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For Greg Biffle, winning at Michigan International Speedway on Sunday was about more than just winning for the second time in 2012 or the 18th time in his career.
In his mind, it was about sending the message he should be taken seriously as a championship contender, as the victory moved Biffle to the top of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings.
"I know that a lot of people don't expect us to win the championship, don't expect us to compete for the title," Biffle said. "I don't care what they say or who they want to talk about or what they talk about. We will be a factor when it comes down to Homestead, I promise you that."
Despite the spotlight often being focused elsewhere, Biffle has never swayed in his belief that his team is good enough to compete head-to-head against the sport's best. Not once this season has he been lower than fourth in points, and he led the standings for 11 consecutive weeks earlier in the year.
"I mean, I probably approach it differently," Biffle said. "In my heart, I know what my team is capable of and I know what I'm capable of as a driver on the racetrack. So I focus on that.
"I don't really put a lot into what people talk about, the drivers they talk about, what the stories are."
And as for those who overlook the 16 team and instead referring to other drivers as the "title favorites," Biffle had a message for his doubters.
"I pay attention to what we need to do as a team – not make mistakes, do what it's going to take to win this championship," he said. "If it's not a story, they (media) don't cover it, then that's fine. But they'll be forced to after Homestead."
RESULTS: See the full finishing order from Sunday's NASCAR race at Michigan.
There was no change in the two NASCAR wild card spots at Sunday's race at Michigan International Speedway – Kasey Kahne and Ryan Newman are still in position to make the Chase.
But there's suddenly an interesting development in the Sprint Cup Series point standings: Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin are no longer sure bets to make the top 10.
Stewart is only 34 points ahead of Kahne (11th) and Hamlin is up by 33. Both drivers would still make the Chase as a wild card if they fell out due to their multiple victories, but they wouldn't get to use the bonus points once the playoffs begin.
As for the standings, Greg Biffle replaced Jimmie Johnson in the top spot after his win and Johnson tumbled three spots to fourth.
No one clinched a Chase spot on Sunday, but a bunch of drivers will likely do so at Bristol.
Here's a look at the top 10 (wild card standings at the bottom):
And here's how the wild card standings currently look:
Dale Earnhardt Jr. got in his car on Sunday feeling pressure. No, not the pressure to sweep the season at Michigan International Raceway, but pressure to not screw up.
Earnhardt Jr. had spun twice on his own in the past two weeks – at Watkins Glen and during Saturday's Michigan practice – and was determined not to do it again.
"That's something I try not to have happen and try not to have that kind of reputation," he said. "I felt real bad last night about wrecking the car and all the work the guys had to do to get this car ready for today. They just pored through so many documents and notes on that car to try to put it on the start grid this morning. They did an awesome job."
Earnhardt Jr. had to start in the rear of the field after crashing his primary car – the one which he drove to Victory Lane at Michigan's June race – but worked his way through the field thanks to a good car and pit strategy. He ended up with a fourth-place result, which was his 10th top-five finish of the season – more than the previous three years combined.
"Thanks to my crew, and I give all those guys all the credit for today," he said. "Steve (Letarte, crew chief) did a good job getting us some track position with his pit strategy in giving us an opportunity to get a good run. We may not have quite enough to win, but a good finish position."
Sunday's box score shows that Kasey Kahne finished the NASCAR race at Michigan International Speedway in the third position. However, doesn't indicate just how eventful of a day he had in the Pure Michigan 400.
The topsy-turvy afternoon started on Lap 66 when Kahne was running second – directly behind leader Mark Martin – and the two become tangled with a pair of lapped cars. The end result saw Martin slam into pit road, while Kahne took a spin through the infield grass.
"I thought I might try to pass him and those guys," Kahne said. "I don't know if Mark was tight behind them or cruising behind them, but either way I wanted to get by those three.
"Next thing I knew, the 42 (Juan Pablo Montoya) and 47 (Bobby Labonte) were crashing. Mark was in there. Going so fast, not a whole lot you could do. I slid through the grass, thought it destroyed my car. Fortunately it just pushed the right front fender in."
