By Jerry Bonkowski and Bob Moore
24 JEFF GORDON, Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: After a six-week run atop the Sprint Cup standings, Jeff Gordon fell to second place after Dover, only to regain the top spot after Sunday's race at Pocono. Gordon leads second-ranked Matt Kenseth by 16 points and third-ranked Dale Earnhardt Jr. by 22 points.
MICHIGAN RECORD: 42 career starts, 2 wins, 18 top-5s, 25 top-10s, 5 poles. Best career finish: First in summer 1998 and spring 2001. Finished 39th in this race last year and was 17th in the mid-summer race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Michigan has been a good track for Gordon, but not of late, with finishes of 28th, 39th and 17th in his last three races there. Now that he's back atop the points standings, Gordon needs to win a second race this season to completely assure he'll make the Chase for the Sprint Cup, and Sunday at Michigan would be the perfect place to do so. One thing that will be on Gordon's mind is drafting during knock out qualifying, which should prove interesting, he says: "While you would want somebody to be quite a bit ahead of you to get a tow in a perfect world, I think we'll be better off just being in clean air to get through the corners. But if you're able to get just a little bit of a draft from a car at a distance, every little bit will help. You just can't get too close, though."
LOOKING BACK: Gordon led two laps and had a top-five car for much of the race at Pocono, but fell back near the end of the event and ultimately finished eighth.
ETC.: Gordon has completed 94.6 percent (7,844) of the 8,295 total laps contested in 42 career starts at Michigan. His average start there is 11.6 and average finish is 12.5. He has six DNF's there.
20 MATT KENSETH, Toyota
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: After seven weeks in second place, Matt Kenseth climbed to first after Dover, only to fall back one week later after Sunday's race at Pocono. He trails Jeff Gordon by 16 points and leads third-ranked Dale Earnhardt Jr. by six points.
MICHIGAN RECORD: 29 career starts, 2 wins, 12 top-5s, 18 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: First in spring 2002 and summer 2006. Finished sixth in this race last year and was 15th in the mid-summer encore race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Michigan is one of Kenseth's favorite tracks and one he's enjoyed a great deal of success at. He'd love to add a third career win there and the first in a Toyota, after the previous ones were in Fords. ""Every week you go out with the idea of doing everything you can to try to win the race," Kenseth told the Allentown (Pa.) Morning Call. "People always ask about changing strategies and trying to do this and do that, but if it was that easy you'd win every week. I've never not wanted to win. If there was a way to force wins, I'd force it every week."
LOOKING BACK: After finishing third in the last two races, Kenseth struggled at Pocono, a track he's never done particularly well at. He ultimately finished 25th there.
ETC.: Kenseth has completed 97.8 percent (5,572) of the 5,695 total laps contested in 29 career starts at Michigan. His average start there is 17.7 and his average finish is an excellent 9.6. He has one DNF there.
88 DALE EARNHARDT JR., Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: Former points leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. moved up two spots from fifth to third after his win Sunday at Pocono. He trails points leader and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon by 22 points, is six points behind second-ranked Matt Kenseth and leads teammate and fourth-ranked Jimmie Johnson by one point.? MICHIGAN RECORD: 29 career starts, 2 wins, 6 top-5s, 10 top-10s, 2 poles. Best career finish: First in late spring 2008 and again late spring 2012. Finished 37th (engine issues) in this race last year and was 36th in the mid-summer encore race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Now that he is locked into the Chase with his second win Sunday at Pocono, Earnhardt can go for his third career win at Michigan. Prior to his win in this year's season-opening Daytona 500, Earnhardt had not won since 2012 at Michigan, and before that in 2008, also at Michigan. Here's his thoughts on Sunday's race: "(Earning back-to-back wins) would be awesome. I haven't done that since the Nationwide days back in '98 or '99. We won a couple there back to back, I think. That's a really good feeling. Puts you right on top of the world. A win gives you a lot of confidence, but you know and realize how difficult those are to come by and how competitive this garage is, but man, when you win two in a row, man, that sets you apart a bit from your competition. That would be a great thing for us."
LOOKING BACK: Earnhardt drove a very smart race at Pocono. While he only led 11 laps, he was at the right place at the right time, passing Brad Keselowski in the closing laps to earn his second win of the season.
ETC.: Earnhardt has completed 97.5 percent (5,554) of the 5,695 total laps contested in 29 career starts at Michigan. His average start there is 14.6 and average finish is 16.3. He has three DNFs there.
