This Week in Auto Racing August 17 - August 19

This Week in Auto Racing August 17 - August 19

This Week in Auto Racing August 17 - August 19
August 14th, 2007

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - It's a light week for racing unless you are trying to make the "Chase for the Nextel Cup." Then it's a huge weekend, one of just four remaining, before we determine who will race for the 2007 championship and who will watch from the sidelines.

Nextel Cup

3M Performance 400 - Michigan International Speedway - Brooklyn, MI


Just four races remain until the cutoff for the "Chase for the Nextel Cup." Following an eventful Sunday in upstate New York, the picture is becoming clearer as to who is a contender and who is just a pretender.

One thing is for sure, Kurt Busch is a contender. The No.2 Miller Lite Penske Racing Dodge driver has been on fire since the Pepsi 400 in early July. In his last five starts, Busch has one win (Pocono), three top-10s and finished no lower than 11th.

At the time he began to "heat up" he was 15th in the standings and staring at a second consecutive season without a chance at the title. Then something happened, the team jelled and now they find themselves solidly in the top-12. Busch has a 96-point lead on teammate Ryan Newman and 100 points ahead of stumbling Dale Earnhardt Jr.

In fact, at Pocono they were easily the best car on the track. Busch led 175 of 200 laps en route to a 4.131-second win and one of the most dominant performances of the season.

"It's all about momentum 'the big mo' -- and Busch and our entire Miller Lite Dodge team certainly have it going for us," said crew chief Pat Tryson on the team's website. "If you're fortunate enough to have 'the big mo' on your side, it's best to ride it for all it's worth and that's exactly what we're hoping to do."

The something that "happened" for the No.2 Dodge team was Tryson himself. Tryson took over the reins about two weeks before the sudden upswing in the team's performance. It took a little time to make changes, but now everyone can see the results.

Tryson teamed with Mark Martin at Roush Fenway Racing for the first three years of "The Chase" and they qualified in all three years. Last year he was switched over to Greg Biffle's team, but that didn't quite work out as planned.

"Competing for championships is our goal and Pat's proven that he has the ability to get top level teams and drivers into the Chase," said Tim Cindric, President of Penske Performance.

Newman, Busch's teammate at Penske, has been just outside the "Chase" all season and unfortunately appears on a course to stay there. Just two top-10s in the last five races and a accident that left him 42nd at Indianapolis has left him with only a slim chance at making NASCAR's "playoffs." Mark down Newman as a pretender.

For the millions of Dale Earnhardt Jr. fans this will be hard to read, but "Junior" is a pretender as well. He is 100 points out of the playoffs and has finished 34th or worse in three of the last five events. Not exactly the way to make a move up the charts. At Watkins Glen, Earnhardt Jr. finished 42nd after an engine failure, his team's second in the last three events. And with "Junior" already having one foot out the door, don't expect anything spectacular from this team over the next month.

Greg Biffle is 15th in the standings, but 212 points out of the "Chase." It's a tall order for Biffle to jump over three drivers and that many points. The team has been solid of late, but not extraordinary, which is what will be needed over the next month if the No.16 Roush Fenway Ford team is to make the leap into the "Chase."

The good news for Biffle is that he has had a lot of success at Michigan International Speedway. In nine starts, he has two wins and six top-10s and led 170 laps. His average finish at MIS of 12.778 is better than either Newman, Earnhardt Jr. or Kurt Busch.

For both the contenders and pretenders it's time to put up or shut up.

Busch

Carfax 250 - Michigan International Speedway - Brooklyn, MI


Kevin Harvick is back to his 2006 Busch Series championship form these days, winning the last two Busch events (Montreal, Watkins Glen) and four of his last five starts.

In just 17 starts this year, Harvick has collected a series-high five wins and 15 top-10s. He is third in points despite missing seven races (29% of the season), in itself an amazing statistic.

While Harvick's win in Montreal was a matter of being in the right place at the right time to take advantage of other driver mistakes, at Watkins Glen he was dominant from start to finish leading a total of 49 of 82 laps.

Harvick has always been pretty good when it comes to turning right as well as left. In 14 Nextel Cup and Busch road course starts, he has won twice and earned nine top-10s in 14 races. It would have been 10 of 14 if Juan Pablo Montoya hadn't got into the back of him on Sunday, but that's a whole different can o' worms.

