Dale Earnhardt Jr. checks out his car in the garage at MIS. Despite being two spots out of the Chase, he s not too worried.
Luke Brodbeck / AP Enlarge
BROOKLYN, Mich. - It will be difficult to keep track of all the subplots and scenarios that are expected to play out here today as the 3M Performance 400 Nextel Cup race takes place at Michigan International Speedway.
As the series moves closer to the lucrative season-ending Chase for the Nextel Cup, everybody has an agenda.
The Cup drivers accumulate points throughout the bulk of the season, and then the top 12 drivers in points battle it out over the final 10 races for the championship. When today's race is in the books, only three races will remain before the Chase, so the dogfights are under way.
"When you've got a group of guys who are hanging around that break-off point, the strategies and the approaches various teams use can get pretty interesting," said Kurt Busch, who currently occupies the 12th and final seat in this 180 mph game of musical chairs.
"I know I need to improve my position and try and move up, but at the same time there are a number of guys gunning for me and trying to work their way into that top 12. It should make for a real interesting race, with all of that going on within the race itself."
Busch has Penske Racing teammate Ryan Newman on his heels in 13th place, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. is breathing down both of their necks in 14th place. Greg Biffle is right behind Earnhardt in 15th. He sits 100 points in arrears compared to Busch entering today's race, but Earnhardt said he's not going to despair.
"I'm sure some people are gonna write us off for the Chase, but I think it's foolish to do so," Earnhardt said.
Although he has yet to win at MIS in 16 races, Earnhardt was third here in last year's June race and has been on the pole for a pair of Cup races. On the down side - he struggled in qualifying Friday, then made an equipment change that will move him to the back of today's starting grid.
"The last few months, I can't believe how bad our luck has been because we've run up front every week," said Earnhardt, who blew an engine last week at Watkins Glen and finished 42nd.
"It feels like we're like your favorite CD but with a scratch in it. It feels good and sounds great until we hit the scratch, and then the song stops before it's done. If we ever get that disc to play through to the end, we'll be pretty ... happy. I hate it for our fans that are probably aching as much as we are to celebrate a win."
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