48 JIMMIE JOHNSON, Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: Jimmie Johnson remained in fourth place for the second consecutive week after Sunday's race at Pocono. He trails points leader and teammate Jeff Gordon by 23 points, is one point behind fellow teammate and third-ranked Dale Earnhardt Jr., and leads fifth-ranked Brad Keselowski by 27 points.
MICHIGAN RECORD: 24 career starts, 0 wins, four top-5s, nine top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Second in mid-summer 2011 race. Finished 28th in this race last year and was 40th (tied a career-low there) in the mid-summer encore race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Johnson has struggled of late at Michigan, with finishes of 27th, 28th and 40th in his last three races there. Additionally, Michigan is one of the few tracks that Johnson has never won a Sprint Cup event. Even though he typically likes larger tracks, Johnson has historically struggled at Michigan. Here's his thoughts on Sunday's race: It seems like we run well at Michigan and then something usually happens to us, so we have been chasing a win for what seems like forever. There are always a lot of Chevrolet guests out at the track since its right down the road from Detroit so it would be nice to see a Chevy in the winner's circle for them. Hoping we can pull off a win at Michigan soon for this Lowe's team, check it off the list and have a great celebration."
LOOKING BACK: After dominating the previous two races, both wins (Charlotte and Dover), Johnson led just five laps Sunday at Pocono, ultimately finishing sixth.
ETC.: Johnson has completed an outstanding 94.2 percent (4,462) of the 4,729 total laps contested in 24 career starts at Michigan. His average start there is an outstanding 8.9 and his average finish is 16.8. He has three DNFs there.
2 BRAD KESELOWSKI, Ford
Team: Penske Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Brad Keselowski continues his climb upward in the standings. After climbing from 11th to ninth after Charlotte, and then to eighth after Dover, Keselowski jumped three spots - the most of any driver in the top 10 this week - to fifth after Sunday's race at Pocono. He trails points leader Jeff Gordon by 50 points, is 27 points behind fourth-ranked Jimmie Johnson and leads sixth-ranked Kyle Busch by five points.
MICHIGAN RECORD: 9 career starts, 0 wins, 2 top-5s, 0 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Second in mid-summer 2012. Finished 12th in this race last year and was also 12th in the mid-summer encore race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Keselowski is likely still upset that debris kept him from winning at Pocono this past Sunday, letting Dale Earnhardt Jr. to pass him in the closing laps to earn the win. Michigan provides Keselowski incentive, as he has never won at his "home" track and has actually been marginal at best in nine overall starts. Will his 10th start there be different? "This weekend will likely see some of the highest speeds of the season. The track surface along with the aero characteristics of these cars ought to combine for what I expect to see record-breaking speeds. Racing in Michigan holds that touch of added significance as it is a home race for me and since we've yet to win here, there is additional motivation to get to Victory Lane. Our Ford Fusions have had great speed lately and we've been really close to winning the last couple of races. We are ready to move up that one last spot and get a victory at home."
LOOKING BACK: Keselowski had the most laps led at Pocono (95 of 160), but couldn't seal the deal when debris on his grill spiked the water temperature in his car late in the race. He was forced to slow to try and pull the debris off the grill by getting behind Danica Patrick's lapped car, but was unable to do so, allowing Dale Earnhardt Jr. to pass and earn the win. Keselowski ultimately finished second.
ETC.: Keselowski has completed a near-perfect 99.8 percent (1,800) of the 1,804 total laps contested in nine career starts at Michigan. His average start is 20.8 and average finish is 16.9. He has zero DNFs there.
18 KYLE BUSCH, Toyota
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: After dropping four places in the standings after Dover, Kyle Busch regained one of those lost spots, climbing back to sixth place after Pocono. He trails points leader Jeff Gordon by 55 points, is five points behind fifth-ranked Brad Keselowski and leads seventh-ranked Carl Edwards by two points.
MICHIGAN RECORD: 18 career starts, 1 wins, 4 top-5s, 6 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: First in mid-summer 2011. Finished fourth in this race last year but dropped to 31st in the mid-summer encore race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Busch is still looking for his second win of the season, not to mention his second career win at Michigan, a track that has vexed him throughout his career. Here's his thoughts on Sunday's race: "We've had some good days there, we've had some not-so-good days. Last June was actually pretty good for us, but not so much in August. We qualified OK but then got back in traffic and had a hard time recovering from being back there. We finished fourth, which was good for us and our team and how sometimes we run there. I'm excited about the opportunity to come back and try to change it up a little bit and maybe run a little bit better this time and just be able to get back to victory lane, hopefully."
