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Matt Slocum/Associated Press

The 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series has settled back into a familiar routine ahead of Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway.

Over the last two weeks, shocking early-season performances due to the new stage-based format fell into the background as usual suspects like Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch traded checkered flags at marquee summer events. 

Sunday’s affair at MIS is another of those major showdowns weeks ahead of the postseason, where this year’s five multi-race winners will jockey for positioning and those on the outside looking in will put on aggressive performances while hunting for the required win. 

Below, let’s take a look at the information surrounding the showdown and outline some of the biggest drivers to watch, spanning the leaders and one notable driver still seeking to throw his name into the playoff race.  

            

Viewing Details

Where: Michigan International Speedway

When: Sunday, 3 p.m. ET

Watch: NBCSN

Live Stream: NBC Sports

Tickets: ScoreBig.com

            

Pure Michigan 400 2017

  • 1. Brad Keselowski
  • 2. Joey Logano
  • 3. Kevin Harvick
  • 4. Matt Kenseth
  • 5. Chase Elliott
  • 6. Kyle Busch
  • 7. Jamie McMurray
  • 8. Erik Jones
  • 9. Kyle Larson
  • 10. Denny Hamlin

      

2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Standings

1. Martin Truex Jr. 881
2. Jimmie Johnson 574
3. Kyle Larson 759
4. Brad Keselowski 681
5. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 486
6. Kyle Busch 765
7. Kevin Harvick 746
8. Denny Hamlin 687
9. Ryan Blaney 565
10. Kurt Busch 528
11. Ryan Newman 503
12. Kasey Kahne 437
13. Austin Dillon 406
14. Chase Elliott 648
15. Jamie McMurray 643
16. Matt Kenseth 637
ESPN.com.

           

Drivers to Watch

Martin Truex Jr.

Matt Slocum/Associated Press

It seemed a matter of time before Truex inserted himself back into Victory Lane and bumped his playoff positioning.

Truex, almost quietly, has been this year’s hottest driver while suiting up for Furniture Row Racing. Four wins or not, almost every week of the season seemingly featuring a new winner has made it easy to overlook his run of dominance. 

Last week at Watkins Glen wasn’t any exception, with Truex and crew chief Cole Pearn executing a fuel-management performance that will easily fall into the “season’s best” category by the time everything is finalized. 

“As slow as I felt like I was going, I felt like I could have run 10 more laps,” Truex said, according to Geoffrey Miller of the Ledger Dispatch. “I literally was like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me, I need to go even slower?’ It’s excruciating to go that slow here and to try to save that much fuel.”

Savvy maneuvering on Truex’s part isn’t a surprise after his other three wins this year. He didn’t lead a huge amount of laps in a win at Las Vegas (150-of-267), nor at Kansas City (104-of-267) or Kentucky (152-of-274).

Fans can expect Truex to once again be one of the top drivers to watch because he won’t stop practicing this efficiency now while trying to make Busch’s climb all the more difficult.  

             

Kyle Larson

Matt Slocum/Associated Press

Kyle Larson is one of a handful of drivers putting on a dominant performance this year, though it isn’t necessarily capturing all the headlines thanks to the general chaos of the developments thus far.  

Still, Larson has two wins to his name entering Michigan this weekend, where he’s a top candidate to put himself in a great position heading into the playoff. After all, he’s the defending winner at this event. 

Larson only lead 41 laps a year ago at this event, yet he came away with the checkered flag in a much-needed triumph. He’s not as desperate as this season, though he does seem ready to cash in on a turnaround ahead of the postseason: 


One of the reasons Larson has dropped out of the usual conversation is because of three consecutive finishes of 23rd or worse during a forgettable July that bled into the first week of August, with the latest coming at Watkins Glen as he started second and finished 23rd. 

As Larson himself noted, though, he’s back to his usual preferred tracks. And what better place to turn things around than at MIS, where he won a year ago?

             

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Paul Sancya/Associated Press

It was easy to think Busch finally getting his first win of the season signaled a return to normalcy that would see Dale Earnhardt Jr. also grab his first checkered flag. 

Instead, Earnhardt dropped out at 37th place a week ago, stifling what looked like solid momentum gained after a 12th-place slotting at Pocono the week prior. 

Now? Earnhardt has had to deflect widely circulated comments by fellow driver Kevin Harvick, who suggested No. 88 has hurt the growth of the sport over the years.

“I certainly hope that’s not the case,” Earnhardt said, according to ESPN.com’s Bob Pockrass. “I put a lot into this sport, and I know that I might not have met everyone’s expectations, but I certainly exceeded my own and I’m super proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish.”

Said expectations continue to chase Earnhardt this season as he mostly waves goodbye. One of his lone top-10 performances this year came at MIS, so there’s an air of slight optimism around his performance this weekend with the season winding down. 

If Earnhardt can tune out the noise and rediscover his form at one of the summer’s biggest events, it’ll make for one of this thrilling season’s top moments. 

       

Stats and info courtesy of ESPN.com unless otherwise specified. 



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