If Dale Earnhardt Jr. is to duplicate his feat of winning at the Michigan International Speedway in June or Jimmie Johnson is to get his first-ever victory at the 2-mile oval, they will have to do so after starting from the rear of the field in Sunday's Pure Michigan 400 due to issues in practice that befell the Hendrick Motorsports pair.
Johnson's team changed engines in his No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet early on in the opening practice session. NASCAR rules dictate that teams use only one engine during a race weekend. The penalty for swapping out a motor for any reason once the car is presented for initial inspection is going to the back of the field. Johnson, the Sprint Cup point leader, had qualified third.
In a final practice that saw Johnson turn the second-fastest lap, it was Earnhardt who wound up having problems of his own. With fewer than 10 minutes remaining in the session, he got out of the groove in turn two, spun, and backed the same car he won with in June into the wall. The car sustained significant left-rear damage that forced his National Guard-sponsored team to unload its backup car. With so little time left at the time of the accident, Earnhardt obviously didn't get back onto the track. Therefore, when he takes the green flag tomorrow, he'll be turning his first laps in that car.
Greg Biffle led the session, but he had issues of his own with a vibration. His team changed the drive shaft in his Ford, rectifying the problem.