BROOKLYN, Mich – The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to the Michigan International Speedway this weekend for the annual late summer trip to the Irish Hills. Sunday’s Consumers Energy 400 (3 p.m. ET/NBCSN/MRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) will mark the 23rd event of the season.
Here’s the race preview.
Joey Logano celebrates his Michigan win earlier this season
Will Penske Get Going?
Joey Logano dominated the June race at Michigan earlier this season. Little did we know then, that Logano’s victory in the rain delayed race would be their last. That’s right over the past eight races, Penske has been shut out of victory lane.
It seems now like Team Penske may have peaked too soon. Last year, it was the exact opposite. Heading into Sunday’s race, they’ve got one win in the last 10 races overall. Since Logano’s win at Michigan on June 10, his finishes are 23rd, 3rd, 25th, 7th, 9th, 13th and 21st respectively. That’s just one top five result and two top 10’s in his No. 22 Ford in his last seven races on the season. He was ninth, fifth and 26th respectively in practice this weekend and 16th and 18th respectively on the 10 lap averages.
Brad Keselowski has one top five in his last eight starts on the year in his No. 2 Ford. The Michigan native does have four top 10’s but nothing better than fifth. He will start on the pole though.
Ryan Blaney is their hottest driver with six top 10 finishes in his last eight starts on the year including four in the top six in his No. 12 Ford. The Ohio native was eighth, 20th and eighth respectively and will start seventh.
Now, can they get back on track this weekend in Michigan?
Logano, has finished in the top 10 in all but one try (13 starts) at Michigan since joining Penske in 2013.
Keselowski, has never won on his home state’s track but does have three consecutive top six finishes in his No. 2 Ford. He also has nine top 10 results on the 2-mile oval in his last 11 tries.
Blaney has finished in the top 10 in his last three Michigan tries as Penske put all three cars in the top 10 in June. Can they do so again in August?
They’ve been the second best Ford organization this weekend.
Erik Jones in his No. 20 Toyota a few weeks ago at the Pocono Raceway
Jones Eyeing Home Track Win
Erik Jones has been close to victory over the last several weeks. He heads to his home track of the Michigan International Speedway on the heels of four top three finishes in his last four tries. That’s catapulted him from double digit points out out of the playoffs to double digit points into the playoffs. Now, it’s time to win on his home track.
Jones, is chasing a new contract with JGR as well as a playoff berth. A win at Michigan would go a long way in doing that.
Jones, finished third in this very race in 2016, but that’s his lone Michigan top 10 finish in five tries. He was only 31st back in June. This weekend though, he’s been stellar. He was fourth and first respectively on single lap runs in practice on Saturday and second and first on the 10 lap averages.
But, with how good that he’s running mixed with his hunger for a win, I wouldn’t put it past his No. 20 Toyota to go to victory lane and give Toyota their first win at Michigan since Matt Kenseth took the No. 20 Toyota to victory in the 2015 race.
Kyle Busch practices his No. 18 Toyota back in June at the Michigan International Speedway
Joe Gibbs Racing The Favorites Again?
Toyota hasn’t won at Michigan since 2015. In fact, Matt Kenseth’s victory in this very race that years in their only one since 2012. But, I still think that they can win Sunday’s Consumers Energy 400 in the Irish Hills.
Heading into this weekend, they’ve won 11 of the 22 races run in 2019. Plus, all four of their drivers are on hot streaks. Even back in June, they finished 3-5-11-31. On Sunday, they won’t start from the best spots, but they have speed to improve though.
Denny Hamlin enters this weekend running as well as anyone in his No. 11 Toyota with a top five finish in each of the last four weeks including a runner-up and first place run in two of the last three races on the year. Furthermore, if you go back seven weeks, Hamlin has five top five finishes. But, he was 16th, 10th and 14th respectively on single lap runs and seventh and 13th on 10 lap averages. He rolls off 14th.
