Three things to watch in Sunday’s NASCAR Pure Michigan 400 – Detroit Free Press
A look at the top finishes in Brooklyn, Mich., for the Rochester Hills native. Video by Ryan Ford/DFP
With the regular season winding down, the excitement to see which drivers sneak into the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs continues to build. The Pure Michigan 400 should help boost that excitement, as NASCAR makes its final stop in 2017 at Michigan International Speedway today.
Here are three things to know about the race.
1. More than playoff pressure: Clint Bowyer feels the pressure with only four races left before the playoffs begin.
Bowyer and his No. 14 Ford Fusion sit in 17th place, just one spot and 28 standings points behind Matt Kenseth. He must break into the top 16 over the next three weeks to earn a postseason berth.
There could be added pressure today for Bowyer, who will be racing about 90 minutes from Ford’s headquarters in nearby Dearborn.
“Michigan is a lot of fun,” Bowyer told reporters Friday. “Michigan is a very important race track. A lot of bragging rights are on the line with all the manufacturers being right here — this track being in their back yard.
“We all know that. We all feel that. We all went to Ford Day (on Thursday), and I know the competitors had their day (during the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 unveiling) and their announcement yesterday.”
It’s not just the Ford board members and engineers hoping Bowyer performs well. He wants to win for the factory workers watching, too.
“You meet all those employees at Ford, and you see their families, their children and everybody that they brought out — Edsel and his son, Henry,” Bowyer said. “It makes you want to win in their backyard and celebrate that victory with them.”
USA TODAY Sports’ Brant James looks ahead to some of the top story lines fans should keep an eye on at the Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway this Sunday.
Bowyer has four top-five finishes in 2017, including back-to-back seconds to round out June. He took 26th in the FireKeepers Casino 400 at MIS one week before that hot streak started.
Perhaps the Pure Michigan 400 could kickstart another hot streak for Bowyer, who has no doubt he’ll make it into the playoffs.
“You can’t worry about those points, you have go out and accumulate and do your job week in and week out,” he said. “If you do that, I feel like with the way we’re running, we can honestly get in two different ways. I think we can win in, and I think we can point our way in. I think both of those are definite doables for us right now.”
2. Frequent flyer: Kyle Larson and his No. 42 Chevrolet SS have won the last two Cup Series races in Michigan, but it might be challenging for him to get the three-peat today if he returns to the state worn out.
After Friday’s practice at MIS, Larson flew to Iowa to run in Saturday’s 5-Hour ENERGY Knoxville Nationals sprint car race. He’ll start in ninth.
Get an close-up look at the No. 8 Chevy Camaro that NASCAR star Jimmie Johnson drove to the Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit on Aug. 10, 2017.
Brandon Folsom, Special to Detroit Free Press
“I get to compete there and come back and go for three in a row here, so it’s a cool weekend for me, and I’m really excited for it,” he said.
Chip Ganassi Racing voiced its concerns about Larson racing twice in one weekend but ultimately gave the 25-year-old the OK to do it.
Larson plans to fly back to Michigan late Saturday night.
“It’s only a little over an hour flight, I think,” Larson said. “I probably don’t even get on the track until 8:30 or 9 a.m. on Saturday, so the logistics part of it isn’t that tricky. It’s not that stressful either.
“My morning on Sunday, I don’t even do anything until 11 a.m., so I’ll still be able to get plenty of sleep and be ready for Sunday. … I know my fans really appreciate it — all my sprint car fans and NASCAR fans, so Chip is a hero today and this weekend, so I appreciate it.”
3. Team Penske’s Peninsula: Only nine Cup Series drivers have won three or more time in Michigan. Joey Logano could join that crowd today.
Logano has seven top-seven finishes in Michigan, including wins in the 2013 Pure Michigan 400 and 2016 FireKeepers Casino 400.
In his No. 22 Ford Fusion, he took third place in the race here in June, doing so in a car he didn’t think wasn’t running as well as it should have.
“Michigan is always a lot of fun, particularly on restarts,” said Logano, who races for Team Penske. “There’s a lot to take advantage of. There’s a lot of opportunity that arises in those moments.
“That showed again in the spring when we were able to drive up to third with a car that wasn’t as good as a third-place car (should be).”
Logano sits in 18th place and 95 points out of playoff contention. It’s a big hurdle to overcome, but another big day at MIS and some strong finishes in the final three races could help get him into the postseason.
“We’ll try to be better this time,” he said. “Our car, to start off, has been substantially better than the last time we were here. We’ve made some good gains, and it looks like our team has got good speed, so we’re hoping to try and turn some things around here and get our third win here in Michigan.”