Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The battle for the wild card spots in the
Chase for the Sprint Cup title is getting more intense with the regular season
fast approaching its conclusion.
With four races remaining before the Chase cut-off, seven drivers are duking
it out for the two wild card positions in the playoffs. Marcos Ambrose added
his name in the mix after winning last Sunday's road-course event in Watkins
Kasey Kahne currently holds the top spot in the wild card rankings by virtue
of his two wins this season. Ryan Newman finished 11th at Watkins Glen and
moved up to the second wild card position, while Jeff Gordon fell from second
to fourth after his 21st-place run there. Kyle Busch is third in the rankings.
Ambrose is fifth and Joey Logano sixth.
Newman, Busch, Gordon, Ambrose and Logano have one victory each. All of those
drivers are presently outside the top-10 in points.
Carl Edwards ranks seventh in the wild card contest, even though he sits 12th
in the point standings. Edwards has not won in Sprint Cup since March 2011 (55
races ago). A win at Michigan would elevate him to the second wild card spot.
After the conclusion of the Sept. 8 race at Richmond, the 12-member field for
the Chase will be decided, with the top-10 drivers in points and the wild
cards making the show. The wild cards will go to the drivers outside the
top-10 with the most wins, as long as they are ranked in the top-20. If
multiple competitors outside the top-10 tie for victories, the tie-breaker
will go to the race winner with the highest point standings position.
Heading into Michigan, the separation between 10th-place Denny Hamlin and
11th-place Kahne is 40 points. Hamlin is in pretty good shape to make the
Chase, since he has two victories. He fell two spots in the standings after
his 34th-place finish due to engine failure.
Busch, who is Hamlin's teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing, was on his way to a
victory at Watkins Glen and therefore would have joined Kahne as those wild
card contenders with two wins, but Busch unfortunately spun out while leading
on the final lap, thanks to oil on the track and a bump from behind by second-
place runner Brad Keselowski. He ended up finishing seventh.
"I thought that maybe (the next win) was going to be last weekend, but that
wasn't meant to be," Busch said. "We still have some good tracks coming up.
Hopefully, we can get our (car) to victory lane this weekend. If we do that,
we'll have that second win for the wild card, and we'll go on into the last
three races and see if we can't either keep ourselves in front of the 24
(Gordon) and the 39 (Newman) in points, in case one of them does get another
win, or maybe even get ourselves another win."
Busch won at Michigan one year ago but finished 32nd there in June.
"For me, coming to Michigan, I tend to run well there," he said. "For whatever
reason, I haven't had too many great finishes to show for it until last year,
and then we had a great year there and got our first win last August."
Kahne and Busch have one victory each at Michigan, while Newman, Gordon and
Edwards have two wins there apiece.
"We're just focused on doing the best we possibly can each week," Newman said.
"We want to win. That's our goal this weekend. We have the wild card right
now, but that can change after the first lap. So I'm just staying focused on
being the best driver I can be and doing what we have to do to get to victory
lane. Performance will take care of itself if we perform, especially if we
outperform the wild card contenders."
After the Aug. 2011 race, the two-mile Michigan track received a new coat of
asphalt, which led to record speeds when the series competed there two months
ago. Ambrose not only claimed his first career Sprint Cup pole but also became
the fastest driver in NASCAR qualifications in a quarter of a century.
Ambrose's qualifying lap around the newly repaved track was clocked at 203.241
mph. He became the fourth different driver in NASCAR history to win a pole
with a lap more than 200 mph. Bill Elliott had last done it in July 1987 at
The new track surface created major issues with the tires used for this year's
spring race at Michigan. After several teams experienced tire blistering
during Thursday and Friday's practice sessions, NASCAR and Goodyear made
the decision to use a tougher left-side tire for the race. The higher than
expected speeds in practice at Michigan caused significantly higher left-side
tire temperatures and therefore blistering.
An additional Sprint Cup practice session was held the evening before the
race, allowing teams to familiarize themselves with the new tires and make
further adjustments to their race setups.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. went on to take the checkered flag at Michigan, snapping a
four-year, 143-race winless streak in Sprint Cup.
Several weeks ago, 28 Sprint Cup teams participated in a tire test at
Michigan. Goodyear has selected a new combination for this Sunday's race. It
will be a combination of the original tires from the April test and a slightly
softer version of the harder tires used during the June event.
"That (July 30) test didn't go spectacularly well for us, but we knew it was
just more of a test to try and learn things," said Gordon, who started 28th
and finished sixth at Michigan earlier this year.
Forty-five teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Pure Michigan 400.
Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup. Date: Sunday, August 19. Race: Pure Michigan 400.
Site: Michigan International Speedway. Track: two-mile oval. Start time: 1
p.m.(ET). Laps: 200. Miles: 400. 2011 Winner: Kyle Busch. Television: ESPN.
Radio: Motor Racing Network (MRN)/SIRIUS NASCAR Radio.
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