NASCAR At Michigan: Dale Earnhardt Jr. Finally Breaks 4-Year Winless Streak

NASCAR's most popular driver breaks a 143-race drought, driving to Victory Lane in a dominant race at Michigan.

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33 Total Updates since June 14, 2012
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NASCAR Point Standings 2012: Dale Earnhardt Jr. Closes In On Sprint Cup Series Lead After Michigan Win

Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s victory at Michigan International Speedway on Sunday not only snapped his four-year winless streak, but it helped him close to within a mere four points of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series lead.

Earnhardt Jr. now sits just four points behind leader Matt Kenseth, and both are more than 100 points inside the Chase's top 10 with just 11 races to go before the cutoff.

There was only one change of position inside the top 10 (Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson swapped fourth and fifth place), and neither of the Wild Card positions changed hands.

But Kyle Busch's third straight engine failure dropped him farther from the top 10, and both Joey Logano and Kasey Kahne slipped away from a Wild Card spot.

Here are the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings with 11 races to go until the Chase (NOTE: These are strictly in relation to Chase spots):

  1. Matt Kenseth +109 inside Chase
  2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. +105
  3. Greg Biffle +92
  4. Jimmie Johnson +76
  5. Denny Hamlin +58
  6. Kevin Harvick +48
  7. Martin Truex Jr. +41
  8. Tony Stewart +35
  9. Clint Bowyer +25
  10. Brad Keselowski +2
  11. Carl Edwards -2 from top 10
  12. Kyle Busch -26 (Holds No. 1 Wild Card spot, 1 win)
  13. Ryan Newman -31 (Holds No. 2 Wild Card spot, 1 win)
  14. Paul Menard -37
  15. Joey Logano -51 (-20 from No. 2 Wild Card spot)
  16. Kasey Kahne -67 (-36 from No. 2 Wild Card spot)
  17. Marcos Ambrose -70
  18. Jamie McMurray -81
  19. Juan Pablo Montoya -81
  20. Jeff Gordon -83
  21. Jeff Burton -83
  22. Aric Almirola -86
Note: From 23rd place and below, the drivers don't have a realistic shot of making the top 20 at this time.
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Dale Earnhardt Jr. Is Officially 'Back' After NASCAR Michigan Win

There are a lot of different ways to win a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. Sometimes you win based on the right tire or fuel strategy, and sometimes it's plain luck or a combination of strange factors that play a role in deciding which driver wins or loses on a given weekend.

How Dale Earnhardt Jr. went about winning the Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway on Sunday was neither luck nor the right strategy; it was a combination of a determined driver and a car that could have easily been misidentified as a rocket ship, as he won by a hefty 5-second margin.

This was a statement victory in every way imaginable.

From the time the No. 88 car was unloaded and hit the track Thursday in open testing, it was clear to all that this might be the weekend where the 143-race winless dry spell came to a merciful end. Yet, despite the optimism, doubt still hung in the air like a pesky cloud that keeps the sun from shining to its full capacity.

In the past four years, there were numerous times when many had the same feeling as the one they had this weekend –where it seemed inevitable that Earnhardt Jr. would finally win his 19th career race.

Four years is a long time. Since Earnhardt Jr. last won, 26 drivers of varying degrees of talent had tasted victory in a Sprint Cup race. And as each week went by and NASCAR's most popular driver continually failed to do what everyone expected of him, doubt begin to creep in. Would Earnhardt Jr. ever win again?

And as the months ticked by – 48 total between wins – it became fashionable among the media and fans alike to proclaim that Earnhardt Jr. was back after every near-miss or stretch of races where the 88 car was consistently running up front.

But on Sunday, Earnhardt Jr. responded to his doubters forcefully and reminded his naysayers and even his longtime fans that he was still the driver who on multiple occasions challenged for the championship. That from this moment forth it would no longer be acceptable to point at him and say that he was not the driver he once was or that he didn't have the burning desire to be great or that at this point in his career he was living off of past accomplishments and his famous last name.

This is why now, on this date – June 17, 2012 – we can officially declare Dale Earnhardt Jr. is back.

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NASCAR Michigan Results 2012: Dale Earnhardt Jr. Comments After Win Snaps Four-Year Drought

After Dale Earnhardt Jr. won Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Michigan International Speedway and snapped a four-year winless streak, he had plenty to say to reporters during a visit to the media center.

Here are some of Earnhardt Jr.'s selected comments:

On whether he thought about his fans' reactions:

I felt the fan base. I felt the excitement and the emotion from them immediately, almost immediately. As soon as I got out of the car, that was my initial thoughts was about how many people were in their living rooms screaming at the top of their lungs and running out in the yard or whatever they do.

I just wish I could see it all at once. That was the one thing I kept thinking about.

On his emotions after crossing the finish line:

I thought it would be all relief, but it was not relief at all; it was excitement.

On whether he expected to have the winning car:

I woke up this morning just antsy, not knowing how this was going to play out. We had done so well up to this point (in the season), cognizant of the top‑10s and the laps we have ran and how steady we have been all year and I just want to keep that going each weekend.

I felt like we might be getting ready to have a difficult race. It turned out to be the exact opposite for whatever reason.

On other drivers coming to congratulate him in Victory Lane:

I guess it means I'm an all‑right dude.

On whether he was nervous at the end of the race:

That's the worst feeling riding around there with 15 laps to go wondering what's going to happen or how you were going to lose. I was just thinking, man, those laps could not go by fast enough.

I was just in there going crazy, thinking. And I'm looking all around the racetrack hoping there's no debris around the next corner. I just knew I was going to come around the next corner and see a piece of metal laying in the racetrack. ... So that was terrifying to be honest with you.

On what it means to his team, organization, friends and family:

I like seeing the smiles on everybody else's face. I'm going to enjoy this and I am enjoying this. It's so awesome to see how many other people it affects and how many people are affected by that kind of what happened today.

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After Michigan, What Other NASCAR Races Could Dale Earnhardt Jr. Win This Summer?

