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Racing community looks to heal in Michigan

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The NASCAR family lost a member Wednesday night when Jason Leffler was killed in a sprint car crash in Bridgeport, N.J. An outpouring of support for the Nationwide regular has showcased once again the ability of the racing community to band together in light of a tragedy. Now, drivers head to Michigan looking to heal from the crushing blow the only way they know how, by getting back on the track.

Last Week

Last week in Pocono, five-time champion Jimmie Johnson was back in top-notch form en route to a dominating victory in the Party In The Poconos 400. It was a race run mostly under the green flag at the beginning before a rash of incidents caused several cautions in the final segment. Johnson now has three wins in 2013, tied with Matt Kenseth for the most this season.

This Week

This week, the drivers head back to America’s auto capital for the Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway. Another track that was recently repaved, Michigan boasted lightning fast speeds last year, and with its wide racing surface, it’s similar to Auto Club Speedway (site of the epic battle between Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano that would eventually lead to Hamlin’s broken back) in that it can produce three, four, and even five-wide battles for position. The combination of NASCAR’s Gen 6 car and the great race in California definitely point to the potential for another fantastic event this weekend.

Last Year

In 2012, Jr. Nation rejoiced as Dale Earnhardt Jr. broke a massive winless streak to take the victory over second place Tony Stewart, his first win since 2008.

Storylines

- The thoughts of the entire NASCAR community will be on Leffler and the family and friends he left behind. Drivers know the risks they take when they strap into a race car, but with all of the safety innovations that have transformed motorsports in recent memory, it’s still a shock when the worst happens. But, as they’ve done with other tragedies and in the wake of events like 9/11, sports have the power to heal and help us move on. That’s what we’ll be trying to do in Sunday’s race.

- Last year, Marcos Ambrose obliterated track records on the newly repaved racing surface, routinely breaking the 200 mph mark. That recent repave, combined with the new Gen 6 car, that has been going faster than its predecessor anyway, should make for some blistering fast speeds this weekend.

- Michigan is often a race based on fuel strategy, as it’s known for long green flag runs. Unless we get an uncharacteristic rash of cautions, that will be the case again this weekend.

Who To Watch

- He won last year, and he loves the new car, so Dale Earnhardt Jr. should be fast again.

Jimmie Johnson destroyed the field last week at Pocono, and is at a point right now where he could sit out an entire race and still maintain the point lead. He has no pressure on him right now, and can simply go out looking for wins.

- He may not win, but Marcos Ambrose showed last year he knows how to fly at Michigan when he broke track records. He’ll be fun to watch.

Who Will Win

He’s been a bit quiet lately due to some accidents and mechanical failures, but Kyle Busch has won at Michigan before and he’ll do it again Sunday.

2013 Sprint Cup Points Standings (after 14 of 36 races)

1. Jimmie Johnson

2. Carl Edwards -51

3. Clint Bowyer -69

4. Dale Earnhardt Jr. -82

5. Kevin Harvick -87

6. Matt Kenseth -103

7. Kyle Busch -109

8. Kasey Kahne -121

9. Brad Keselowski -123

10. Greg Biffle -126