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Last Updated Monday, Aug 24, 2009 1:21 am, EDT

Race Capsule

Michigan International Speedway
  • What:

    Race 23 of 36 on Sprint Cup circuit

  • Where:

    Michigan International Speedway, Brooklyn, MI

  • When:

    August 16, 2009 2:16 pm EDT

  • Laps:

    200

  • Track Length:

    2. miles

  • Race Length:

    400.00 miles

  • Purse:

    $5,279,259

Drivers to Watch

Brian Vickers Vickers will be shooting for his third straight Michigan pole position and his fifth consecutive top-10 finish there. "We are really looking forward to this weekend," said Vickers. "Michigan is one of our best tracks. This is one of the places where we can make up some points."
Mark Martin Martin won the June race at Michigan in a fuel-mileage gamble when both Jimmie Johnson and Greg Biffle ran out of gas on the last lap. It was Martin's fifth win at MIS, the most for the veteran driver at any race track. "Normally fuel mileage just doesn't work for me," said Martin. "Not racing the 48 (Johnson) and the 16 (Biffle) there at the end was tough. But it was the right decision."
Juan Pablo Montoya Montoya has just one top-10 finish in five Michigan starts, and that came in June. Before that, his best finish was 25th in this event last year. Montoya is counting on crew chief Brian Pattie giving him a car that is competitive at Michigan. "I think one of the biggest things is, we seem to have a very good relationship," Montoya said. "We understand each other, and it's exciting. It's his first full season as a Cup crew chief, and he brought our team to a new level. It's really nice to see. But it's not only him. I think everybody, from the shop to engineers, to people building the cars, everybody -- it's a full team effort."
Jimmie Johnson Hard to believe, but Johnson has never won at Michigan, although he came close in June when he was the leader heading to the white flag before running out of fuel. That gave the lead to Greg Biffle, but he ran out of fuel on the second turn of the last lap, giving the lead and the victory to Mark Martin. Johnson finished 22nd. He has just two top-five finishes and six top-10s in 15 starts there, and his last top-10 was a sixth in June 2008. He was 17th last August. Johnson said of the June race, "We had a dominant car -- such a fast race car all day long -- so I'm really excited going back. It wasn't too long ago, so hopefully the advantage we had will still be there and hopefully we can make one more lap on fuel. We came up just one (lap) short last time, so fuel-mileage races and the No. 48 car just don't mix. But I'm looking forward to it. That's one of the tracks (where) we've been getting better and better. Our finishing results don't show it, but if you look at laps led, we've been up front a lot there. We just haven't been able to close the deal yet."
Martin Truex Jr. Truex finished second in both races at Michigan in 2007 for his only top-10 finishes in seven starts at the track. He ran into all kinds of problems in June and finished 36th. "We haven't run well there the last couple of years," said Truex.
Kurt Busch Busch is another two-time Michigan winner (June 2003 and August 2007). Those are his only two top-fives to go along with seven top-10 finishes, one of which was an eighth in June, in 17 starts. He was 36th last August, still running at the finish but three laps down. Busch believes part of the battle at Michigan is finding the right groove. "In practice at Michigan, you start out on the bottom of the race track and see if your car is hitting the front rubbers too hard or if it's not hitting them enough, and (you) make changes," Busch said. "Once practice starts to wind down, now the outside groove is starting to get burned in a little bit, maybe even the third groove is starting to come in a little bit. You just don't want to be the first guys up there; normally, there is some debris. If you run over something that puts a cut in your tire, it can set you back for the weekend if you're down a set of tires. Really, it's a patient game where you wait for the top of the race track and sometimes your car runs better -- sometimes they really like the bottom. With NASCAR's gear rule, they give us a really conservative gear, and that means that when we run up the race track to keep our momentum up top, the gear ratio matches the race track a little bit better. So that's why you really see it come into play during the race instead of during practice."
Ryan Newman Newman is a two-time Michigan winner -- back-to-back in August 2003 and June 2004. Those are two of his four top-five finishes in 16 starts, but he has no other top-10s and hasn't finished in the top-10 since. He was 21st last August and 23rd in June. Newman is not comfortable with his position in the standings (ninth but only 100 points ahead of 13th-place Kyle Busch). "No, not really," he said. "I know the guys that are breathing down our neck for the top 12 are really good guys, competitiveness-wise. I'm not comfortable. I think Tony Stewart might be the only one that might be comfortable, and he probably won't even admit it. Everybody has to go out and do their thing, and where we end up is where we end up."