LOOKING BACK: Busch had a run-in with Kasey Kahne in the Sunday's race at Pocono, forcing Kahne into the wall and ending his day and that of Carl Edwards, who was caught up in Kahne's mishap. Busch, meanwhile, finished 12th at Pocono.
ETC.: Busch has completed just 93.4 percent (3,306) of the 3,539 total laps contested in 18 career starts at Michigan. His average start there is 14.4 and average finish is 16.5. He has one DNF there.
99 CARL EDWARDS, Ford
Team: Roush Fenway Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Carl Edwards dropped the most positions of any driver in the top 10 in the Sprint Cup standings, falling four places from third to seventh. Edwards trails points leader Jeff Gordon by 57 points, is two points behind sixth-ranked Kyle Busch and leads eighth-ranked Denny Hamlin by 21 points.? MICHIGAN RECORD: 19 career starts, 2 win, 9 top-5s, 15 top-10s, 1 pole. Best career finish: First in spring 2007 and mid-summer 2008. Finished eighth in this race last year and was 10th in the mid-summer encore race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Edwards could be making his second-to-last appearance at Michigan as a Roush Fenway Racing driver on Sunday. If rumors are to be believed, he's likely to leave RFR at season's end, with rumored locations including Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske (although owner Roger Penske denied those rumors at Pocono).
LOOKING BACK: Edwards got caught up in a late-race wreck at Pocono, being collected by Kasey Kahne's wrecked car, and ultimately finishing a disappointing 41st. "I saw Kasey hit the wall really hard," Edwards said. "I tried to avoid it but there was oil all over the track and I plowed into the back of him. Everyone did a good job of missing me but man Kasey hit hard."
ETC.: Edwards has completed 99.2 percent (3,710) of 3,739 total laps contested in 19 career starts at Michigan. His average start there is 19.9 and his average finish is an excellent 8.3. He has zero DNFs there.
11 DENNY HAMLIN, Toyota
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: After jumping from 14th to ninth after Dover, Denny Hamlin climbed one more position to eighth after Sunday's race at Pocono. He trails points leader Jeff Gordon by 78 points, is 21 points behind seventh-ranked Carl Edwards and leads ninth-ranked Joey Logano by two points.
MICHIGAN RECORD: 16 career starts, 2 win, 5 top-5s, 7 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: First in spring 2010 and spring 2011. Finished 30th in this race last season and was 20th in the mid-summer encore race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Hamlin has struggled greatly of late at Michigan. In his last five starts since winning there in spring 2011, he's finished 35th, 34th, 11th, 30th and 20th.
LOOKING BACK: After finishing fifth at Dover, Hamlin led four laps and finished a very strong fourth at Pocono this past Sunday. "(Pocono) was a challenge for everyone. These cars poke such a big hole in the air you can't get around whoever is in front of you -- you have to be substantially faster. Those are the cards you are dealt and you have to deal with it. We had great strategy, great pit stops. ... It's a good run for us: two top-fives in a row for us this year and that's not bad."
ETC.: Hamlin has completed 97.1 percent (3,048) of the 3,139 total laps contested in 16 career starts at Michigan. His average start there is 13.9 and average finish is 15.0. He has two DNFs there.
22 JOEY LOGANO, Ford
Team: Penske Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Joey Logano fell three spots, from sixth to ninth, after Sunday's race at Pocono. He trails points leader Jeff Gordon by 80 points, is two points behind eighth-ranked Denny Hamlin and leads 10th-ranked Kyle Larson by one point.
MICHIGAN RECORD: 10 career starts, 1 wins, 1 top-5s, 5 top-10s, 1 pole. Best career finish: First in mid-summer 2013. Finished ninth in this race last year and won from the pole in the mid-summer encore race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: After a run of bad luck for several races in a row, Logano finally hit paydirt at Michigan last season. After finishing ninth there last June, he won the mid-summer race there in convincing fashion. Here's his thoughts about returning to Michigan: "(Last year's win) was huge. It was a big deal for sure. I wanted to win so badly and I felt we were close a bunch of times before that. I wanted to prove to Roger (team owner Roger Penske) and Todd (crew chief Todd Gordon) and the guys on the team that they made the right decision in bringing me over here. It also proved to me that I could do it. We kept that confidence over the off-season and we have kept it going into this year. So you can look back at that win and I feel a lot of it started in Michigan last year. Hopefully years from now, we can say that was the first of many, many wins for Roger Penske."
