By Jerry Bonkowski and Bob Moore
24 JEFF GORDON, Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: After a six-week run atop the Sprint Cup standings, Jeff Gordon fell to second place after Dover, only to regain the top spot after Sunday's race at Pocono. Gordon leads second-ranked Matt Kenseth by 16 points and third-ranked Dale Earnhardt Jr. by 22 points.
MICHIGAN RECORD: 42 career starts, 2 wins, 18 top-5s, 25 top-10s, 5 poles. Best career finish: First in summer 1998 and spring 2001. Finished 39th in this race last year and was 17th in the mid-summer race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Michigan has been a good track for Gordon, but not of late, with finishes of 28th, 39th and 17th in his last three races there. Now that he's back atop the points standings, Gordon needs to win a second race this season to completely assure he'll make the Chase for the Sprint Cup, and Sunday at Michigan would be the perfect place to do so. One thing that will be on Gordon's mind is drafting during knock out qualifying, which should prove interesting, he says: "While you would want somebody to be quite a bit ahead of you to get a tow in a perfect world, I think we'll be better off just being in clean air to get through the corners. But if you're able to get just a little bit of a draft from a car at a distance, every little bit will help. You just can't get too close, though."
LOOKING BACK: Gordon led two laps and had a top-five car for much of the race at Pocono, but fell back near the end of the event and ultimately finished eighth.
ETC.: Gordon has completed 94.6 percent (7,844) of the 8,295 total laps contested in 42 career starts at Michigan. His average start there is 11.6 and average finish is 12.5. He has six DNF's there.
20 MATT KENSETH, Toyota
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: After seven weeks in second place, Matt Kenseth climbed to first after Dover, only to fall back one week later after Sunday's race at Pocono. He trails Jeff Gordon by 16 points and leads third-ranked Dale Earnhardt Jr. by six points.
MICHIGAN RECORD: 29 career starts, 2 wins, 12 top-5s, 18 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: First in spring 2002 and summer 2006. Finished sixth in this race last year and was 15th in the mid-summer encore race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Michigan is one of Kenseth's favorite tracks and one he's enjoyed a great deal of success at. He'd love to add a third career win there and the first in a Toyota, after the previous ones were in Fords. ""Every week you go out with the idea of doing everything you can to try to win the race," Kenseth told the Allentown (Pa.) Morning Call. "People always ask about changing strategies and trying to do this and do that, but if it was that easy you'd win every week. I've never not wanted to win. If there was a way to force wins, I'd force it every week."
LOOKING BACK: After finishing third in the last two races, Kenseth struggled at Pocono, a track he's never done particularly well at. He ultimately finished 25th there.
ETC.: Kenseth has completed 97.8 percent (5,572) of the 5,695 total laps contested in 29 career starts at Michigan. His average start there is 17.7 and his average finish is an excellent 9.6. He has one DNF there.
88 DALE EARNHARDT JR., Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: Former points leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. moved up two spots from fifth to third after his win Sunday at Pocono. He trails points leader and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon by 22 points, is six points behind second-ranked Matt Kenseth and leads teammate and fourth-ranked Jimmie Johnson by one point.? MICHIGAN RECORD: 29 career starts, 2 wins, 6 top-5s, 10 top-10s, 2 poles. Best career finish: First in late spring 2008 and again late spring 2012. Finished 37th (engine issues) in this race last year and was 36th in the mid-summer encore race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Now that he is locked into the Chase with his second win Sunday at Pocono, Earnhardt can go for his third career win at Michigan. Prior to his win in this year's season-opening Daytona 500, Earnhardt had not won since 2012 at Michigan, and before that in 2008, also at Michigan. Here's his thoughts on Sunday's race: "(Earning back-to-back wins) would be awesome. I haven't done that since the Nationwide days back in '98 or '99. We won a couple there back to back, I think. That's a really good feeling. Puts you right on top of the world. A win gives you a lot of confidence, but you know and realize how difficult those are to come by and how competitive this garage is, but man, when you win two in a row, man, that sets you apart a bit from your competition. That would be a great thing for us."
LOOKING BACK: Earnhardt drove a very smart race at Pocono. While he only led 11 laps, he was at the right place at the right time, passing Brad Keselowski in the closing laps to earn his second win of the season.
