NASCAR At Michigan: Kyle Busch Picks Up Another Win, Boosts Chase Position

The Michigan race had major implications on NASCAR's Chase battle. See how things shook out below.

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25 Total Updates since August 18, 2011
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NASCAR: Dale Earnhardt Jr. Frustrated Team Didn't Get Michigan Finish It Deserved

Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished a disappointing 14th on Sunday at Michigan International Speedway after running in the top 10 for most of the day, which left him a bit frustrated.

Still, the Hendrick Motorsports driver is still in ninth place and 30 points inside the Chase with three races to go. Here's what he told reporters afterward, via Chevrolet:

On his race:

We had a good car. We had a couple of bad sets – well, I don't know whether they are bad sets of tires, but I put them on my car and they drive like crap. Then I put on another set and it will drive good. I don't know how to explain that. I've been doing that all my life. I ain't got an explanation for it yet.

I had some awesome runs where the car was really fast, then I'd put on some tires and couldn't drive the car. So, you tell me. I don't know.

On his frustration:

Well racing is frustrating as a whole. That's a part of this sport. At least we run good when we had our opportunities. We had a pretty good car. We had some bad stuff happen on pit road. We got back up to 10th or ninth, drove it up there.

Then, we probably shouldn't have pitted there at the end. I don't know. We took two tires like a lot of guys and just didn't have the good fortune at the end on that last green-white-checkered. We were on the bottom behind (David Reutimann) and some other people that were as slow as hell and just couldn't go nowhere.

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Michigan: NASCAR Point Standings Update, Chase Picture After Sunday's Race

Denny Hamlin still holds the final wild card spot for NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup, but his poor result at Michigan on Sunday loosened his grip.

Hamlin dropped to 14th in points and is now 59 points outside the top 10 – which means he'll have to rely on the wild card to make the playoff.

That's all well and good for now, but if another driver (such as Clint Bowyer) wins a race, Hamlin would be out.

Here is a look at the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings with only three races to go before the Chase (with each driver's best Chase scenario listed):

  1. Kyle Busch *clinched Chase spot via wild card
  2. Jimmie Johnson -10
  3. Kevin Harvick -39
  4. Carl Edwards -39
  5. Matt Kenseth -40
  6. Jeff Gordon -60 (+69 inside Chase)
  7. Ryan Newman -74 (+55 inside Chase)
  8. Kurt Busch -77 (+52 inside Chase)
  9. Dale Earnhardt Jr. -99 (+30 inside Chase)
  10. Tony Stewart -105 (+24 inside Chase)
  11. Clint Bowyer -24 from top 10 OR -1 win from wild card
  12. Brad Keselowski Has No. 1 Wild Card spot (two wins) OR -52 from top 10
  13. Greg Biffle -1 win from wild card
  14. Denny Hamlin Has No. 2 Wild Card spot (one win) by +18 points on Paul Menard
  15. AJ Allmendinger -1 win AND -3 points from wild card
  16. Mark Martin -1 win AND -8 points from wild card
  17. Kasey Kahne -1 win AND -12 points from wild card
  18. Paul Menard -1 win OR -18 points from wild card
  19. Joey Logano -2 wins OR -1 win AND -25 points from wild card
  20. David Ragan -1 win OR -31 points from wild card
  21. Martin Truex Jr. -2 wins AND -2 points from wild card
  22. Juan Pablo Montoya -2 wins AND -8 points from wild card
  23. Marcos Ambrose -1 win AND -11 points from wild card
  24. **24th and below virtually eliminated from Chase contention**
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After NASCAR Michigan Race, Tony Stewart Airs Frustration About Performance

Tony Stewart managed to get a ninth-place finish at Michigan International Speedway on Sunday and even stayed in the top 10 of NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series standings.

But the result didn't give him any new optimism that his No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing team is improving or getting any more competitive as the Chase approaches.

"I'll be perfectly honest: At this point of the deal, if we're going to run this bad, it really doesn't matter whether we make the Chase or not," Stewart told ESPN afterward. "We're going to be occupying a spot in the Chase that somebody else who can actually run for a championship is going to be trying to take. Our stuff is so bad right now that we're wasting one of those top 12 spots right now."

Stewart, who is still 10th in points, said his team went back and forth between too tight and too loose all day at Michigan.

"I don't know what we've got to do to get one balanced for a day, but we haven't figured it out yet," he said.

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NASCAR Michigan Results: Kyle Busch Holds Off Jimmie Johnson To Win Fourth Race Of 2011

Kyle Busch picked up his fourth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory of the season on Sunday, holding off Jimmie Johnson on a green-white-checkered finish to win at Michigan International Speedway.