Folks, get used to seeing Dale Earnhardt Jr. in Victory Lane, because it's a sight that could become a common one in the coming months.

As strong as Earnhardt Jr. has been this season – he leads all drivers in top-10s, laps completed and is just four points out of first in the standings – there is little reason to think multiple victories aren't attainable for NASCAR's most popular driver.

A quick glance at the Sprint Cup Series schedule shows several tracks where Earnhardt Jr. should be in contention:

• Daytona: Always a stronghold for the sport's premier restrictor-plate racer;

• Michigan: Where Earnhardt Jr. blitzed the field Sunday winning by a staggering five-second margin;

• Pocono: A track where just last week Earnhardt Jr. had the strongest car in the closing laps only to be undone by pit strategy;

• Bristol and Atlanta: Two tracks where Earnhardt Jr. has struggled recently, but places where he has had success in the a past (winning one race at each).

However, win No. 2 almost certainly won't come next weekend at Sonoma, as Earnhardt Jr. has yet to finish a race inside the top 10 on the windy road course located in Northern California.

So like it or not, odds are favorable that it won't be another 143 races before Earnhardt Jr. is spraying Mountain Dew and holding a big trophy in the winner's circle.

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Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Michigan Win: NASCAR Driver Had Nervous Moments

The last 15 laps of Sunday's Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway weren't quick enough for Dale Earnhardt Jr.

As he maintained a comfortable five-second lead over Tony Stewart and drove closer to his first NASCAR Sprint Cup victory in four years, Earnhardt was preoccupied with what might go wrong.

Four years ago, in his last victory at Michigan, Earnhardt worried that he might run out of gas. On Sunday, he worried about everything.

"I was so nervous in the last few laps of that race four years ago, and today, this was the worst ‑‑ that's the worst feeling riding around there with 15 laps to go wondering what's going to happen or how you were going to lose," Earnhardt said with a laugh. "I was just thinking, man, those laps could not go by fast enough. I was like 'I've got a big lead, I'm going to take it easy -- no, I want to run it hard, get it over with.'

"So I was just in there going crazy, thinking ‑‑ and I'm looking all around the racetrack hoping there's no debris around the next corner. I just knew I was going to come around the next corner and see a piece of metal laying in the racetrack. I was just waiting on something to happen. So that was terrifying, to be honest with you."

Ultimately, Earnhardt focused in the closing laps on the efforts of crew chief Steve Letarte and his team.

"I kept thinking about Steve and the team and how hard we have worked and how we deserved to win, and how we should win, and was hoping it would happen for everybody. That race four years ago was a fuel mileage race, and today we just whooped them really good. So that felt good."

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. Public Relations Representative Has Day To Remember

At around 6 p.m. last night, JR Motorsports communications director Mike Davis was eating with his pregnant wife, Sarah, at an On The Border restaurant in North Carolina.

Sarah had excused herself from the table, and a few minutes passed before the restaurant manager came by with some unexpected news for Mike: Sarah's water had broken, and she was in the couple's car in need of a ride to the hospital.

The next 24 hours were some of the most eventful of Mike Davis' life. On the day when his longtime employer and close friend Dale Earnhardt Jr. broke a four-year winless streak to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Michigan, Davis was watching in a hospital room after he and his wife welcomed a baby daughter earlier Sunday morning.

"It's been a long, long day, but one that personally I'll never forget," Davis said from the hospital, where his wife and newborn daughter, Lillian Anne, were resting comfortably. "Crazy day, man. Goodness gracious!"

The couple's second child (they're calling her "Lilly") arrived at 3:03 a.m. on Father's Day morning. And before Earnhardt fans get too excited over the "3" in the timing, Davis said he doesn't buy into all the numerology stuff. Having been with Earnhardt Jr. since the 2004 Daytona 500, Davis said he's heard every sort of connect-the-dots theory imaginable from fans.

Still, while watching the race from the hospital room – as doctors and nurses came in and out every few minutes – Davis had a hunch Earnhardt Jr. was finally going to snap the streak.

"This is one of those days where you just had a feeling that after four years, it was all going to click," Davis said. "It was his race. Even if there was a caution with 10 or 15 to go, I was like, 'He has them on restarts.' I didn't think there was anyone that could beat him."

Davis couldn't help but be excited as the laps wound down, but he also tried to remain aware of his surroundings. If he did have an outburst, he figured, "They've got screaming babies all over the place, so surely I wasn't going to be any more disruptive."

His wife caught a couple hours of sleep during the day, but Davis hasn't been able to catch a nap since everything started happening. On Sunday night, with his adrenaline still pumping, he figured his sleepless streak wouldn't be ending anytime soon.

Since he was still awake, Davis wondered aloud about the possibility of swinging by Earnhardt Jr.'s property for the party that was sure to be happening later tonight – but he wasn't sure if he had permission from his wife.

"Don't know if I've got a hall pass for that or not," he said with a laugh. "I've never been in this situation!"

Few people have. And though there was a part of Davis that wanted to be at Michigan celebrating with his friend, he knew there was a greater purpose in staying home this weekend.

"It stinks when you see him win and you're not there, but this is the one time I can say, 'No, I was in the right place,'" Davis said. "I don't regret it one bit, obviously.

"Watching him win and celebrate on TV was just as gratifying for me, because I got to see two big events today: One on TV and one right before my eyes. Pretty incredible day."

Check out the SB Nation Channel on YouTube

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. Fans Rejoice On Twitter As NASCAR Driver Snaps Winless Streak At Michigan

After Dale Earnhardt Jr. won his first race in four years on Sunday at Michigan International Raceway, I wanted to know what Junior Nation was thinking.

I asked Earnhardt Jr. fans to let me know about their reactions when he won the race, and here's a sampling of what they said:

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NASCAR Results 2012: Dale Earnhardt Jr. Wins Michigan Race, Ends Streak

It's over. It's finally over.

After four years, 143 races and victories by 26 other drivers in the time since, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has won a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.

Nearly four years to the day of his last win, Earnhardt Jr. ended the streak at the same track where he won his last race, a fuel-mileage victory in the 2008 Father's Day event at Michigan International Speedway.

