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NSCS: Pure Michigan 400 Preview

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RIDGELAND, Miss. — Following last weekend’s fantastic racing on the road course at Watkins Glen, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will head to Michigan International Speedway this weekend for Sunday’s running of the Pure Michigan 400, which marks just four races remaining until the start of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Last time the Cup Series visited Michigan, Jimmie Johnson was able to play the strategy just right and held off Kevin Harvick in the waning laps to score his first win at the massive 2.5 mile speedway and his third win of the season. The win also gave Chevrolet their first win at the track since 2012, when Dale Earnhardt, Jr. scored the win.

Racing at Michigan presents its own set of challenges, with the biggest being the sheer speed of the track, which makes horsepower and aerodynamics big keys in Sunday’s race. With the high speeds, Harvick qualified at 204.557 mph back in June, passing becomes difficult and track position will be key as the vast majority of position changes will happen either through pit strategy or during restarts, when the field will fan out three and four wide in an effort to gain ground on the lead.

“I think the key is different between the two series, really all three series.  For Cup this weekend, the key is timing your pit stops perfectly.  Having the right position on the track is critical.  You want to be in a spot where you’re leading late in the race and don’t have to pit again.  That is a very, very formidable position. The other thing that goes with it is the restarts.  You have to be on the front row on the restarts and you have to execute. If you can accomplish those two things, you’ll probably win the race this weekend for the Cup Series,” Michigan native Brad Keselowski said of the keys to being able to win the race on Sunday.

With just four races remaining until the start of the Chase for the Sprint Cup and several drivers still winless and looking to punch their ticket, the strategy game could be at an all-time high this weekend. Only four Chase berths remain for those that have not won a race yet and several of the drivers that are still winless have had success at Michigan, namely Kyle Larson, Matt Kenseth, and Greg Biffle, all of whom have average finishes of 11.6 or higher.

The top five average finishes at Michigan belong to Larson (8.0), Carl Edwards (2 wins – 9.0), Kenseth (2 wins – 9.8), Biffle (4 wins – 11.6), and Tony Stewart with one win and an average finish of 11.7. However, Stewart-Haas Racing has not made it clear whether Stewart will be racing this weekend at Michigan.

While Ford has had a stranglehold on this track up until this season, the horsepower nod has to go to the Hendrick Motorsports teams and others that use Hendrick engines as they held six of the top 10 finishing positions in the June race at Michigan, with Fords finishing third and ninth with the Team Penske cars. The Roush-Fenway Racing cars that have had so much success at Michigan over the years struggled mightily back in June, continuing the same theme that has haunted them all season, so unless something drastic changes with them, they most likely will not be a factor on Sunday.

Without a doubt, one of the big storylines to follow throughout the race on Sunday will be whether a repeat winner will be standing in Michigan’s victory lane or whether we will have a first-time winner in 2014 to lock down another Chase berth and make the remaining races in the Race for the Chase even more tense than they already are.

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

  • Friday, August 15th
    • NSCS Practice (12:00 pm – 1:20 pm – FOX Sports 1)
    • NSCS Qualifying (4:40 pm – FOX Sports 1)
  • Saturday, August 16th
    • NSCS Practice (8:30 am – 9:20 am – ESPN2)
    • NSCS Final Practice (11:00 am – 11:55 am – ESPN2)
  • Sunday, August 17th
    • NSCS Pure Michigan 400 (1:00 pm – 200 laps, 400 miles – ESPN)

Entry List
2014 Pure Michigan 400
Michigan International Speedway

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About David Morgan

David Morgan serves as the Associate Editor at Rubbings Racing and can be followed on Twitter (@damorgan86). A native of Raymond, Mississippi, Morgan has covered NASCAR events all over the United States.

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