Joey Logano Logano finished 25th in his first Sprint Cup race at Michigan in June. "We're getting close to top-15, top-20 every race, and I think we made one big step from what we had in the beginning of the season and I think we've got one more big step to go to be right where we need to be," said Logano.
Kasey Kahne Kahne won at Michigan in June 2006, when the race was flagged after 129 of the 200 scheduled laps because of rain. He has five top-five and five top-10 finishes in 11 starts but has just one top-five in the last five races. That was a second in June 2008, preceded by a 32nd and 31st in 2007 and followed by a 40th last August and 21st in June. "There is so much racing room out there that you have to really work on your setup," Kahne said. "I feel like that is one of the tracks where it is really critical to have a good aero and engine package. The racing at Michigan can be great at times. It also can be a race where cars run away and get strung out and there's not a lot of passing going on. As far as the width of the racetrack and racing groove, there's plenty of room. If you have a good car, you'll be able to pass and it will be a fun race."
AJ Allmendinger Allmendinger has not finished better than 19th in his four Cup starts at Michigan. He will be working with a new crew this weekend after car owner Richard Petty decided to switch crews between the 44 and 43 teams, with crew chief Mike Shiplett and his organization moving to the 44 car for the rest of the season.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Earnhardt will make the 350th start of his Cup career Sunday at Michigan, site of his last series victory 43 races ago. Earnhardt has earned only six top-10 finishes in 20 starts at MIS. He finished 14th in the June race. "Since the first Michigan race, we've learned a lot more about what Dale likes and what Dale doesn't like," said crew chief Lance McGrew.
Denny Hamlin Hamlin will be attempting to win his first race at Michigan, where he has two top-five finishes -- including a third in June -- and three top-10s in seven starts. He finished 39th here last August when his engine conked out after 194 laps. His two top-five finishes have come in the last four races, including a fifth in August 2007. He credits the June race with being pivotal to his season. "It was a turning point in a couple of ways," Hamlin said. "We had a string of races where we had struggled, so to run third there in June helped to get us pointed in the right direction. We went on a nice run after that and it helped keep us in pretty good shape in the points and in terms of the top 12. But way more important in terms of our season was the performance of a new car for this team and being able to take a lot of what we learned and put it toward more and more races this season. That was a new car that the team had put a lot of time into, with significant changes to our previous intermediate cars. We knew we needed to take a big step forward at places like Michigan and California, so to go there and be competitive was big for this team. We now have a better baseline for where we want to be when we unload, and that allows us to make better use of practice. We took that car to Chicago, another track where we felt we could always run better, and were really competitive there, also. This sport is all about improving, and that addressed a main area for us -- that certainly gives all of us confidence moving ahead and it also gives a boost to everyone in the shop who is building these cars. A ton of work goes into putting these cars together, so my thanks go to all the guys back at JGR who are putting in long hours to build the new cars, and I know they take a lot of pride in seeing them perform well on the track. We've unloaded new cars a lot lately, and we've been really happy with the performance."
Greg Biffle Biffle is another back-to-back Michigan winner (August 2004 and June 2005). Those are two of his six top-five and eight top-10 finishes in 13 starts. Two of those top-fives have come in the last two races -- a fourth last August and fifth in June. "We're certainly not racing conservatively; we're racing to win," Biffle said. "But we're not going to do anything stupid."
Tony Stewart Stewart enters Sunday's race at Michigan with his largest lead of the season, 260 points over Jimmie Johnson. Stewart has one win at Michigan (June 2000), nine top-five finishes and 14 top-10s in 21 starts. Two of those top-10s have come in the last three races, including a fifth place in June 2008 and seventh in the June race this year. He was 12th there last August. "It's the same as it always is there," Stewart said. "We look forward to going to there, obviously, because the manufacturers are there and it's a driver's track. You can help yourself out as a driver by moving around on the race track. It does give you that flexibility as a driver to not be just stuck with whatever your balance is. You can search around and try to find a spot that's better for it."
