Mash The Gas: Michigan Preview

Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr lead the field at Michigan International Speedway. [Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images]

Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr lead the field at Michigan International Speedway. [Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images]

by Dan Margetta and John Wiedemann

The NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series rolls into the Irish Hills of Michigan as the Michigan International Speedway hosts the Firekeepers Casino 400 Sunday afternoon.

FireKeepers Casino 400
Michigan International Speedway
400 miles (200 laps)
Sunday, June 18
3 p.m. ET
FS1, 2 p.m. ET
MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Stage 1 (Ends on lap 60)
Stage 2 (Ends on lap 120)
Final Stage (Ends on lap 200)
spots are being filled quickly and some notable contenders may find themselves left out. Michigan is also in the heart of the automobile industry and representatives from the manufacturers should be on hand looking for bragging rights. Michigan also races similarly to the California Speedway and drivers who perform well there should have success here. The Firekeepers Casino 400 is set for Sunday afternoon from the Michigan International Speedway and here are some drivers to watch…

Chase Elliott (Dan Margetta)
If this trend of first time winners is to continue this week, look no further than Chase Elliott to score his first Cup victory. Michigan has been one of Elliott’s best tracks and he finished second in both races during his rookie season last year. Eliott also ran strong at California earlier this year where he finished tenth. He’s listed at 7-1 odds this weekend mainly because he’s been in a bit of a slump lately but Michigan is one of the best places for him to turn that around. After watching Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Austin Dillon, and Ryan Blaney all get their first wins in the last few weeks, Chase Elliott has to think it’s about time for his turn. He’s been very close before and Sunday could see him finally break through to the win column.

Ryan Blaney (John Wiedemann)
How about a second consecutive race win? Now that Ryan Blaney has figured out the way to victory lane, maybe he can do it again this weekend. Blaney made his first career start at Michigan in 2015 and finished 24th in both races followed by a finish of 17th in this race last season and then finished fourth in the August race. Blaney is the tenth driver to score a win this season and is currently fifth in the standings for the playoffs. This season Blaney is averaging an 18th place finish, but that doesn’t tell the entire story. Blaney has been in contention and has led four races including 83 laps at Kansas after qualifying on the pole and eventually finishing fourth. Each week has been a learning experience for Blaney as he races and restarts with the top drivers in the series. He keeps learning and improving and will be quite the competitor come playoff time. I’m predicting another win this weekend as the Wood Brothers and Blaney keep on a role.

Kyle Larson (DM)
Kyle Larson is the favorite heading into this weekend’s race at Michigan as he is listed at 9/2 odds. That’s mainly due to his having won both this race last year and at California earlier this season. Larson has also been good just about everywhere in 2017 and Michigan’s wide racing grooves suit his driving style perfectly. Kyle Larson is always searching for fast ways around the track and a circuit like Michigan that provides multiple options usually translates into success for him. Kyle Larson is enjoying his breakout season in 2017 and Michigan is one of his strongest tracks which should produce a recipe for success and maybe a victory on Sunday.

Matt Kenseth (JW)
I can’t believe that Dan didn’t pick him. I think this weekend will be a return to the front of the pack for Matt Kenseth. This has not been a typical year so far for Kenseth, with six top ten finishes in the fourteen races so far, including a tenth place run last weekend at Pocono, more was expected. But, the entire Joe Gibbs Racing team seemed to be in a funk, so it wasn’t just the #20 team. One thing that has been the same as last season is Kenseth’s average start of around ninth place. The difference has been and an average finish of 17.1, almost four places worse than last year. The JGR team as well as Kenseth have been showing signs of a return to last seasons form and racing at Michigan this weekend should help that along. I expect a strong top five finish for Kenseth and possibly a shot at victory.

Kevin Harvick (DM)
It’s already June and Kevin Harvick is still winless in his first season driving a Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing. That’s hard to believe but it’s certainly real and time is running out for Harvick to qualify for the playoffs. Michigan is one of Harvick’s best tracks as he has finished second in five out of the last eight races and was fifth in both events last year. He’s coming off a strong second place finish last week at Pocono and is listed at 6-1 odds to win this week. All those second place finishes are getting to be old and it’s about time for Kevin Harvick and the #4 team to close out a victory. Michigan is a very good place for that to happen.

Erik Jones (JW)
Another one of the young guns to watch is Erik Jones. The rookie is coming off his best career race in NASCAR’s top Series with a third place finish at Pocono including leading 20 laps. Look for a boost of confidence while returning to his home state to make this a big weekend at Michigan International Speedway for the Toyota driver. This will be Jones first race at Michigan in a Cup Series car but he has raced there and scored top fives in the Xfinity Series (4th) and Camping World Truck Series (3rd). Through the season so far Jones has one top five and two more top ten finishes, look for another top ten this weekend for the Michigan native.

Kyle Busch (DM)
Kyle Busch comes into Michigan at 8-1 odds this week, riding a continuous streak of leading many laps but ultimately missing out on the win at the finish. Busch has been fast just about everywhere this season but Michigan has not been one of his best tracks lately. He’s finished 31st or worse in five out of the last seven races and has not had good luck here since the track was repaved in 2012 (His lone Michigan win was in 2011). With the way this season has been going for Kyle Busch in not winning at all the places he is supposed to, maybe the one place he shouldn’t win will be where he finally gets a victory. It took him a long time to win at Kansas and when everyone finally wrote him off, he responded with a win and he’s in a similar situation this week at Michigan. Don’t count out Kyle Busch no matter what his recent record here says.

Brad Keselowski (JW)
Another driver returning to his home state this weekend is Brad Keselowski. Keselowski has yet to win at his home track of Michigan International Speedway and you can bet that he has the races at this track circled on the calendar. Keselowski already has two wins this season and is currently third in the playoff standings, so he is pretty safe and can take whatever chances he and his crew chief want to take to try and capture the flag in the Irish Hills. One of his main competitors could be his teammate Joey Logano and if they are racing together at the front, things could get interesting. Logano still needs a win to qualify for the playoffs. There normally are not team orders in NASCAR… could be interesting.

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