NASCAR Weekend preview: Kahne must have Sprint Cup win to earn Chase berth

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - JULY 27:  Kasey Kahne, driver of the #5 Time Warner Cable Chevrolet, participates in pre-race ceremonies for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Crown Royal Presents The John Wayne Walding 400 at the Brickyard Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 27, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – JULY 27: Kasey Kahne, driver of the #5 Time Warner Cable Chevrolet, participates in pre-race ceremonies for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Crown Royal Presents The John Wayne Walding 400 at the Brickyard Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 27, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

After wrecking out of the race for the second straight week at Watkins Glen and falling off the 16-driver Chase Grid last Sunday, Kasey Kahne knows what he has to do to make NASCAR’s playoffs—the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

“At this rate we’re going to need to win,” Kahne said. “That’s the only way we’ll go into the Chase. We’ve got to get a little better. I need to get a little better.”

Kahne has four races left to get that win, starting with Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

The No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports driver claims one victory at Michigan (June 2006) and believes he can adapt well to the high-drag track-specific rule package that will be used there this weekend.

“There were times at Indianapolis when we were really quick with that package,” Kahne said. “I know they’re working hard to bring a little less drag and more downforce there for us, all four of us (at Hendrick Motorsports). So hopefully we can run good at Michigan and maybe get a win there.”

Kahne finds himself in a similar position to where he was last year prior to the Chase. Too low in points to qualify without a victory, Kahne won the second-to-last race of the season at Atlanta to punch his ticket into NASCAR’s postseason.

While Michigan is not Kahne’s best track historically, he has proven he can win at a variety of loops, with victories at 11 different venues including short and intermediate tracks and road courses.

“The main thing is that all of the equipment we get at Hendrick Motorsports is good enough to win every weekend,” Kahne said.  “We need to get on the ball here and do that, and I don’t see any better weekend to do that than the next one.”

Buescher attempts to continue road course success, repeat at Mid-Ohio

Chris Buescher continues to prove he can turn left and right.

BRISTOL, TN - MARCH 14: James Buescher, driver of the #99 Rheem Toyota, sits in his car during practice for the NASCAR Nationwide Series Drive To Stop Diabetes 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway on March 14, 2014 in Bristol, Tennessee.  (Photo by Will Schneekloth/Getty Images)

BRISTOL, TN – MARCH 14: James Buescher, driver of the #99 Rheem Toyota, sits in his car during practice for the NASCAR Nationwide Series Drive To Stop Diabetes 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway on March 14, 2014 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo by Will Schneekloth/Getty Images)

The 22-year-old Texan finished third last weekend at Watkins Glen, highest among NASCAR XFINITY Series regulars, to extend his standings lead to 24 points over both defending champion Chase Elliott and Ty Dillon. Buescher also outpaced road course ace Boris Said, as well as NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stalwarts Paul Menard and Kyle Larson.

Buescher gets to run another road course this Saturday in the Nationwide Children’s Hospital 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN)—a place where he earned his first career victory last season and is the defending race winner.

“Mid-Ohio is a track that we have been looking forward to all year,” Buescher said. “There is a little extra pressure coming off of last year’s win, but we have really good notes and I know we will have a fast Zest Mustang. We have good momentum leaving the Glen and we just need to keep that rolling into the next few months.”

Buescher’s third-place finish at Watkins Glen was his first top-10 showing in five races. Despite his struggles, Elliott has failed to gain major ground on him.

He is prepared for another charge from Elliott and third-place Ty Dillon (-24 points), noting the intensity will gravitate down the stretch run.

“A lot of drama is what it sums up too,” Buescher said. “It’s gonna be wild. Points racing has a way of bringing out the emotion in everybody.”

Jones set to make first start in home state of Michigan

More than 600 miles away from NASCAR hotbed North Carolina, Michigan surprisingly has produced two of NASCAR’s top current talents.

The Great Lakes State churned out 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski and is also the home state of up-and-coming star Erik Jones—the winner of the most NASCAR national series races before turning 19 with five victories.

Erik Jones. (Getty Images)

Erik Jones. (Getty Images)

Jones, following in Keselowski’s footsteps, will race in his native state for the first time in Saturday’s Careers for Veterans 200 at Michigan International Speedway (1 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1).

“It’s pretty special to me,” said Jones about racing in Michigan. “I’m proud of where I’m from and being able to race so close to home at this level is going to be special. For the last two years, everyone has been asking me when I’m going to get to race at Michigan and this is the first year that I’ve been able to tell them that I’ll be racing there.”

Jones enters the race vying for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship. He ranks third in the series standings, trailing Tyler Reddick by 16 points. On the season, Jones claims one win, seven top-five and nine top-10 finishes.

The Byron native wants to put on a show for the home crowd.

“I think any time you are at a level in NASCAR, you want to race at your home track,” he said. “Michigan is obviously my home track and this will be the first time that I get to race there. It’s only about an hour from the house I grew up in and I went there quite a few times as a kid to watch races as a young fan. I’m excited that this time I’ll be out on the track—hopefully we can have a good run for all of my friends and my family that will be there to cheer me on.”

NASCAR Race Weekend Guide

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series

Race: Pure Michigan 400

Track: Michigan International Speedway

Date and Time: Sunday, Aug. 16 at 2:30 p.m. ET

Tune-In: NBCSN, 2 p.m. ET, MRN, SiriusXM Ch. 90

Distance: 400 miles (200 laps)

What to Watch For: Kyle Busch goes for his fifth win in the last eight races. … Joey Logano attempts to win his second straight race after earning his first victory since Daytona at Watkins Glen. … At Michigan, Brad Keselowski tries to become the ninth active driver to visit Victory Lane in his home state. … Defending race winner Jeff Gordon can secure a spot in Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup with another triumph at Michigan. … Clint Bowyer boasts nine consecutive top-10 finishes at Michigan, which matches the longest current streak by any driver at a track.

NASCAR XFINITY Series

Race: Nationwide Children’s Hospital 200

Track: Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course

Date and Time: Saturday, Aug. 15 at 3:30 p.m. ET

Tune-In: NBCSN, 3 p.m. ET, MRN, SiriusXM Ch. 90

Distance: 169.35 miles (75 laps)

What to Watch For: Defending winner Chris Buescher can add to his 24-point lead over Chase Elliott and Ty Dillon. … Road course ace Alex Tagliani tries to get Team Penske its third straight win. … Boris Said and Kenny Habul will compete for Joe Gibbs Racing for the second consecutive week. Said finished fourth at Watkins Glen, while Habul placed 29th. … Daniel Suarez and Darrell Wallace Jr. make their Mid-Ohio debuts as they continue to battle for the Sunoco Rookie of the Year.

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series

Race: Careers for Veterans 200 presented by Cooper Standard and Brad Keselowski’s Checkered Flag Foundation

Track: Michigan International Speedway

Date and Time: Saturday, Aug. 15 at 1 p.m. ET

Tune-in: FOX Sports 1, 12:30 p.m. ET, MRN, SiriusXM Ch. 90

Distance: 200 miles (100 laps)

What to Watch For: It’s a big weekend for Brad Keselowski Racing as its team sponsor hosts Saturday’s Careers for Veterans 200 presented by Cooper Standard and Brad Keselowski’s Checkered Flag Foundation. Series points leader Tyler Reddick and NASCAR Next alum Ryan Blaney will represent the team in the No. 19 and No. 29 Fords, respectively. … Defending race winner Johnny Sauter goes for a Michigan repeat. … The last 10 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races at Michigan have produced 10 different winners. … 22-year-old full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Alex Bowman makes his Truck Series debut for JR Motorsports.

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