Martin's car came to a rest in Kahne's pit box, where thankfully no one was injured. The extended caution, however, did allow Kahne to make multiple trips to pit road, where his team was able to patch up his No. 5 machine.
"From there, we just battled back," Kahne said. "We fixed the right front. We had good pit stops. We had a nice strategy to get back to pass some of those cars – not all on the racetrack, but pass them in other ways."
And when his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson lost an engine with four laps to go, there was Kahne on the subsequent restart sitting in the top five. That was followed by an aggressive move that saw Kahne go three-wide into Turn 1 and jumped him to third, which is where he finished – the fifth time in seven races he's finished in the top 10.
"I just felt really good about our speed," Kahne said. "Our car has been really fast. We've been pretty consistent as a team. We want to make it to the Chase. That's a big part of our season, something that we're really shooting for. I think our team has done a great job of that.
"We put a solid day together. It would still be nice to get one more win and (clinch) that Chase spot, make it happen. But we'll see. We still have good tracks to go; we just need to keep running up front."
During Jimmie Johnson's most dominant years in NASCAR, he had no rivals. Sure, Denny Hamlin and his team tried to put the pressure on during the 2010 Chase – but Johnson and Chad Knaus flicked them away like a speck of dust.
Two years later, Brad Keselowski is setting himself up to be the latest threat to Johnson's run. And armed with an honest streak and a won't-back-down attitude, Keselowski just might be able to back up his talk.
"The 48 has the most speed and the best history as far as the Chase is concerned, but it's my job to not roll over and give it to them," Keselowski said. "... Although they might have the most speed, we're not giving up. We're going to keep 'em honest through this Chase. That's our goal."
During the final green-flag pit stop sequence of Sunday's NASCAR race at Michigan, Keselowski and his team thwarted the No. 48's strategy by emerging with the lead – which left Johnson and Knaus asking each other how it could have happened. Keselowski seemed to delight in befuddling the five-time champions and said afterward it was "good to know that they're frustrated, 'cause they should be. We nailed it."
Though he was later passed by Johnson – before Johnson's engine blew up in the final laps – Keselowski launched several verbal missiles toward the Hendrick Motorsports camp. The budding rivalry has a chance to develop further in the Chase, and it may just be getting started.
Keselowski's comments focused around the mechanical advantage which the Hendrick cars seem to have discovered. Since June, competitors have been talking about the rear ends of cars like Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr., which seem to be moving around.
NASCAR put one rule in place to address the issue, but drivers said at Indianapolis it did nothing to weaken the Hendrick cars' performance. On Sunday, Keselowski shed more light on the situation.
"There's parts and pieces on the car that are moving after inspection that make the car more competitive," he said. "Some guys have it, some don't. There's a question to the interpretation of the rule. Penske Racing errs on the safe side because we don't want to be the guys that get the big penalty."
Keselowski said his team has not felt comfortable enough to risk its good name and reputation over working in that area of the car. And while it's not illegal, he said, it's "living in a gray area."
"Roger (Penske) doesn't do that," he said. "There's certainly some performance there that we...haven't gained, because we choose not to do that. That's something that we have to continue to evaluate every week that goes by, that those components are permitted to be run. We have to make a reevaluation of that internally to decide if that's the right way to go."
The "tricks," as he referred to the setups during his stint as ESPN's In-Race Reporter on Sunday, are being used by six-to-12 cars and have separated the field more than in recent years, he said. The driver added it's had the effect of disrupting NASCAR's parity.
"You've seen qualifying, the pace difference between 20th and pole was over a second," he said. "We haven't seen that in over 10 years in this sport."
Despite not using the tricks for his own team, Keselowski said he feels primed to challenge Johnson for his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title. And the way he's been running lately – Keselowski has scored more points than any driver in the last seven races – it's starting to seem like a realistic possibility.
And he wants Johnson to know the No. 2 team is coming.
"I can taste the legitimacy of being a championship contender," he said.
Greg Biffle, Roush Fenway Racing and Ford Motor Company all celebrated the end of a drought Sunday with Biffle's victory in the Pure Michigan 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Michigan International Speedway.
