Michigan Update: Kurt Busch hunting for critical win

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Trying to solidify his chances of earning a Chase berth, Kurt Busch is putting together a strong afternoon and leads the Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway at the halfway point.

Busch took the lead for the first time at Lap 32 as he and Dale Earnhardt Jr. took advantage of lapped traffic momentarily holding up pole sitter Joey Logano. His first stop of the day at Lap 42 was a slow one and cost him several spots when the cycle played out, but his Furniture Row Racing crew made up for it by netting him several positions on stop No. 2 under caution at Lap 72.

Shortly after the restart at Lap 76, Busch dispatched Denny Hamlin (who had stayed out under the yellow) to take the lead and at Lap 100 of 200, Busch had opened up a two-second lead on Brad Keselowski, another winless driver that’s battling to make the Chase. Logano has stayed steady and was running third at halfway, followed by Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick.

A potential threat for the win went away in the first half of the event, when Jimmie Johnson suffered engine problems and was knocked out of the race. Johnson had to start from the rear of the field after crashing his primary car in final practice, but had managed to move into the Top 10 in his backup car before his motor went south.

Teammates James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens earn top-fives at Barber

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For the first time this season, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammates James Hinchcilffe and Robert Wickens earned top-five finishes in the same race at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala.

Hinchcliffe finished third in the Grand Prix of Alabama; Wickens was one spot behind in fourth.

Wickens had one previous podium at Phoenix with his second-place finish. Hinchcliffe’s best result was a fourth in the season-opener in St Petersburg, Fla., so this marked his first podium of the year.

Both drivers needed a little help from the rain.

As precipitation began to fall in the closing stages of the race, Hinchliffe asked his team on a couple of occasions if it was wet enough to pit for rain tires. He was told twice to stay out and was then called into to the pits at the optimal time.

“Solid weekend for us after coming here before – not a great test,” Hinchcliffe said. “Two cars in the top 10 qualifying; two cars, top five in the race. Pretty proud of these boys, everybody on the Arrow car.”

The rain helped Wickens’ race strategy come together.

“I was having to save a lot of fuel in that second stint,” Wickens said. “So once (Scott) Dixon starting getting close to me I was thinking ‘Oh God, I’m going to actually have to give this one up.’ And then the rain came, so the fuel mileage happened naturally. So, yeah, it saved us a bit.”

And while both were pleased with their top-five finishes, drivers are rarely satisfied unless they are standing on the top step of the podium.

Wickens’ top-five finish was hard-fought. After winning the pole at St Petersburg and starting sixth at Phoenix, he failed to advance to the Fast 6 in back-to-back races at Long Beach and Barber – qualifying 10th both times.

“I was a little gutted that we came out in a big bunch of traffic,” Wickens continued. “It made the race fun, but a little frustrating as well because of people off sequence and whatnot. We lost a lot of track position there. Both of us could have been fighting for higher steps on the podium, but we need to do a little better job in qualifying. “