A Place in the Chase: Momentum toward Miami builds
Just four races remain before the Chase contenders’ field is set for Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Nov. 20-22. At Race 23 (of 36) at Michigan, Tony Stewart merely needs to start the race to become the first owner-driver ever to earn a berth in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, to be crowned Nov. 22 in Miami.
“We keep the eye on the prize at the end of the year,” said Stewart, who is looking to join Alan Kulwicki as the only owner/driver to win a Championship when it’s crowned at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 22. “And those 10 bonus points [for winning at Watkins Glen] could be a big factor at the end.”
Other storylines to watch at Michigan include Juan Pablo Montoya’s continued climb up the points ranks, Mark Martin seeking his series-leading fifth win of the season—which would make for back-to-back wins at Michigan—and Dale Earnhardt Jr. returning to the track where he last won.
If the Chase were to start after 22 races rather than 26, fan-favorite Martin would be the leader based on his four Ws through mid-August. He also had six Top 5 finishes and 11 Top 10 finishes, to rank 11th in the Championship points standings.
“I think about Michigan and I think: ‘Ahhhhh, that will be fun’,” Martin said in the days leading up to the Carfax 400. “It’s always been a great race track, and our car ran really well up there for the first race.”
Martin, of course, is not the only driver with his eye on a Championship come Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 22. With his sixth-place finish at Watkins Glen Aug. 10, Montoya moved up to 7th in the Championship points standings—of which the Top 12 make the Chase “playoffs”—and finds himself among a star-studded field of contenders for the Nov. 22 Sprint Cup Championship in Miami (click here for tickets). With nine Top 12 finishes in his last 10 races, Montoya is on fire in his attempt to secure a berth in the Chase.
Two-time Sprint Cup Champion Stewart, meanwhile, needs only to start the race at Michigan to clinch a spot in NASCAR’s Chase for the Championship. And after winning on the road course at Watkins Glen, he enjoys a multitude of racing options at Michigan.
“You can help yourself out as a driver by moving around on the race track,” he said pre-Michigan. “[The track] does give you that flexibility as a driver to not be just stuck with whatever your balance is. You can search around and try to find a spot that’s better for it.”
On the subject of good spots, there are others who can move toward locking up a Chase spot prior to the Sept. 12 cut-down day at Richmond. Any driver leaving Michigan 586 points or more ahead of the 13th-place driver can clinch a spot in the 10-race Championship shootout, which culminates at Homestead-Miami Speedway during Ford Championship Weekend Nov. 20-22.
Returning to the track where he experienced his most recent win, Earnhardt Jr. will be making his 350th Sprint Cup Series start. His first trip to Victory Lane at Michigan came in June 2008 to break a 76-race winless streak. The win was Earnhardt’s first with Hendrick Motorsports.
"I enjoy racing at Michigan, and we seem to run pretty well there,” said Junior. “It's a big track, and there are multiple grooves to run. If one line doesn't work, then you can move around the track. We had a good car last time out, so hopefully we improve on that."
Just four races remain before the Chase for the Championship begins, with the Champion to be crowned at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 22. And the BEST seats are available NOW for Ford Championship Weekend, featuring the series-crowning Championship finales of all three of NASCAR’s top circuits: the Camping World Truck Series (Friday), Nationwide Series (Nov. 21) and Sprint Cup Series (Sunday). For Friday night’s Truck Championship, all kids 12 and under will be admitted FREE; on Saturday for the Nationwide Championship, all kids 12 and under are just $15; and for Sunday’s Sprint Cup Championship, adult tickets start at just $55. Click here to view great seats available for each race.