The battle for a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship is getting more intense with the regular season fast approaching its conclusion.
Just 36 points separate eighth-place Brad Keselowski from 16th-place Joey Logano with four races to go before the Chase begins. The Sprint Cup Series heads to Michigan this weekend and then moves on to Bristol and Atlanta before the regular season concludes on Sept. 7 at Richmond.
Kasey Kahne and Ryan Newman currently hold the wild card positions. Kahne occupies the first wild card due to his two victories. He won at Bristol in March and Pocono earlier this month. Last Sunday, he finished 34th at Watkins Glen due to a late-race accident, dropping him from eighth to 12th in the point standings.
"I feel really good about making the Chase," said Kahne, who is in his second season as driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. "I feel good about getting into the top-10 and racing our way in. I think we've been fast at those tracks (Michigan and Bristol) and good at all the tracks that we have left on the schedule this season. I'm excited about it. I think we're in a good spot."
Last year, Kahne qualified for the Chase with a wild card, scoring two victories during the regular season. He finished the season fourth in points. Kahne is hoping to make this year's Chase with a top-10 finish in points. His two wins would amount to six bonus points for the start of the playoffs.
"I think the most important thing to me is to get into that top-10 and not have to use a wild card," he said. "In order to do that, we need to be consistent. It would be great to get another win and get some more of them bonus points when the Chase does start. Michigan is a good track, Bristol, Atlanta, all of them are tracks we won at. Hopefully, we can race hard, take care of it on the track, go that way."
Since Tony Stewart is sidelined indefinitely with a broken right leg, his teammate, Ryan Newman, has moved up to the second spot in the wild card rankings. Newman claimed his first win of the season last month at Indianapolis.
Greg Biffle comes to Michigan ninth in the standings, while 10th-place Martin Truex Jr. is only two points behind Biffle. Both drivers have one victory each this season.
Biffle won the June race at Michigan. The Roush Fenway Racing driver also took the checkered flag at this two-mile racetrack one year ago. If Biffle wins on Sunday, he will join Bill Elliott and David Pearson as those drivers who have scored three or more consecutive victories here. Elliott won four in a row at Michigan from June 1985 to August 1986. Pearson had three straight victories from June 1972 to June 1973.
"I feel like one more win would lock us into the Chase," Biffle said. "Michigan is one of my favorite tracks. It's a big, fast place and has lots of room to race. There is always a lot of strategy going on. Fuel mileage and pit stops are very important. We ran better at Pocono, and we think we have a chance to win three in a row."
Keselowski, the defending series champion, has yet to win a race this season. He jumped from 12th to eighth in points following his second-place run at Watkins Glen. Keselowski, who hails from nearby Rochester Hills, Mich., has not won a Sprint Cup event at his home track. He finished second here one year ago and third in August 2011.
"I would rather have a win or two and be a wild card than finish seventh or eighth and squeak my way in without any wins, because the momentum of a win and the confidence it instills in yourself and the fear that it puts in your competition is more than worth it," Keselowski said. "I feel really good about the tracks coming up prior to the Chase."
Kurt Busch moved up two spots to 11th in the standings after his ninth-place finish at Watkins Glen. Busch trails Truex by two points. He has struggled at Michigan lately, finishing 30th or worse in the previous four races here.
Stewart now sits third in the wild card standings, but he will drop in the order after Michigan. Busch holds the fourth spot, followed by Jeff Gordon, Jamie McMurray and Logano.
Points leader Jimmie Johnson became the first driver to clinch a spot in the Chase after Watkins Glen. Johnson presently holds a 75-point advantage. He is the only driver who has made the Chase each year since the playoff format for NASCAR's top series began in 2004.
Second-place Clint Bowyer and third-place Carl Edwards have an opportunity to clinch their positions in the Chase at Michigan.
Forty-four teams are on the preliminary entry list for Sunday's Pure Michigan 400.
Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup. Date: Sunday, Aug. 18. Race: Pure Michigan 400. Site: Michigan International Speedway. Track: 2-mile oval. Start time: 1 p.m. ET. Laps: 200. Miles: 400. 2012 Winner: Greg Biffle. Television: ESPN. Radio: Motor Racing Network (MRN)/SIRIUS NASCAR Radio.