Saturday, Oct 16
For the second time in his Sprint Cup Series career, Joey Logano will start from the pole at the Michigan International Speedway. The last time he did so was in 2013, he went on to lead 51 laps to secure his first victory with Team Penske. 

On Friday, Logano swept all three rounds of qualifying. The No. 22 car pole-winning speed was 199.557 mph, almost two-tenths of a second faster than second-place. 

"It just feels really good because the last couple weeks we've come in second in the final round," Logano said of his fast lap. "We've been qualifying really well with this No. 22 car, we just haven't had the pole. It's nice to finally pull through and get a pole with this new package. It really goes to show how good Team Penske is at preparing cars from the shop and really not knowing what they're coming to and we have great adjustability and a fast car." 

Logano started first at Martinsville in April when he was lapped in the opening segment of the race.

Martin Truex, Jr. turned the second fastest lap at 199.016 mph. Struggling in qualifying last week in Pocono, the Furniture Row Racing team made sure they put down a hot lap for Michigan. 

In his best start of 2016, Tony Stewart will start third. At 198.950 mph, it's his best start since Watkins Glen last season. 

Denny Hamlin will start from fourth at 198.774 mph with rookie Ryan Blaney rounding out the top five at 198.588 mph. The No. 21 car needed two attempts to even get out of round one, but rebounded to pick up his first top-five starting spot of 2016. 

Ryan Newman, Kyle Larson, Austin Dillon, Kyle Busch and Chase Elliott make up the top 10. 

Pocono pole-sitter, Brad Keselowski will start from 15th at his home racetrack. The defending winner of this event, Kurt Busch, will start in the next row at 17th. 

After having the fourth quickest time in the opening practice, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. qualified 27th on Friday. It's his ninth time this season that the No. 88 car had started the race from outside the top 20. 

Kevin Harvick was on the track twice when the session was paused is Round One, putting three cycles on his tires by the time he complete a timed lap. The first stoppage was for Jamie McMurray leaking a piece of debris. David Ragan brought out the second caution when he spun in Turn 3 and hit the outside wall. 

"The common sense was pretty low there on when to throw the caution," Harvick said of being out on track twice when the yellow flag flew during his qualifying run. "I think we were the only racecar on the racetrack and debris came up out of the groove. It is what it is. There's not much you can do about that. 

The No. 4 Chevrolet will begin the 400-mile event from 29th. 

There are two practice sessions on Saturday, the first beginning at 9:00 a.m. and Happy Hour starting shortly after noon.

With their back against the wall, 2016 has been the resurgence of Austin Dillon and Richard Childress Racing.

Heading into Pocono, the 14th race of the season, Dillon sits 10th in standings and has a career-high six top-10 finishes. After the 500-lap event at Martinsville, the No. 3 car sat as high as seventh in the standings.

This is Dillon’s first full season working with veteran crew chief Richard “Slugger” Labbe. In the second race that the duo paired up, they had a seventh-place finish at Daytona, while flying into the catch fence.

In the 34 races that they’ve been a duo, the No. 3 team has 10 top-10 finishes and starts, with a pole at Fontana in March.

“He’s been very influential,” Dillon told Speedway Digest of Labbe. “His passion for running fast and being competitive is the best part. He’s got a lot of fire in him and that’s what you want to have a guy that wants to run well. He gets all he can out of those racecars and that’s what you want with a guy that is leading your team.”

Labbe is a five-time winner at the Sprint Cup level, including two Daytona 500 wins with Michael Waltrip and a Brickyard 400 triumph with Paul Menard.

Dillon, 26, is continuing to adapt into his role with the team, which is owned by his grandfather Richard Childress.

The No. 3 team works with a pair of teammates in Menard and veteran Ryan Newman, looking at each other’s setups and learning information from them, when in the past it was vice-versa.

Dillon believes that he is establishing himself on and off the racetrack to be a guy to contend with going forward.

“I think everybody uses everybody to their advantage as much as they can because you can’t go through these days trying to fight these other guys without each other,” Dillon said. “I think we all use each other well.”

The teams are said to have an open notebook, allowing one another to compare notes. With all the cooperation at the track and at the race shop, the No. 3 car is still struggling to lead laps.

Dillon has led three laps this season. Additionally, all of RCR has led just 21 laps this season.

“We need to find that raw speed to get us to that point of leading laps is very important to us,” Dillon stated.

Following Pocono, the Cup Series takes to Michigan, where Dillon was out front for 19 circuits last August. That race was the most laps he has ever led in a single race during his career at the top level of NASCAR.

During the event, NASCAR tested out a new high drag aerodynamic package, searching for the 2016 rules package. It made for less passing and once a team was out front it was hard to pass, especially at Michigan when the straightaway speeds exceed 210 mph.

