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This Week in Auto Racing June 15 - 17
By Chris Symeon, Motorsports Editor
Brooklyn, MI (Sports Network) - The NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series are running at Michigan International Speedway this Father's Day weekend. The IndyCar Series will be at The Milwaukee Mile.
Sprint Cup Series
Quicken Loans 400 - Michigan International Speedway - Brooklyn, Mich.
After finishing third in last Sunday's race at Pocono Raceway, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is hoping his momentum continues this weekend at Michigan International Speedway.
Michigan has perhaps been Earnhardt's best racetrack since he joined Hendrick Motorsports for the start of the 2008 season. In fact, it's the only track on the Sprint Cup Series schedule where he's won a race in the past seven years. Earnhardt picked up his first victory with Hendrick in the June '08 event at Michigan, but it took him 144 races to get back into victory lane when he won here one year ago.
Richmond is the last track other than Michigan where Earnhardt has won. He claimed the victory there in the spring of 2006.
Earnhardt's latest winless streak now stands at 33 races. He started this season by finishing seventh or better, including second-place runs at Daytona and California, in the first five races. But it's been a bit of roller-coaster ride for him since then. Earnhardt finished a season-worst 39th in last month's race at Charlotte after suffering engine failure in the late going.
"We are going (to Michigan) with a lot more confidence, because we ran well there last year," Earnhardt said. "I looked through the notes from last year, and we didn't unload perfect. We had to work to get it right. You don't go in with confidence that you are going to go there, and it will be perfect. You have the confidence to know that we will get it dialed in."
When the series competed at Michigan in June 2012, it was the first time on the track's new pavement. The repaving began after the August 2011 race and concluded in November, giving the asphalt enough time to settle and cure during the winter months. The new surface on this 2-mile track produced record speeds. Marcos Ambrose won the pole at Michigan one year ago when he easily shattered the track qualifying record with a lap at 203.241 mph. Forty drivers in that qualifying session posted a faster speed than the previous track record of 194.232 mph, set by Ryan Newman in 2005. Nineteen drivers topped 200 mph.
However, teams were faced with a huge tire issue in the days leading up to the race. Several teams experienced tire blistering during Friday's practice session as well as on the extra day of practice on Thursday. NASCAR and Goodyear made the decision to use a tougher left-side tire for the race. The higher than expected speeds at Michigan caused significantly higher left-side tire temperatures and therefore blistering.
An additional practice was held the day before the race. Teams had 75 minutes to familiarize themselves with the new tires and make further adjustments to their race setups. Earnhardt Jr. was one of those drivers who was limited on his practice time due to engine concerns. He complained that his car wasn't as good as he wanted it to be after completing just 26 laps in the last practice.
But Earnhardt put on a dominating performance in the 400-mile event. He led a total of 95 laps and crossed the finish line ahead of his closest competitor, Tony Stewart, by more than 5 seconds for his 19th career Sprint Cup victory.
Right now, Earnhardt sits fourth in the point standings. He moved up two positions after his top-five run at Pocono.
"We have been carrying momentum for a good solid year now," he said. "We are alright, and we know what we need to do."
Earnhardt trails leader and Hendrick teammate Jimmie Johnson by 82 points. Johnson claimed his third win of the season at Pocono, placing him in a tie with Matt Kenseth for most victories in the series this year.
Michigan is one of five tracks on the current Sprint Cup schedule where Johnson has yet to win. Chicagoland, Homestead, Kentucky and Watkins Glen are the others.
Last June at Michigan, Johnson nearly ran out of gas but managed to pull off a fifth-place finish. But that was followed by a 27th-place result in August due to engine failure just before the finish.
"The Michigan track surface has had summer and winter on it, and we'll see how much grip is just in the surface," Johnson said. "I would assume we'll go as fast as we did (last year) if not faster, and with the flatter track, I think the Gen-6 (new Sprint Cup race car) will outperform the Gen-5. The question really comes down to how much grip is still in the asphalt. I would assume it's going to be high.
"On fresh repaves, the grip is always at its highest. I'm not exactly sure how that will play out, but I'm happy that a summer and a winter have been on the track. It will make the racing wider for us, and that's what we're all hoping for. We've had weird things happen at Michigan, but one of these times it (a win) will happen for us. I hope it's this year."
Greg Biffle won the most recent Sprint Cup race at Michigan last August. Biffle is coming off a season-best second-place finish at Pocono. He is now 10th in points.
"I couldn't be happier coming off the run at Pocono going into Michigan," Biffle said. "We finished fourth the first race and got a win there last year at Michigan. We are working hard on our cars, trying to get them better, but we still have a little work to do.
"Michigan is one of my favorite tracks. It's a big fast place and has lots of room to race. We can get strung out a bit, but there is always something going on, someone is always catching someone else. There is always a lot of strategy going on. Fuel mileage and pit stops are very important. I've had a lot of success at Michigan in the past, and I think this will be a good weekend for us."
Forty-four teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Quicken Loans 400. A.J. Allmendinger and Bobby Labonte will switch rides for this race. Allmendinger is scheduled to drive the No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing Toyota, while Labonte is slated for a ride in the No. 51 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet.