If it’s not Hamlin winning, then look no further than Martin Truex Jr. He brought his No. 19 Toyota home third two weeks ago in Pocono for his fifth top 10 finish in the last eight races on the year. He was then runner-up last weekend in Watkins Glen. Third, second…first? He was 15th, 12th and 7th respectively in practice and sixth and ninth on 10 lap averages. He starts 15th.
Erik Jones has four straight top four finishes on the season. Furthermore, he has five top seven results in his last six races too. Heading into the Kentucky, he was 13 points behind the cutoff. Heading into Michigan, he’s 54 points to the good. He has been the best this weekend among the bunch.
How dare we not mention Kyle Busch? It’s goes to show you how good that they’ve been lately when he’s listed as fourth. Busch, has a series tying four wins in 2019. He has one top five in his last six races though but three straight top five finishes in his No. 18 Toyota at Michigan.
Joey Logano leads a group of cars in June’s race at Michigan
Top 7 In Points All Thrived Back In June
Heading into this weekend’s race, the top seven of the overall points standings should be the odds on favorites to win the return trip to Michigan. While that sounds obvious for a number of reason, the big question is though, whom is the overall favorite?
That’s a tricky one because among the top seven in the standings, six of them finished in the top seven of the race in June. The current crop of 16 playoff drivers saw nine of the top 10 finishing spots belong to them.
The only one in the top seven in points who didn’t finish in the top seven was Denny Hamlin in 11th. But, Hamlin is recently on a hot streak though. He has three top five finishes in his last four starts on the season including two of which being either first or second. Hamlin, also has two top four finishes in his last three Michigan starts.
So, I’d say this could be a wide open race among the usual contenders.
Kevin Harvick during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Consmers Energy 400 at Michigan International Speedway on August 12, 2018 in Brooklyn, Michigan.
Big Race For Manufacturers
Michigan is always a big race for the manufacturers in the sport. Chevrolet and Ford are based right down the road in Detroit. They always want to perform at the highest level in front of their execs. But, Toyota would also love to nothing more than steal a win in their competitions backyard.
Ford, has won the last three races in Michigan. Chevrolet, won the three races prior to that. Toyota meanwhile, has been victorious just once since 2012 in the Irish Hills.
But, back in June, all three were in the top three of the finishing order as it went Ford-Chevy-Toyota. What will Sunday look like?
Will PJ1 Work?
The track has put down some extra PJ1 this weekend as there are multiple lanes available if it works. See, the bottom line was the preferred line in June. The problem was, if you got out of line and tried to pass, you’d get so squirly that you’d lose several spots. So, everyone just rode it out in one line as a high speed parade. The risk vs. reward wasn’t high enough.
Now, they have more lanes to choose from with more grip, but will the grip equal more speed? Can you pull out of line and use the PJ1 grooves and not have the wall of air stall you out? Will the grip be enough to hold? If so, we could see a pack race like we see in Daytona and Talladega as we could have drivers holding the throttle wide open with multiple lanes to pass on.
BROOKLYN, MI – JUNE 18: Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 Cars 3/Target Chevrolet, takes the checkered flag to win the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway on June 18, 2017 in Brooklyn, Michigan. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Chip Ganassi Racing Should Shine
Michigan has always been a strong track for Chip Ganassi Racing. They’ve won three of the last six races on the 2-mile oval. That’s why that combined with them running well over the last few weeks that I can see one of their drivers earning the win in Sunday’s race at the Michigan International Speedway.
Kyle Larson enters Sunday’s race with five top 10 finishes in his last seven starts on the season including three of which being top five results in his No. 42 Chevrolet. He’s won at Michigan three times to go along with a third place finish as well. Since then though, he was only 28th, 13th and 14th respectively. But, with how well he’s running on the season again, I expect Larson to be a contender on Sunday.
Same for his teammate Kurt Busch. He won at Kentucky in July. He finished runner-up at Michigan in June for his third straight top six finishes on the Irish Hills race track. Since his win in 2015, he’s finished worse than 12th just once there.
