All three of NASCAR's national touring series are in action this weekend. The Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series compete at Michigan International Speedway, while the Nationwide Series runs at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for the first time.
Sprint Cup Series
Pure Michigan 400 - Michigan International Speedway - Brooklyn, Mich.
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.
Camping World Truck Series
Michigan National Guard 200 - Michigan Int'l Speedway - Brooklyn, Mich.
The Camping World Truck Series will join the Sprint Cup Series this weekend at Michigan International Speedway.
Ryan Blaney is coming off his second career truck win earlier this month at Pocono. Blaney, who is the 19-year-old son of NASCAR veteran Dave Blaney, moved from eighth to third in the point standings following his Pocono victory. He is 62 points behind leader Matt Crafton and 10 in back of second- place Jeb Burton.
"I'm so proud of my team performing the way they did a couple of weeks ago when we won at Pocono," Blaney said. "I can't wait to get on the track at Michigan and back that win up. Our team has come a long way since day one this year, and with that said, I'm confident we can run for this year's drivers' championship. But we have to take it one race at a time."
Blaney has yet to compete in a truck race at Michigan. In June, he finished second in a 200-mile ARCA Series event here after starting on the pole and leading 64 laps. Blaney is attempting to become the ninth consecutive different winner in a truck race at this two-mile oval.
Brendan Gaughan is the only driver entered in this race that has a previous truck victory at Michigan. Gaughan won here in 2003. There have been eight different winners at this track, beginning with Dennis Setzer's victory in 2005.
Joey Logano and Kyle Busch are those Sprint Cup regulars scheduled to compete in Saturday's 200-mile truck race. Logano is driving the No. 19 Ford for Brad Keselowski Racing, while Busch is behind the wheel of his No. 54 Toyota.
Thirty-one teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Michigan National Guard 200.
Nationwide Children's Hosp. 200 - Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course - Lexington, Ohio
Nationwide Series teams are now getting familiar with the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
The series is running at this 2.258-mile, 13-turn road course for the first time on Saturday, and teams practiced here throughout the day on Thursday. More practice is scheduled on Friday.
This will be the third and final road-course race for the series this season. Nationwide competed at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal from 2007-12 before coming to Mid-Ohio.
Penske Racing's No. 22 team is 2-0 on the road courses in Nationwide this year. When the series competed at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis two months ago., A.J. Allmendinger scored his first win in a NASCAR national touring series race, driving the No. 22 Ford for Penske. Brad Keselowski drove that car to victory in last Saturday's event at Watkins Glen International.
Allmendinger is scheduled to drive the No. 22 at Mid-Ohio.
"Clearly, the last time I drove the No. 22 Discount Tire Ford Mustang was pretty memorable," Allmendinger said. "Getting your first NASCAR Series win is always special, but to accomplish it with Mr. Penske meant the world to me. He has done so much for my career, and I'm glad that I could give him something in return. I hope we can have the same success this weekend in Mid-Ohio and bring him closer to the Nationwide owner's championship."
Allmendinger posted the quickest lap overall at 95.550 mph during Thursday's practice at Mid-Ohio. He has competed in numerous open-wheel events here in the past.
"It's been a few years since I've been to Mid-Ohio, and I think I'm one of the few drivers to have experience here," he said. "I was able to clinch the 2002 Barber Dodge Pro Series Championship here. To me, Mid-Ohio is one of the best natural road courses, but it's also a very tight and technical track."
Marcos Ambrose and Austin Dillon are those drivers who are attempting the Michigan/Mid-Ohio combo this weekend. Ambrose, a Sprint Cup Series regular and road-course expert, is driving the No. 9 Ford for Richard Petty Motorsports.
"The track is a lot of fun to drive," Ambrose said. "We're having fun out there. It's going to be a close race. A tough race because it's going to be hard to pass. There's a lot of tight corners."
Dillon is current points leader in Nationwide. He also is substituting for the injured Tony Stewart in the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet in Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Michigan.
"It's going to be a busy weekend," Dillon said. "I'm going to get a lot of experience and have some fun. I've been looking forward to it all week. We had a really good first practice. We're making some good progress that we need for our road-course program."
Just 18 points separate Dillon from fifth-place Brian Vickers, who recently was named the full-time driver of the No. 55 Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing in Sprint Cup next year. Sam Hornish Jr., who hails from nearby Defiance, Ohio, is only three points behind Dillon, while Regan Smith is five markers behind the leader. Elliott Sadler is fourth in the standings (-12).
Forty-one teams are on the entry list for the Nationwide Children's Hospital 200.