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Sunday's race at Michigan International Speedway saw Kyle Busch score his fourth victory of the year, making him the first driver locked into the 2011 Chase for the Sprint Cup.
While Busch was enjoying the win and having momentum on his side, others battling to make their way into the Chase recognized with three races left, time is beginning to run out.
Here is what some of the drivers had to say after Sunday's Pure Michigan 400:
Kyle Busch on tying brother Kurt on the all-time win list with 23 victories:
Certainly it's pretty cool to tie your brother, being a Sprint Cup Series champion and having won 23 times in the sport. He's always still got that carrot over me till Homestead, then we have the same if I don't win again.
Crew chief Dave Rogers on his relationship with Kyle Busch:
We have a lot of checks and balances, a lot of respect between Kyle and I. If I get off base, I know Kyle is going to put me back on track. If Kyle gets off base, I'll put him back on track. That's what we've been doing all year. We've got to continue doing that throughout the Chase.
Kyle Busch on his chances of ending Jimmie Johnson's title run:
Certainly it's going to be a run down to the end, a run to Homestead. The points are tight. With any bad day it seems to hurt you so much, you really have to concentrate on battling back, getting yourself back up in the points.
For us it's going to come to being about minimizing those bad days and keeping our heads on straight.
J.D. Gibbs on Denny Hamlin's disappointing day:
I feel like Denny and those guys, if anyone has the confidence and the ability to come back and finish strong, it's those guys, the tracks coming up we're going to.
Greg Biffle on his 20th-place finish after a strong run early:
I don't know what happened. I am not sure. I have a feeling we kinda got a bum set of tires and then we got off on our adjustments. It was really really tight and we adjusted on it and then I think I was too loose the rest of the day but I really don't know what happened to be honest with you. I really don't know right now.
Ryan Newman on gaining points after his fifth-place run:
That is one thing. We gained on the guys behind us too and that is the other part of it. We're as far into the Chase right now as we were out last year and we only have a few races left. We're in a good position. We'll try to get a good next few races and then we'll have a better shot at the championship.
Clint Bowyer on his day and his chances of making the Chase:
We just didn't gain enough points. That is the biggest problem. We gained, but not near enough. We're running out of time, but if we keep digging, who knows what is going to happen.
Denny Hamlin on his chances of making the Chase:
We have to get this ship up and pointing back in the right direction and it's going to take a lot of hard work to do it. A lot of communication and obviously we have some stuff we have to work on but we'll get through it and we'll try to get in there these last three races.
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.
Following his third-place finish Sunday in Michigan, Brad Keselowski was confident in his team as the season approaches the Chase for the Sprint Cup and enjoyed his third consecutive top-three finish, despite a still-ailing back and broken ankle.
Perhaps no one but Keselowski could have imagined after injuring himself in a testing wreck at Road Atlanta he would go on to win the following race at Pocono, finish second on the road course at Watkins Glen and contend for the win yet again at Michigan International Speedway.
Admitting he regretted not wearing a brace during this weekend's race, he said he was still in pain, but not enough to sit there and "whine about it."
"I made pretty good progress this week with some different rehab stuff we did," Keselowski said of his back. "I'm not going to get back to 100 percent until probably Daytona of next year. We've made some great progress so far, but we're going to take it one step at a time."
"I think we have good speed, and I think Jimmie (Johnson) or anyone else in the garage would tell you speed is the foundation for a good team," he said. "Good speed is what you need."
After what Keselowski called "weird things" happened in the first third of the season, he feels people began to overlook his team as a serious contender.
Citing growth within the organization and a commitment to becoming a championship contender, Keselowski has confidence and momentum on his side three races before the start of the 2011 Chase, but says there is more work to be done.
"We've made a step forward," he said, "but I think we need to make another step forward. That's a lofty goal, but to be a championship contender we need to make that next step."
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):
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.
Holding off Jimmie Johnson and the remainder of the field on the green-white-checkered, Kyle Busch not only recorded his fourth win of the year and locked himself in the 2011 Chase, he also scored his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory at Michigan International Speedway.
While he has one Nationwide Series win at Michigan on his resume, Busch had always come up short at the 2-mile D-shaped oval in the Irish Hills. In June, Busch finished third behind teammate Denny Hamlin and runner-up Matt Kenseth after leading 59 laps. His career-best finish at Michigan was a second-place in 2008.
Missing out on the win last week at Watkins Glen despite leading on the final restart, Busch was able to get a great jump on the green-white-checkered restart Sunday afternoon to pull ahead of Johnson for the top spot and seal the deal.
Taking the checkered flag, there are now only seven tracks left on the schedule that Busch has yet to win at: Charlotte, Texas, Homestead, Indianapolis, Kansas, Martinsville and Pocono.
With five of those tracks yet to come before the end of the season, and with momentum on his side, Busch might not be finished eliminating tracks from that list.
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:
Today's NASCAR race at Michigan will have major Chase implications for several drivers. Both those on the bubble and those chasing a wild card spot know that time is running out – there are only four races left until the playoff field is set – and Michigan is a great place to make a move.