LOOKING BACK: Logano had a good run at Dover. While he didn't lead any laps, he still wound up with a top 10 showing, finishing eighth.
ETC.: Logano has completed 92.8 percent (1,859) of 2,004 laps contested in 10 career starts at Michigan. His average start there is 15.6 and average finish is 16.7. He has one DNF there.
42 KYLE LARSON, Chevrolet
Team: Chip Ganassi Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Kyle Larson remained in 10th place for the second consecutive week after Sunday's race at Pocono. He trails points leader Jeff Gordon by 81 points, is one point behind ninth-ranked Joey Logano and leads 11th-ranked Ryan Newman by six points.
MICHIGAN RECORD: 0 career starts, 0 wins, 0 top-5s, 0 top-10s, 0 poles. This will be Larson's first career start in the Sprint Cup Series at Michigan. However, he has one prior start there in the Nationwide Series, finishing second in the spring race there last season.
LOOKING AHEAD: For the second consecutive week, Larson takes to a track that he's never raced upon in the Sprint Cup Series before. But coming off a strong fifth-place finish at Pocono in his first-ever start there last Sunday, look for Larson to do well again this Sunday. Here's his thoughts: "I'm looking forward to getting to Michigan this weekend and building off the momentum from the top-five finish at Pocono. Our (cars) seem to be getting better and better, so it will be good to be back on the track and see what we've got for this weekend. I had a good race at Michigan last year in the Nationwide car, so I'm excited to see what we can do in the Cup car. We're always looking for a win, but will just try to stay consistent this weekend as we continue to work on getting into victory lane."
LOOKING BACK: Larson had a great run and was the highest-finishing rookie this past Sunday at Pocono, finishing fifth.
ETC.: Larson will be making his first career Sprint Cup start at Michigan this Sunday.
31 RYAN NEWMAN, Chevrolet
Team: Richard Childress Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 11th, only six points out of the top 10.
MICHIGAN RECORD: Two wins and seven top-10 finishes including five top-five's in 25 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Newman said, "Michigan is its own unique two-mile track. You really can't compare it to places like California Speedway anymore. They've kind of flip flopped. Before, California was the new pavement and Michigan was old. Now, it's the opposite. We are still looking for our first win of the season and hopefully we can do it right down the road from the Quicken Loans headquarters."
LOOKING BACK: Newman finished seventh at Pocono for his fourth straight top-seven finish at the 2.5-mile speedway. "Our Wix Filters Chevrolet handled pretty well throughout the race," said Newman. "We got a little behind in the beginning, but I am thinking it may have been a set of tires that cost us to lose some track position. After that, we just fine tuned our car and worked our way up to the front. We needed this top-10 after last week's disappointing result (31st after being involved in a wreck to fall out of the top 10)."
ETC.: Newman calls his win at Michigan in June 2004 "a special one because my dad was there. But I hadn't started my family yet. I won that race for him. Now I think it will be even more special to win because both my father and my two daughters will be at the track with me. My kids are my biggest accomplishment or my trophies, so-to-speak, so to win the Quicken Loans 400 on Sunday will be even more special. I want to hoist that trophy with them by my side."
4 KEVIN HARVICK, Chevrolet
Team: Stewart-Haas Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 12th, 14 points out of the top 10.
MICHIGAN RECORD: Finished second in both 2013 races. Overall has one win and 10 top-10 finishes in 26 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Harvick said, "Usually, when you're hooked up at Michigan, the leaders have clean air and move through traffic pretty well, but if you're in the middle of the pack, you find yourself getting behind and going a lap down pretty quick. You just have to be going from the time the green flag drops and keep yourself in position at the end. We are taking one of our best cars to Michigan." Harvick dominated Phoenix in this car, leading 224 of the 312 laps in scoring the team's first win of the season. The last time he raced chassis No. 842 was at Kansas where Harvick won the pole, led 36 laps and finished second.
LOOKING BACK: Harvick knows he very easily could have four or five wins this season. "We have run really good all year long, but something keeps biting us," said Harvick. At Pocono, Harvick was running second when he was forced to make an unscheduled pit stop with 44 laps to go with a flat left-front tire. He dropped all the way to 32nd before rallying to finish 14th. "We had another great car," said Harvick. "And once again, we had something go wrong to keep us from challenging for the win." Harvick does have two wins in 2014. "But we could have a lot more."
