Mash The Gas: Michigan Preview

Kurt Busch leads Jimmie Johnson and a pack of cars at Michigan International Speedway. [Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images]

by Dan Margetta and John Wiedemann

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to the Irish Hills of Michigan as the Michigan International Speedway hosts the Pure Michigan 400 on Sunday afternoon.

Since a recent repave, the speeds at the two mile Michigan oval have been among the fastest on the circuit and the drivers come into this weekend set to compete with aerodynamic rules that feature very little downforce. This aero package was used at the last Michigan race in June in an event that featured nine caution flags, many for crashes.

Since that June race, the drivers have gained some experience with the super low downforce rules as they were also used at Kentucky in July. With a return to Michigan under those rules set for Sunday, the pressure continues to mount for those drivers still outside the Chase for the Championship cut-off.

The first Michigan race of the season produced some surprises among the top ten finishers and there also could be some surprises on Sunday. Here are some drivers to watch…

Brad Keselowski (Dan Margetta)
Brad Keselowski has yet to win at Michigan, his home track, and no one in the garage area wants to win here more. Keselowski has had several strong runs here as his best finish is second place and he was a strong fourth at Michigan in June. One thing to note is that Keselowski won at Kentucky where the super low downforce aero rules were in place and his Penske teammate Joey Logano won here at Michigan, meaning a Penske car has won each of the races under which the rules were run. Keselowski comes into Michigan at 7-1 odds to win this weekend and he has racked up top ten finishes in seven of the last ten races here. Winning at this racetrack means more to Brad Keselowski than anyone else in the garage and that added incentive could be what propels him to his first Michigan victory on Sunday.

Kurt Busch (John Wiedemann)
With three victoies at Michigan, Kurt Busch is the active leader win in the Sprint Cup Series at the two mile track. Busch’s final results have been all over the charts at Michigan but as always, he is quick at the track especially in Stewart-Haas equipment. Busch finished tenth in the June race and has only had three top ten runs in the eight races since, so this weekend would be a great place to turn around his fortunes as the #41 team gets ready for the Chase. I’m not sure I would pick Busch for the win this weekend but I believe he will be in the mix.

Kevin Harvick (DM)
Kevin Harvick, the most recent winner on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, looks to continue that momentum at Michigan where he has had several strong races. While he only has a single Michigan victory he has finished second in five of the last seven races here and was a strong fifth back in June. Harvick comes into Michigan at 6-1 odds and he has already qualified for the Chase this season with two victories. Historically Kevin Harvick runs extremely well at Michigan but has problems closing the deal and finding victory lane. Coming off his Bristol win last weekend, Kevin Harvick could very well continue to ride his current wave of success into victory lane at Michigan.

Joey Logano (JW)
It’s about time for another Joey Logano victory and coming back to the site of his last win just might help out the cause. Logano has six top ten finishes including four in the top five since that win at Michigan in June. In those races, Logano has led laps but just hasn’t closed the deal. I believe this is the weekend for Logano as he looks for, surprisingly, only his second win of the season. June’s race was a strong run for Logano where he started on the pole and led 138 laps on his way to victory lane. This weekend could be the same as Logano looks to sweep the Irish Hills. Joey is my pick to win.

Chase Elliott (DM)
Rookie Chase Elliott made a statement in the last Michigan race back in June as he led several laps and finished a strong second. Since that time however, Elliott’s performance has taken a turn for the worse and he hasn’t been a serious contender week in and week out. The strong Michigan run in June should give Elliott some hope heading into this weekend as he looks to right the #24 team’s ship as the Chase looms. Elliott is currently qualified for the Chase on points but he’s close to the cut-off and can’t afford a bad finish. He comes into Michigan at 20-1 odds to win and is worth a look if you are looking for somewhat of a surprise winner. After a strong start followed by a bit of a lull in performance, Chase Elliott is looking to swing the momentum toward the positive side during the crucial weeks leading into the Chase. The Michigan International Speedway is a good place for Elliott to start that charge and he should not be forgotten on Sunday.

Greg Biffle (JW)
Can a return to what used to be a Roush Racing playground be the ticket to victory lane for Greg Biffle? Only a victory in the next three races will propel Biffle into the Chase this season. The June Michigan race wasn’t a good finish for Biffle as he started 18th and finished 19th. Biffle had three top ten runs after the Michigan race but has a best finish of 16th, last weekend at Bristol, in the last four races. This season hasn’t been one to remember for Biffle, but the four-time winner at Michigan can make the Chase if he wins this weekend. I’m not expecting it but anything can happen if it turns into a fuel mileage event this weekend.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (DM)
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is my long shot pick this weekend as he comes into the Michigan event at 200-1 odds, despite tying his career best finish of second place last weekend. The low downforce rules should play into Stenhouse’s dirt track backed driving style and the Roush-Fenway cars have been showing signs of speed lately. While Stenhouse’s performance during the races the super low downforce rules were used has not been good (a lap down in 29th in Michigan and 40th after an early crash at Kentucky), Sunday could prove to be drastically different as he has seemed to settle into a positive groove lately posting finishes of 10th, 12th, 18th, and 2nd in four of the five races since Kentucky. This season has had some surprises to date and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. could provide another one on Sunday.

Chris Buescher (JW)
It is on now. After Chris Buescher won at Pocono, he finished 30th at Pocono and 5th at Bristol last weekend. Both of those finishes were ahead of teammate David Ragan and Buescher is now in the top 30 in points, which is what he needs to be in the Chase. With the great run at Bristol, Buescher is now 13 points ahead of Ragan with the three races to go. Buescher has run one Sprint Cup Series race at Michigan in June earlier this season. He finished 20th. Ragan finished 23rd. All that Buescher needs to do right now is beat his teammate and that will seal the deal to get in the Chase. Buescher may not make much noise once he gets to the Chase, but it will be fun to watch him make the cut.

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