can do in these next four weeks together.”
FOOT TO THE FLOOR - There was just one round of NASCAR Sprint Cup practice at Michigan International Speedway on Friday, but it was a very, very fast one. Five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson topped the speed charts with a stunning lap of 203.355 miles per hour in his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet SS. Johnson’s speed was faster than Marcos Ambrose’s 2012 track record of 203.241 mph, set when the pavement had more grip and the tires were softer. The top 20 cars in practice were all above the 200 mph mark.
Second-fast during Friday’s practice was Juan Pablo Montoya, 203.132 mph in the No. 42 Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Chevrolet he will be vacating at the end of the year. Kyle Busch, last week’s winner at Watkins Glen, was third a 202.634 mph in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. Joey Logano and Carl Edwards completed the top 10.
Johnson is still looking for his first victory at the fast, 2-mile MIS oval. He qualified third behind Joey Logano and Kurt Busch after a flat tire in the inspection line delayed him. Johnson still ran 203.470 mph..
“The way the No. 48 ran and all of Hendrick Motorsports ran here in the spring, we’ve all been excited to come back and hopefully have that pace and lead the race and hopefully get one of the cars in Victory Lane,” Johnson said Friday morning. “I certainly want to get the No. 48 to Victory Lane. We’ve tried a lot of years now and have been very close here, but haven’t been able to pull that off. And we had issues that kept all four cars out of great finishes in the spring race and if we can avoid the varying issues that took place, I think we stand a really good chance of getting into Victory Lane.”
In qualifying, Logano set a new track record at 203.949 mph, good enough to give him his sixth career pole in 170 Sprint Cup starts. Mark Martin and Jeff Burton completed the top five behind Logano, Kurt Busch and Johnson. The second five consisted of Juan Pablo Montoya, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch. Danica Patrick qualified 28th.
All told, 25 drivers topped 200 mph in qualifying.
SMOKE STILL SIDELINED - For the second week in a row, Tony Stewart was conspicuously absent from the track as he recovers from a broken leg suffered in a sprint car accident in Iowa. Max Papis filled in for Stewart last week at Watkins Glen, while this week his replacement behind the wheel of the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet SS at Michigan International Speedway is Austin Dillon.
SHR competition director Greg Zipadelli said Friday not to expect Stewart to return anytime soon. “I’m working under the assumption that he’s (Tony Stewart) out for the next month or so or longer,” Zipadelli said at Michigan International Speedway. “He (Stewart) went to the doctor’s this week, he had a decent visit. No setbacks. Basically, very simple instructions, stay in his bed with your leg up over your heart for the next seven days and then come back and see me. We’ll reevaluate you and tell you what you can do. That’s what he’s doing. … The next seven to 14 days will tell a lot of how it heals, how those things take and we’ll certainly continue to update you guys as we can. It’s going to be a really slow process.”.
Dillon qualified 27th for Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400.
THREE-PEAT FOR THE BIFF? - Greg Biffle has won the last two races at Michigan International Speedway and would like nothing better than to make it three in a row this time out. But to do so, the veteran Roush Fenway Racing driver will have to find more speed than he’s had in recent weeks. And he said the team has struggled with that a bit in the Generation-6 cars.
“One thing we have learned over the last little bit about the (G-6) car is that it is much more finicky than the old car was,” Biffle said prior to Friday’s lone practice session at MIS. “At least that is my opinion. If we are off a tiny, tiny bit with this car it goes from being running the top-five or top-eight to running 25th. There is a really fine line. That is something we have learned in our camp. We have to be right on the mark with this thing or we don’t have any speed.”
Biffle said even minute changes in setups have a big impact on performance.
“I don’t know if it is just us or this car in general or whatever but we have learned that we have to be right on with the setup of this car,” said Biffle, who was 12th in Friday’s lone round of Sprint Cup practice and 16th in qualifying. “We thought a half pound or quarter pound or a wedge made a difference before but it has multiplied.”
VICTORY LAP - NASCAR After The Lap sponsored by Ford and Coca-Cola will return to Las Vegas for the fifth consecutive year during NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion’s Week. This year’s fan event will take place at the Pearl Palms Concert Theater inside the Palms Casino Hotel on Dec. 5 at 5 p.m. PT.
NASCAR fans can enter the NASCAR After The Lap sweepstakes by visiting www.NASCARafterthelap.com up until November 17. Two winners will receive an all-inclusive VIP trip to NASCAR After The Lap in Las Vegas and either one trip to the 2014 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway or one trip to the 2014 Ford Ecoboost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. One winner will also be taking home the grand prize – a 2014 Ford F-150 Tremor.