This time, it was no fluke. Earnhardt Jr. dominated the race and had clearly the best car in the Quicken Loans 400 despite concerns that a tire change would throw his team for a loop. But thanks to a smart call by crew chief Steve Letarte to tighten up the car early in the race, Earnhardt Jr. drove his Batman-themed car to victory.

The win was just Earnhardt Jr.'s second in the last six years, so it's not as if a single victory will suddenly erase all those frustrating seasons.

But perhaps more than ever before in his career, Earnhardt Jr. has been building his team for a championship run. Instead of taking chances for wins, Earnhardt Jr. has preferred to go for points that would help his spot in the Chase. If the opportunity for a win came, they'd take it – but not at the expense of the overall season.

Today, that opportunity came in a big way. Earnhardt Jr. smoked the field and was unquestioned as the dominant car.

While a win is great, it doesn't change the No. 88 team's end goal: The Sprint Cup Series championship. It'll help off the track more than anything, as questions about "The Streak" will now cease.

And like his Hendrick Motorsports team when it was searching for the organization's 200th win, this victory might open the floodgates for more.

In the meantime, Earnhardt Jr. and his Junior Nation fans can sit back and finally celebrate. The proverbial monkey is off the No. 88 team's back, and the caped crusader has risen – all the way to Victory Lane.

Check out the SB Nation Channel on YouTube

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NASCAR Michigan International Speedway 2012 Weather: Race To Be Delayed By Rain

As of noon EDT, rain was steady and heavy at Michigan International Speedway. I anticipate the rain to clear between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. EDT. Winds will increase to 10 to 15 mph with gusts between 20 to 25. That would mean estimated dry time would be around 90 minutes.

With the current rain, I don't expect the race to start on time, but I do expect to see a race this afternoon. Sunset is at 9:15 p.m. EDT If we can get started between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. EDT we race today, and that is what I fully expect.

Once the rain ends this afternoon, we will see sun and clouds, temperatures cooler than they have been this weekend, with afternoon highs near 80 degrees. Winds will be out of the west between 10 to 15 mph and gusts over 20 mph.

Follow me on Twitter @NASCAR_WXMAN and like me on Facebook for the latest weather updates through the weekend.

Conditions in Brooklyn, MI: Click here for Current Weather ConditionsLook at Doppler Radar | Mobile Friendly Site | Mobile Radar

SUNDAY:
1 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Series Race – Mostly cloudy, rain ending – temp: 74
2 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Series Race – Mostly cloudy, lingering drizzle or shower – temp: 77
3 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Series Race – Clouds and sunshine, mostly dry – temp: 78
4 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Series Race – Clouds and sunshine, mostly dry – temp: 79
5 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Series Race – Clouds and sunshine, mostly dry – temp: 80

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NASCAR At Michigan: Carl Edwards Needs A Victory

Heading into this weekend's NASCAR stop at Michigan International Speedway, preseason title favorite Carl Edwards is far from where he envisioned himself to be at this point in the season – winless and 11th in points.

While eight top-10s in 14 races on the surface seems like a solid start to the year, the problem is those numbers pale in comparison to how his two Roush Fenway Racing teammates have performed.

Both Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle has been victorious – Kenseth in the Daytona 500 and Biffle in dominant fashion at Texas – and the duo has shown the consistency which Edwards has been lacking. Kenseth is first in the points with Biffle third.

"Right now, we are kind of the slow car on the team," Edwards said.

A season after he came just one point short of winning the championship, the obvious question is whether Edwards is suffering from a bit of a hangover from 2011. However, Edwards was quick to dismiss this notion when asked Friday.

"Let me be clear, a hangover from last year does not make tires blow or Denny (Hamlin) forget where his brakes are," Edwards said. "... It is not the hangover."

Why isn't it a hangover? Because as Edwards noted, the team should be about fifth in the point standings based on performance alone. Edwards wouldn't be leading, but he he wouldn't be outside the Chase, either.

"I think the performance is not as good as it needs to be, but it isn't far off," he said. "If we get a little luck, find a little speed, we will be just fine."

Hangover or no hangover, it might be time for Edwards and the 99 team to adjust their strategy going forward to ensure they are one of the 12 teams competing for the championship come the Chase. Should Edwards go all-out for wins or play it safe and points race?

On this point, Edwards is a bit torn.

"I think it is 50/50 right now," Edwards said. "The safest thing we can do is win races. We talked about it in the garage the other day. I think that is the best move. Just go out there and win.

"If there is a shot to go win it, we need to go with the race. That is what we need to do. I think that is a safer play to do that. It is like insurance more so than to run easy and hope for points."

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NASCAR At Michigan 2012: A Viewer's Guide For Today's Race

Here's a look at some of the top storylines, notable statistics and favorites for today's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Michigan International Speedway:

Storylines

Speed and The Consequences That Come With It

With Michigan International Speedway recently having been repaved, speeds as expected have jumped up dramatically with drivers easily averaging over 200 mph in practice and hitting anywhere between 215-220 mph heading into Turn 1. And yesterday, Marcos Ambrose rocketed to the pole with a 203 mph lap – the first time in history a driver has qualified over 200 mph on a track other than Daytona or Talladega.

But how fast is too fast considering NASCAR hasn't seen speed like this since the late-80s and the current car has never been tested safety-wise under these conditions?

One huge area of concern is that some teams were experiencing blisters on their tires, some as soon as 15 laps into a run. If excessive tire wear holds true today, it's not unfathomable to think we're going to see a couple of drivers have a tire explode on them as they race into a corner.

All these concerns necessitated NASCAR issuing a different left side tire to teams Saturday, one with a much harder compound which slowed speeds and helped do away with the blistering many were experiencing.

But again, under race conditions no one knows what to expect.

With minimal practice time on this new compound as well as more stress on the engines due to Saturday's unscheduled practice, there is great apprehension among teams.

Throughout the afternoon, expect crew chiefs to play it conservatively and not waver on whether they should call their driver to pit road, and if they do, don't be at all surprised to see most go with four tires just to play it safe.

