Key Michigan Cup storylines

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Only two races remain the Cup regular season before the playoffs begin next month. Next up for the series is a visit to Michigan International Speedway (3 p.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN).

The track will be treated with resin instead of PJ1. Resin was used at Nashville Superspeedway and received positive reviews from competitors.

Time is running out for those seeking to nab one of the last remaining playoff spots before the field is locked in after the Aug. 28 race at Daytona.

Here’s what to look for Sunday at Michigan:

When will Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick win?

The two drivers who combined to win 16 of 36 races last year (Harvick won nine; Hamlin seven) remain winless two-thirds of the way through the NASCAR season.

Only three times since 2000 has a Cup driver won five or more races in a season and not won a race the following season.

Carl Edwards won nine races in 2008 and went winless in 2009.

Matt Kenseth won seven races in 2013 and went winless in 2014

Mark Martin won five races in 2009 and went winless in 2010.

Michigan International Speedway has been been a good track for Harvick and Hamlin. Harvick has won four of the last five Michigan races. He has five Cup wins overall at the 2-mile track. Hamlin has two wins at the track.

Hamlin was in position to earn his first win of the season last weekend on the Indy road course before he was spun from the lead by Chase Briscoe with less than two laps left.

NASCAR Cup Series Consumers Energy 400 at Michigan
Kevin Harvick swept both Michigan Cup races last year. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Playoff battle

Fourteen of the 16 playoff positions are set with two races left in the regular season.

Guaranteed a spot in the playoffs: Kyle Larson, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, William Byron, Chase Elliott, Joey Logano, Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Blaney, Brad Keselowski, Alex Bowman, Kurt Busch, Christopher Bell, Michael McDowell and Aric Almirola.

Kevin Harvick could potentially clinch the 15th playoff spot this weekend.

Tyler Reddick holds the 16th and final playoff spot. He is 28 points ahead of Richard Childress Racing teammate Austin Dillon.

Reddick said he and Dillon have been working well together.

“We’ve been working really hard,” Reddick said Wednesday. “The last four weeks were a really good time because we had those two off-weekends and two weeks of road course racing. Both of us worked really, really hard on the cars and the setups, which were very close together, that we took to these road courses.

“Things have been really good there between us. We’re really on the same page on what both of us need to go out to do. The teams, as much as it would seem like the doors would shut at this point in time in the season when it is the 3 and the 8 fighting for 16th and 17th (in points), the doors have never been more open. Lots of sharing going on.

“We both know that if we want to do well in the playoffs or make the playoffs, we need to keep, each of us, pushing the other along the way.”

Hendrick Motorsports vs. Joe Gibbs Racing

The two organizations will field half of the 16-driver playoff lineup next month, so this is a duel worth watching.

Hendrick drivers have won four of the eight races this season with the 550-horsepower package that will be used this weekend at Michigan. Kyle Larson has won two of those races. Alex Bowman and William Byron have won one each. Joe Gibbs Racing drivers have won two of those races. Both of those wins are by Kyle Busch.

JGR has placed two drivers in the top five at those tracks in two of the last three races. Hendrick has had only one driver in the top five in the past two races with the 550 package.

The Gibbs cars appear to be closing on the Hendrick cars. Can that continue this weekend?