ETC.: Greg Zipadelli, competition director of Stewart-Haas Racing, was both pleased and mystified after the Pocono race. "We had a good day going," said Zipadelli. "It was encouraging to have all four cars have speed all weekend. We've had one or two or three, but never all of them. There was a lot of the day when they ran one-two-three. We've just got to figure out how to close the deal (after three of the four ran into problems)." When asked how he explained all of the things that have happened to Harvick this year, Zipadelli replied, "I try not to think about it too much because it gets frustrating and because I really don't think there's an answer to it."
55 BRIAN VICKERS, Toyota
Team: Michael Waltrip Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 13th, 25 points out of the top 10.
MICHIGAN RECORD: One win and eight top-10 finishes in 14 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Scott Miller, the team's vice president of competition, admits "everything about this sport is nerve-racking if you want it to be. I think you have to be insane to do this, but all of us love it. The new format places more emphasis on winning, but it was nerve-racking under the old way. If you were eighth through 12th under the old system you were on pins and needles those last five races (before the Chase). If you were 13th, you were trying to claw your way in. Under the new format, you have the same concerns."
LOOKING BACK: After running in the top 10 for most of the first half of the race, Vickers ran into handling problems during the final 80 laps and finished 19th at Pocono. "Not that great day for the Aaron's Dream Machine," said Vickers. "We were okay by ourselves, just had no speed in traffic. Just kept floating the nose and couldn't get around guys. We have a lot of work to do before we come back (in August), but I'm confident we'll get a handle on it."
ETC.: Miller is confident that both Vickers and teammate Clint Bowyer can win a race between now and Richmond - the last race before the 2014 Chase for the Championship begins. "The cars have been running good enough and we have some good tracks coming up," said Miller. "We'll see if we can get that victory (for both teams)."
16 GREG BIFFLE, Ford
Team: Roush Fenway Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 14th, 32 points out of the top 10. Gained two spots last week.
MICHIGAN RECORD: Won the June race a year ago for his second straight win at the two-mile facility and his fourth overall. Will be shooting for his fifth straight top-nine finish.
LOOKING AHEAD: Biffle said, "Last year was the best Father's Day ever. The 1,000th win for Ford and to have my daughter there for her first victory lane. I'm not sure how to top that, but hopefully something spectacular will happen. Michigan is one of my favorite tracks; it's a big fast place and has lots of room to race. There is always a lot of strategy going on. Fuel mileage and pit stops are very important."
LOOKING BACK: It was an up-and-down day for Biffle as he finished 16th at Pocono. After battling major handling problems early in the race, the team made two big adjustments that made a huge difference as Biffle rallied to run in the top 10. But he ran into problems on the final two restarts to end his top-10 hopes. "We got the car a lot better, but on that final restart when the 22 (Joey Logano) lost an engine, things got a little jumbled up and we were in the wrong lane and lost a few spots," said Biffle.
ETC.: How things have changed for Biffle. After weeks of speculation about his future, multiple sources have told the Charlotte (NC) Observer that Biffle will sign a contract extension with Roush Fenway Racing in the very near future. "I have talked with other teams and there are options there but I think Roush is where I want to stay," Biffle said on PRN's Garagepass radio show. "I really like the program at Roush Fenway. I really like (sponsor) 3M and that's really my focus. I'm hoping we have it done in the next month or so."
3 AUSTIN DILLON, Chevrolet
Team: Richard Childress Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 15th, 32 points out of the top 10.
MICHIGAN RECORD: Best finish in three starts is 11th.
LOOKING AHEAD: Dillon said, "I've raced at Michigan before in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, so I'm really looking forward to going back to a track where I've made a few laps. It's a fast track. I love it. I've had some of my best finishes in the Cup Series at Michigan. Last year we came pretty close to winning the Nationwide race, but cut down a tire. It's a very raceable track."
LOOKING BACK: Dillon was black flagged for changing lanes before the start-finish line on the restart on lap 83. The pass-thru penalty dropped him a lap down. He spent the rest of the race trying to get back on the lead lap as he finished 17th at Pocono. "It was a really long race for us, but I learned a lot and I feel like we are building a pretty good notebook for the future," said Dillon.
ETC.: After visiting Dow's corporate headquarters in Midland, Mich., Wednesday morning, Dillon threw out the first pitch at the Great Lakes Loons baseball game that evening. "I am looking forward to all of that," said Dillon. "It will be a fun day."