With his third victory at the two-mile track, his second of the season and the 18th of his career, Biffle broke a seven-race dry spell for both Ford and owner Jack Roush. Biffle also grabbed the points lead from Jimmie Johnson, who finished 27th after his engine failed in the closing laps.
Brad Keselowski tried to catch Biffle during a two-lap run to the finish but fell .416 seconds short, taking second in a photo finish over fast-closing Kasey Kahne. Dale Earnhardt Jr. came home fourth, followed by Marcos Ambrose.
The victory was the 12th for Roush as a car owner, breaking a tie with the Wood Brothers. It also gave Biffle the confidence to declare himself a contender for the series championship.
"We're going to make a run at the title," Biffle promised. "I know they don't talk about us a lot, but they will when we get to (Las) Vegas (site of the postseason Sprint Cup awards banquet)."
Biffle leads teammate Matt Kenseth (17th Sunday) by 20 points with three races left before the Chase for the Sprint Cup field is set at Richmond. Earnhardt is third, 22 points back, and Johnson fell from first to fourth, trailing Biffle by 28 points.
It was Earnhardt who gave Biffle the push he needed on the final restart on Lap 200.
"Junior gave me a huge push for that win," Biffle said. "I have to thank him for that. I saw Brad laying back (on the restart) like always, and he got a little jump on me."
But the push did the trick and got Biffle to the front. He cleared Keselowski through Turn 2 and kept the No. 2 Dodge at bay the rest of the way, disappointing Michigan native Keselowski.
"This is my home track," said Keselowski, who has finished second in two straight Cup races. "I want to win here just as bad as I want to win a race in the Chase -- probably more. There was a stretch where I felt like we were going to win it. I had some goosebumps going on.
"But it wasn't meant to be, and I'm still very proud of the effort. . . . I just want to get that one more spot. I want to win races, and we've been running solid -- and I'm proud of that -- but we want that one more spot, too."
Johnson took the lead from Keselowski on Lap 191, but four laps later his engine expired, handing the lead to Biffle, who had passed Keselowski for the second spot on Lap 192. NASCAR called a caution for oil in the tri-oval, the result of Johnson's engine failure.
That set up a restart that sent the race one lap past its scheduled distance of 200 laps.
Pole-sitter Mark Martin suffered a vicious hit on Lap 64, when his No. 55 Toyota slammed into the butt end of the pit road wall at an opening to the garage. Martin was an innocent victim of a wreck involving Juan Pablo Montoya and Bobby Labonte, who spun off Turn 4 in front of the race leader.
Kahne spun alongside Martin and slid through the grass but suffered no significant damage and rallied for a top-five finish.
Jimmie Johnson was headed toward a win in Sunday's NASCAR race at Michigan International Speedway...until his engine suddenly blew up with six laps to go.
On the ensuing restart, Greg Biffle got the lead from Brad Keselowski and went on to score the win while reclaiming the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points lead.
More to come, but for now, here are the NASCAR Michigan results from today:
The starting grid for today's NASCAR race at Michigan International Speedway is below, but first, here are some storylines, notes and drivers to watch for this afternoon:
Track Position Is Everything
With its wide straightaways and sweeping corners, if there was ever a track where drivers should be able to pass and race side-by-side, you would think Michigan would be the place. However, with relatively new pavement, drivers are leery that today's race is going to feature few passing opportunities, as the track has little grip, is slick and there is essentially just one groove around the 2-mile oval.
This puts the onus on crew chiefs to help their drivers gain valuable track position. Expect them to do this by calling for plenty of two-tire stops throughout the afternoon, as there is little wear on the left-side tires.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Slump?
The last two weeks haven't been kind to Dale Earnhardt Jr. First, there were the transmission issues at Pocono which sent him to the garage while he was leading. This was followed by a late-race spin last week at Watkins Glen which cost him a top-10 finish. Combined, these back-to-back subpar weeks have cost Earnhardt Jr. his points lead, and he now resides fourth overall.
The good news for NASCAR's most popular driver and his legion of supporters is a return trip to Michigan. It's the very track where in June, Earnhardt Jr. snapped his four-year winless drought in dominant fashion by leading 95 of 200 laps and easily scoring the victory by an impressive five-second margin.
