Second trip to MIS will reveal much
This weekend, the NASCAR traveling circus heads back to Michigan International Speedway, a track that should provide some critical insight into where teams are at as the Sprint Cup regular season nears its conclusion.
Greg Biffle of Roush Fenway Racing has won the last two races at the 2-mile MIS oval, but lately he hasn’t been running especially well: Biffle’s 10th-place finish at Pocono two weeks ago was the best result he’s had in the last six races, when his average finish has been a woeful 19.333. With the Chase for the Sprint Cup just four races away, Biffle and teammate Carl Edwards have to hope the team can find some more speed in their cars. Otherwise, they will be also-rans again.
The flip side is the Toyota camp, where Kyle Busch is fresh off Sunday’s victory at Watkins Glen and finished fourth at Michigan in June. In the June MIS race, the Toyotas had the horsepower dialed back a bit for the sake of reliability, which won’t be the case this time around — they will be on full song, for sure.
Even with the engines detuned slightly, four of the top seven finishers at MIS in June were Toyotas. That means Busch and teammate Matt Kenseth certainly will be among the favorites on Sunday.
Over the last 10 races, Busch has scored just two fewer points than leader Jimmie Johnson has, and is carrying a tremendous amount of confidence and momentum right now.
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“We’re not worried about the next four races,” said Busch. “We’re worried about the final 10. It’s a completely different mindset right now. We can probably try some things to see if they work, and maybe have a shot at gaining some more bonus points. This team, they’re ready to go.”
As for Kenseth, he’s cooled a bit of late: After winning at Kentucky in June, he’s finished outside the top 20 three times in the last five races. Kenseth was sixth at Michigan earlier this year.
“We were pretty decent last time we were here in June and thought we should have ran second or third at worst,” he said. “We had that one restart where we got pushed up into the marbles and lost all our track position, though. I’m looking forward to going back there this weekend, and I think we’ve learned a lot since we’ve been there, and our cars will be faster going back.”
And what of points leader Johnson? Well, despite many good runs here, this is only one of five tracks where he remains winless, although he’d certainly like to rectify that on Sunday.
“I have done everything but win there,” Johnson said. “I have thought many times that day was the day, and stuff happens. When we win there – I know we are going to win there – when we do, it’s going to be a very enjoyable victory lane, and I hope it comes soon.”
Meanwhile, the race for the two wild card spots remains close, with the gap from eighth-place Brad Keselowski to 15th-place Jamie McMurray a mere 34 points. Expect the competition to be fierce and the pressure high for the Chase hopefuls this week.
One other factor to keep an eye on this weekend: Austin Dillon, who finished 11th at MIS in June driving for Joe Falk’s low-dollar team, will pilot the powerhouse No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet this weekend.
“I'm very confident at Michigan,” said Dillon. “It's one of my favorite tracks. We led all the laps in the Nationwide race there this year until we had the left rear flat, and ran well in the Cup race. So I'm looking forward to it. I think it's a place that we can really go out and have a good run at this weekend.”