Michigan is said to be one of Dillon’s favorite racetracks. In 2015, his lone top-five finish came at the 2.0-mile oval. In seven starts at the venue, he has led multiple laps in two of those events. In three XFINITY Series starts, he has started from the pole twice en route to leading 72 laps and a best finish of fifth in 2012.

“Michigan is one of my favorite racetracks and just hoping we find a little bit of speed before we get there,” Dillon said with a smile. “I think that race could get us to the point where we can lead more laps.

Throughout his NASCAR career, consistency continues to be the key for Dillon. He has 14 career wins in NASCAR’s lower two national touring series, including championships in both the Camping World Truck Series and XFINITY Series.

But now, he is starting to see that consistency blend up to the Cup Series level.

“Consistency is something that I have been decent at throughout my career,” Dillon said. “The team has been given me a strong car each and every week. I think that’s what comes with it, having something you can race and have speed.”

Another part to the turnaround for Dillon has been girlfriend Whitney Ward. Since going public midway through last year, the No. 3 team has elevated their performance, in particular Dillon himself.

Ward has stabilized Dillon in a way that he wasn’t before. A bad day at the racetrack is still a good day in life for him because he has someone to share his success and failures with.

“She’s settled me down and made it fun at the racetracks to be with her and share all of the cool things that we get to do and see how special it is,” Dillon said. “She’s very positive. That’s what you want is somebody who is positive in your life and someone who is for you, and she’s definitely for me and that means a lot to me.”

Throughout the many crew changes that have happened in the past season for the No. 3 team. This season alone, they have changed rear tire carriers and have switched positions on the pit crew.

 Dillon believes that Ward has been a big part of building the team chemistry due to the positivity that the two share.

It’s a bond that is hard to be broken.

“At the beginning of this year she has done some things that have showed everybody that she is all in for this team,” he said. “The guys really enjoy that. I think that she keeps showing everybody her passion. She shows me every week. When I get in the car, afterwards she wants to talk about it and understand it better and better. She really loves it.”  

The Dillon brothers have been criticized in the past for being Childress’ grandsons. But in 2016, the on-track performance is starting to match the expectations for both drivers, with Ty Dillon expected to make the jump to the Sprint Cup level full-time next year.

Solidly in the Chase halfway through the regular season, Dillon hopes 2016 will be his breakout season, giving him a spot in NASCAR’s version of the playoffs.

NASCAR knew that rain was in the forecast for the entire weekend before cars got on track for opening Sprint Cup Series practice on Friday. The session started 19 minutes behind the scheduled time due to fog. 

Fog remained a factor for what turned into be just a 20 minute practice when rain came and halted cars from working on qualifying setup. 28 cars participated in practice, so if qualifying is rained out in the afternoon the starting lineup will be set by owner standings. 

Carl Edwards posted the fastest single lap speed at 179.802 mph, which was over one mph faster than Kevin Harvick, who recorded the second fastest lap. If rain cancels qualifying, the No. 4 Chevrolet would start from the pole on Sunday. 

Last year's pole-sitter for this event, Kurt Busch was third on the leader board at 178.649 mph. Paul Menard was fourth at 178.250 mph and defending Cup Series champion Kyle Busch rounded out the top five. 

Jimmie Johnson, Casey Mears, Joey Logano, Greg Bffle and Tony Stewart rounded out the top 10. 

Three drivers were tied for most laps ran in the practice session at seven. Cup Series rookie Chris Buescher led the way in that category at 23rd. Michael Annett and Brian Scott also completed seven laps and were the two slowest cars on one lap speed. 

Notable drivers who didn't complete a lap were August winner, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman and Austin Dillon. 

Qualifying is set to role at 4:15 p.m. ET if rain moves out of the Pocono Mountains.

With speculation that Ryan Newman might be out of a ride at Richard Childress Racing following the 2016 season, he is ecstatic to be with the team.

In the third and final year of his current contract with RCR, Newman has experienced the ups and downs of a race team. This is something that he has welcomed in the past, making him an established veteran of the sport.

“Tying it all together, that’s the toughest part of our whole sport,” Newman told Speedway Digest. “One bad pit stop, one bad moment, one bad strategy call, one bad move as a driver, one bad restart can take you out of the race. There was a time in our sport that I think you had to be the best at everything, but now you need to damn near be the best at everything.”

In his 15th year in the Sprint Cup Series, Newman currently sits 17th in the standings, two points shy of the Chase cutoff after 11 races. As the halfway point of the race to the Chase approaches, the 38-year-old feels the pressure to perform.

”We’ve performed better than we’ve finished,” Newman elaborated. “We’ve had three tire failures in 11 races. Some of it has been self-inflicted, some of it hasn’t. But in the end, it’s part of racing and hopefully we got it out of the way.”

The Indiana native has raced for his livelihood several different times. In 2013, a week after being informed that he would not be back with Stewart-Haas Racing, he won the Brickyard 400.

But this year is different.

