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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup

6 Storylines for Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400

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If Bubba Wallace’s thrilling victory in Saturday’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Michigan International Speedway was any indication, Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400 ought to be a barnburner.

Wallace scored an emotional triumph in a four-way, last-lap shootout in the truck race and we very well could see similar drama when the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers do battle at MIS in the 23rd of 26 regular-season races.

Penske Power

So far the Team Penske Fords look like the cars to beat, as Brad Keselowski qualified on the pole and was fastest in Saturday’s final practice as well. His teammate, Joey Logano, qualified second and Ryan Blaney has been wicked fast all weekend in the Penske-affiliated Wood Brothers Racing Ford.

And there’s quite a subplot here: Keselowski, a Michigan native, desperately wants to win his first Cup race at his home track. And teammate Logano desperately needs to win to make the NASCAR playoffs. That could make for a tense afternoon.

Can Elliott break through?

Second-year driver Chase Elliott has competed in three Cup races here at MIS, finishing second in all three. Elliott will roll off from fifth place in the starting grid and he’s practiced well all weekend. With 63 career starts but no wins under his belt yet — and a razor-thin margin to stay playoff eligible — Elliott wants to win now.

Playoff implications

Drivers who’ve won races so far this year have filled 13 of the 16 Cup playoff spots already. Just 11 points separate the three drivers who are in the playoffs on points right now — Elliott, Jamie McMurray and Matt Kenseth.  And Clint Bowyer is just 28 points back of Kenseth.

A stumble by any of the three, or another first-time 2017 winner could drastically juggle the playoff standings with just three regular-season races left after Michigan. 

Earnhardt’s best shot?

Yes, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his massive fan base are both understandably unhappy with season so far. But Michigan might be his best chance at redemption. Earnhardt said he overdrove his qualifying lap on Friday, which means he’ll roll off 19th at the start.  Still, he was sixth in both practices on Saturday and should be competitive in the race. Who knows, maybe Earnhardt’s luck will finally turn in the right direction.

Truex keeps pressure on

With 34 playoff points already and another 15 set for when he win the regular-season points standings, Martin Truex Jr. is rapidly working his was way near a free pass to the championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November. Truex could well pick up another stage win or race win on Sunday. He was second fastest in the final Cup practice.

Larson goes for three-peat

In his still young Cup career, Kyle Larson has three race victories. The first one came in this race a year ago and the third one came at MIS in June. Larson, who will start ninth on Sunday, posted the fastest 10-consecutive lap average speed during the final Cup practice. And he’ll race in the A-Main at the Knoxville (Iowa) Nationals tonight.  Sunday at MIS, Larson will start ninth. Just don’t expect him to stay there for too long.

Tom Jensen

Tom Jensen is a veteran motorsports journalist. He spent 13 years with FOXSports.com, where he was Digital Content Manager. Previously, he was executive editor of NASCAR Scene and managing editor of National Speed Sport News. Jensen served as the president of the National Motorsports Press Association and is the group’s former Writer of the Year.