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."