Gibbs vs. Roush

For a long time Michigan was regarded as Jack Roush's own personal playground as his fleet of Fords frequently dominated anytime the series visited the two-mile track located in the Irish Hills of Michigan. Lately though, with three wins in the last four races on the high-speed oval, the Toyotas of Joe Gibbs have been the cars to beat.

Expect that rivalry to continue today as Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch should again carry the banner for JGR as both were quick in practice, and as they typically do at Michigan, Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards should be expected to be among the contenders.

Not to mention there is extra incentive for the Roush bunch, as another victory will break the tie Roush Fenway Racing shares with the Wood Brothers for most Michigan wins among car owners.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

It's well-documented how this weekend marks the four year anniversary of the last time Dale Earnhardt Jr. won a Sprint Cup points race. But wouldn't it be something if NASCAR's most popular driver resumed his winning ways almost to the day and on the same track as his last win. And this isn't a unlikely proposition considering how consistent he's been this season, not to mention the speed he's shown since hitting the track Thursday.

Worth Noting

• Michigan is one of five tracks where Jimmie Johnson has failed to win a Cup race; the others are Homestead, Chicago, Kentucky and Watkins Glen.

• After racing his way into the field via a lap that puts him 22nd on the grid, Austin Dillon will be making his second career Sprint Cup start this afternoon.

• His pole-winning run yesterday marked the first time Marcos Ambrose has won a pole at the Sprint Cup level.

Favorites

1. Carl Edwards

Yeah, I know Carl Edwards hasn't won in over a year and he's had his fair share of issues this year, but the fact is no one in today's field has a better average finish (8.2) than last year's championship runner-up. And remember, Edwards has a history of snapping long winless streaks at Michigan, as his victory in 2007 was his first in 52 starts.

2. Greg Biffle

"The Biff" was the only driver to top 204 mph in Friday's twin practice sessions – albeit in qualifying trim. Regardless, this is the kind of track Greg Biffle typically excels on, having won here twice and having led double-digit laps in his last three starts on the D-shaped oval.

3. Mark Martin

Mark Martin has everything I look for in a potential Michigan winner: He's smooth, fast on the long runs, easy on his equipment, knows how to handle a car that wants to jump sideways and, maybe most important, knows how to save fuel with the best of them – always a prerequisite for doing well on a track notorious for having races turn into fuel mileage affairs.

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NASCAR At Michigan 2012: Start Time, Starting Lineup, Live Streaming, TV/Radio Schedule And More

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 race for you below.

What time does the race start today? Jimmy Howard, the Detroit Red Wings' starting goalie, will give the command to fire engines today along with his father, James, at 1:07 p.m. Eastern time. After a few pace laps, the race will go green at 1:16 p.m. ET. So if you're looking to skip the pre-race show and just tune in for the race itself, turn on your TV set at 1:16 p.m. ET. **Note: Weather is expected to impact the start of today's race. See below for more.**

Race name/distance: The Quicken Loans 400 is a 200-lap race around the 2-mile Michigan International Speedway for a total of 400 miles. This is the first race on Michigan's newly repaved racing surface.

TV, radio and live streaming: Today's race can be seen on TNT. This is TNT's second of six broadcasts this summer before handing the reins to ESPN for the rest. There IS live streaming of the race today, which can be found at NASCAR.com's "RaceBuddy" site. If you'll be away from your computer and TV, check the Motor Racing Network's web site for a list of affiliate radio stations in your area.

*** NOTE: If you're out and about today and can't watch the race, make sure to follow me (@jeff_gluck) on Twitter. I'll be tweeting updates about the event. ***

National anthem: The U.S. Army Chorus A Capella Team will sing the national anthem today. That should be a big upgrade over the Michigan race of a few years ago, when Saving Abel butchered the anthem in an infamous performance.

Tickets: The race is not a sellout, so you should be good to go if you're planning to make a last-minute trip on race day.

Weather: The unofficial NASCAR weatherman, Brian Neudorff, says today's weather is not good. Neudorff expects overnight showers and storms to remain in the area throughout the morning, but he's optimistic there could be some racing later in the afternoon.

Last time: One year ago, Denny Hamlin held off Matt Kenseth to win at Michigan after a late caution with five laps to go. Then, last August, Hamlin's teammate Kyle Busch beat Jimmie Johnson in a green-white-checkered finish to win and clinch a Chase spot.

Starting lineup for today's NASCAR race at Michigan International Speedway:

  1. Marcos Ambrose
  2. Kevin Harvick
  3. Greg Biffle
  4. Kasey Kahne
  5. Ryan Newman
  6. Matt Kenseth
  7. Trevor Bayne
  8. Tony Stewart
  9. Joey Logano
  10. Jimmie Johnson
  11. Denny Hamlin
  12. Regan Smith
  13. Clint Bowyer
  14. Mark Martin
  15. Aric Almirola
  16. Martin Truex Jr.
  17. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  18. Paul Menard
  19. Jamie McMurray
  20. AJ Allmendinger
  21. Juan Pablo Montoya
  22. Austin Dillon
  23. Scott Riggs
  24. Casey Mears
  25. Brad Keselowski
  26. Kurt Busch
  27. Michael McDowell
  28. Jeff Gordon
  29. Mike Bliss
  30. Josh Wise
  31. Bobby Labonte
  32. Landon Cassill
  33. Jeff Burton
  34. Kyle Busch
  35. David Gilliland
  36. Dave Blaney
  37. Joe Nemechek
  38. David Ragan
  39. Travis Kvapil
  40. Ken Schrader
  41. Tony Raines
  42. Carl Edwards
  43. JJ Yeley

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NASCAR Michigan International Speedway 2012 Race Day Weather Forecast: Will We Race Today?

Rain showers associated with an approaching cold front will move through Michigan International Speedway this morning and could have an impact on today's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. Even with the morning rain, we will have a NASCAR race this afternoon.