Over the span of his first two seasons with RCR, Newman was known for consistency, accumulating 31 top 10 finishes and making the Chase both years. He made it to the championship race with a shot at the title in 2014, his first year with the organization. Finishing second at Homestead that evening has been his best result in the No. 31 machine.

Heading into the summer months, the circuit is heading to some of Newman’s better tracks. He has nine career poles at Charlotte, with a best result of second. In a couple of months, the Cup Series heads to New Hampshire, which is arguably the best track for him with three career wins, 17 top 10 finishes and an average finish of 13.5.

“I think our cars are better than they were at this time last year hands down,” Newman said. “You’ve got to put everything together in this series. The competition level is so tough. You can’t afford to have one mistake.”

Through 11 races in 2016, the No. 31 car has qualified three top five starts. That is the same number that he had in all of 2015.

The chemistry within the organization is something that Newman is proud to be a part of and would seemingly be tough for him to leave.   Crew chief Luke Lambert and he have adapted to each other’s preferences, but the NASCAR veteran knows that the performance needs to improve.

“I’ve never been a part of an organization that worked more closely together like this,” Newman said. “To me, it’s as good as it can get. Once we can get the success it will get better yet.”

RCR is in a current slump of 84 races without going to Victory Lane. Ever since Kevin Harvick left the team at the end of 2013 season, the organization has struggled to find its groove back.

However, this season there is more to be proud of.

Newman’s teammate Austin Dillon currently sits eighth in points. Though he admits he can’t learn much from the third-year driver, the two work closely together and just recently began putting all eight cylinders together.

“I think it’s been in a rebuilding process,” he said. “I think our cars have been competitive. I think that at one point in 2014 our engines were our weak point. I think last year we started missing it a little on the car side and I think we are in the process of putting it all back together.”

As 2016 progresses, Newman is essentially driving for his life. With Richard Childress’ grandson, Ty Dillon waiting in the helm for a ride in the Cup Series, it’s more than likely that one of the current drivers at RCR has to go. Paul Menard has sponsorship from his father and the older Dillon is having the best year of his tenure with the team.

Newman is one of the older statesmen in the garage and has no plans of retiring as long as he has a competitive car.

“As long as they will have me drive the racecar and it’s a good racecar and it’s fun to do it then I’ll do it as long as it makes sense,” he said.

With his future in question, Newman admits that he wants to figure out where he stands quickly. The further that it progresses into the season, the harder it will be to find a competitive ride for the following campaign.

“We are so focused on this year and winning races to get ourselves a Chase birth,” Newman said. “There’s a time to talk about it and you always want to get it done sooner rather than later. I just hope it’s not later.”

Much like all season long, Joe Gibbs Racing was quick on track in preparation for the main event. In the first session it was Kyle Busch who was quickest.

Practice One:

Busch was the fast car out on track in the opening practice Saturday morning. The No. 18 laid down an early lap of 157.839 mph, which is just less than eight mph slower than the quick time on Friday.

Two of his JGR teammates were right behind him on speed. Denny Hamlin posted an early lap of 157.356 mph. Carl Edwards was third at 157.006 mph, just over a tenth of a second off the fast lap.

Ryan Newman was fourth in the session at 156.770 mph and Kurt Busch rounded out the top five 156.590 mph.

Pole-sitter, Kevin Harvick was 10th fastest in the session at 156.413 mph. The No. 4 team dominated the race in the fall leading 355 of the 400 laps.

10-time Dover winner, Jimmie Johnson was 12th on the board, while his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Chase Elliott was eighth, quickest of all the rookie drivers.

The fourth JGR driver, Matt Kenseth recorded the 19th best time. He was just over three-tenths of a second off the top time. After being involved in a big practice crash on Friday, Danica Patrick led the way of drivers in backup cars with the 25th quickest time. Jamie McMurray was just behind in 26th and Tony Stewart was mired down in 34th.

Practice Two:

Hamlin led the way at a lap of 157.329 mph. In the past Dover has been the Achilles heel for the No. 11 team, but he has been fast all weekend long.

Harvick rebounded from the first practice to lay down the second quickest lap in the second session. He ran a speed of 156.447 mph which was over a tenth of a second behind the hot lap that Hamlin put down.

The younger Busch brother was third fast at 156.365 mph, with his older brother in fourth at 155.777 mph. Elliott rounded out the top five on the board at 155.696 mph.

Kenseth improved on the morning session and went to eighth in race conditions.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was down to 25th on the leader board. The No. 88 car will start on the outside of the front row when the green flag waves, but struggled Saturday in race conditions.

McMurray ran 62 laps in the session, most out of the 39 drivers that completed a lap. The No. 1 machine struggled in his backup car prior to this practice that he ended in 17th.

The last time NASCAR was at the Monster Mile, McMurray finished fourth at Dover and finished one position shy of making it into the next round of the Chase.

The green flag will wave shortly after 1:00 p.m. on Sunday. Johnson is the defending winner of the event.

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