This could be a strong week for them.
WATKINS GLEN, NY – AUGUST 05: Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 SunEnergy1 Chevrolet, leads a pack of cars during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series GoBowling at The Glen at Watkins Glen International on August 5, 2018 in Watkins Glen, New York. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Can Michigan 2 Be The Spot That Keeps Elliott Going
Back in June, Chase Elliott headed to the Michigan International Speedway on the heels of five straight top five finishes in his No. 9 Chevrolet. He looked like a legitimate championship contender. He sat in the highest points position he’s ever been in. But, Michigan is the place where his luck changed.
He finished 20th that day. Little did he know it then, it would be among his best finishes over the next seven weeks. Elliott, heads to Michigan this time on the heels of finishes of – 20th, 37th, 11th, 35th, 15th, 29th, 38th and now first respectively.
Now that he has momentum again, can he keep it going this time in Michigan.
In his first six Michigan starts, Elliott’s worst finish was ninth. In his first three starts, he was runner-up in each.
Can he get back to those ways?
BROOKLYN, MI – JUNE 10: Clint Bowyer, driver of the #14 Haas 30 Years of the VF1 Ford, races Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy John’s Ford, for the lead during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway on June 10, 2018 in Brooklyn, Michigan. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)
Will Stewart-Haas Racing Get Going?
Last year in Michigan, Stewart-Haas Racing swept both races in the Irish Hills. This year, they’re struggling. Through 22 races, they’ve won just once. That came a couple of weeks ago when Kevin Harvick held off a furious charge from Denny Hamlin to win the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Overall, SHR has struggled pretty much everywhere else.
Can they get going in Sunday’s Consumers Energy 400?
Kevin Harvick finished first and second respectively at Michigan last year but was only seventh in June. Three of his last five Michigan starts have seen him finish seventh or worse. But, from 2013 though 2015, Harvick had five runner-up finishes on the 2-mile oval including two fifth place runs in 2016 too. But, he’s not been a fraction of that in 2019. Harvick’s win in New Hampshire is his only top five in the last 11 races on the season.
Clint Bowyer won the June race at Michigan last year but that’s his lone top 10 finish in his last eight Michigan starts. On the season, his last top five came nine races ago in the June race at Pocono. He’s had just two top five finishes since the Coca-Cola 600.
Then there’s Aric Almirola who was 11th and seventh respectively last year but only 17th in June. On the year, Almirola hasn’t scored a top five finish since Phoenix back in March (19 races) and has just two top 10 finishes in his last eight overall.
That leaves Daniel Suarez who had a solid fourth place run in June. He was 11th in this race last year. But, on the season, Suarez enters this weekend with his last seven finishes being – 17th, 24th, 40th, 8th, 19th, 24th and respectively.
1. 12 Blaney – This feels like it’s his weekend. He was eighth in two of the three practice sessions and qualified seventh. Blaney, has three consecutive top 10 finishes at MIS and six top 10 results in his last eight starts on the season. Ford has won three straight in Michigan with Penske dominating in June. It’s Blaney’s turn.
2. 4 Harvick – How about a seventh runner-up since 2013? It’s coming. Harvick, was sixth, first and third respectively in single lap runs in practice and first and third on the 10 lap averages. Harvick, starts second and will finish there.
3. 20 Jones – The hottest driver in NASCAR right now gets another top four. This will be Jones’ fifth in-a-row. Jones, was fourth and first respectively in practice on Saturday and second and first on the t10 lap averages. The only reason he won’t win is because he starts 16th.
4. 88 Bowman – The Hendrick Motorsports driver gets going again on Sunday. He starts fourth and was fourth, 17th and second respectively in practice this weekend. He also has good long run speed (5th, 4th respectively).
5. 14 Bowyer – Why not another driver with a top five drought scoring one? Bowyer, won the June race last year and was seventh, sixth and sixth respectively in practice this weekend. He was second quickest on the 10 lap average chart in final practice and rolls off fifth as well.