Firekeepers Casino 400

The Monster Energy Series heads to Michigan International Speedway this weekend for their 100th race at the historic venue. Michigan is a 2-mile D-shaped oval. The banking in each corner is 18 degrees, with variable banking on the front and backstretches. The frontstretch banking is 12 degrees and the backstretch banking is five degrees. The inaugural winner here, in 1969, was Cale Yarborough. Michigan will feature the 2019 rules package with aero ducts and a tapered-spacer engine that will generate about 550 horsepower. Corner speeds at Michigan will be up and you can expect close quarters racing. Projections this week will be based on several factors, but more weight will be given to this year’s previous six races where this package was used. While historical results here will be factored in, they will have less weight than this year’s races.

Michigan is tied with Talladega for the most 200 mph Busch Pole Award speeds with eleven. Kyle Larson has won three of the last five races at Michigan. Either Chase Elliott or Kevin Harvick has finished runner-up in nine of the last 12 races at Michigan. Clint Bowyer took the checkered flag at last year’s race, finishing ahead of his SHR teammate Kevin Harvick. Bowyer only led 8 laps in the race. The pole position has produced the most winners (21) at Michigan, with Larson being the last to do so in 2017.

Almirola (9.3), Hamlin (9.5), Kurt Busch (10.5), Suarez (12.2) Johnson (12.3), and Bowman (12.3), each rank in the top 10 in average finish in the six races (excluding Talladega) that used the same 550 horsepower/aero ducts rules package being used this week. Jones and Bowyer each have 3 top fives in the last four races (excluding Talladega) with this same rules package.

Past winners entered this week are Kurt Busch (3), Larson (3), Hamlin (2), Harvick (2), Logano (2), and Newman (2). Bowyer, Kyle Busch, and Johnson have one win each at the track.

There are 150 dominator points available in this 200 lap event, and you can expect 2-4 dominators from a points perspective. As always, my articles are directed at DK gpp formats, but I will be around in chat to discuss FD options and cash plays for those players interested. Let’s get to it.

Joey Logano (9700) – Logano is a two-time winner who’s finished in the top ten in 11 of the last 12 races. He’s been one of the best drivers in all of Nascar this year at high-speed intermediate tracks. In 2018 at Michigan, Logano was one of seven drivers who swept the top ten. Last summer, Logano had a solid showing, finishing 10th. Last spring he finished 7th, and had the 6th best driver rating. In spring of 2017, Logano finished 3rd. Logano was all over the practice speed chart, ranging from fast in the early session to middle of the pack in happy hour, where he ran a whopping 50+ laps working on drafting with various drivers. Logano starts on the pole and I don’t typically like picking pole-sitters, but he was incredibly fast in qualifying and seemed to have found a line that nobody else could match. He may lead a lot of early laps. He’s a risky play, but it could pay off.

Kevin Harvick (10700) – Harvick is still looking for his first win of 2019. Between his pit crew costing him positions on the track, and other handling issues, he hasn’t been able to break through yet this season. At Michigan, Harvick has performed exceptionally well and in 9 of the last 12 races he’s finished in the top 5. Those are amazing numbers. Last year at Michigan, Harvick dominated the field in the summer race and was positioned to win the spring race had it not been rain shortened and had his teammate not made a 2-tire stop to leap frog him in the running order just before the race was suddenly halted. In the 8 Michigan races prior to 2017, Harvick had 5 runner-up’s and 7 top fives. Harvick and his SHR teammates looked great in practice, with all four making the top 8 in 10 lap averages, with Harvick coming in 4th best. Harvick starts up front, which isn’t the greatest, but he was so dominant here last year in both races and this team is very hungry for a win to get qualified for the playoffs.

Hendrick Motorsports – All of these drivers had similar runs and start between 17th and 21st on race day. Elliott (10000) – Elliott loves Michigan. It’s been a great track for him and over his short career (six starts) he’s finished in the top ten every race and has a 5.3 average finish. Over Elliott’s last three races at Michigan he’s finished in either 8th or 9th, in his first three starts he finished runner-up. Hendrick Motorsports drivers have been steadily improving every week this season, with Elliott leading the way. Johnson (7900), Bowman (8500), and Byron (7600), all start right behind Elliott and are capable of pushing for a top ten. They all project among the top 15 drivers in the starting grid from a value standpoint. Starting and running together on a track with drafting could be a boost early in the race. It is worth mentioning that in his long and successful career, this isn’t one of JJ’s better historical tracks, despite having won here. Maybe DK finally dropped his salary to sub-8k because of that.

