Brooklyn, MI (SportsNetwork.com) - All three of NASCAR's national touring series are in action this weekend. Sprint Cup and Nationwide are racing at Michigan International Speedway, and Camping World Truck is at Gateway Motorsports Park.
Sprint Cup Series
Quicken Loans 400 - Michigan International Speedway - Brooklyn, Michigan
After spending the past seven years competing in the Sprint Cup Series full- time, Juan Pablo Montoya is set to make his first start of the season as well as his debut for Team Penske in the series this weekend at Michigan International Speedway.
Montoya is now a full-time competitor in the Verizon IndyCar Series this season but is scheduled to drive the No. 12 Ford for Penske in Sunday's 400- mile Sprint Cup race at Michigan and in the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway the last weekend in July.
Driving the No. 2 car for Penske, Montoya is currently seventh in the IndyCar point standings (147 points behind leader and teammate Will Power). Montoya finished a season-best third in last Saturday night's IndyCar race at Texas.
"It's really exciting to be back, especially with Team Penske in the SKF [sponsored] Ford," Montoya said of his return to Sprint Cup. "I only had one day of testing in Nashville a little bit before the Indianapolis 500, so it's been a while. In Nashville, I went out and it took me probably five laps to really get comfortable in the car."
On Friday, Montoya placed 37th in opening practice for Sprint Cup at Michigan. His best lap was clocked at 196.603 mph. Kasey Kahne had the fastest lap at 203.332 mph, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr., who won his second race of the season this past Sunday at Pocono.
"Our goal here [at Michigan] is that we'll take it as it comes this weekend, but the way we really look at it, I think, is that it's a really good preparation for the Brickyard," Montoya said. "Working with Greg Erwin, he's a really experienced crew chief. He's won races and knows what it takes to get it done. If we do a good job here and understand what I want out of the car, then going to the Brickyard, we might be looking really strong. And that would be fun."
When Montoya drove for Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates/Earnhardt Ganassi Racing from 2007-13, he made 14 starts at Michigan. His best finish here was sixth, which came in June 2009.
During his Sprint Cup career, Montoya has recorded two wins (Sonoma, California in 2007 and Watkins Glen, New York in 2010.), 24 top-five finishes, 59 top-10s and nine poles in 253 starts. He made the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship in 2009.
There's one factor that might play into Montoya's hands at Michigan -- speed. The 38-year-old Colombian has become quite used to very high speeds on oval tracks in IndyCar competition, where cars average well over 200 mph.
"With my background right now in open-wheel, coming here is going to play into my hands a little bit, because this is a really fast track," he said. "This is a track where you're using the throttle a lot, and you do that a lot in the Indy cars. I always run well here and qualify really well here. Last year, I qualified sixth and tenth in the Ganassi cars."
At Michigan and Indianapolis, Montoya will team with Joey Logano, who has already won two races this season, and 2012 Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski, who has a victory this year as well. Logano won the most recent race at Michigan 10 months ago. His victory here came in his first season as driver of the No. 22 Ford for Penske. The win also helped him get into the Chase for the first time in his career.
"It was huge. It was a big deal for sure," Logano said. "I wanted to win so badly, and I felt we were close a bunch of times before that. I wanted to prove to [team owner] Roger [Penske] and [crew chief] Todd [Gordon] and the guys on the team that they made the right decision in bringing me over here. It also proved to me that I could do it."
Keselowski, who hails from Rochester Hills, Michigan, has yet to win a Sprint Cup race at his home track. His best finish in nine starts here is second, which occurred in August 2012. Keselowski won back-to-back Nationwide races at this 2-mile oval from 2009-10.
"I remember that after I won a Nationwide race there, just literally locking myself in the bedroom of my motor home after the race and sitting at the edge of the bed and thinking about how awesome that was and what it meant to me and all those things, and that was a Nationwide race, that wasn't a Cup race," Keselowski said. "I can only imagine what it would mean to me at the Cup level. I can tell you it wouldn't be like any other win."
Forty-four teams are on the entry list for the Quicken Loans 400.
