NASCAR Michigan 2013: Pure Michigan 400 viewer's guide

Robert Laberge

As NASCAR takes to Michigan for Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400, here’s a look at the storylines and drivers to follow.

The NASCAR circuit is at the two-mile Michigan International Speedway, where if past races are any indication, the Pure Michigan 400 should be a wide-open affair. Here is a look at the storylines and drivers to keep an eye on Sunday afternoon.

Storylines

Johnson tries to conquer Michigan demons

Michigan is one of five tracks where Jimmie Johnson has never won, as he's 0-for-23 in his career. But it's not just that the five-time Cup champion is winless on the two-mile oval, it's how close he has come to winning before something inevitably happens to derail his chances

Last year in this race Johnson was leading comfortably with six laps to go when his engine expired. The No. 48 was among the fastest cars here in June when in the latter stages poor pit strategy by crew chief Chad Knaus cost him valuable track position. Johnson would wreck trying to get to the front while running second.

His sour luck at Michigan has continued this weekend. In Saturday practice Johnson posted the fastest time, but as he headed into Turn 3 he lost control of his car and smacked the wall hard with the nose. As a result, the 48 team had to rollout a backup and Johnson will have to forfeit his third starting position.

Chase implications

As there are only four races remaining before the field is set for the Chase, a host of drivers enter Michigan in desperate need of a victory. Included in this group is pole-sitter Joey Logano, who is winless on the year and because of his points position his best hope of qualifying for the playoffs is via a wild card.

But to claim one of the two wild cards available, Logano will have to win. This is something he has an excellent chance of doing Sunday afternoon, as the No. 22 Ford has consistently been among the quickest cars all weekend.

Another driver who could use a Michigan win is Greg Biffle. Unlike Logano, Biffle has a victory this season as he won here in June. But sitting ninth in the standings and just four points ahead of 11th-place Kurt Busch, Biffle could use another win to bolster his Chase prospects.

And then there is Jeff Gordon, who is coming off a demoralizing crash a week ago at Watkins Glen. The accident dropped him out of the top 10 and he is facing an uphill climb to make the Chase. He too is without a victory this season.

Ford strong

Michigan has always been a Ford friendly track as the manufacturer owns a track-best 33 wins. The most recent win was in June, as drivers with a blue oval on their hood combined to lead 88 of 200 laps, culminating with Biffle celebrating his first victory of the season.

However, since that trip to Victory Lane the performance of the Ford-backed teams has waned, as Chevrolet has continually outpaced its rival. But as the circuit returns to the fastest track on the schedule, Ford appears to have found itself. In practice and then in qualifying, Ford drivers have been among the fastest led by Logano capturing his first pole of the season.

Worth Noting

  • It is Austin Dillon behind the wheel of the No. 14 car normally driven by Tony Stewart, who is out indefinitely with a broken leg. Dillon pushed too hard in qualifying and posted just the 27th-fastest time, but he was sixth overall in final practice Saturday.

  • Dale Earnhardt Jr. is using the same chassis he won with at Michigan in June 2012 and raced here earlier this season when he led 34 laps before an engine failure ended his day.

  • A win by Biffle Sunday and he would be the first driver since Bobby Labonte in 1995 to win both Michigan races in a single season.

Favorites

1. Greg Biffle

With its high speeds, Michigan is the kind of track that fits Biffle's driving style. This is evident by the fact that he's won the last two Michigan races and four overall.

2. Joey Logano

In his first season driving for Penske Racing. Logano has shown speed all year, but has been unable to capitalize. Starting on the pole and with consistent speed on long runs -- essential on a track with long stretches of green flag racing -- that breakthrough win could come Sunday.

3. Kurt Busch

Two months ago here the No. 78 machine was one of the fastest on the track, as Busch led the first 21 laps before a self-induced spin ended his bid for the win. Again quick, he should be a factor -- assuming he doesn't crash.

More from SB Nation:

NASCAR power rankings

Who will Chip Ganassi sign to replace Montoya?

Juan Pablo Montoya not returning to EGR in 2014

Brian Vickers to drive No. 55 MWR car full-time

Longform: The good times and hard life of Dick Trickle

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