Most of the rain will take place during the morning as showers and storms break up and become more scattered, then exit with the cold front sometime between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m EDT. If the rain doesn't clear until 2 p.m. or later then we would be looking at a possible delay. Even with a delay, sunset is at 9:15 p.m. there should be plenty time to get the race in later this afternoon if it can't be started on time.

Michigan_race_day_nascar_weather_forecast_medium

I think we have a 60-70 percent likelihood of starting the race on time. Most, if not all, of the rain could be east of the track by midday. From what I have seen during the overnight, I expect some of the rain to even break up and become more scattered as it moves through mid-to-late morning.

I will track the rain this morning so follow me on Twitter @NASCAR_WXMAN and like me on Facebook for the latest weather updates through the weekend.

Conditions in Brooklyn, MI: Click here for Current Weather ConditionsLook at Doppler Radar | Mobile Friendly Site | Mobile Radar

SUNDAY:
12 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Series Pre-race – Mostly cloudy, chance of shower or storm – temp: 75
1 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Series Race – Mostly cloudy, chance of shower or storm – temp: 78
2 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Series Race – Clouds and sunshine, chc. of isolated shower, mostly dry – temp: 79
4 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Series Race – Clouds and sunshine, chc. of isolated shower, mostly dry – temp: 81

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NASCAR At Michigan Results 2012: Joey Logano Wins Nationwide Race

The roll continued for Joey Logano, who fought off a determined bid from James Buescher to win Saturday's Alliance Truck Parts 250 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Michigan International Speedway.

After a restart with four laps left, Logano crossed the finish line .208 seconds ahead of runner-up Buescher to claim his fifth victory in 11 Nationwide starts this season and the 14th win of his career. The win was the first for Toyota in the Nationwide Series at Michigan.

Kurt Busch came home third, followed by Cole Whitt and pole-sitter Austin Dillon.

NASCAR red-flagged the race on Lap 119 after the cars of Josh Richards and Jamie Dick wrecked in Turn 3. Dick's car caught fire, but both drivers escaped. So did Richards' car, which rolled driverless down the banking and came to a stop in the infield grass.

After a stoppage of eight minutes, 46 seconds, the field took the green flag on Lap 122 of 125. Logano and Buescher quickly made it a two-driver race. The win comes six days after Logano picked up his second career Cup victory, at Pocono.

Danica Patrick finished 18th in an up-and-down race that saw her involved in three of the seven cautions. Series leader Elliott Sadler ran 11th, but Ricky Stenhouse Jr., second in the standings entering the race, had a miserable time with handling problems and came home 25th.

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NASCAR At Michigan 2012: Nationwide Series Preview

Given his recent free fall from the top of the NASCAR Nationwide Series standings, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. may have benefitted the most from last weekend's off week.

Stenhouse hopes to use the extra time to regroup in Saturday's Alliance Truck Parts 250 (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC) at Michigan International Speedway. The defending series champion was runner-up to Roush Fenway Racing teammate Carl Edwards in this race last year.

So far, 2012 has been a banner year for Stenhouse, who led the standings for four consecutive weeks on the strength of three victories and a string of nine straight finishes of sixth or better. Since then, Stenhouse's No. 6 has slipped in the invincibility department, finishing 26th with drive shaft failure at Charlotte and 32nd after a crash at Dover.

The two-week lapse allowed Elliott Sadler, Stenhouse's top challenger for last year's Nationwide crown, to ride a modest streak of three straight top-10s into the series points lead. It also has allowed top rookie Austin Dillon, Sadler's Richard Childress Racing teammate, to close in on the title hunt; just 14 points separate the top three.

The championship contenders will be facing the same challenges as their Sprint Cup counterparts, racing on Michigan's blazing-fast new pavement. The Nationwide Series will get just over three hours of practice Friday before Saturday's qualifying session and the race.

"With only 125 laps in the Nationwide Series race, there is a sense of urgency," Sadler said. "We have to unload quickly and qualify well. I'm very interested to get out there on Friday for practice to see how the repave affected the track. The track has historically been one that fuel mileage is very important, and with it being a shorter race, anything can happen."

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NASCAR Michigan Starting Lineup 2012: Marcos Ambrose Wins Pole For Sunday's Race

Marcos Ambrose used the fastest NASCAR qualifying lap in 25 years to win the pole for Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Michigan, posting an average speed of 203.241 mph to take the No. 1 qualifying spot.

Ambrose will lead the starting lineup ahead of Kevin Harvick (202.037 mph), Greg Biffle, Kasey Kahne and Ryan Newman.

The pole was the first of Ambrose's career and came on a weekend where NASCAR has seen record speeds for a non-restrictor-plate track. No one had ever posted a 200 mph qualifying lap at a track other than Daytona and Talladega, and the last time NASCAR saw a 200 mph lap was at Talladega in 1987 – before the engines were restricted.

Matt Kenseth, Trevor Bayne, Tony Stewart, Joey Logano and Jimmie Johnson rounded out the top 10.

David Stremme and Stacy Compton failed to qualify for the race.

Here's the starting lineup for Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Michigan:

  1. Marcos Ambrose
  2. Kevin Harvick
  3. Greg Biffle
  4. Kasey Kahne
  5. Ryan Newman
  6. Matt Kenseth
  7. Trevor Bayne
  8. Tony Stewart
  9. Joey Logano
  10. Jimmie Johnson
  11. Denny Hamlin
  12. Regan Smith
  13. Clint Bowyer
  14. Mark Martin
  15. Aric Almirola
  16. Martin Truex Jr.
  17. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  18. Paul Menard
  19. Jamie McMurray
  20. AJ Allmendinger
  21. Juan Pablo Montoya
  22. Austin Dillon
  23. Scott Riggs
  24. Casey Mears
  25. Brad Keselowski
  26. Kurt Busch
  27. Michael McDowell
  28. Jeff Gordon
  29. Mike Bliss
  30. Josh Wise
  31. Bobby Labonte
  32. Landon Cassill
  33. Jeff Burton
  34. Kyle Busch
  35. David Gilliland
  36. Dave Blaney
  37. Joe Nemechek
  38. David Ragan
  39. Travis Kvapil
  40. Ken Schrader
  41. Tony Raines
  42. Carl Edwards
  43. JJ Yeley
DNQ: David Stremme, Stacy Compton.
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Martin Truex Jr.'s Crew Chief Chad Johnston, Wife Welcome Baby Boy

Michael Waltrip Racing crew chief Chad Johnston will miss his second consecutive NASCAR race on Sunday, but for good reason: Johnston and his wife, Stacey, welcomed a baby boy late Friday night.