15 CLINT BOWYER, Toyota
Team: Michael Waltrip Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 16th, 34 points out of the top 10. Gained one spot last week.
MICHIGAN RECORD: Will be shooting for his seventh straight top-eight finish.
LOOKING AHEAD: Bowyer tested recently at Michigan. "We were good in a tire test and I'm looking forward to getting back there and see how things go on the race weekend," said Bowyer. "It just has such a tremendous amount of speed and aero dependency and if your car is good then you're going to be good."
LOOKING BACK: Bowyer finished 11th at Pocono. But he felt, "We deserved a top-five today. I'm proud of the guys in the pits and (crew chief) Brian Pattie gave me a great RK Motors Toyota. We had some bad luck on the final restart (with 12 laps to go) and lost some spots. When the 22 (Joey Logano) lost his engine, we all got jumbled up and that really cost us. We deserved to finish a lot better. But we moved up in the points and that's a good thing."
ETC.: Bowyer will become a father later this year, but when he thinks about Father's Day "it's always been about Pops (his father). He's been such an important part of my life and has helped me so much. I still think it's going to be about him even when I'm a dad. It's just the way it's always been."
27 PAUL MENARD, Chevrolet
Team: Richard Childress Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 17th, 37 points out of the top 10. Lost three spots last week.
MICHIGAN RECORD: Finished fourth last August for his second top-nine finish in the last three races.
LOOKING AHEAD: Menard said, "Before they (Michigan) repaved, you could run all over the place. Then they repaved it and the racing groove got narrow. We had maybe two car widths on the bottom. Last year got better and this year I foresee getting better again. Our teammate, Ryan Newman, participated in the tire test. Hopefully it (the new tire compound) has a little give to it so we can move around. I definitely see us breaking a track record again."
LOOKING BACK: Menard finished 26th after running into major mechanical problems during the final 34 laps. "Today was a tough day," said Menard. "We fought a loose car early in the race, but Slugger (Labbe, crew chief) was able to make a call for adjustments that helped. But then we ran into some kind of mechanical issue at the end of the race that made finishing a challenge."
ETC.: Menard has high hopes for this weekend because of the car he will be driving. He drove it twice before this season, finishing third at Las Vegas and eighth at Charlotte. "It is one of our better cars," said Menard. "It just has a good feel to it. I'm really looking forward to running it again at Michigan."
14 TONY STEWART, Chevrolet
Team: Stewart-Haas Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 18th, 49 points out of the top 10. Gained three spots last week.
MICHIGAN RECORD: Six top-nine finishes in the last seven races including a second in the 2012 June race and a fifth last August. Overall has one win and 20 top-10 finishes including 12 top-five's in 29 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Stewart hopes the racing groove at Michigan continues to widen out. "The first year once it cleaned off, it seemed like the track got to be pretty good," said Stewart. "It was still a relatively one-groove track, but it got better as the weekend went on. It was even better last year and really we should see more of the same even with the higher speeds. Hopefully, the race track will continue on that path and continue to widen out."
LOOKING BACK: Stewart led four times for 24 laps and was leading when he headed down pit road on lap 119. But his victory hopes were erased when he was penalized for speeding as he entered pit road. Stewart was never able to recover as he finished 13th. "100 percent driver error," said Stewart. "I don't know how I got through the lights like I did, but I got to where I blew through all the lights and didn't have any on the tach (tachometer) so I had no clue that I was over it (the pit road speed limit). It was 100 percent driver error. I gave my guys grief last week with a sixth-place run though we should have run in the top three and then I threw it away this week. Had an awesome Mobil 1 Chevy all day, all weekend from Friday through Sunday - just a great race car. But the driver screwed it up this week."
ETC.: All of the proceeds from the third annual Tony Stewart Kick-It Cup events at the Knoxville Nationals will go to children's cancer research. "I love going to the Knoxville Nationals," said Stewart. "To be part of such a great event like the Kick-It Cup will make it even more fun. Being able to race against fans at Slideways Karting Center and help the Jeff Gordon Children's Foundation at the same time is a win-win."
43 ARIC ALMIROLA, Ford
Team: Richard Petty Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: 19th, 51 points out of the top 10.
MICHIGAN RECORD: Best finish in four starts is 17th. Does have a Truck Series win at the two-mile track.
LOOKING AHEAD: Almirola said, "Michigan is an extremely fast track. It's important to show up with a lot of speed, and I'm confident we can do that with Roush Yates Engines. We struggled a bit at the intermediate tracks at the beginning of the year, but through testing and our engineering team putting their heads together, we've shown a lot of improvement."