Alliance Truck Parts 250 - Michigan International Speedway - Brooklyn, Mich.
After running its first "stand alone" race of the season last Sunday at Iowa Speedway, an event delayed one day due to rain, the Nationwide Series rejoins the Sprint Cup Series this weekend at Michigan International Speedway.
A record could be set in Nationwide at Michigan. Austin Dillon currently has three consecutive poles. If he wins Saturday's qualifying for the 250-mile race at this track, he will become the first driver in series history that claimed four poles in a row.
Dillon, the 23-year-old grandson of NASCAR multi-team owner Richard Childress, won the pole for last year's Nationwide race at Michigan with a new track qualifying record of 190.375 mph. He also earned the pole for the truck race here in 2010. Dillon is in his second full season in Nationwide, driving the No. 3 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing.
"We're out here trying to break records and create a name for ourselves," Dillon said. "If we can go out there and break that six-way tie that it is right now in the Nationwide Series for poles it would be amazing. I've got the pole at Michigan actually twice. We're going to a track where I'm very capable of setting the pole. We've got (Earnhardt-Childress Racing) engines, some great horsepower this year. Hopefully we can get it done this weekend."
Dillon put on a dominating performance at Iowa, leading 207 of 250 laps. Trevor Bayne passed him for the lead with 12 laps to go and went on to score his second career win in the series. Dillon finished second.
"Truthfully, I felt like that was the best car we've had all year long," Dillon said of his performance at Iowa. "If the Cup guys were there, I don't think the outcome would have been much different. I think we were going to lead laps either way. I've raced against the Cup guys in a bunch of races this year. There's only been really one that's changed the outcome, and that's Kyle Busch. He's been tough. His car has been dominant at a bunch of these races."
Regan Smith comes to Michigan with a 23-point lead over Sam Hornish Jr. Justin Allgaier is 44 points behind, while Dillon trails by 46.
Busch, Joey Logano, and Paul Menard are those Sprint Cup regulars competing in this race. Logano won at Michigan one year ago. Busch has scored six wins in 12 Nationwide races this season. He did not compete at Talladega and Iowa.
Thirty-nine teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Alliance Truck Parts 250.
IZOD INDYCAR SERIES
Milwaukee IndyFest - The Milwaukee Mile - West Allis, Wis.
Ryan Hunter-Reay is probably looking forward to this weekend's IndyCar Series race at The Milwaukee Mile more so than any other driver.
Hunter-Reay's summer push for the 2012 series championship began at Milwaukee. After winning at this 1-mile oval one year ago, he went on to score victories in the next two races -- Iowa and Toronto. He also won later in the season on the streets of Baltimore. Hunter-Reay edged Will Power for the title by just three points.
Last Saturday, Hunter-Reay gave his season a much-needed boost with a second- place finish at Texas. Right now, Helio Castroneves holds a 22-point lead over Marco Andretti, while Hunter-Reay trails by 27.
At this point of the season last year, Hunter-Reay was seventh in the standings and trailed then leader Power by 75 points. His win at Milwaukee moved him up to fourth in the rankings (-41).
Hunter-Reay has scored two victories in his seven races at Milwaukee. His first win here came in the 2004 Champ Car sanctioned race. He led all 250 laps in that event.
"There is no place like the Milwaukee Mile," Hunter-Reay said. "It is a hard place to get right, and when you do, it's so rewarding. It's been a place in my career that has meant a lot to me. I've had some pretty breakthrough performances in my career there, and I've also been on the other side of it where we just couldn't get it right and struggled. So I have a lot of respect for it for that reason.
"And I think if you ask any other Indy car driver out there, they'll say it's probably one of the most fun ovals you'll go to, and at the same time, one of the toughest to get right."
The Milwaukee Mile is the oldest operating motor speedway in the world. It has hosted auto racing events since 1903. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway began hosting races in 1911. In addition to IndyCar, Milwaukee has held open-wheel events in CART/Champ Car (1980-2003), USAC (1956-79) and AAA (1939-55).
IndyCar sanctioned races at Milwaukee began in 2004. This track was dropped from the series schedule in 2010 but rejoined the following year.
"We'll see a great race this weekend," Hunter-Reay said. "Milwaukee makes for some of the best racing we have in the series. I think you'll see this is one of the most action-packed races that we go to. Texas is a completely different configuration with the downforce and running that we do there, trying to pin that perfect down force. It makes the cars light, but you put on a good show."
Dario Franchitti and Tony Kanaan are those drivers who have scored multiple victories at Milwaukee. Franchitti won at this track in '04 and '11, and Kanaan took the checkered flag there in back-to-back years (2006-07).
Ryan Briscoe scored his maiden IndyCar win at Milwaukee in 2008. Briscoe was in his first season with Team Penske at the time. He is driving the No. 4 car for Panther Racing in this weekend's race.
Twenty-four teams are on the entry list for the Milwaukee IndyFest.
06/13 17:46:29 ET