By Steve Mickey
Kyle Busch’s second place finish at Watkins Glen completed his remarkable climb to break into the top-30 in driver’s points that when coupled with his four wins on the season makes him eligible for the Chase. Of course, he has to remain in the top-30 over the next four races but for some drivers it made getting into the Chase a little more difficult.
If there are no more first time winners in the next four races and Busch remains in the top-30, there will be five spots available based on points. The four races remaining at Michigan, Bristol, Darlington and Richmond will provide those drivers still looking to secure their spot in the Chase four distinctively different race tracks each with its own unique layout.
This weekend at Michigan, drivers will compete on the giant 2-mile D-shaped oval that features 73 foot wide sweeping turns and 45 foot wide straightaways that easily promotes three and four wide racing. Restarts are especially exciting because as soon as the green flag waves to restart the action, the field spreads out sometimes up to five cars wide to try and get the preferred line going into turn one.
Because of its size that promotes long periods of green flag racing, races at Michigan often times comes down to fuel mileage. That will definitely not be anything new for the sport as the last two races at Pocono and Watkins Glen has been won by a driver that made a late race pass for the lead after the leader ran out of gas trying to stretch his fuel mileage.
Fuel mileage racing only adds to the pressure that those drivers trying to stay in the top-16 points will be facing when they roll into Michigan. Positions 12-16 are presently being held down by Jamie McMurray, Paul Menard, Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman and Clint Bowyer. Those five drivers are separated by only 23 points and with four races remaining there could easily be at least one first time winner that would boot the 16th place driver out of the Chase.
The slim margin that separates the five remaining Chase spots will go a long way in determining how those drives approach the next four races. A win would guarantee a spot for any of these five drivers but with each having so little of a cushion to fall back on in the points, rolling the dice such as trying to stretch fuel mileage might no longer be an option.
The following weeks at Bristol, Darlington and Richmond, the racing will get tighter and the tempers a little quicker as all three of these tracks always produces plenty of bent up sheet metal by the time the checkered flag waves. Protecting a position in the points can be extremely difficult at these three tracks because so many times a driver’s finishing position is determined by the actions of another driver.
PIT NOTES: Sprint Cup drivers met with NASCAR officials while at Watkins Glen to discuss the sanctioning body’s plans for the aero packages that were used earlier this season at Kentucky and Indianapolis. NASCAR told drivers that it will likely stick with the current aerodynamic package for the Chase but there would be a change in the aero package for the 2016 season. The low-downforce package that was used at Kentucky and that will also be used at Darlington with race-specific tires later this season will be used at most tracks next season. The high-drag package that was used at Indianapolis Motor Speedway will be used this weekend at Michigan and if it enhances the racing there it will be used next season at Pocono Raceway, Auto Club Speedway in California and Michigan. The racing at the restrictor plate tracks of Daytona and Talladega will not change as those two tracks have their own aero package.
Event: Pure Michigan 400
Track: Michigan International Speedway (2.0-mile D-shaped oval, 18o of banking in the turns)
Date: August 16, 2:00 pm
Defending Champion: Jeff Gordon