Erik Jones (8300) – Jones has steadily been turning things around at high-speed intermediate tracks this year and at Michigan, his home track, he could be a sneaky play. Jones has four Michigan starts in his career, and over his combined races he has an 11.0 average finish and a 14.0 average running position. Last summer he finished 13th despite spinning twice. Last spring at Michigan, Jones started in the rear of the field and finished 15th, but ran in the top ten much of the race. In August 2017, when the checkered flag waved he finished 3rd. Jones found some speed in happy hour, posting the 3rd best 10 and 15 lap averages. His recent results are a positive sign that this team may be getting things turned around.

Chris Buescher (7200) – Chris Buescher is typically a good option at any track, given his salary. The fact he qualified 31st this week is just icing on the cake. He doesn’t have the best Michigan history, but he’s been running very well of late, with 3 consecutive finishes in the top 15. He’ll easily pay off salary if he can even get close to that. He finished 6th at Charlotte and 10th at Kansas to go along with his recent success. At Michigan, Buescher has a 23.5 average finish over his six races and even that would pay off salary. In summer of 2017, he had his best race at Michigan and finished in 6th. Expect something in the mid to high teens on race day this week as he projects as the highest non-dominator value on the slate leading up to the green flag Sunday. Rolling off 31st on Sunday, Buescher is a lock this week.

Brad Keselowski (11200) – Michigan is Keselowski’s home track and he is considered a heavy favorite every time the series visits Michigan. He has great results here in the past, and 2019 has been a great year for him with this package at similar high-speed intermediate tracks. Kansas is the most similar track to Michigan, and Keselowski took the win there. At Auto Club, the other 2.0 mile oval on the schedule he finished 3rd this year. Last summer, Keselowski had his best Michigan result and finished runner-up. Last spring, Keselowski finished 6th and had a 6th place average running position. In August of 2017, Keselowski started on the pole and led 103 of the first 110 laps, before pit strategy derailed his near perfect race. In the six Michigan races prior to 2017 he had a 5.5 average finish. Brad Keselowski has finished 9th or better in 8 of the last 10 races. Keselowski looked good throughout most of the practice sessions, ending among the top ten in 10, 15, and 20 lap averages.

Kyle Busch (11800) – Busch has run extremely well here and right now he’s arguably the best driver in all of Nascar. Over the last four races held at tracks of this length he has a 2.8 average finish, a 5.0 average running position, and has led the most laps. At Auto Club he led 134 laps and raced his way to victory. At Michigan, Busch currently has 4 straight top tens. Over the last four races here he has a 6.0 average finish. Last summer he started 2nd and finished 3rd, leading 22 laps along the way. In the spring 2018 race, Busch qualified 3rd but failed pre-race inspection and started in the rear of the field. On lap 51 he was in 8th, and finished 4th. Busch was fast in practice, and posted the 7th best 10 lap average in happy hour. The Toyotas have made great strides in keeping up with Ford HP using the areo package, and Busch’s team adapts to new packages faster than any team in Nascar. It’s shown this season. He slipped in qualifying and rolls off 15th. It’s notable that in a pre-qualifying interview, Busch commented on how he doesn’t think starting position is as important as most think, figuring he’ll get to the front regardless of where he starts. That’s supreme confidence and his results back it up.

Other drivers I like are Larson, Truex, Austin Dillon, Bowyer, and DiBenedetto.

Salary-savers this week are DiBenedetto, Ty Dillon, and Preece.

Dominator potentials this week are Logano, Harvick, Keselowski, and Kyle Busch.

Movers this week are Larson, Buescher, Kyle Busch, and Elliott.

Fades for me this week are Menard, Stenhouse, and Hemric.

My pick to win the race this week is Kevin Harvick. SHR has collectively been as close to dominant as you can get all week in practice. Jeff Gordon and the rest of the commentators have raved about how fast Harvick has been since unloading.