Roush Fenway looks to solidify Chase spots at Ford-friendly Michigan

Updated: August 22, 2008, 12:19 PM ET

AP Photo/Carlos Osorio

Carl Edwards snapped a 52-race winless streak with a victory at Michigan in June 2007.

Start Your Engines

Roush Fenway Racing is accustomed to having plenty of forks in the fire come Chase time, and once in the show the Fords don't just run around. Kurt Busch won the first Chase in 2004, and the following year all five of Jack Roush's cars made the playoff, with three of them finishing second through fourth behind champion Tony Stewart.

Matt Kenseth, one of two drivers to qualify for all four Chases (along with two-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson), finished second in 2006. Last season was Roush Fenway's quietest Chase despite NASCAR expanding the format to 12 qualifiers, with two entries led by Kenseth's fourth-place finish.

This season could mark a return to Roush power in the Chase, with title contender Carl Edwards sitting second in points with four wins and at least two more Roush drivers and possibly three qualifying for the 10-race postseason. Four races remain for everything to shake out, with two of those at Roush strongholds -- Auto Club Speedway in California and Michigan International Speedway, home of this weekend's 3M Performance 400 (Sunday, 2 p.m. ET, ESPN and ESPN360).

The sweeping 2-mile D-shaped ovals are similar, and Roush Fords have dominated both. At Michigan they have won six of the last 13 races, with Edwards winning in 2007 and Kenseth and Greg Biffle each winning twice.

"There's an expectation that we'll run well at Michigan. I'm well represented there in the grandstands, we've got a Roush Industries home in the Detroit area there, so we've got lots of people coming to watch, lots of attention, lots of interest," Jack Roush said. "Of course it's Ford Motor Co. home there in Detroit. The car companies enjoy coming to Michigan and duking it out.

"But we've had a legacy of having really fast cars, of having generally pretty good engines and better-than-average luck there. We've had fewer than an average number of flat tires and blown engines and things. Michigan is a great track for us, a 2-mile track with a lot of opportunity to race wheel-to-wheel, to race clean, to be able to pass clean and the guys have been very effective. I'm just proud to ride the wave."

He'll hope that wave puts Kenseth and Biffle closer to locked in for the Chase. Biffle is 10th in points, 61 ahead of the 12th-place cutoff spot. Kenseth is the cutoff man, having moved up one spot last week after finishing12th at Watkins Glen.

Only two drivers have realistic chances to disrupt the current top 12, and one of those is a Roush car. David Ragan is 14th in points, 89 out of the playoff, while Richard Childress Racing's Clint Bowyer is closer to the field, 22 points out in 13th.

Bowyer could be the wild card in the whole equation, having jumped in and out of the Chase for several weeks as he finishes either in the top-10 or worse than 20th in the No. 07 Chevrolet.

"Typically, on a big track like Michigan or Atlanta, where you can move around and carry a lot of speed, we usually run well," Bowyer said. "I like tracks like Michigan where you can mix it up and pass on the top or the bottom and try different things, but for some reason we haven't been able to find the right balance or the right level of grip to run well."

His best finish in five Michigan starts is 16th. Contrast that with Kenseth, who has one finish that poor in his past 16 starts in the Irish Hills.

"Everyone is going Chase-crazy these days and really focusing on points and standings," Kenseth said. "For me, I just go out every week and try to get the best finish I can. If I do that the rest takes care of itself."

That's easy for him to say. One can bet the Cat in the Hat will be closely watching the points along with the racing, hoping his team's Chase picture becomes clearer at Michigan.

Rocket Man

Kyle Busch: Plenty of overreacting going on in the media center and the garage prior to Sunday. The runaway points leader finishes 15th and 36th on back-to-back weekends, while Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards score some momentum-building wins, and everyone trips over themselves to get the word out that Busch is vulnerable. Johnson's and Jeff Gordon's mind games from behind the hauler were especially funny, with the Hendrick duo's combined win total this season at two.

"It's a head game, and we're playing it," said Busch, who last went more than two races without a win for Joe Gibbs Racing in April. "I mean, we're just out here to race our race and concentrate on making our car the fastest in practice and fastest in qualifying as best we can do and make it handle for happy hour and then go out there and try to race it and race with the rest of these guys."

Try to race it? The guy only wins an average of once every two to three weeks. Face it, he's not going to just melt come Chase time.

John Schwarb is a motorsports contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at johnschwarb@yahoo.com.

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Standings

You Gotta See This

Slippery Slope

Ragan

David Ragan: Who says road courses don't matter in the Chase? If the No. 6 Roush Fenway Ford doesn't make the playoff, he can look at the road courses as big culprits. The second-year driver finished 24th at Sonoma and 30th at Watkins Glen, with the latter nearly doubling his distance from 12th place, from 46 to 89 points. He's still 14th, 67 behind Clint Bowyer.

"That was a long day," Ragan said. "We didn't have the speed we needed to be aggressive on the track and we had a flat tire with a couple of restarts to go, which cost us some track positions. I've just got to work on the road course tracks so we can be a top-10 car."

Going The Wrong Way

McDowell

Michael McDowell: Not a good week for the rookie. First McDowell tangled with David Gilliland at Watkins Glen, kicking off a scary nine-car pileup. Two days later he got an involuntary break from the No. 00 Toyota, as Michael Waltrip Racing signed veteran truckster Mike Skinner to evaluate the team and keep the car on the grid now that it's outside the top 35 in owner points.

"I support doing whatever it takes to improve the performance of our team," McDowell said. "No driver wants to get out of the car, but I understand that every part of our program needs to be evaluated, and that certainly includes me."

If it's any consolation, AJ Allmendinger was also replaced earlier in the season by Skinner and has had seven top-20 finishes since. So sometimes these evaluations do make a difference.

Showing Some Love For …

Ambrose

Marcos Ambrose: His Nationwide win on Saturday at Watkins Glen was terrific, but trust us -- finishing third Sunday in the Wood Brothers Ford was more impressive.

The No. 21 had raced in only 14 of 22 events this season, having to grind for every spot as a nonexempt car. When it did make it the Ford was a backmarker, finishing on the lead lap twice with a high finish of 20th before Ambrose spectacularly hustled it from a 43rd starting spot up to third at The Glen.

"I'm just really excited that I've been given an opportunity and I'm able to make the most of it," Ambrose said. "You don't get many chances in life to do something special like this, and today I'm going to look back at very fondly, the whole weekend to be honest with you. I hope that it can give the Wood Brothers the shot in the arm they need to get the momentum to move forward."