NASCAR Michigan 2013: Quicken Loans 400 viewer's guide

John Harrelson

Previewing today’s NASCAR race at Michigan International Speedway.

What you need to know for today's NASCAR race at Michigan International Speedway including the storylines and drivers to watch for throughout the afternoon.

Storylines

Everyone is chasing Jimmie Johnson...again

To the surprise of no one, Jimmie Johnson enters Michigan firmly atop the Cup standings and as the driver everyone else is chasing. That was certainly the case last week at Pocono where the 48 car was far superior leading 128 of 160 laps with Johnson cruising to his third win of the season.

The good news for competition is Michigan represents one of just five tracks where the 48 team has never been victorious. The bad news, however, while Johnson has never won in the Irish Hills he has come close and were it not for misfortune, he could easily have a couple of wins.

Four years ago Johnson led 146 laps and was comfortably in the lead before running out of fuel with two to go. And it was a similar experience last August when again the 48 car was out front with two laps remaining, but this time it was an engine failure that spelled Johnson's demise.

Ford is back up front

For the most part this season the Ford teams of Roush Fenway Racing and Penske Racing have lagged behind the teams of Chevrolet and Toyota. In an effort to bridge the gap Ford has recommitted in recent weeks to have more of an open exchange within its camp.

And recent results seem to indicate the distance has closed some as Greg Biffle finished runner-up at Pocono and since unloading Friday, cars with a blue oval on its hood have been among the fastest on the track. In qualifying, Carl Edwards topped 202 mph to win Ford its first pole-position of the season and that speed was backed in practice where he posted the fifth-fastest lap overall.

Another indicator this might be Ford's weekend is that Michigan has long been a track where Roush has been dominant. With 13 victories overall, no team has won on the two-mile oval more than the organization headed by Jack Roush.

Can Dale Earnhardt Jr. do it again at Michigan?

Last year Dale Earnhardt Jr. entered this weekend looking to snap a 147-race winless streak and what transpired was his first victory in four years. But since then NASCAR's most popular driver has failed to return to Victory Lane and is again looking for more Michigan magic.

Thus far a repeat of last year's victory that saw Earnhardt lead 95 of 200 laps appears unlikely. In practice the No. 88 crew couldn't give their driver a car that handled and there is much work to do if there is going to be a repeat of last year.

Favorites

1. Kasey Kahne

Michigan has a propensity for producing long stretches of green flag racing and no driver was faster on long runs in practice than Kahne. He also has a history of being strong here with a win and six other top five finishes.

2. Kurt Bush

There is no doubting the speed has been there as of late for Kurt Bush and Furniture Row Racing. The problem, however, is their inability to put together a complete race. It's been an issue which has seen potential wins at Darlington and Charlotte fail to materialize. Assuming the 78 team can stay out of its own way, Busch has a car capable today of bringing him his first win since September 2011.

3. Jimmie Johnson

Yes, Johnson is winless at Michigan and no, it does not matter. But eventually he is going to get that first victory, so why not today? He enters with momentum coming off a convincing win at Pocono and was among the fastest in every practice, including posting the second-best 10 consecutive lap average.

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