LOOKING BACK: Almirola finished 22nd at Pocono. "Today didn't go as we had planned," said Almirola. "We had to change a transmission on Saturday, but felt good about Sunday. We started off really tight. As others struggled with being loose, we made up some ground being tight, but as everyone else got better, we just couldn't get the car to turn the way it needed to. This is a tough place with three distinct turns."
ETC: Almirola believes he can win a race "before Richmond and make the Chase. If we continue to finish in the top-10 and top-15, we'll have the consistency we are looking for. As you continue to run up front, you put yourself in position to win. We haven't lost sight of that being a real possibility. We just have to keep our heads down and continue to improve each week."
47 A J ALLMENDINGER, Chevrolet
Team: JTG Daugherty Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 20th, 57 points out of the top 10.
MICHIGAN RECORD: Best finish in 11 starts is 11th.
LOOKING AHEAD: Allmendinger is looking forward to this weekend at Michigan "because we have a brand car. I feel like on the bigger race tracks we haven't been way off, but we haven't been where we need to be either so hopefully that (the new car) will help a little bit. Hopefully it will make a difference."
LOOKING BACK: Allmendinger finished 21st at Pocono after bouncing off Greg Biffle late in the race. "I got loose - aero-loose," said Allmendinger. "We need to work on our aero package. When somebody gets on the outside of me, it's bad. Greg Biffle didn't do anything wrong and he left me a whole car width, but it's like I had a rope tied to my bumper and I was jerked around. We might have salvaged a better finish without that happening."
ETC.: Allmendinger is determined to help JTG Daugherty Racing became "a great team. I put a lot of pressure on myself because I want to take us to levels that we've never been at. You don't know what's going to happen in this world of NASCAR, but I could easily see this being my last team I drive for in NASCAR."
5 KASEY KAHNE, Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: 21st, 66 points out of the top 10. Lost three spots last week.
MICHIGAN RECORD: One win and nine top-10 finishes including seven top-five's in 20 starts. Finished seventh last August.
LOOKING AHEAD: Kahne hopes this is the weekend "we put together the whole race. We've had great practices over the last month, maybe a little more than that," said Kahne. "We've been really good in practice, great at times during the race, but we haven't put together the full race. If we do that, we'll have a shot to win."
LOOKING BACK: Kahne was quite upset after slamming into the wall with only 16 laps left in the race. "I had just passed Kyle (Busch) and I caught (Ryan) Newman," said Kahne. "I was passing him off turn three. We were side-by-side so Kyle was able to get a good draft down the straightaway. We got to turn one and I was on the outside, and then he knew if he didn't clear me there then I would pass him back because I just had. He just floored it and didn't care there was someone out there and ran me right in the wall. I hit hard. Once we hit, my car just went hard right." Three times in 2013 Kahne felt he had been wrecked by Busch. Kahne ended the day in 42nd place.
ETC.: Kahne admits this has been an aggravating year with the team not performing as well consistently as have the rest of Hendrick Motorsports. "It's been a bit frustrating at times, but I think I've handled it pretty well," said Kahne. "In my opinion I feel like I have. I get down a little, but I've actually handled it all pretty well and I'm excited about this weekend."
9 MARCOS AMBROSE, Ford
Team: Richard Petty Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: 22nd, 66 points out of the top 10.
MICHIGAN RECORD: Finished sixth last August for his third top-10 finish in the last four races.
LOOKING AHEAD: Since 1993 when Richard Petty became sole owner of Petty Enterprises, more than a dozen drivers have raced full time for "The King." Ambrose's two wins ties him with the late Bobby Hamilton and Kasey Kahne for the most victories while driving for Petty. Ambrose's 28 top-10s are only one behind Hamilton. "I don't pay attention to the stats much, but it's good to know that I'm part of something special for this Richard Petty team," said Ambrose. "I've had good results at Michigan and I'm anxious to get there. We know where our strengths are going to be in the next few weeks, and Michigan is up near the top of that list."
LOOKING BACK: A pit-road accident damaged Ambrose's hopes of a solid top-15 finish. Instead, he had to be content with a 24th-place finish at Pocono. "Jimmie (Johnson) was leaving his pit, and he didn't know we were trying to come in," said Ambrose. "I didn't see him come out, and he didn't see me either. It's just a racing deal, but it didn't help either of us. The guys did a nice job fixing the damage and we had good speed at the end. We did the best possible with our situation."