But that optimism vanished when Earnhardt Jr. backed his race-winning Chevrolet into the Turn 2 wall during the final practice. The damage was such that the 88 team had to roll out a backup car, which will force Earnhardt Jr. to start at the rear of the field.
The Bullseye Is Now On Jimmie Johnson
To the chagrin of many, Jimmie Johnson is atop the standings. Even worse, the 48 team doesn't appear to be relinquishing its hold on the points lead anytime soon. Hendrick Motorsports has hit on something with its setups, and with the Chase quickly approaching, Johnson is peaking at the optimal time with eight top-10s in his last 10 starts.
Although Johnson has never won at Michigan, he has been close, including a runner-up finish in this race a year ago. But that first win might have to wait. Johnson hit a snag in practice yesterday when motor issues necessitated a change to backup engine, requiring him start at the rear today along with his teammate.
For a long time, Michigan was regarded as Jack Roush's own personal playground, as from 2003-08 the flag-bearer for Ford won six of 12 races. But remarkably, it's been four years since a Roush-owned car went to Victory Lane. That streak, however, could easily come to an end this afternoon as all three Roush Fords were fast in practice – especially Greg Biffle. But to do that, the trio is going to have to likely outmuscle the Hendrick boys, something the Roush armada has struggled with this season as they haven't won a Cup since April.
• As noted above, Michigan represents one of just five tracks where Jimmie Johnson has yet to win. The others are Watkins Glen, Kentucky, Chicagoland and Homestead.
• Prior to this weekend, Mark Martin had made 53 Michigan starts, yet before today he had never started a race on the 2-mile track from the pole. Martin's pole-winning run was the 55th of his career and moved him into a tie with Bill Elliott for seventh all-time.
• After qualifying ninth yesterday, today will mark just the second time Landon Cassill has started a Sprint Cup race inside the top 10.
1. Jimmie Johnson
Yes, Jimmie Johnson will be starting from the rear and it will be a challenge to claw his way through the field. But the thinking is Chad Knaus will come up with some wise pit strategy to help his driver recoup some of that lost track position. And once Johnson gets to the front, he certainly has more than enough speed to factor into the outcome.
2. Greg Biffle
This is the spot Dale Earnhardt Jr. would have been if he hadn't wrecked his primary car in practice. Instead, it's Greg Biffle, who is a two-time Michigan winner and was fastest driver in the second and final rounds of practice.
3. Brad Keselowski
Jimmie Johnson may have the championship lead and the headlines that go with it, but the fact is that over the last six weeks no one has scored more points than Brad Keselowski. And with the intermediate track program an area of strength for this team, there is little reason to think the Blue Deuce won't be up among the leaders again today.
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 Pure Michigan 400 for you below.
What time does the race start today? At 1:07 p.m. Eastern today, the American Badass himself – Kid Rock – will give the command to fire engines. After a few pace laps, the green flag is set to wave at 1:16 p.m. Eastern. So if you want to skip the pre-race show and just tune in for the actual race, turn on your TV set at 1:16 p.m. EDT.
Race name/distance: Today's race is called the Pure Michigan 400 – "Pure Michigan" being Michigan's tourism campaign. The math is pretty simple: 200 laps around Michigan's 2-mile oval for a total of 400 miles.
TV, radio and live streaming: Today's race can be seen on ESPN. This is ESPN's fourth broadcast of its portion of the season, and it will handle the remainder of the year. There IS live streaming of the race today, which can be found at NASCAR.com's "RaceBuddy" site and on the "Watch ESPN" app. 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: Country music singer Steve Azar (the guy who sang "I Don't Have To Be Me Til Monday") will do the honors today. Michigan likely goes out of its way to find good anthem singers ever since the Saving Abel disaster of a few years ago.
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 at Michigan should be unseasonably cool (in the 70s) with a chance of scattered showers. Neudorff doesn't expect the race to be rained out, but it could be delayed by a stray storm or two.