Johnston, who crew chiefs for Martin Truex Jr.'s No. 56 team, also has a daughter, Syndee. The couple decided to name their son Chase Allen Johnston, and the boy is 9 pounds, 27.75 inches long.

With his wife expecting their child any day, Johnston remained home in North Carolina and also missed last weekend's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Pocono. In his place was MWR's competition director Scott Miller – a former Richard Childress Racing crew chief – and Miller will bet atop the No. 56 team's pit box again at Michigan.

Truex is enjoying a breakout season and is seventh in the Sprint Cup Series point standings through 14 races. He finished 20th at the Pocono race last weekend without Johnston.

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NASCAR At Michigan: What's Going On With The Tires?

By now, you've probably heard NASCAR and Goodyear are having tire problems at the newly repaved Michigan International Speedway. Here's a quick primer on what's happening:

What are the basics?

During Thursday's open test session and Friday's practice at Michigan, about one-quarter of the teams noticed the tires were "blistering," which is when the tires take so much heat that they start to break down and increase the chance for blowouts.

Following a 204 mph lap by Greg Biffle in Friday's final practice, NASCAR and Goodyear decided to ship in a new left-side tire for Sunday's race.

The cars will use the original tire for this afternoon's qualifying session, but then NASCAR will hold an additional 75-minute practice at 6 p.m. (live on SPEED) for teams to try out the new tire in advance of Sunday's race.

Why is the old tire better than the new tire?

It's not necessarily better, just more reliable. The new tire is super hard and was run at Charlotte for all races at that track in 2006 and 2007 after the surface was repaved. It produces less grip, but it is far less likely to break down.

Goodyear and NASCAR couldn't take a chance of tires blowing out with the record speeds at Michigan (drivers are approaching 220 mph on the straightaways), so a more durable tire was needed. The new tires, built in 2008, are part of a backup plan Goodyear has for every track on the circuit.

"Safety is always our No. 1 concern, and by bringing this tire here this weekend, we will accomplish that goal," Goodyear's Greg Stucker said.

Each team will have 10 sets of tires for the race, which is the same amount as originally planned. They will also have extra sets to use in tonight's practice session.

One thing to keep in mind: Weather forecasters are predicting overnight and morning rain, which will wash all the rubber off the track and make the first laps even more treacherous on Sunday.

Has this ever happened before?

Goodyear has changed tires in the middle of a race weekend as recently as March 2011 at Bristol – when the track didn't "rubber up" enough – but adding a practice session is extremely unusual for NASCAR.

In the 1995 Dover race won by Kyle Petty, Goodyear and NASCAR noticed the tires were blistering after practices and the Busch Series race. So Goodyear decided to truck in a different tire and NASCAR scheduled a 30-minute practice session on the morning of the race, according to this retrospective article.

Changing the tire at this point effectively wipes out all the data collected by teams during Thursday's full-day test and Friday's practice sessions.

Who is to blame for this?

Goodyear held an early-April tire test at Michigan, with drivers Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski, Juan Pablo Montoya and Kyle Busch trying out different rubber compounds over a two-day period.

The tire manufacturer, NASCAR officials and the drivers all knew repaved Michigan track would be fast, but the top speed during the test was 198 mph. Biffle went 204 mph on Friday.

As recently as Thursday, NASCAR believed the higher temperatures this weekend would make the track slower and thus have the tires travel at speeds similar to those seen in the test session. But drivers only kept going faster, and some teams' tires couldn't handle it.

Kevin Harvick was the most outspoken about the tires, telling reporters the race had turned into one of making the car and tires survive instead of actually racing.

Responding to the concerns, Goodyear allowed every team in the garage to "scuff" all their race tires during practice on Friday, which was another rare move. "Scuffing" the tires is when teams take "sticker" tires – brand-new tires with the Goodyear labels still on them – and run them for a couple laps to get them worn in.

The idea is that by putting some laps on the tires, it would help the heat dissipate throughout the rubber instead of build up into the blisters. When new tires are combined with a smooth new racing surface, sometimes the heat has nowhere to go and causes the tire to bubble.

After letting the teams scuff their tires, Goodyear wasn't planning on making a change – even after practice. But by last night, there was a enough concern for NASCAR and Goodyear to err on the side of caution.

If there is blame to be placed in the situation, it mostly falls on Mother Nature for the higher-than-expected temperatures, though an argument could also be made that Goodyear's tire engineers should have realized teams would get faster and improve their cars in between April's tire test and the race weekend.

Will this tire make for a more entertaining race on Sunday?

No, but it will make for a safer race. And with drivers going faster than they've ever driven before, NASCAR and Goodyear should be applauded for this decision.

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Kurt Busch's Girlfriend Patricia Driscoll Playing Hardball On Capitol Hill

What to do when you get caught in the eye of the storm? If you're Patricia Driscoll, the answer is to keep pushing through it.

Driscoll, the girlfriend of recently suspended NASCAR driver Kurt Busch, spent part of this week on Capitol Hill trying to promote legislation that would help active and former military members with mental health issues.

Through her duties as head of the Armed Forces Foundation, Driscoll has been relentless in trying to get Congress to take action on various initiatives to help those suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

And with an election year making senators and U.S. representatives more sensitive to positive and negative publicity, Driscoll knows now is her time to pounce – even if the aftermath of Busch's suspension created extra stress. She met with elected officials and was confident they saw her side, because "I can get evil when they don't play ball," she said with a laugh.

