On the fast track at Michigan

Published June 14, 2012

| Sports Network

For the second consecutive week, the Sprint Cup Series will compete at a racetrack that has recently been repaved.

Michigan International Speedway is the next stop on the series schedule this season. The two-mile oval, which is located roughly 70 miles southwest of Detroit, has a new coat of asphalt on it. Michigan's new pavement process began immediately after the August 2011 race and concluded in November, giving the asphalt time to settle and cure during the winter.

Five drivers -- Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski and Juan Pablo Montoya -- participated in a Goodyear Tire test at Michigan. Speeds reached as high as 216 mph.

"When we were in race trim, we were almost four seconds faster than we were racing last year, which is quite a difference," Kenseth said.

Michigan has been repaved three times in the past -- 1977, 1986 and 1995. The track was built in 1968.

"It's a very fast track but a very comfortable-feeling pace," Gordon said. "The track drives so similar to the way it did before, and I believe it's going to have multiple grooves."

Last Saturday, the series ran at the newly-repaved Pocono Raceway, where the top-36 drivers in qualifying for the Pocono 400 surpassed Kasey Kahne's 2004 track record of 172.533 mph.

The top qualifying speed at Michigan is 194.232 mph, set by Ryan Newman in 2005. That record is expected to be broken during Saturday's qualifying.

NASCAR is allowing Sprint Cup teams to test at Michigan on Thursday to get familiar with the new track surface. Teams were also granted testing time last week at Pocono, with a half-day on Wednesday and a full-day on Thursday.

After finishing seventh at Pocono, Kenseth moved atop the standings. He holds a 10-point advantage over Dale Earnhardt Jr. Greg Biffle fell from first to third in points following his 24th-place run. Biffle is now 16 markers behind his Roush Fenway Racing teammate, Kenseth.

Earnhardt Jr.'s winless streak in the series has now reached the four-year mark. His last victory came in June 2008 at Michigan (143 races ago). In his fifth year as driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports, Earnhardt Jr. is having one of his finest seasons in Cup. He has scored 11 top-10 finishes, including two second-place runs, in the first 14 races.

"We are doing pretty well on our end with the No. 88 team," Earnhardt Jr. said. "We just need to get a couple of wins to really kind of solidify what we are doing about our consistency and how well we are running to really put the icing on the cake. It would be nice to get a couple of wins."

Earnhardt Jr's car for Michigan will feature a specially-wrapped Batman-themed paint scheme to promote the soon-to-be-released movie, "The Dark Knight Rises." The scheme includes the Batman logo on the hood and the faces of the two leading characters, "Batman" and "Bane," on each side.

"I'm looking forward to going to Michigan and testing there for the day," Earnhardt Jr. noted. "With the repave, some things might be similar to Pocono. We learned a lot during the five days up there, and hopefully, we can go to Michigan with some of that stuff we learned and have a strong car."

Forty-five teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Quicken Loans 400.

Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup. Date: Sunday, June 17. Race: Quicken Loans 400. Site: Michigan International Speedway. Track: two-mile oval. Start time: 1 p.m.(ET). Laps: 200. Miles: 400. 2011 Winner: Denny Hamlin. Television: TNT. Radio: Motor Racing Network (MRN)/SIRIUS NASCAR Satellite.

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