Last time: Uhm...unless you live in a cave, you know what happened last time NASCAR was at Michigan – Dale Earnhardt Jr. snapped a four-year winless streak and went to Victory Lane in dominating fashion. And one year ago, Kyle Busch beat Jimmie Johnson in a green-white-checkered finish to take the 2011 Pure Michigan 400.
Here's the starting lineup for today's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Michigan:
Most of the day looks dry out at Michigan International Speedway for the NASCAR Sprint Cup race. If we see any showers it would be in the mid to late afternoon.
The overall chance of showers is small but with an approaching cold front, cool air already in place and very warm August sun a few scattered showers and even an isolated storm is possible.
This race looks drier than Watkins Glen last week but will need to keep an eye to the sky and the radar for a possible renegade shower or storm.
11 a.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Series Pre-race – Sun and clouds, chance of isolated showers – temp: 68
12 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Series Pre-race – Sun and clouds, chance of isolated showers – temp: 71
1 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Series Race – Sun and clouds, chance of isolated showers – temp: 72
2 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Series Race – Sun and clouds, chance of scattered showers – temp: 74
3 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Series Race – Sun and clouds, chance of scattered showers – temp: 75
4 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Series Race – Sun and clouds, chance of scattered showers – temp: 76
5 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Series Race – Sun and clouds, chance of showers, isolated storm – temp: 76
Justin Allgaier might come from a family whose roots are deeply planted in oval track stock-car racing, but Saturday afternoon on Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal, Lil' Gator proved he can turn left and right with the best of the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
Allgaier captured his first win of the season at the NAPA Auto Parts 200 by Dodge, emerging in front in a frenzied overtime finish.
Allgaier was running third at the second attempt for a green-white-checkered finish when he was able to get past Penske Racing teammates Sam Hornish Jr. and Jacques Villeneuve, who ended up second and third.
Nationwide series points leader Elliott Sadler finished fourth, one position in front of former Montreal winner Ron Fellows. Michael McDowell, Mike Wallace, Billy Johnson, Austin Dillon and NASCAR Sprint Cup series regular Kyle Busch completed the top 10.
Here are the 2012 NASCAR Nationwide Series results from Montreal:
With roughly 10 minutes left in final practice Saturday at Michigan International Speedway, Dale Earnhardt Jr. suddenly crashed. As such, NASCAR's most popular driver lost both his winning car from the last Michigan race and his 22nd starting position, because his team is using a backup for Sunday's race.
For Earnhardt Jr., this is a particularly tough blow as he was optimistic he could use the same car to sweep the season at Michigan.
"I feel pretty comfortable we will be fast," Earnhardt Jr. said Friday. "We should be able to go out there and compete for the win. If we don't, I'll be pretty disappointed."
Earnhardt Jr. also joked on Friday that the only thing his team had done with his race-winning car since his victory was "wash it."
That wasn't the only bad news for Hendrick Motorsports on Saturday, as Jimmie Johnson had engine issues in the morning practice session. As a precautionary measure, the 48 team made an unapproved engine change and Johnson will also have to drop to the rear of the field for Sunday's 400-mile race instead of starting third.
"The guys saw something in warm up this morning and we were trying to sort through it before practice started," Johnson said after the engine change. "They took a deeper look at things right before practice started and decided to change it.
"We probably could have run some of this practice, but I think we had to change the engine regardless. We didn't want to oil the track or create an issue and crash our car."
Unseasonably cool weather will continue this weekend for NASCAR at Michigan International Speedway. The only concern is a cold front Sunday afternoon that could spark scattered showers and possible isolated storms.
High pressure will dominate the weather today with mostly sunny skies and cool Fall-like temperatures. Highs will only be in the low to mid 70s.
On Sunday, a weak cold front will slide through the region this could spark scattered light showers and even isolated storms. With the colder air in place, the very warm August sunshine, and a weak disturbance showers are possible.
Like Watkins Glen last weekend I don't see a washout but showers could be around, threaten and cause a possible rain delay.