Who will have the best car? Will someone win on fuel mileage? Will June Michigan winner Denny Hamlin go to Victory Lane again, this time with his new TRD engine?
We'll find out together. Hang out with us in this open chat thread and talk about the race.
It's NASCAR race day at Michigan International Speedway, and we've got the actual race start time, the starting lineup and some other facts about today's action in the Irish Hills for you below.
Start time: The command to start engines will be given by former Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard – a University of Michigan alum – at 1:07 p.m. Eastern time. After a couple pace laps, honorary starter Alan Mulally (the president and CEO of Ford) will wave the green flag at 1:16 p.m. Eastern. So if you want to skip the pre-race show and just tune in for the race, flip on your TV set at 1:16.
Race name/distance: The "Pure Michigan 400" is 200 laps around the 2-mile Michigan track, which totals 400 miles. "Pure Michigan" is the state of Michigan's tourism initiative.
TV and radio: Today marks the fourth race of ESPN's portion of the NASCAR season. Every Cup race will be on either ESPN or ABC for the rest of the year. If you aren't near a TV, the radio broadcast can be found on your local Motor Racing Network (MRN) affiliate. Click here to see a list of stations where you can listen.
National anthem: Gotta love the military bands. The 338th Army Band – from nearby Livonia and Columbus, Ohio – will perform both the "Star Spangled Banner" and "O Canada." Viewers won't see "O Canada" on TV, however.
Tickets: There are still plenty of tickets remaining for Michigan, so you should be safe if you want to take the chance by walking up to the ticket window on race day.
Weather: Nice and pleasant. According to the unofficial NASCAR weatherman, fans in Michigan should expect "cool, breezy and mostly dry" conditions with highs in the upper 70s. Ahh.
Last time: Denny Hamlin won the Michigan race just two months ago, which is his only victory of the season thus far. One year ago, it was Kevin Harvick who went to Victory Lane at Michigan and clinched a spot in the Chase while doing so.
Starting lineup for today's NASCAR race at Michigan:
A few showers may linger across southern Michigan through the early morning with some areas of patchy fog. As we head into the afternoon there could be a few isolated showers and storms thanks to a upper level system behind Saturday’s cold front. I don’t expect there to be much in the way of rain but it just takes one, as we learned in 2009, to form and move over the track and cause a red flag situation.
The air will be fresh and cool Sunday with high temperatures will remain in the 70s with gusty northwest winds 20 to 25 mph.
1:00 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup Race – Mix of sun & clouds, breezy & cool, just a slight chance of an isolated shower or sprinkle – temp: 77
Hendrick Motorsports drivers made up three of the top five positions in the final NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice on Saturday at Michigan International Raceway with Mark Martin setting the pace at 187.642 mph.
Jimmie Johnson was third and Jeff Gordon was fifth as the Hendrick cars all looked strong – Dale Earnhardt Jr. was 12th.
Kyle Busch grabbed the No. 2 spot (187.417) and pole-sitter Greg Biffle was fourth-fastest. The rest of the top 10 included Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman, David Ragan and Paul Menard.
Menard was the quickest of the 24 drivers who ran 10 or more laps consecutively in practice, which should be a good sign for Sunday.
Next on that list were the Busch Brothers (Kyle, then Kurt), Clint Bowyer and hometown favorite Brad Keselowski.
The race is expected to begin shortly after 1 p.m. on Sunday.
A cold front pushes into southern Michigan Saturday and stalls during the afternoon and evening. This allows for a weak system to move along the boundary like railroad tracks. There's not much moisture so showers and storms will be scattered from the late afternoon on Saturday into the evening. This timing seems perfect with the truck race starting just after midday.
As the storm system exits early Sunday morning an area of high pressure begins to build in clearing out the rain and also bringing cooler temperatures. With the exception of a few lingering showers Sunday morning, it looks dry and very pleasant Sunday afternoon.
9 a.m EDT
Truck Qualifying – Partly sunny – temp: 69
10 a.m EDT
Sprint Cup Final Practice – Partly sunny – temp: 73
12:30 p.m EDT
Truck Race – Partly sunny, Chc. of Isolated Shower or Storm – temp: 80
1:00 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup Race – Slight chance of a shower pre-race, but mostly dry and mostly to partly cloudy afternoon, cool – temp: 75
The conventional wisdom always used to be that Michigan International Speedway was a "Roush" track.
Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth certainly didn't do anything to refute that notion on Friday afternoon, as the Roush Fenway Racing drivers did Ford proud by claiming the front row for Sunday's Pure Michigan 400.
Biffle turned an average lap of 190.345 mph, which bested teammate Kenseth's lap of 190.209 mph.
Ryan Newman was third, followed by Denny Hamlin in his first TRD-powered qualifying attempt.
Mark Martin rounded out the top five, followed by Michigan native Brad Keselowski, David Ragan, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon and Jamie McMurray.
