Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Pure Michigan 400 at MIS Preview

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series teams are revving up for the Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway on Sunday, August 13th at 3 pm ET. Coverage begins at 2:30 pm ET on NBC Sports Network, MRN, and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Drivers will race 400 miles over 200 laps with Stage 1 ending on lap 60, Stage 2 on lap 120, and the last Stage ending on the last lap 200.

What to Watch for – Kyle Larson goes for his third straight Michigan win.

Martin Truex Jr. attempts to earn a second consecutive victory and add to his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series-high four wins.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. needs a win to get into the playoffs and has triumphed twice at Michigan.

Kurt Busch and Matt Kenseth lead active drivers with three Michigan victories.

Brad Keselowski tries to get his first checkered at his home track.

Daniel Suarez can build on his career-best third-place finish from last weekend at Watkins Glen.

Short Strokes: Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne will start the Pure Michigan 400 in backup cars after both were involved in separate incidents during the two practices on Saturday at Michigan International Speedway.

Truex Wins Series-Best Fourth Race

Saving fuel in the closing laps, Martin Truex Jr. passed Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney, who had to pit for gas, to win the I Love New York 355 at Watkins Glen International – his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series-high fourth victory of the season.

Truex leads second-place Kyle Busch by 116 points in the series standings. He boasts a series-high 34 playoff points, 18 more than Jimmie Johnson’s 16. If Truex completes the regular season as the points leader, he’ll gain an additional 15 playoff points.

The No. 78 Furniture Row Racing driver’s four wins to match his previous career-high total set last season. His nine top-fives in 2017 are the most he’s ever accumulated in a single campaign.

Truex also leads the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in top-tens (15), stage wins (14), average start (7.0), average running position (7.9), driver rating (113.9), fastest laps run (760) and laps led (1,315, 22.2%).

He’ll try to keep his dream season going in Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan. He claims five top-fives and eight top-tens in 23 career starts at the two-mile track. He finished sixth in the June race there after leading 62 laps. 

Can Michigan be the Site of Earnhardt Jr.’s first win?

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is in playoff trouble. He hasn’t finished better than 12th since his sixth-place showing at Sonoma and needs a win to make the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.

Michigan might be his best bet of the remaining four tracks (Bristol, Darlington, Richmond) to reach Victory Lane. In 35 career starts at the two-mile track, he has two wins, eight top-fives, 15 top-tens and a 15.6 average finish.

Still, if Earnhardt can’t pull off the victory at Michigan, he has recorded a triumph at Bristol and three wins at Richmond in the past.

Larson Goes for Third-Straight Michigan Win

Kyle Larson seems to have Michigan International Speedway figured out. He’s won the last two races and boasts three consecutive top-three showings at the two-mile track.

Larson could use a strong performance in the Pure Michigan 400. He fell to third in the points standings after Watkins Glen and now trails leader Martin Truex Jr. by 122 markers. He hasn’t finished better than 23rd in his last three races, which were preceded by consecutive runner-up showings at Kentucky and New Hampshire.

The No. 42 Chevrolet driver led a race-high 96 laps on his way to the checkered flag at Michigan in June.

Four Races Remain Until Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs

A mere four races remain for winless drivers to capture one of the three remaining playoff berths.

The following drivers would be in the playoffs if the season ended today: Martin Truex Jr. (four wins, 34 playoff points), Jimmie Johnson (three, 16), Kyle Larson (two, 13), Brad Keselowski (two, 13), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (two, 10), Kyle Busch (one, 14), Kevin Harvick (one, eight), Ryan Blaney (one, eight), Denny Hamlin (one, seven), Ryan Newman (one, five), Kasey Kahne (one, five), Austin Dillon (one, five), Chase Elliott (39 points above Clint Bowyer on the cutoff line, two playoff points), Jamie McMurray (+34, 0),  Matt Kenseth (+28, 2).

The driver currently outside the playoffs with the best shot to get in on points is Bowyer (28 points below Kenseth on the cutoff line, one playoff point).

Joey Logano – who’s made the Championship 4 in two of the last three seasons – finds himself 95 points behind Kenseth and virtually needs to win to make the playoffs. He has two victories each at Michigan, Bristol and Richmond. His April win at Richmond did not earn him a playoff berth because it was encumbered for a rear suspension violation.

Michigan: Earnhardt Jr., Kenseth, Logano

Bristol: Kenseth, Earnhardt Jr., Logano

Darlington: Kenseth

Richmond: Bowyer, Earnhardt Jr., Kenseth, Logano

Michigan Men: Keselowski, Jones Return to Wolverine State

If Michigan Football Head Coach Jim Harbaugh were involved in NASCAR, he’d definitely pull some of his wild recruiting tactics on Great Lakes State natives Brad Keselowski and Erik Jones.

Keselowski, the 2012 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion from Rochester Hills, has never won at his home track. Jones, a 21-year-old NASCAR Next alum for Byron, will make just his second career start at Michigan.

In 16 starts at his home track, Keselowski claims five top-fives, eight top-tens, and a 12.6 average finish. Six of his top-tens have come in his last seven Michigan starts.

Jones placed 13th in his lone Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start at Michigan earlier this season.

Suárez Earns Career-Best Third-Place Finish

Daniel Suárez notched a career-best third-place finish and earned his first stage win at Watkins Glen. The No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing driver has hit his stride lately with four consecutive top-ten finishes.

Suárez, an alumnus of the NASCAR Next and Drive for Diversity programs, leads second-place Erik Jones in the Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings by 17 points.

The 2016 XFINITY Series champion ranks 15th in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series standings on the strength of eight top-tens.

NASCAR Next = NASCAR Now

With the announcement that William Byron will inherit the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet next season, that brings the total number of NASCAR Next alumni in 2017 or 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series rides to ten.

Below is the list of NASCAR Next alumni who have made a start in the series in 2017 or are scheduled to jump in a Monster Energy Series car in 2018 (in alphabetical order):

Ryan Blaney

Alex Bowman

William Byron

Matt DiBenedetto

Chase Elliott

Gray Gaulding

Erik Jones

Corey LaJoie

Kyle Larson

Daniel Suarez  

Also Noteworthy…

Michigan Heritage Trophy Goes To Winning Manufacturer: The Michigan Heritage trophy is a recognition and celebration of the automobile and its importance to the race track and manufacturers competing in NASCAR. The trophy is presented to the winning manufacturer in each Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Michigan International Speedway. As part of the presentation, each contending manufacturer, and MIS, committed $10,000 to be given to a youth-focused science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)-related charity in Michigan.

Final Week Of Kids Drive NASCAR: There’s nothing like the NASCAR experience for kids and families. Kids’ Takeovers will continue at both MIS and Mid-Ohio, with kids taking over positions like flag wavers, pit reporters, pre-race VIPs and more. The Kids vs Drivers challenges enter into the final week at Michigan and Mid-Ohio. Parents and kids can upload their challenges on their social media accounts or at AccelerationNation.com/KidsvsDrivers and use #KidsDriveNASCAR and #Promotion.

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