ETC.: The Petty Family Foundation announced Monday that the Foundation will be making contributions to four organizations on behalf of Lynda Petty, Richard's wife who died March 25. "We are so grateful to all who had donated to the Petty Family Foundation in memory of our mother," said Rebecca Petty Moffit, Executive Director of the Foundation. "The family wanted to give back to the places where our mother contributed and to those she helped and in return helped her." The organizations that received a donation were Hospice of Randolph County (NC), the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke University, Mount Lebanon Baptist Church and Randolph County Community College.
1 JAMIE MCMURRAY, Chevrolet
Team: Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates
WHERE HE STANDS: 23rd, 66 points out of the top 10.
MICHIGAN RECORD: Four top-10 finishes in 22 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: McMurray feels a lot of races at Michigan come down "to being a fuel mileage race so pit strategy will come into play on Sunday. The track is really fast and has a ton of grip. Michigan is a fun place to race. It is especially fun because you have guys that run the bottom and others that are way up by the fence all day. We have had really fast cars and I hope we can continue the good finishes that we have had the last several weeks."
LOOKING BACK: McMurray finished 10th at Pocono. "I'm really proud of the effort from our team today," said McMurray. "We had a strong car. Pocono is such a hard track to pass at and when we got a little bit off sequence in the middle of the race it was tough to make up a lot of ground under green. My team made great adjustments and had good pit stops to get us another top-10 finish. Today was a good company day (as teammate Kyle Larson finished fifth)."
ETC.: With 12 races left on the schedule to determine the 16 drivers that will make up this year's Chase for the Championship, McMurray believes there is still plenty of time to earn a spot via the point standings. "Sure, the best way to make the Chase is by winning a race, but I still think there are going to be several guys make it on points," said McMurray. "Right now Austin (Dillon) would be the last guy in and we are only 34 points back of him. So we still have time to get in that way."
78 MARTIN TRUEX JR., Chevrolet
Team: Furniture Row Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 24th, 93 points out of the top 10. Gained one spot last week.
MICHIGAN RECORD: Finished third in the June race a year ago. Overall has five top-10 finishes in 16 starts including two runner-up finishes.
LOOKING AHEAD: Truex said, "I am not sure about Michigan. Since the track was repaved it changed the style of racing there. The track is just too fast right now. I am hoping the new pavement is wearing out a little to slow us down. I enjoyed the old asphalt at Michigan where you could run all over the place. We're professionals and it's our job to deal with the track conditions."
LOOKING BACK: Truex finished ninth at Pocono for his second straight top-10 finish. "We had top-10 cars all year but we were not able to finish races," said Truex. "The last two weeks we finished the races and got some decent results. We're gaining but still have a ways to go to get where we want to be with our Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Chevrolet. We got the car going really good at one point of the race but I hit the wall, which made the car really tight and we had to fix it on the next pit stop. That incident put us behind, but we battled back, and our pit crew did another outstanding job."
ETC.: Truex knows his chances of making the Chase this season will depend on the team's ability to win a race during the next 12 races. "We need to get that victory to make the Chase," said Truex. "And the progress we've made lately gives us more optimism to nail down that win.
We feel good about our chances (of winning a race in the near future). Things are much brighter with our Furniture Row team than they were earlier in the season."
41 KURT BUSCH, Chevrolet
Team: Stewart-Haas Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 27th, 134 points out of the top 10.
MICHIGAN RECORD: Finished third last August after leading for 43 laps. Overall has two wins and nine top-10 finishes in 26 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Busch likes racing at Michigan "because it's a balance of trying to make sure you have the speed through the corners, but then every change that you're making you have to keep in mind the straightaways are so long there. You're balancing trying to keep the drag out of the car."
LOOKING BACK: Busch finished third at Pocono for his 15th top-10 finish in 26 starts at the Pennsylvania facility. It was first top-10 finish in eight races dating back to his win at Martinsville. "It was a great top-five run," said Busch. "Daniel (Knost, crew chief) was smooth on what pit calls to make, and the crew guys had sufficient pit stops. It was solid execution, a nice turn of the page so to speak. I'm real proud of the changes we made to the car to find some speed, and now we'll just try to develop it week in and week out."
ETC.: After his top-five run at Pocono, Busch said, "I feel like we shed some new team skin today. Thanks to Daniel for leading us in a new direction today. We just need to start building this chemistry as a team if we want to be a championship contender."