Kurt Busch leads the field at MIS near the middle of Monday's race, which was attended by 81,000 fans.
BROOKLYN, Mich. -- When the calendar reads August and the Sprint Cup Series visits Michigan International Speedway for the second time in the season, the focus is often more on the Chase than it is on the race.
The drivers are scrambling to put together enough points to qualify for the season-ending Chase for the Cup, where the Sprint Cup title is decided.
Two-time former Cup champion Tony Stewart left MIS Sunday in the same precarious position he was in when he arrived -- 10th in points, in the final designated Chase position.
Since only the top 10 in points make the Chase, plus two wild card drivers with the most wins from the next 10, the winless Stewart barely held his ground by finishing ninth in the Pure Michigan 400.
"I will be perfectly honest, at this point of the deal, if we are going to run this bad, it really doesn't matter whether we make the Chase or not," Stewart said.
"Because we are going to be occupying a spot in the Chase that somebody else that actually can run for a championship is going to be trying to take. Our stuff is so bad right now that we're wasting one of those top-12 spots right now."
Stewart's teammate Ryan Newman used a fifth-place finish to move up one position in the points, to seventh. He also put a little more breathing room between himself and the lower contenders.
"We gained on the guys behind us, too, and that is the other part of it," Newman said. "We're as far into the Chase right now as we were out last year, and we only have a few races left. We're in a good position. We'll try to get a good next few races, and then we'll have a better shot at the championship."
The points picture dimmed for Denny Hamlin, who won the June race here at MIS but has struggled since then. Hamlin started 13th and was running in the top 10 some 60 laps into the race, but he was beset with a variety of performance problems and finished 35th.
Kurt Busch slammed the wall late in the race and finished 34th, dropping him two positions in points to eighth. Paul Menard fell three places to 18th by finishing 26th in the race.
Greg Biffle’s crew changes tires on his car during a stop in yesterday’s Pure Michigan 400. Biffle had a tough day, finishing 20th, which leaves him 13th in overall points.
CHAMPIONSHIP TALK: As he took over sole possession of the points lead and locked up a position in the Chase with his victory Sunday at Michigan International Speedway, Kyle Busch made no effort to keep his game plan a secret.
Busch held off five-time Cup defending champion Jimmie Johnson on the final restart to win the Pure Michigan 400, and hopefully send Johnson a message.
"I think a lot of people are tired of seeing Jimmie win," Busch said in Victory Lane moments after winning the race. "We want to end his run.
"We've built ourselves into championship contenders this year. We weren't trying to make a statement here. Our intention is to try to win every single one of them."
CROWD CONTROL: According to officials from NASCAR, there were 81,000 fans on hand for Sunday's Pure Michigan 400 Sprint Cup race. The June Cup race here drew an announced crowd of 88,000
EDWARDS DISASTER: Carl Edwards started Sunday's race at MIS tied for the Sprint Cup points lead with Kyle Busch. After a disastrous few hours, Edwards dropped to fourth in points, 39 points behind Busch.
Edwards started 22nd in the field, but just 34 laps into the race his car was in the garage with the hood up while his crew scrambled to diagnose what was ailing the No. 99 Aflac Ford.
"Something broke," a bewildered Edwards said. "We're pushing the envelope with everything."
When Edwards finally emerged from the garage area, he was 28 laps down in the field. He pulled off the track late in the race when it was apparent he could not make up any more places, accepting his 36th-place finish.
NEW SURFACE: The track at MIS will be resurfaced for the 2012 racing season. Johnson said the new pavement will make the wide, two-mile oval even faster.
"You're going to have to bring your big-boy shoes to race around this thing once they repave it," Johnson said. "We run a really intense lap now, even in race trim, with a lot of throttle around this place. Depending on the tire they give us, you would assume we could come close to flat footing it next year."
MOTORSPORTS MONTH: Michigan governor Rick Snyder used Sunday's visit to MIS to announce by official proclamation that August is now "Motorsports Month in Michigan."
Snyder, the first sitting governor in more than a decade to visit the track for a Sprint Cup race, cited the estimated $300 million in economic impact the two summer weekends of NASCAR racing at MIS have for the state. The races attract about 60 percent of their fan base from outside Michigan.
PACE MAKER: That wasn't a Corvette or a Camaro or anything quite as sporty leading the field as the pace car Sunday. It was a Michigan-built Chevy Sonic LTZ, the only small car built in the U.S..
The Sonic, scheduled for an October launch into the market, is an economical subcompact available with a 1.4-liter turbo under the hood, and a six-speed manual transmission that is supposed to deliver 40 miles per gallon.
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