Busch's victory resulted in a clinched spot for this season's Chase, where he has a good chance of being the top seed when the playoff field is set in three more weeks.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver had passed Johnson with 12 laps to go and was set to cruise to the finish line, but his older brother, Kurt, suddenly blew a tire with five laps remaining and got into the wall.

The caution for the elder Busch set up a green-white-checkered finish, and the top seven cars stayed out to keep their track position.

That set up the final duel between Busch and Johnson, who started side-by-side on the two-lap shootout. Busch, known as the best driver on restarts, quickly pulled away and was never challenged again.

Other than the drama at the end, the race was relatively uneventful. Chase contenders Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards both had trouble, but there was apparently no contact between drivers on the track all day.

Here are the NASCAR Michigan results from today:

  1. Kyle Busch
  2. Jimmie Johnson
  3. Brad Keselowski
  4. Mark Martin
  5. Ryan Newman
  6. Jeff Gordon
  7. Kasey Kahne
  8. Clint Bowyer
  9. Tony Stewart
  10. Matt Kenseth
  11. AJ Allmendinger
  12. David Ragan
  13. Regan Smith
  14. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  15. Brian Vickers
  16. Bobby Labonte
  17. Jeff Burton
  18. Martin Truex Jr.
  19. David Reutimann
  20. Greg Biffle
  21. Joey Logano
  22. Kevin Harvick
  23. Jamie McMurray
  24. Trevor Bayne
  25. Juan Pablo Montoya
  26. Paul Menard
  27. Marcos Amborse
  28. Travis Kvapil
  29. Andy Lally
  30. Ken Schrader
  31. Landon Cassill
  32. David Gilliland
  33. Dave Blaney
  34. Kurt Busch
  35. Denny Hamlin
  36. Carl Edwards
  37. Casey Mears
  38. Tony Raines
  39. Todd Bodine
  40. David Stremme
  41. Joe Nemechek
  42. Mike Skinner
  43. JJ Yeley
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Denny Hamlin Knows Team's Decision May Hurt Feelings In Joe Gibbs Racing Engine Shop

Denny Hamlin is switching from engines built by Joe Gibbs Racing to the ones built by Toyota Racing Development (TRD) for the remainder of the NASCAR season – starting this weekend at Michigan – while teammate Kyle Busch is sticking with JGR.

Understandably, that's bound to create some bruised egos and resentment in the JGR engine shop – which recently announced a merger with TRD that will go into full effect next season.

But Hamlin said it's an unfortunate tradeoff he'll have to accept in order to ensure his team not only makes the Chase but contends for the championship.

"It's a tough balance, because you have some employees that take a lot of pride in their work," he said Friday at Michigan International Speedway. "When you ultimately switch, some people's feelings get hurt sometimes. We have to do what we have to do to make sure we finish races at this point. Being on the bubble, we cannot afford any DNFs. We're just doing what we have to do. I hate to say it."

As recently as last week, it wasn't anticipated that Hamlin or any other JGR drivers would use a TRD motor before next season. The installation of the motor is different, and TRD's engines didn't fit the JGR cars.

But Hamlin and his No. 11 team pushed to get a TRD motor and make the necessary changes in time for Michigan. Why? Because Hamlin has suffered four blown engines in practices this season and said he could no longer afford to start in the back of the field.

"You have to understand, this is a big favor to ask a manufacturer to provide engines for us for the rest of the year," he said. "It's a lot of manpower. A lot of work had to be done, especially within JGR ... to get this engine imported into our car.

"I was behind it 100 percent. I felt like it was the right thing to do. Ultimately what matters is results. Things happen, engines blow...but we felt like (TRD has) worked out a lot of reliability issues that they had early on."

So why has Hamlin's team seen more failures this season than the motors used by Busch or Joey Logano? There's no explanation but simply luck of the draw, Hamlin said.

"I'm as careful with equipment as I can possibly be," he said. "I don't put my car in reverse in practice – all kinds of little things I do to make sure I'm easy on equipment. Coincidence, procedures, things like that – who knows why? Bad luck. We don't know why because these engines are kind of random in the sense of who gets what."

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Brad Keselowski: Crew Chief Paul Wolfe Rejected Me When We First Met

The pairing of Brad Keselowski and his Penske Racing crew chief Paul Wolfe have made for the hottest tandem in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series over the past few weeks, and that prompted Keselowski to recall the first time they met.

