For the second straight week, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series had a quiet day on Saturday. Instead of two practice sessions like some weekend, this week and last it’s just one lap for qualifying.
So, not much will have changed between how I felt on Friday than how I feel now for who will contend to win Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400 (2 p.m. ET/FS1/MRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.
Here’s a preview and prediction.
TV – FS1
Coverage – 2 p.m. ET
Green Flag – 2:10 p.m. ET
Distance – 200 Laps/400 Miles
Stage Lengths – 60/60/80
Track – Michigan International Speedway
Race – 15 of 36
Can SHR Earn 1st Win Of Season?
Stewart-Haas Racing was the team to beat in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series last year. At this point last season, they had won seven of the 15 races. In fact, in the June race at the Michigan International Speedway, they went 1-2-3 in the rain shortened event.
Fast forward to this year. Over the last 35 races, they’ve only reached victory lane just three times, one of this being at Texas last November which was later ruled an L-1 penalty. They’ve been shut out of victory lane in general in 2019.
Could Michigan be the place the winless drought ends? They swept both races on the 2-mile oval last year and after the two practice sessions run on Friday, they look like the clear cut favorites to win again for Sunday’s race.
SHR drivers led each of the two practices with Daniel Suarez topping the speed charts in session No. 1 with a lap of 188.882 mph in his No. 41 Ford. His teammate Clint Bowyer was second quickest in his No. 14 Ford with turning in a speed of 188.659 mph.
In final practice, Kevin Harvick led the way in his No. 4 Ford. Harvick, has six runner-up finishes at Michigan since joining SHR in 2013 including a top two result in both races run a year ago. He circled the track with a speed of 188.763 mph in the second and final session. Bowyer (188.477 mph), Suarez (188.157 mph) and Aric Almirola (187.926 mph) rounded out the top five and gave SHR all four cars in the top five of the speed chart in final practice.
It wasn’t just quick speed on short run laps either for SHR. Harvick, was fourth in both practice sessions respectively on the 10 lap average chart. Bowyer, was first and eight respectively himself. Suarez, was sixth and first respectively. Almirola, was 12th and second respectively but he was quickest on the 15 lap and 20 lap averages in final practice too.
That carried over to Saturday too. SHR will take three of the top five starting spots and had all four drivers qualify in the top 10.
Can Hendrick Keep Strong Finishes Going?
Michigan has always been a horsepower track. The quickest cars all season typically had great success on the 2-mile Michigan International Speedway. But, with a brand new package this season where the horsepower is restricted, Sunday’s race could look much different than we’ve ever seen on the Irish Hills track.
That’s good and bad news for Hendrick Motorsports. See, they haven’t been at their best lately in Michigan. Other than Chase Elliott, they’ve struggled. But, on the season with this package, they seem to be getting better and better.
Chase Elliott is their best option with literally a top 10 finish in all six of his Michigan Cup Series starts. Three of those are runner-ups at that. On the season, Elliott has five top five finishes in his last five starts including a win at Talladega in April. You can literally just see the confidence building.
How good has he been? How quiet has it been at that? Elliott, is all the way up to third in the overall standings right now.
Then there’s second year driver William Byron. He finished 13th and 36th at Michigan last year but has three top 10 finishes in his last four starts on the year.
Alex Bowman was 16th and 19th respectively himself at Michigan last year but on the season has three runner-ups and a seventh place run in the last five races.
Jimmie Johnson has just one top five at Michigan since 2012 but that was a win. He has two top 10 finishes in his last three starts on the year though.
Ford’s Eyeing Another Dominating Day
Ford swept both Cup Series races on the 2-mile oval last year with both victories coming from the Stewart-Haas Racing camp. But, through 14 races run in 2019, SHR has yet to find victory lane in a points paying race. Does that change on Sunday?
Last year, Ford’s took seven of the top eight finishing positions in the rain shortened June race. While the Toyota’s have been the class of the field this season, Michigan is a horsepower track. Maybe that bodes well for the Ford’s.
