Backseat Drivers Fan Council

Junior's title hopes, grading Michigan and road racing in Sonoma
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<p> The Backseat Drivers Fan Council wieghs in on Dale Earnahrdt Jr.'s championship hopes, his win at Michigan and road course racing at Infineon and Watkins Glen.</p>

Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s victory celebration is long over and now it’s time to look ahead. Members of the Backseat Drivers Fan Council were asked to look ahead on what Earnhardt’s victory means related to the title race and at this weekend’s race — the first race on a road course this season. Of course, members did have time to look back at Michigan and give that race a grade.

Here’s what members of the Backseat Drivers Fan Council had to say:

NASCAR Horsepower Rankings

At Long Last, the Son Rises
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<p> Dale Earnhardt Jr. finally ascends to the top of Athlon Sports' Horsepower Rankings after breaking a 143-race winless skid with a victory at Michigan International Speedway.</p>

1. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
We’ve said all along that Earnhardt’s consistency warranted the top spot, but a lack of any wins kept him from it. Well, the 143-race national nightmare is over, and Junior can now lead the way.

2. Jimmie Johnson
Replace the engine and start in the rear of the field? No problem for Chad Knaus and crew. They just handed the ball to J.J., who drove it to a fifth-place finish with blistered tires and an empty gas tank.

Pennell’s Picks: Fantasy NASCAR Trends at Michigan

Jay Pennell looks at favorites and darkhorses for Sunday's Quicken Loans 400
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<p> Athlon Sports contributor Jay Pennell looks at favorites and darkhorses for Sunday's Quicken Loans 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Michigan International Speedway.</p>

From the mountains of Pennsylvania to the rolling hills of Michigan, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Michigan International Speedway for Sunday's Quicken Loans 400.

Racing on yet another repaved track, teams have two test sessions throughout the day on Thursday as they attempt to get acclimated with the new track surface, the higher speeds and how tires will react.

NASCAR Free Agents, Speed in Michigan and the Sponsor Search for Bodine

The Long and Short of It
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<p> Athlon Sports contributor Dustin Long looks at free agent drivers in the Cup Series, excelerated speeds on a re-paved Michigan International Speedway and Todd Bodine's continued sponsorship search.</p>

One race can reveal only so much about a season but could Sunday’s event at Pocono forecast the future for some drivers? Joey Logano, AJ Allmendinger and Kurt Busch are among those trying to solidify their status for next season, yet Pocono pulled them in opposite directions.

One of the biggest questions from Sunday’s race is what did the victory do for Logano’s future with Joe Gibbs Racing.

NASCAR Horsepower Rankings

Kyle "The Surgeon" Busch speeding away from the competition

by Matt Taliaferro

1. Kyle Busch  “The Surgeon” begins to pull away … kind of like he’s going 128 mph and the rest of the field is doing the 45 mph speed limit.

2. Jimmie Johnson  To those harping about how Johnson is ripe for the taking, take notice that he has only six finishes worse than 11th (in 23 races) this year and sits second in the point standings. Blue 48, prepare to make your Chase run.

Exclude From Games: 
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<p> Kyle Busch begins to pull away from Jimmie Johnson and the rest of the field in Athlon Sports' weekly Horsepower Rankings.</p>

7. Ryan Newman Newman is very quietly putting together a solid season. He’s no Kyle Busch, but if things continue along the current path, he could make a respectable showing in the championship standings.

8. Kevin Harvick Harvick has been awful quiet lately. Too quiet, in fact. Makes me wish for the days of his grandstanding with Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth, Ricky Rudd, Carl Edwards ... am I leaving anyone out?

9. Kurt Busch Wonder if, after 38th- and 34th-place runs, Kurt is wishing he was still behind the wheel of the Miller Lite Dodge? After all, his scripted sponsor plugs worked better then. Kind of.

10. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Junior sits 10th here not because of his impressive performances, but because no one else has wrested it from him. And at this point, that wouldn’t be hard to do.

11. Mark Martin  Showing real signs of speed the last few weeks — and there’s still time to sneak into this Chase.

12. Tony Stewart  His cars aren’t handling right, he’s frustrated, Bristol is up next and he’s on the Chase bubble. NASCAR media beware!

13. Denny Hamlin  Sometimes you get the feeling Denny gets inside his own head.

14. Greg Biffle  At least he’s qualifying better these days ...

15. Clint Bowyer  Somehow still hanging in at 11th in the standings, which may speak to the competition down there.

Just off the lead pack: AJ Allmendinger, Marcos Ambrose, Kasey Kahne, Paul Menard, Martin Truex Jr.

Agree with Matt’s rankings? Disagree? Post a comment below and tell him how you feel. You can also follow Matt on Twitter @MattTaliaferro