It was 2009 at Michigan International Speedway, and Keselowski had just decided to join Penske Racing. The driver knew he would need a Nationwide Series crew chief and had admired Wolfe's work at CJM Racing from afar.

We'll let Keselowski take the story from there:

I met him here two years ago for the first time. I made the decision that day that I was going to come to Penske and race. ... I had never met him before. I had just come back from Michigan football practice, and I texted him and said, 'Hey man, why don't you come over to my bus and I'll talk to you?'

He walked into my bus and I told him, 'Hey man, I'm going to move on. I'm going to do this deal at Penske. I'm going to have this Nationwide program and I'm really, really excited about it. I like what I see out of you – just watching you from a distance – and I think you should interview for the job and I think you'd be the leading candidate. I think you'd really enjoy it and I think things would go really well.'

And Paul – he's real quiet – just sat there and listened to me the entire time. He didn't say a word and when it was done, he looked at me straight in the face and said, 'Nah, I don't think so.' And he walked out!

I'm like, 'Damn! That was not how this was supposed to go!'

He explained it to me later on, about two months later. His team (CJM) kind of went under and he eventually took the job (at Penske). And I asked him, 'Why did you say no? You didn't even really listen to me!'

He told me he was very loyal to the team he had and he wasn't just going to jump ship if he felt like that other team could make it.

I think that loyalty factor and some of the other personality traits he has, we share. Some traits we don't share, but we have a lot of respect for each other. He builds fast race cars – which makes it a lot easier to get along with a crew chief, quite honestly. But he's a great guy and I really enjoy working with him.

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Dale Earnhardt Jr.: I'm Focused On Racing, Not Danica Patrick Negotiations

Dale Earnhardt Jr. said Friday there was nothing new to report with Danica Patrick despite an ESPN story this week that reiterated the IndyCar Series star was coming to NASCAR.

"There ain't been no announcement yet, so I don't know why you would go report that," Earnhardt Jr. told ESPN's Marty Smith, who had followed up his report with a question about Patrick. "We've enjoyed working with her. Would love to keep working with her. When there's something to announce, they'll announce it."

When Smith then tried to ask a "hypothetical" question about Patrick, Earnhardt Jr. said, "I don't deal in hypotheticals" and added, "I can't do you no favors today."

Earnhardt Jr. acknowledged later, however, that his sister Kelley was doing all the negotiating and that Earnhardt Jr. hadn't spoken to Patrick since she was at the Daytona race in July. The ESPN report said Patrick would announce her plans next week.

NASCAR's most popular driver cited his lack of involvement in the negotiations as evidence that he's focused more than ever on his racing.

"People always used to say that I wasn't focused, I had too many things going on, this, that and the other," he said. "You'd be surprised the little amount of things I have to worry about. It's basically this race car right here and not being late to anything. That's all I have to worry about."

Earnhardt Jr. said he "would like to think" he had veto power over any decisions at JR Motorsports, but added he's "tried to exercise it a few times and it worked, and sometimes it doesn't."

"My sister can put up a pretty convincing argument," he said. "She went to college to learn about how to be a businesswoman and I went to college to learn how to build an (engine) starter and get my inspection license. I trust her opinion."

In regard to Patrick's performance on the track, Earnhardt Jr. said the Go Daddy girl has achieved "success" in what she's accomplished already in NASCAR.

"She's awesome about" adapting to the Nationwide car, he said. "She seems like she's fun to work with."

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Jeff Gordon Looking To Make A Difference After NASCAR Driving Career Ends

At 40 years old, Jeff Gordon is no longer the ‘wonder boy' of the early 1990s. Gray hairs and back problems have led to questions of retirement over the past few years, but Gordon has remained competitive in the car and focused on winning races and championships.

Yet as the four-time champion moves into the next stage, his work outside the car is becoming a larger part of his life. Involvement with the Jeff Gordon Foundation, a trip to Congo with the Clinton Global Initiative and numerous other public awareness campaigns have proven Gordon is as much a champion off the track as he has been on.

Saying he "doesn't believe in retirement," Gordon expects his legacy after racing to be defined by the charitable work he has become so passionate about over the years.

"It's going to be hard to top what I've done in racing, but I'll certainly try," he said Friday in Michigan while promoting awareness for pertussis (also known as whooping cough).

"When I get behind something, I do it 100 percent and I want to be successful at it and I want to make a difference," Gordon added. "Right now, it's hard for me to really do the things I want to do with the children's charities because I am so limited on time."

Nearing the end of his career, Gordon says he is only "scratching the surface" when it comes to his work with children's charities and believes he could make a bigger impact when he can devote his full attention.