Ford, swept the top three starting spots and has eight of the top 10 overall for Sunday.
The blue ovals shined in 2018 and maybe that will translate well over to 2019 despite there being a different aero package.
Watch Out For Team Penske
After getting off to such a strong start to the season, this organization has struggled a bit lately. But, maybe Michigan is the place to where they get back on track as a whole.
Brad Keselowski has eight top 10 finishes in his last 10 Michigan starts. He was sixth and second respectively last year.
Joey Logano has 11 top 10 finishes in 12 Michigan starts – all coming since he joined Penske in 2013. His June race finishes are ninth, ninth, fifth, first, third and seventh respectively.
Then there’s Ryan Blaney. He’s been reeling lately but does have three top eight finishes iin his last five Michigan starts including an eighth place run in this race last year and a fifth place finish in the August race.
As you can see, Penske had all three cars finish in the top 10 in both races last year and are looking to do so again this weekend.
Can Larson Get On Track?
Heading into last season, Kyle Larson was the 2-mile oval king. Four of his five career Cup Series wins came either at Fontana or its sister track in Michigan. Three of those four victories actually came at Michigan in fact.
Can he get back on track this weekend?
Larson, had four straight top three finishes including three consecutive victories in 2016 and 2017. Then, in 2018, he only finished 28th and 13th respectively. This season has been a dismal one for him too. Despite winning the All-Star race a few weeks ago, Larson has just one top five finish this year.
Can he rebound and get back on track this weekend in Michigan?
Trends Say Truex Will Win, But Will He?
If you go off trends, go ahead and give Martin Truex Jr. the trophy now. He won earlier this season at Richmond then finished 20th the next race at Talladega. Then, he won a week later at Dover only to finish 19th a week after that in Kansas. In the next race, Truex won the Coca-Cola 600. Last week, he finished 35th. The trend is a win right?
He hasn’t been the quickest yet with only being 13th and ninth respectively on single lap runs and ninth and fifth on the 10 lap average chart. Truex, also has four top six finishes in his last eight Michigan starts but was only 18th and 14th respectively last year.
Last week, Denny Hamlin brought his No. 11 Toyota home sixth. That was his first top 10 result in five weeks. In fact, that’s his first top 15 finish since Richmond which happens to also be his last top five result on the year too. This weekend, Hamlin isn’t much better. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver was only 21st and 17th respectively on single lap averages and 17th and 16th on the 10 lap average chart on Friday. He also has just five top 10 finishes in his last 15 Michigan starts too.
22 Logano – I know, cliche to pick the pole winner but Logano has been fantastic in Michigan. He has finished in the top 10 in all but one start since joining Penske in 2013. He’s a two time winner at Michigan and now has 22 poles to go along with 22 victories in the series, both ranking 35th all-time. How about a victory for No. 22 Sunday?
4 Harvick – The SHR driver earns his seventh runner-up at Michigan since 2013 including two straight in this race. Harvick, was quickest in final practice to go along with being fourth overall on the 10 lap average chart in the two practice sessions on Friday too. He starts third.
20 Jones – He was third quickest on both practices Friday on the 10 lap average chart. Jones, was also sixth and seventh respectively on single lap times. On the season, Jones has three top six finishes in his last four starts including two of which being third place runs. Why not another?
1 KuBusch – Busch, has eight top 10 finishes this season to go along with a top 12 finish in each of his last six Michigan starts. He was third and sixth respectively in the two races last year. Plus, Busch was eighth and sixth respectively in practice on Friday on single lap speed to go along with being second and sixth respectively on the 10 lap average chart.
14 Bowyer – He won this race last year but has struggled other than that. This weekend though, Bowyer has been strong. The SHR driver was second and third respectively on single lap speed and first and eighth on the 10 lap averages. He also has three top 10 finishes in his last four starts on the season including seven in his last nine overall.