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Published: Monday, 8/19/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

NASCAR

Driver carousel leaves MIS

Busch offers swirl; Martin replaces Stewart for season

BY RACHEL LENZI
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Joey Logano celebrates his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win Sunday in the Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn. That boosted his chances of making the Chase. Joey Logano celebrates his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win Sunday in the Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn. That boosted his chances of making the Chase.
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BROOKLYN, Mich. — Joey Logano stirred up the chase for the Chase.

With his win Sunday in the Pure Michigan 400, the 23-year-old put himself in contention for a wild-card spot in NASCAR’s Chase for the Championship.

Logano is 13th in the Sprint Cup points standings entering Saturday’s Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway and one of four drivers between 11th and 15th place with at least one win, joining Kasey Kahne, Martin Truex, Jr., and Ryan Newman. The top 10 drivers in the points standings and two drivers with the most points combined with the most race wins qualify for the Chase, which begins Sept. 15.

But Logano’s first win after an up-and-down season in his first year with Detroit-based Penske Racing became one of several storylines to come out of Michigan International Speedway.

Five things to take away from Pure Michigan 400 weekend:

IT’S SILLY SEASON: NASCAR has its own hot-stove season, a period of time in which speculation on driver movement abounds. Less than eight hours after Logano won at MIS, Fox Sports reported that Kurt Busch received an offer to join Stewart-Haas Racing for the 2014 season, as the team plans to field a fourth Sprint Cup car.

Busch finished third in the Pure Michigan 400 on Sunday and currently drives for Denver-based Furniture Row Racing.

“We're 23 races in, and we’ve got three to go to get in the Chase,” said Busch, who is ninth in the points standings. “It’s an amazing feeling to be in position right now, have a group of guys from Denver, Colo., in the Chase right now. That’s what we have to do: Make sure when the door closes, the music stops, that we got a place.”

Jeff Gordon stops on pit road during the Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway. Jeff Gordon stops on pit road during the Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway.
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STEWART’S STATUS: Meanwhile, Stewart-Haas has filled another seat: That of team owner Tony Stewart.

Stewart-Haas Racing announced Monday that Stewart will miss the remainder of the season after he broke his leg this month in a sprint car accident in Iowa. Veteran driver Mark Martin will drive for Stewart in the No. 14 Chevrolet in 12 of the final 13 races this season, with Austin Dillon driving it in October at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.

“The team is in very good hands with Mark Martin and Austin Dillon,” Stewart said in a release. “Mark is someone I’ve looked up to my entire career, and I have a tremendous amount of respect for him. Austin is a great young talent, and he showed that Sunday at Michigan.

“This isn’t a situation anyone wanted, but we’re going to make the best of it.”

KEEP TALKING: Never underestimate the candor of NASCAR’s personalities. A universal truth of NASCAR is that few high-profile drivers will shy away from microphones, video cameras, and digital audio recorders. Such was the case Friday when a crowd of media members surrounded Martin after his qualifying run at MIS, and Martin addressed rumors that he’d been in contact about the possibility of driving for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing in 2014 and the possibility of driving for Stewart-Haas.

There aren’t a lot of restrictions on Sprint Cup drivers, who typically end impromptu media sessions trackside on their own terms, not on the terms of a handler or organizational representative.

JOHNSON’S WOES CONTINUE: Jimmie Johnson is officially cursed at MIS. He’s 0 for 24 at the track, and in his last three races in the Irish Hills, he’s either run out of gas, cut a tire, or had mechanical problems — after finishing fifth in the Quicken Loans 400 in June of 2012.

“It’s going to make it all the sweeter when we are able to win,” Johnson told reporters in the garage.

THE REPAVE: It is nearly two years since the 2-mile superspeedway was repaved. More drivers have become receptive to the track now that it’s cured and faded and competition grooves have widened.

“It just takes time to be able to burn a track in,” said Kevin Harvick, who finished second. “It just takes time to be able to burn a track in, obviously. A winter won't hurt anything. It’s still very fast. The cars were really fast this weekend. I think the groove definitely widened out the opposite way than it normally does. It got wider going to the bottom.”

Tire issues, however, plagued some drivers. Goodyear Racing noted on its Twitter account (@GoodyearRacing) that the right front tires became problematic as the race wore on.

Contact Rachel Lenzi at: rlenzi@theblade.com, 419-724-6510, or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.



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