"We have been able to run in the top-10 and top-five at Watkins Glen and Sonoma," said Harvick on his team's website. "I am fine that my name doesn't get brought up when it comes to road-course experts. It kind of gives me a chance to fly under the radar a little."

This week Harvick and 19 other "Buschwhackers" will race in the "Saturday warmup."

Among them is Mark Martin, the all-time Busch Series leader at MIS with two wins, seven top-fives, eight top-10s, 304 laps led and an average finish of 4.2. He is the only driver two sweep a Michigan weekend, accomplishing the feat in August 1993.

Since it has been six paragraphs and there has yet been no reference to points leader Carl Edwards, who leads the series by 766 points, despite finishes of 30th and 32nd in the last two events. It shows just how great a start the No.60 Roush Fenway Racing driver had, posting nine consecutive top-six results, to start the season.

Edwards could take a month's vacation and still return in first place. Of course, a vacation for Edwards would be something like going dirt track racing back home, so he might as well continue to race each week and let as many fans as possible enjoy his "work."

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Re: This Week in Auto Racing August 17 - August 19

3M Performance 400 - Michigan International Speedway - Brooklyn, MI

Schedule: Friday, qualifying (Speed Channel, 3:10 p.m.); Sunday, race (ESPN, 2 p.m.).

Track: Michigan International Speedway (D-shaped oval, 2 miles, 18 degrees banking in turns).

Race distance: 400 miles, 200 laps.

Last race: Tony Stewart took advantage of a stunning mistake by Jeff Gordon with two laps to go to win the Centurion Boats at The Glen at Watkins Glen International. Gordon, who started from the pole and led a race-high 51 laps, seemed to have his 10th road course victory in hand, but he spun out on his own heading into the first turn with Stewart a couple of car-lengths behind. Gordon finished ninth.

Last year: Matt Kenseth easily kept Jeff Gordon at bay in the final laps to win his third race of the season. Gordon charged from 12th place on a restart with 36 laps to go in the 200-lap race - but he ran out of time and finished 10 car-lengths behind Kenseth.

Fast facts: Seven drivers in the top 10 of the point standings, have won at Michigan International Speedway. Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart, and Carl Edwards have won in the NEXTEL Cup Series, while Jeff Burton, Kyle Busch, and Kevin Harvick have won in the Busch Series. ... Jeff Gordon has 14 top-five and 19 top-10 finishes as well as four wins this season. Gordon is 344 points ahead of Denny Hamlin in the standings. ... Joe Gibbs Racing, winners of three Nextel Cup Series championships and more than 70 NASCAR races, has signed Kyle Busch to drive for the No. 18 team in Nextel Cup beginning in 2008. ... Kyle Petty, who suffered a broken hand in last week's race at Watkins Glen, may not race this weekend. ... Furniture Row Racing announced Kenny Wallace is stepping down as the driver of No. 78 car and will remain with the team as a consultant.

Next race: Sharpie 500, Aug. 25, Bristol, Tenn.


Carfax 250 - Michigan International Speedway - Brooklyn, MI


Schedule: Saturday, qualifying (Speed Channel, 11:10 a.m.); race (ESPN2, 3:30 p.m.).

Track: Michigan International Speedway (D-shaped oval, 2 miles, 18 degrees banking in turns).

Race distance: 250 miles, 125 laps.

Last race: Kevin Harvick, the defending Busch Series champion, led 37 laps and beat Jeff Burton by 3.5 seconds in the Zippo 200 at Watkins Glen International. Harvick posted his second consecutive win, fifth this season and 31st of his career. He is tied with Jack Ingram for second in career wins behind Mark Martin's 47.

Last year: Dale Earnhardt Jr. bumped Carl Edwards out of the way on a restart in overtime and grabbed a contentious victory.

Fast facts: Carl Edwards has a 766-point lead over David Reutimann in the standings. ... Three-time IndyCar Series champion Sam Hornish Jr. will make his Michigan International Speedway debut in the Carfax 250. Hornish is currently fifth in IndyCar Series driver point standings. ... MIS is the first track to use a polymer-enhanced asphalt especially formulated for high-banked racing and harsh Michigan winters. ...

Next race: Food City 250, Aug. 24, Bristol, Tenn.

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