That being said, don't expect Gordon to step away from racing entirely.

"Racing will always be a part of my life," he said. "Whatever I do within racing after driving, I certainly want to be as successful as I can at it."

Using the wealth of knowledge acquired through the years as a successful driver and member of Hendrick Motorsports, Gordon hopes to play a role in making the organization a continued success, but admits there is no guarantee that will happen.

One thing he can guarantee, though, is his philanthropic involvement will continue to evolve and grow.

"Certainly I know my work with (the Jeff Gordon Foundation) will increase in a big way when I'm not driving, I know that for a fact," he said. 

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O Canada! Jimmie Johnson Wants To See NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race North Of The Border

NASCAR's five-time defending Sprint Cup Series champion thinks it's time to reward the loyalty of Canadian race fans.

Jimmie Johnson said Friday at Michigan International Speedway that he'd like to see NASCAR bring the Sprint Cup Series to Canada because of the "fan hunger" for racing north of the border.

"We have a huge racing audience in Canada," Johnson said. "The Canadian fans travel to Michigan, to Loudon (N.H.) and even further south to come see our sport. Their presence is felt. We sing their national anthem at certain race tracks for a reason."

Canadian fans come in particularly large numbers at the races Johnson mentioned as well as at Watkins Glen. If there was a race in Montreal or at another Canadian road course, Johnson expects plenty of fans would come.

"I think it's an untapped market in an area where we can see some growth, get some more eyeballs at the race track and on television, and it's an area we should consider moving to," he said.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver admitted it was easier said than done, though.

"I don't own a track and I don't have to worry about the schedule and where dates go," he acknowledged. "But I would think there's some weight in that angle and that thought process."

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Kyle Busch Unsure Why Denny Hamlin Wanted TRD Engine, Says 18 Team Staying Loyal To Joe Gibbs Racing Motors

Denny Hamlin is taking advantage of the new alliance between the engine departments of Toyota Racing Development and Joe Gibbs Racing by using a TRD motor this weekend at Michigan International Speedway.

And JGR teammate Kyle Busch isn't sure why.

"Why those guys decided to change, I don't know," Busch said. "For us on the 18 team, we're pretty confident in (JGR engine chief) Mark Cronquist and what he's been able to do with his guys at Joe Gibbs Racing. We're staying committed to our guys, our engine department for this year."

When TRD and JGR announced the engine program merger last week, JGR team president J.D. Gibbs said it was unlikely that one of his cars would use a TRD motor before the end of the season. Things change quickly, apparently.

"(Hamlin) is going to be our 'test dummy,' if you will," Busch said.

For his part, Busch said he's had only one in-race engine failure this season and another during practice that he described as "my fault." That hasn't been the case for Hamlin.

Will it affect the team's chemistry and communication to have the top two JGR cars running different engines this weekend?

"Whether it relates to any hard feelings back at JGR, I'm not sure," Busch said. "That's why the 18 team is staying committed to JGR engines. We feel like that's our best opportunity to win a championship."

Busch said the primary reason for the merger was fuel injection – a point that wasn't made clear when the TRD/JGR announcement was made.

"We haven't done any R&D work on fuel injection stuff yet," Busch said. "Whereas TRD in Costa Mesa (Calif.), they've done a lot of work in regard to that and preparing for next year and what that entails."

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NASCAR Michigan International Speedway 2011 Weekend Schedule

This weekend the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns to Michigan International Speedway, this time with the Camping World Truck Series. The Nationwide Series heads north of the border for its second consecutive road course at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal.

Kevin Harvick is the defending race winner, while Denny Hamlin has been to Victory Lane in two of the last three Michigan events.

Here is the schedule for the weekend at Michigan International Speedway (all times Eastern):

FRIDAY

11 a.m. - NASCAR Camping World Truck Series practice (50 minutes)

12 p.m. - NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice (1 hour, 30 minutes)

1:40 p.m. - NASCAR Camping World Truck Series final practice (1 hour, 10 minutes)

3:40 p.m. - NASCAR Sprint Cup Series qualifying (two laps)

5 p.m. - NASCAR Sprint Cup Series autograph session

SATURDAY

9:10 a.m. - NASCAR Camping World Truck Series qualifying (two laps)

10:10 a.m. - NASCAR Sprint Cup Series final practice (1 hour, 50 minutes)

12:30 p.m. - NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race (100 laps, 200 miles)

SUNDAY

1 p.m. - NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race (200 laps, 400 miles)

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