Fan’s View: Who to Watch as the Sprint Cup Series Returns to Michigan

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The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns to Michigan International Speedway this weekend for the Pure Michigan 400, the second Cup Series race on the track's new surface. The new surface is fast (Marcos Ambrose's pole-winning speed was over 203 mph), and provided fans with a winner they've been looking forward to seeing in victory lane for some time - Dale Earnhardt Jr., who won his first race since June 2008. Who's looking for victory lane this time? Here are a few drivers to watch.

Mark Martin - Martin has five wins and 31 top 10 finishes in 53 starts at Michigan, dating back to 1982. The #55 Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota Camry has been strong this year with Martin behind the wheel, with five top 10s in 14 starts, and Michael Waltrip Racing has proven itself as well, with both Martin Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer in the top 10 through 22 races this season. Martin started 14th and finished 29th in the June race on the new surface.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. - no, it wasn't a national holiday, but Earnhardt Jr. did give the fans what they came to see in June with his first win in four years. He has two wins and two poles, plus seven more top 10 finishes at Michigan, with an average finish of 15.2

Carl Edwards - Edwards also has two wins at MIS, with a total of 12 top 10s in 16 races at the track; his average finish at the track is 8.4, one of his career-best tracks. He finished 11th after starting 42nd at Michigan in June; he needs a win to even be considering the Chase (he's 64 points out of 10th).

Kyle Busch - another driver in need of a win - and a bit of luck - is Kyle Busch, who currently sits third in the running for the two Wild Card Spots in the Chase for the Sprint Cup; Busch sits 14th in points with one win on the season, back at Richmond. Busch has one win and five top 10 finishes in 15 races at MIS, finishing 32nd after starting 34th in June.

Marcos Ambrose - Ambrose is coming off his first win of the season at Watkins Glen International last weekend, as well as a top 10 at Pocono on August 5. The June pole-sitter shattered the track record with a lap of more than 203 mph, then went on to score a ninth-place finish.

Source: "Statistical Advance: Analyzing the Pure Michigan 400," NASCAR Media, August 13, 2012

Paula is a long-time NASCAR fan who also covers the sport at Examiner.com and Skirts & Scuffs.

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