Jamie McMurray McMurray has finished 10th, 10th and 11th in the last three races at Michigan. "We're bringing a brand new car with us this weekend, so I'm eager to see how the car shakes down during the practice sessions," said crew chief Larry Carter. "Michigan is a track that Roush Fenway typically runs well at."
Jeff Gordon Gordon is a two-time winner at Michigan, but both of those victories are ancient history -- August 1998 and June 2001. Gordon has 16 top-five finishes, including a second place in June, and 21 top-10s in 33 starts. He was 42nd in this race last year when he crashed out after 111 laps. "We had a great car here in June and, after starting from the back, we were in position at the end of the race to battle for the win," Gordon said. "We've performed well on the intermediate tracks this year, so we're definitely looking at this race as one we can lead laps, run in the top five and hopefully be in contention for the win. When it comes to qualifying here, the car means a lot but the driver has to push hard. This is a big, fast race track, so aerodynamics, mechanical grip, attitude and horsepower are pretty key. But once you get into the race and the car is starting to move around and the groove widens out, then the driver's role becomes greater. We'll have to search around for the groove that works best for our car. We have to make things happen."
Kevin Harvick Harvick has six top-10 finishes in 17 starts at Michigan. "It's a fun track because you can race from the bottom of the race track all the way to the top, so the track gives you a lot of options," said Harvick. "It's really wide, and it wears out the tires. Then it's all about picking out the right place on the track (to run)."
Clint Bowyer Bowyer was 10th in the first race of the year at Michigan, his first top-10 finish in seven starts there. "I've always run well at Michigan. I've just had terrible luck there," Bowyer said. "The engine blew up while I was running second with two laps to go one year, so to finally get a top-10 finish in the spring was good for us."
Matt Kenseth After three straight top-five finishes at Michigan, Kenseth struggled in June and ended up 20th. "I always thought Michigan was one of my best tracks (with 13 top-20 finishes in 20 starts, including two wins)," said Kenseth, "and we could hardly run 22nd or 23rd or wherever we finished. So I honestly don't know (about this weekend)."
Marcos Ambrose Ambrose has not fared well at Michigan -- his best finish in two Cup starts there is only 31st. "This is only our first year (on the Sprint Cup circuit), and we are still getting our legs under us," said Ambrose. "We have had some great runs on ovals, but Michigan wasn't one of them. We hope to do a lot better the second time around."
Jeff Burton Burton has gone 13 straight races without a top-10 finish at Michigan after earning eight top-10s in his first 18 starts at the track. "Michigan has been our worst race track," he said. "It has been a track where we have struggled and have not been good at all. It's a place where we have to find a way to improve."
David Reutimann Reutimann is still looking for his first top-10 finish at Michigan. In five starts there, his best finish is 14th. He was 19th in June. "We've qualified well the last couple of races there, but we haven't run as well as we would like," said Reutimann. "We need a real solid run this weekend."
Carl Edwards Edwards is the defending champion of this race and also won at Michigan in June 2007. Since finishing 22nd in August 2006, Edwards has two wins, two seventh-place finishes and a fourth in June at Michigan. He has six top-five and nine top-10 finishes in 10 starts. "I started my first Sprint Cup Series race at Michigan," Edwards said. "It's real special to me for that reason. It's always an important race to me and the series because it is right in Ford Motor Company's backyard and Roush Industries is right up the road as well."
Kyle Busch Busch has finished 13th in three of the last four races at Michigan and was second in the other one. He has only three top-10 finishes in nine starts at MIS and knows he needs a good finish this weekend if he is to gain ground on the drivers in front of him in the battle for the final four spots in the Chase. Only 100 points separate ninth-place Ryan Newman and Busch, who is 13th.
Casey Mears Mears has earned only two top-10 finishes in 13 starts at Michigan. In June, he finished 20th. "We were really, really loose the last time we raced there," said Mears. "We didn't have a whole of fun earlier this year, but I think going back this time, with some of the ideas we have, I'm looking forward to trying it again."