8:30 a.m. EDT
Sprint Cup practice – Mostly sunny – temp: 49
9:35 a.m. EDT
Camping World Truck qualifying – Mostly sunny – temp: 56
11 a.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Series final practice – Mostly sunny– temp: 65
12:30 p.m. EDT
Camping World Truck race – Mostly sunny – temp: 69
12 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Series Pre-race – Sun and clouds, chance of showers, isolated storm – temp: 68
1 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Series Race – Sun and clouds, chance of showers, isolated storm – temp: 71
2 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Series Race – Sun and clouds, chance of showers, isolated storm – temp: 72
4 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Series Race – Sun and clouds, chance of showers, isolated storm – temp: 73
Mark Martin won his fourth pole of the 2012 NASCAR season despite only running a partial schedule, posting a lap of 199.706 mph on Friday at Michigan International Speedway.
Martin, driving Michael Waltrip Racing's No. 55 car, was the only driver to top 199 mph. The second-fastest driver, Carl Edwards, was more than 1 mph slower (198.626 mph).
The veteran driver's 55th career pole tied Bill Elliott for seventh on the all-time NASCAR list. Edwards, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Kasey Kahne rounded out the top five.
Trevor Bayne, Martin Truex Jr., Marcos Ambrose, Landon Cassill and Paul Menard completed the top 10. Dale Earnhardt Jr., who won the last Michigan race and brought back the same car, qualified 22nd.
Stephen Leicht and JJ Yeley failed to qualify for Sunday's race.
Here's the starting lineup for Sunday's NASCAR race at Michigan International Speedway:
A week after NASCAR's reluctance to call a caution for an oiled track at Watkins Glen cost him a top-10 finish, Jeff Gordon pleaded for more consistency from NASCAR officials.
Gordon – an avid sports fan – equated the non-call to a referee swallowing his whistle in the closing moments of an NBA game. So if that's the practice NASCAR wants to follow going forward, he said, the policy needs to stay the same from week-to-week.
"... One week it's ‘Let's throw a caution' and the next is, 'Don't throw a caution,'" he said. "I think that's the only thing that's discouraging at times is the lack of consistency."
What makes it challenging for race officials going forward is that their decision – or in this case, indecision – led to what was one of the more exciting finishes of the year.
"That was a fantastic finish to the race; very entertaining," he said. "It was great for the sport; great for Marcos (Ambrose) and even for Brad (Keselowski). That was cool."
However, what's good for some isn't necessarily good for others and in this case, Gordon came out on the short end of the stick. A balance needs to be struck between letting the race play out and officials intervening, he said.
"Somebody pays the price and those guys are not going to be happy with that and that's the way racing is," he said. "Not everyone is going to be happy with the way things ended up and I was one of those.
"But if I'm not a competitor out there, then I want to see these races not be controlled."
Gordon said he was unaware the track was oiled down because his team didn't tell him; his crew said later they didn't want to interrupt his concentration on the final lap.
"I can't change the outcome; if I felt there was a way to change the outcome and take back that last corner, I certainly would," Gordon said. "I was as dejected at the fact that it happened, as I was that they (NASCAR) allowed a car out there (leaking oil) without throwing a caution.
"...But that's racing. Yeah, I'm going to be mad about it at the time. I felt like I could have been a little more conservative in that last corner and come home eighth or ninth and that would have been a pretty solid day for us. But I was racing hard –probably harder than I should have been."
Danica Patrick will jump back into a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series car next week at Bristol, and her team owner Tony Stewart thinks people should stop putting her under such a harsh microscope.
"I'll be honest, I wish everybody would get off her back and just let her go race and let her learn," Stewart said Friday at Michigan International Speedway. "Everybody is putting so much pressure on her and so much focus on her. Going to a place that you've been to is obviously going to help, but everybody needs to take a step back and let this girl learn and do what she is trying to do there."
Stewart said Patrick's presence has been a "double-edged sword." It's great from the publicity side, he said, but the intense scrutiny over her results is too much. Stewart even gets nervous talking about her because of the bright spotlight on all things Danica, he said.
"I just hope everybody respects her enough to give her the room to know that whether she makes three laps or whether she finishes the whole race, the whole goal is to just learn," he said.