"The problem is that we have seen suicides among military members and vets skyrocket out of control," Driscoll said Friday. "I believe that we need to extend mental healthcare benefits under the current active duty insurance for 18 months, even when someone has been separated from the military."

Driscoll believes there is a "huge gap" between the Veterans Administration and the Department of Defense, which is causing thousands of ex-servicemen to slip through the cracks.

"In most people, PTSD will manifest itself within 18 months of being deactivated from service," she said. "I believe this legislation will save lives and a lot of money (for) the government in the long run."

Driscoll said she is "absolutely" optimistic the legislation will get through, likely as an amendment attached to the National Defense Authorization Act. It won't get chopped off, she said, because what elected official would want to come out against helping military members recover?

"If they did, I would say to them, 'How dare you not take care of our service members and follow through on the promises you made to them when they entered the military?'" she said.

The National Defense Authorization Act is the same bill that contains a proposal to eliminate military sponsorship of NASCAR teams. Driscoll has helped push to get that piece of the legislation killed and is confident it won't pass.

"I don't believe we can allow Congress to take away the military's decision on how to spend recruiting dollars," she said.

At any rate, Driscoll hasn't exactly crawled into a hole after Busch's suspension. If anything, she's sticking to her very public routine.

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Danica Patrick Pictures Improvements Instead Of Disappointing NASCAR Results

Despite some setbacks this season – her first full-time campaign in the NASCAR Nationwide Series – Danica Patrick prefers to focus on the positives instead of dwelling on her lackluster finishes.

"I could sort of go through all the the things I think have been better over the year so far – and there's been quite a few of them," she said Friday at Michigan International Speedway. "So instead of getting upset about the individual weekends and the results, it's better to think about what you've improved on and the things you need to improve on moving forward so your results keep getting better."

Patrick is 11th in the point standings after the first 12 races of the season, but she has just one top-10 finish. She has led three laps this year – all at restrictor-plate tracks.

But the JR Motorsports driver indicated a belief that her performance has been dragged down by things happening out of her control.

"I can't change anything about the fact that stuff just happens in the race and bad luck comes," she said. "All we can do is work really hard and be as fast as we can in practice and qualify as fast as we can and let it all play out."

Patrick said she needs to keep getting better despite the progress she feels she's made, but that improvement will happen.

"We will (improve)," she said. "It's just going to take time."

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. A Legitimate Contender To Win 2012 NASCAR Championship

Just last year, Carl Edwards put together a fantastic season where he was atop the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings for 24 weeks and missed out on winning the championship by a single point. He accomplished all this with just one win.

As hard as it may to believe, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is actually on pace to surpass Edwards' point total from a year ago.

Through 14 races this season, Earnhardt Jr. is averaging 36.6 points a race, more than a full point better than Edwards' 35.5 average from 2011.

If – and that is a big if – Earnhardt Jr. can continue to perform at the level he has thus far, there is no reason to think he won't be contention to win the same championship his famous father did seven times over regardless if ever again finds Victory Lane.

All of which makes it possible that Earnhardt Jr. could be in fact the first driver to win the championship without winning a race.

It sounds crazy, but despite a winless streak that will reach four years this weekend at Michigan International Speedway, Earnhardt Jr. and his team are legitimate championship contenders even without a trip to Victory Lane.

Though he still has a zero in the win column, Earnhardt Jr. now has what it takes to win. A few years ago, he didn't.

"I feel better right now than I have in the last several years when we weren't competing well and we weren't running well and we had to answer as to why we weren't winning," Earnhardt Jr. said Thursday at Michigan. "We were miles from winning. We were so far away from being able to compete and win a race and be competitive enough to win a race, that it was a tough question to answer.

"Now, it feels like it's right around the corner, so I'm getting more and more excited the more we run this year."

The driver has reason to be excited about more than just a race win. The championship isn't unrealistic with the way his team is running.

While in years past Earnhardt Jr. may have won multiple races and was high up in points at year end, what Earnhardt Jr. has always been missing are the two things he now has in spades – teamwork and consistency.

Gone are the days when Earnhardt Jr. would snipe with whoever happened to be calling the shots in the pits for him. There are no more heated exchanges about what adjustments to make, how many tires to take or whether Earnhardt Jr. himself is giving 100 percent behind the wheel.

In its place is the reassuring "I'm in complete control and I know what I'm doing"-type guidance and direction that Steve Letarte has brought to the No. 88 team since being named crew chief in the fall of 2010.

"There are a lot of great things going on between us and that has a lot to do with our success, too and how important it is to keep that attitude and relationship good and healthy," Earnhardt Jr. said.

And in terms of consistency, no driver has more top-10 finishes than Earnhardt Jr. does this season. He's already only one top-10 shy of his total for the entire 2011 season, when he made the Chase.

Thanks to the consistency he's shown on the track and the synergy with his crew chief off of it, Earnhardt Jr. is second in the point standings just past the halfway point to the Chase cutoff and sits only 10 points behind leader Matt Kenseth. At this point in the season, he should very much be viewed by the rest of the garage as a championship contender – despite the 0-143 noose around his neck.

This begs the question: Should a driver who hasn't won a race in nearly four years be held in such high regard as a title contender?

Yes. And it's a statement Earnhardt Jr. himself agrees with.

"We have put together a lot of great, consistent races and we're second in points right now," he said. "So if we can put together this type of performance in the Chase, I don't see why we can't consider ourselves with an opportunity to challenge for the championship."

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NASCAR At Michigan 2012: Drivers Debate High Speeds

Despite running breathtaking record speeds at Michigan International Speedway, Jimmie Johnson said his car felt comfortable.

Greg Biffle, on the other hand, said, "I think we're approaching some safety concerns at the speeds we're going -- I don't know that we're quite there yet, though."

In Thursday morning's test session at the recently resurfaced two-mile track, Mark Martin topped the speed chart with a lap at 201.069 mph in race trim. All told, 39 drivers surpassed Ryan Newman's August 2005 track qualifying record of 194.232 mph.