ETC.: Earnhardt has completed 97.5 percent (5,554) of the 5,695 total laps contested in 29 career starts at Michigan. His average start there is 14.6 and average finish is 16.3. He has three DNFs there.
48 JIMMIE JOHNSON, Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: Jimmie Johnson remained in fourth place for the second consecutive week after Sunday's race at Pocono. He trails points leader and teammate Jeff Gordon by 23 points, is one point behind fellow teammate and third-ranked Dale Earnhardt Jr., and leads fifth-ranked Brad Keselowski by 27 points.
MICHIGAN RECORD: 24 career starts, 0 wins, four top-5s, nine top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Second in mid-summer 2011 race. Finished 28th in this race last year and was 40th (tied a career-low there) in the mid-summer encore race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Johnson has struggled of late at Michigan, with finishes of 27th, 28th and 40th in his last three races there. Additionally, Michigan is one of the few tracks that Johnson has never won a Sprint Cup event. Even though he typically likes larger tracks, Johnson has historically struggled at Michigan. Here's his thoughts on Sunday's race: It seems like we run well at Michigan and then something usually happens to us, so we have been chasing a win for what seems like forever. There are always a lot of Chevrolet guests out at the track since its right down the road from Detroit so it would be nice to see a Chevy in the winner's circle for them. Hoping we can pull off a win at Michigan soon for this Lowe's team, check it off the list and have a great celebration."
LOOKING BACK: After dominating the previous two races, both wins (Charlotte and Dover), Johnson led just five laps Sunday at Pocono, ultimately finishing sixth.
ETC.: Johnson has completed an outstanding 94.2 percent (4,462) of the 4,729 total laps contested in 24 career starts at Michigan. His average start there is an outstanding 8.9 and his average finish is 16.8. He has three DNFs there.
2 BRAD KESELOWSKI, Ford
Team: Penske Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Brad Keselowski continues his climb upward in the standings. After climbing from 11th to ninth after Charlotte, and then to eighth after Dover, Keselowski jumped three spots - the most of any driver in the top 10 this week - to fifth after Sunday's race at Pocono. He trails points leader Jeff Gordon by 50 points, is 27 points behind fourth-ranked Jimmie Johnson and leads sixth-ranked Kyle Busch by five points.
MICHIGAN RECORD: 9 career starts, 0 wins, 2 top-5s, 0 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Second in mid-summer 2012. Finished 12th in this race last year and was also 12th in the mid-summer encore race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Keselowski is likely still upset that debris kept him from winning at Pocono this past Sunday, letting Dale Earnhardt Jr. to pass him in the closing laps to earn the win. Michigan provides Keselowski incentive, as he has never won at his "home" track and has actually been marginal at best in nine overall starts. Will his 10th start there be different? "This weekend will likely see some of the highest speeds of the season. The track surface along with the aero characteristics of these cars ought to combine for what I expect to see record-breaking speeds. Racing in Michigan holds that touch of added significance as it is a home race for me and since we've yet to win here, there is additional motivation to get to Victory Lane. Our Ford Fusions have had great speed lately and we've been really close to winning the last couple of races. We are ready to move up that one last spot and get a victory at home."
LOOKING BACK: Keselowski had the most laps led at Pocono (95 of 160), but couldn't seal the deal when debris on his grill spiked the water temperature in his car late in the race. He was forced to slow to try and pull the debris off the grill by getting behind Danica Patrick's lapped car, but was unable to do so, allowing Dale Earnhardt Jr. to pass and earn the win. Keselowski ultimately finished second.
ETC.: Keselowski has completed a near-perfect 99.8 percent (1,800) of the 1,804 total laps contested in nine career starts at Michigan. His average start is 20.8 and average finish is 16.9. He has zero DNFs there.
18 KYLE BUSCH, Toyota
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: After dropping four places in the standings after Dover, Kyle Busch regained one of those lost spots, climbing back to sixth place after Pocono. He trails points leader Jeff Gordon by 55 points, is five points behind fifth-ranked Brad Keselowski and leads seventh-ranked Carl Edwards by two points.
MICHIGAN RECORD: 18 career starts, 1 wins, 4 top-5s, 6 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: First in mid-summer 2011. Finished fourth in this race last year but dropped to 31st in the mid-summer encore race there.