Ollie's Bargain Outlet - Michigan International Speedway - Brooklyn, Michigan
After taking last weekend off, the Nationwide Series returns to action on Saturday at Michigan International Speedway.
Michigan begins an 18-race stretch on the 2014 Nationwide schedule. The series will compete each week until the middle of October.
Regan Smith currently holds a four-point lead over Elliott Sadler. Two weeks ago at Dover, Smith finished 10th, while Sadler placed one spot ahead of him in ninth. Both drivers have one win each this season.
"It was good to have a weekend to take a breath before we hit this long summer stretch," Smith said. "We've run well, but we can do better, and the competition is fierce this year. Every race is going to matter before it's all said and done. So it's important we get all we can every weekend."
Smith won last year's Nationwide race at Michigan. Gambling on fuel in the late stages, Smith led the final 14 laps en route to his second win of the 2013 season and third overall in Nationwide competition.
"Heading back there as the defending race winner gives you a lot of confidence," he said. "It's a wide track with a lot options as far as what line you want to run. Typically, the race will go green, so pit strategy will definitely come into play, making it anybody's race to win."
In nine Nationwide at Michigan, Sadler has scored two top-five finishes and six top-10s.
"Michigan can be a very fun track to race at because we have so many opportunities to pass, and you can carry your speed throughout the entire racetrack," Sadler said. "Our team has been working really well together this season, and hopefully we can grab the points lead this weekend."
Rookie Chase Elliott, who is Smith's teammate at JR Motorsports, is 22 points out of the lead. This will be the first time Elliott competes in a NASCAR national touring series race at Michigan. He has two Nationwide wins to his credit this season.
"It will be a busy few months, but I'm personally looking forward to being able to race every weekend without the breaks in between," Elliott said. "For me, getting into a consistent rhythm is extremely important. With this stretch, I'll be able to find my groove."
Trevor Bayne moved to within 27 points of Smith after finishing a season-best second at Dover. Rookie Ty Dillon trails by 34 points.
Forty-three teams are on the entry list for the Ollie's Bargain Outlet 250. Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Larson, Joey Logano and Paul Menard are those Sprint Cup Series regulars scheduled to compete in this race. Sam Hornish Jr. is expected to make his third Nationwide start of the season at Michigan. Hornish won last month's race at Iowa.
Camping World Truck Series
Drivin' for Linemen 200 - Gateway Motorsports Park - Madison, Illinois
The Camping World Truck Series returns to Gateway Motorsports Park, located just outside of St. Louis, for the first time in four years.
From 1998-2010, the series competed at this track, which was originally named Gateway International Raceway, once each season. The Nationwide Series also raced here from 1997-2010.
Matt Crafton, the defending truck champion and current points leader, has competed in 10 previous truck races at Gateway. Crafton's best finish here is fifth, which came in the most recent event four years ago. The driver of the No. 88 ThorSport Racing Toyota won last week's race at Texas. It was his second victory of the season.
"At least we've been there and we have a pretty good notebook of setups for Gateway," Crafton said, "We've been there quite a bit in the past, and we're hoping that gives us a little bit of a leg up on the competition."
Gateway is a 1.25-mile, egg-shaped oval that is similar to Darlington. This track has 11 degrees of banking in turns 1 and 2 and 9 degrees in turns 3 and 4.
"To me, Gateway races a lot like Phoenix -- the old Phoenix -- and everyone knows how I feel about that place," Crafton noted. "Turns 1 and 2 [at Gateway] are quite a bit tighter, kind of like Darlington, but 3 and 4 are really like Phoenix."
Crafton presently holds an 11-point lead over second-place and teammate Johnny Sauter.
Ron Hornaday Jr., the four-time truck champion, is the only driver competing in this race that has won here in the past. Hornaday is third in the point standings (-23).
"I'm excited to get back to Gateway for the first time since 2010," Hornaday said. "We've had some success here in the past, especially back in 2008 when we won this race."
Thirty-two teams are on the entry list for the Drivin' for Linemen 200.