Though both drivers and NASCAR officials expect speeds to decline throughout the weekend -- because of hotter conditions and Hoosier rubber that will adhere to the track in Friday's ARCA race -- NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton wouldn't rule out a qualifying lap in excess of 200 mph during Saturday time trials.

That hasn't happened since Bill Elliott put his Ford on the pole at Talladega at 203.827 mph in July 1987, the last superspeedway race before NASCAR mandated restrictor plates at Talladega and Daytona to limit horsepower and reduce speeds.

Restrictor plates won't be a consideration at Michigan, according to Pemberton.

"What we saw this morning is the best shape the track will be in," Pemberton said during a break between Thursday's test sessions. "As they continue to run and lay down rubber, and the other series (Nationwide and ARCA) that will run here throughout the weekend, the grooves will widen out, but the pace will slow down.

"It was nice to see the speeds this morning. Maybe qualifying will get back to there -- maybe. But for the most part, it'll continue to slow down from here."

From Biffle's point of view, that's probably a good thing.

"We're certainly pushing the envelope with the extra speed," he said. "The wall still isn't going to move when you get there."

To Johnson, the stability of the cars counterbalances the speeds they are running.

"It's been quite a rush for the drivers," said the five-time champion. "To be on the track and to go this fast and to run an average lap time of over 200 mph -- you certainly feel the speed, and the comfort is there . . .

"I don't have any concerns about the speeds. Granted, I haven't seen one hit the wall yet to see how the car reacts with the SAFER barrier at this pace, (but) at least the balance that we have under our racecar right now has been very comfortable to drive."

Speeds didn't taper off Thursday afternoon. Tony Stewart paced the session at 201.896 mph, followed by Biffle (201.556 mph) and Kurt Busch (201.174 mph), back from a 10-day suspension that kept him out of the Pocono race.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., whose last victory came in the June race at Michigan in 2008, was fourth fastest in the morning and fifth after lunch, posting his top speed of 200.658 mph in the afternoon.

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NASCAR: No Restrictor Plates For Michigan Despite High Speeds

NASCAR won't do anything to slow the Sprint Cup Series cars from running record speeds at the newly repaved Michigan International Speedway this weekend, even though some drivers reached 218 mph down the straightaway in a Thursday test session.

"We're not looking at [restrictor] plates here," said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president of competition. "... In general, the speeds will continue to go down [throughout the weekend]."

While Saturday's qualifying session might generate average lap speeds of more than 200 mph, NASCAR believes the race pace itself will be far less due to warmer temperatures and more rubber on the racetrack.

The high speeds witnessed during Thursday morning's practice were due to the "optimum" condition of a fresh track and a cooler morning, Pemberton said.

If NASCAR decided to do something to slow the cars down, it's unclear what officials could do. Turning a 2-mile downforce track into a restrictor-plate race could come with unforeseen consequences, since there's never been a race quite like that before.

Tony Stewart posted the fastest average lap time of Thursday's full-day test (201.896 mph) and was one of seven drivers to top the 200 mph mark.

Drivers said they are going close to 220 mph down the straightaways and nearly 200 mph through the corners with very little braking involved.

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NASCAR At Michigan 2012: Record Speeds Draw Reaction From Garage

There's some pretty incredible stuff happening this morning at Michigan International Raceway, where NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers are testing out the newly repaved 2-mile oval for the first time.

Everyone knew the speeds would be fast at Michigan, but nearly 220 mph on the straightaways and an average lap speed of more than 200 mph? NASCAR hasn't seen speeds like this at a non-restrictor-plate track since Talladega was unrestricted.

Naturally, this generated a lot of chatter from the garage area this morning on Twitter. Here's a Storify so you can see the reaction so far:

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Kurt Busch Needs To 'Get Happy' Starting At Michigan, Team Owner Says

Phoenix Racing team owner James Finch said driver Kurt Busch agreed to respect NASCAR fans and the media during a Tuesday meeting that resulted in Busch retaining his job.

Finch told Sirius/XM's NASCAR channel Tuesday night that it's time for Busch to produce results without continually having off-the-track distractions.

"He's got some issues he says he's going to get squared away, and I'm hoping he does that," Finch told The Late Shift program. "And if he doesn't, then I've got to move on. But right now, we're going forward with him straightening out and doing what he needs to do."

Busch is coming off a NASCAR-issued suspension for violating probation by verbally abusing a reporter after the Nationwide Series race at Dover. He missed the Pocono race weekend but will race this weekend at Michigan.

The wealthy team owner said he couldn't understand why Busch seemed so unhappy at times, because the driver should be "tickled to death" that he gets to race for a living.

"You race on the weekend, you make good money and you look back in the back of the shop, and a guy works all year for what you make in a weekend – but he seems to be happy," Finch said he told Busch. "So I don't know why you're not happy, and if you're not happy, then you need to get happy. Because that's life."

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Kurt Busch Returns To NASCAR At Michigan With Phoenix Racing

Any doubts Kurt Busch wouldn't have a ride after returning from his one-week suspension from NASCAR were erased Tuesday afternoon when Phoenix Racing team owner James Finch announced Busch will be returning to the No. 51 car this weekend at Michigan.

"We have met with Kurt," Finch said in a statement released by the team. "At the end of the day, we are racers, so we're going racing together with Kurt and the No. 51 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet."

There was uncertainty whether Busch, who was suspended one week by NASCAR for violating his probation by threatening a member of the media following the Nationwide Series race at Dover, would be welcomed back by his team. In numerous interviews last week, Finch made it known he was tired of Busch's attitude and that the 2004 Sprint Cup Series champion would have to make changes if he were to return to the team following his hiatus.

However, after a meeting Tuesday between owner and driver, an understanding was reached that will keep Busch behind the wheel of the unsponsored No. 51 Chevrolet going forward.

"We know adjustments have to be made, but how we fix that is between Kurt and myself," Finch said. "We're going to go to the track, work hard, race hard and work on trying to attract a sponsor – and we're going to do that together."

Busch, who has one top-10 finish this season in 13 starts, was replaced last Sunday in Pocono by David Reutimann, who finished 21st.

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