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Michigan: and this better not be another gas mileage snoozer....

   Can Kyle Busch make the championship playoffs? He may have to beat Matt Kenseth to make the cut (Photo: Toyota Motorsports)

    By Mike Mulhern

    BROOKLYN, Mich.
    Kyle Busch and gas mileage, those are shaping up as the two big stories here this weekend, as the race to the NASCAR plays winds down to the final four events.
    Busch, 13th, and now just 58 points off the 12th-place cutoff, and the spot  currently held by Matt Kenseth, should be good at these four tracks. He won Bristol in the spring, and he won Richmond in the spring, and he won Atlanta last year.
    Monday's fourth at Watkins Glen helped Busch in his playoff bid.
    But like he says, considering the men he's up against for the cut, "Man, who's going to fall out?
   "It's hard to look at someone who's going to fall out. Greg Biffle and Kenseth? Kenseth has been in it every year, so you can't count on him, even though he's fighting for a spot. And you know Biffle runs strong in these next tracks we go to, and one of his best ones is Michigan. He runs well in Atlanta too.
    "But Bristol and Richmond -- those are our tracks. Still, Bristol, you never know what can come out of that place."
    For Kenseth this season has been one of too many mysteries. First he wins Daytona, then he follows by winning California. Then he hits a dry spell.
   Here? "I always thought Michigan was one of my best tracks. We've won some races….and yet last time we could hardly run 22nd or 23rd or wherever we finished," Kenseth says, perplexed at the ups and downs of the year.
    "Every week, and every track, has been a surprise for me lately. I'm not sure how we're going to do.
    "That's been the weird thing this year – We've gone to the tracks I've always thought are our best tracks…and we've had some of our worst finishes. Then we've gone to some places that haven't been our best tracks and managed to finish halfway decent.
   "It's such a weird year for us."

  Hey, aren't these the guys that won the Daytona 500? Talk about a roller coaster season, for Matt Kenseth (L) and crew chief Drew Blickensderfer (Photo: Autostock)
   Weird? Well how about for teammates Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle, also winless this season, though solidly in the chase.
   "If nothing happens, if nothing goes crazy, we should have a good top-five run at Michigan," Biffle says.
   Crazy like a gas mileage sprint to the finish?
   That's how Mark Martin won here in June. And that's how Jimmie Johnson and Biffle lost, by chasing each other too hard down the stretch and running dry in the final moments.
  "Wow, did we really win this?" Martin said of that afternoon. "It all happened really fast…and normally fuel mileage just doesn't work out for me."
    Martin can only hope for a little better luck here this time than he had at the Glen, if he wants to make the chase. Martin is only 31 points ahead of 12th place Kenseth.
     With a 23rd at the Glen (following a 38th at Sonoma in June), road courses aren't Martin's strength right now. "We had a rough weekend at Watkins Glen," he says. "We didn't expect that.
   "And that's why you can't get comfortable. One race and you're right back there fighting to stay in."
   First off here, Martin and crew chief Alan Gustafson realize they've got to qualify better for Sunday's 400: "The biggest thing that stands out in my mind about the last race is we didn't qualify very well at all…and it was the track we had high hopes going in to," Gustafson says.
   "But we had a really fast car in practice, and a really fast car in the race. Mark was able to drive up to the front.
    "After the last pit stop we restarted third or fourth, and we just had to save gas. The last lap was really exciting. It was a real whirlwind.
   "We knew we couldn't go wide-open, full speed, and make it on gas. So you ask yourself 'Do you feel you are going to get some cautions? Or do you prepare to go the whole way if it goes green?'
    "We chose to be conservative from the get-go -- get clear of traffic, and then run only as fast as we had to, in order to keep the leaders in sight and to keep the drivers behind us.
    "Mark did it perfectly. We ran out off turn four.
    "Jimmie was in a position (higher in the points) where they didn't really have to be as conservative as we did because we were more concerned about points than they were.
   "So they were going hard for the win. If they hadn't, they wouldn't have pushed Greg so hard."
   Gas mileage finishes, Gustafson says, are always anticipated here: "You prepare for it everywhere. Some places you put more effort into it than others.
    "Michigan is a track you definitely put fuel mileage at the top of your list. Michigan, Pocono, road courses, Indy, Loudon. You just make sure you've got the fuel system to max capacity and your mileage is as good as possible."

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