Stewart said he believes the more any driver runs in a car, the better that person will get. So it's "not rocket science" to figure out Patrick needs more laps in a Cup car before making the jump to run the series full-time next season.
"Even if you are running fifth or 25th, you are learning something," he said. "The goal of these 10 (Cup) races – which is exactly what we said back on the media tour clear back in January – was that these races are designed to give her laps in the car and get her more time and experience.
"The good thing is she is excited about it and that is the attitude you have to have going into it."
Patrick has raced in three Sprint Cup Series events so far and will compete in seven of the final 13 races. She finished 38th at the Daytona 500, 31st in the Southern 500 and 30th in the Coca-Cola 600.
Her remaining races are Bristol, Atlanta, Chicago, Dover, Kansas, Texas and Phoenix. Stewart picked what he thought were 10 of the hardest races on the Cup schedule in order to help her gain experience for next season.
Thanks to a to a third-place run last weekend at Watkins Glen, Jimmie Johnson moved into the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points lead for the first time this year. But as Johnson well knows, leading the points during the regular season comes with no tangible reward.
Can't a dude get a "Regular-Season Champ" hat or something?
"I've always felt like we should have something," Johnson said Friday at Michigan. "It is a huge accomplishment to win the regular season points championship. I don't even think you get a sticker for it or anything. I feel like it would be nice.
"I'm sure the monetary side would be amazing. But we would all be happy with a little $5 trophy that you won the regular season championship. So, a T-shirt would be nice. Anything!"
Johnson was (somewhat) joking about receiving a T-shirt and miniature trophy, but he was serious when he threw out some possible suggestions he thinks NASCAR should look at incorporating to reward a team for its effort.
"You could even work up an argument that there's some type of bonus points that could be awarded to the regular season champion that carries over or something in the seeding process or pit road pick," Johnson said. "I don't know. You dream up something there that would be nice for the champion."
Although it doesn't have the same effect as having the preferred spot on pit road, Johnson does feel there is a benefit to be gained by being in the position he's in. For him, having a bullseye on his back is the ideal way to get used to the intense pressure that comes with competing for the championship.
"I feel we enter the Chase better prepared by leading the points late in the (regular) season," Johnson said. "... It's not the same pressure as the Chase, but the points leader is the points leader. When you look at all the events we've had and what's gone on, there is a lot of prestige involved with it and it means that you're running well.
"We're glad to be there and hopefully we can stay on top, and ideally, pull away and continue to gain more points than anyone else and be in that mindset entering the Chase."
Dale Earnhardt Jr., if you haven't heard, is a polite guy. He doesn't like to disappoint anyone, and that includes reporters who ask him a question – even if he doesn't have much of an answer.
Because of that, what occasionally happens is he'll drop what we'll call a "Juniorism" – an overly simple answer, but an answer nonetheless.
When a local TV reporter asked Earnhardt Jr. on Friday about his "strategy" for the Michigan race, the driver dropped a perfect example of a Juniorism.
"I don't really have a strategy," he said. "Just go out there and try to lead, get to the front. If you're not at the front, get to the front, pass the guy in front of you. Pretty simple."
Wise words for any up-and-coming driver: To win the race, try to get to the front. If you're not at the front, try to pass the guy in front of you.
Folks, this is a fail-safe strategy to winning a NASCAR race. You can't go wrong!
To Earnhardt Jr.'s credit, he actually gave the guy about a two-minute answer which consisted of talking about the track conditions and the tire and things like that, though I'm not sure it was much of a soundbite for the dude's nightly local newscast.
Then again, there was this as well:
"Run as hard as you can," Earnhardt Jr. said. "The track is pretty smooth; you just run as hard as you can every lap. There's not much to it. You don't have to save your tires or anything. It's pretty much laid out there for you."
I also enjoyed one of the recent Juniorisms in Pocono, when someone asked Earnhardt Jr. about the $100,000 payout to a fan if he won the Pocono race.
"I really don't know much about it other than I guess the guy at the race track is going to pay someone some money if we win," he said. "That would be good for whoever gets the money and we'll be enjoying the trophy in Victory Lane. Everybody wins, I suppose."
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