Earnhardt Jr.'s eighth-place starting spot was by far his best non-plate track qualifying effort of the year. His previous best qualifying lap at a downforce track this season resulted in a 15th-place start at Michigan in June.
Here's the NASCAR Michigan starting lineup for Sunday's Sprint Cup Series race:
Don't you just hate when this happens?
Carl Edwards forgot a rather necessary item for his trip between the NASCAR races in Michigan and Montreal this weekend: His passport.
Given that he'll need the passport to get through customs in a timely matter – he's already facing a tight window to reach the Nationwide race on time – he's having a friend drive 10 hours to bring him the passport.
Our NNSRacing.com Nationwide Series blog has the full story.
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."
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.
Tony Stewart firmly – but politely – stuck to his standard script on Friday when asked by reporters about the possibility of Danica Patrick joining his Stewart-Haas Racing team for some NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races next season.
Stewart was reacting to Marty Smith's ESPN report reiterating Patrick's NASCAR plans for 2012. Earlier in the day, Dale Earnhardt Jr. said pretty much the same thing as Stewart.
"It's like I've always said: When we have something to tell everybody, we'll tell them," Stewart said. "But there's nothing to tell yet. I know there's a lot of speculation, but there's nothing to really talk about yet."
After Smith brought up his report, Stewart chuckled and said, "I don't care about your sources."
"When we have something to talk about, we'll talk about it," he said again. We won't leave anybody out."
Then, after another reporter tried to ask the Danica question in a different way, Stewart chuckled again.
"When we have something to talk about, we will tell you," he said. "I promise you, I will not let any of you be late for the deal."
Is his SHR team prepared to expand beyond two cars?
"We've said that from day one," he said. "We're definitely open to a third team."
On a different topic, Stewart called his Watkins Glen wreck at the end of Monday's race "self-inflicted" – even though it wasn't his fault.
"I put myself in a position around a couple guys I know in that scenario are not going to be worried about anything but themselves," he said. "That's my fault. It's my job the next four weeks to try and get ourselves out of it."
Sitting 25 points behind 10th-place Tony Stewart and outside of the NASCAR Chase picture, Clint Bowyer knows time is running out to get into the championship battle.
Without a victory, Bowyer is 11th in points and not eligible for the wild card spot. Within striking distance of moving into the top-10, the Richard Childress Racing driver understands it will take strong runs over the next four weeks to earn a spot in the Chase.
"It's on for these next four races," he said. "(We have to) try as hard as we can to get as many points as we can. We've got to beat those guys. At the end of the day, that's the only thing that it's going to take to succeed and be part of that Chase is to be better than those guys the next four races. I feel like we can do it, but we've got to step up to the plate and get the job done."
With the races increasingly coming down to pit strategy and gambles, Bowyer says the team has to be able to stay ahead of the competition and be able to react to changes throughout the race and be confident the gamble will work to get the best finish possible.
Citing too many DNF's over the course of the year (four of them to date), Bowyer admitted to being "bummed" fighting for one of the final spots in the Chase field, but is confident in his ability to make his fourth Chase appearance in five years.
Despite an uncertainty surrounding his contract situation for 2012, Bowyer says he is focused on making the most out of the next four races and becoming a contender in the championship battle.
"I care about the future, but I've got to set that aside and focus on getting myself in the Chase," he said. "We've got a legitimate shot at this and we need to make sure we do everything we can to see it out."
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."
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.
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."
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."
High pressure will give us a great day on Friday with comfortable temperatures and comfortable humidity. The one feature we are watching this weekend is a cold front that will work across the region on Saturday and into Saturday night.
There won't be a lot of moisture for the front, so any storms or showers that may form will be spread out and be hit or miss. Most of the area will be dry, but remember: It only takes one isolated shower to cause a delay or cancel a practice.
As for Sunday, two out of three computer models push any remaining moisture off to the east with one model keeping pesky showers and storms around. I feel the other two models have a better handle on the solution so I am going with them but I am going to mention a slight chance of rain Sunday and mainly for Sunday morning.
Overall, this is a dry forecast. There should be more dry time than wet and because the storms are scattered to isolated Saturday afternoon, that is more chances to stay dry than to get wet.
11 a.m EDT
Truck Practice – Mostly sunny – temp: 77
12 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup Practice – Mostly sunny – temp: 79
1:30 p.m EDT
Truck Final Practice – Mostly sunny – temp: 81
3:40 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup Qualifying – Mostly sunny – temp: 82
9 a.m EDT
Truck Qualifying – Partly sunny – temp: 70
10 a.m EDT
Sprint Cup Final Practice – Partly sunny – temp: 74
12:30 p.m EDT
Truck Race – Partly sunny, Chc. of Isolated Shower or Storm – temp: 80
1:00 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup Race – Sun and Clouds, Chc. of an Isolated Shower, Should be Dry – temp: 79
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):
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
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)
1 p.m. - NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race (200 laps, 400 miles)
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns to Michigan International Speedway this weekend as the Chase field is starting to come together, while the two wild card spots are still up for grabs.
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