Consumers Energy 400 Preview

In his 99th career Cup start, Chase Elliott finally got the monkey off his back with a victory at Watkins Glen last weekend. 8 drivers are now locked into the playoffs with wins, and 4 races remain in the regular season points battle to decide the other 8 participants. To kick things off, we head back to Michigan, where we last saw a rain-shortened race on June 10th. Fords dominated that effort, occupying 7 of the top-ten finishing positions, and I fully expect to see more of the same this time around.

MICHIGAN INTERNATIONAL SPEEDWAY

Michigan is often grouped together with Auto Club as the only 2.0 mile D-shaped ovals on the circuit. While that is appropriate on a high level, Michigan has 18 degrees of banking in the turns compared to Auto Club’s 14. It sounds small, but 4 degrees of extra banking makes a huge impact on which corner entry and exit lines can produce speed, while simultaneously managing grip and mitigating tire wear. Michigan was also repaved for 2012, while Auto Club’s surface remains weathered in, bumpy, and much lower on grip. The corners at both tracks are nearly the same 73-75 feet widths, but Michigan’s front and back stretches are nearly 30 feet narrower than Auto Club’s. In summary, there are certainly likenesses, but these two tracks offer drivers vastly different feels and variables. Take that with a grain of salt when factoring Auto Club results into Michigan projections.

PIT STALL PICKS: THE DOWNFORCE, THE DRAFT, & THE DRAG

This section is less about prognostication, and more about highlighting drivers catching my eye at a given moment. We all play in different formats and have different strategies, but hopefully this adds some value to your results. Harvick, Truex, and Kyle Busch have been purposely omitted because they are obvious options each week. Good luck!

THE DOWNFORCE (start ’em)

Kyle Larson – Only 10 active drivers have ever won at Michigan since 2005. Of the 10, only 5 have multiple wins. Of the 5, only Kyle Larson has won 3 times, and those victories were in a row from 2016-2017. Obviously June’s race put an end to the streak, but the #42 was on everyone’s radar as one of the fastest cars heading into the race. To the point, Larson started 26th and finished 2nd in Stage 1. An unfortunate spin in turn 4 led to an uncharacteristic 28th place finish, but anyone who stands alone with 3 wins knows how to get around this place, period.

Chase Elliott – I’m very superstitious about starting a driver after a win, so we’ll see how this goes when said driver is young and it’s their first ever career victory. I’m sure the celebration was handled responsibly and the focus has sharpened even more (yeah, right)… Superstitions aside, Chase ranks among the elite for average finish (4.6) and loop rating (108.9) in the last 5 Michigan races. He finished 9th with 0 stage points back in June, but his resume at Michigan and recent momentum suggest a likely improvement.

Kurt Busch – Kurt is another one of the 5 active drivers with multiple wins at Michigan, but the most recent was back in 2015. He led 46 laps and finished 3rd in the June race, but more importantly, Stewart-Haas was on-point with all their drivers. Bowyer won, Harvick should’ve won, Kurt took 3rd, and Almirola finished respectably in 11th. Expectations are high once again for this organization.

Brad Keselowski – Something is off with Penske and they just don’t have the “it factor” this year. Then again, when 3 drivers have won 73% of the races, it casts a big shadow on everyone else “under performing”. Brad is a Michigan native, and I have to imagine winning this race tops his list of places he has yet to win. He’s finished 28% of his Michigan attempts in the top-five, and 50% in the top-ten.

Joey Logano – Joey has multiple wins at Michigan as well, 2013 and 2016. They’ve been running cold lately, but the next two weeks at Michigan and Bristol (2 wins) offer a great chance to get their season back on track for the #22. Logano has finished 9 of the last 11 Michigan races in single digits, and this is a great time to buy-low on this team.

THE DRAFT (dark horse)

Clint Bowyer – From 2011-2015, Clint strung together 9 consecutive top-tens at Michigan. After 5 clunkers from 2015-2017, he finally broke through for the win back in June, his second checkered flag of the season. As previously mentioned, Stewart-Haas brought some rockets to Michigan on their last visit, and there’s no evidence to suggest things would be any different on Sunday. I’m very high on any SHR driver this weekend, and any Ford. I should mention Jamie McMurray could easily be in this space with 5 straight top-tens as well, but I didn’t want to write about him.

THE DRAG (use caution)

Daniel Suarez – This one is pretty self explanatory. In 3 career attempts at Michigan, Suarez has yet to finish better than 24th, which is also the only attempt where he finished on the lead lap. He finished 23rd (-1 lap) at Auto Club earlier this season, and 30th (-1 lap) at Michigan. Let him continue to figure this place out.

AVERAGE FINISH POSITION @ MICHIGAN (last 5 track events)

4.6, #9 Chase Elliott
6.8, #42 Kyle Larson
7.8, #4 Kevin Harvick
8.2, #1 Jamie McMurray
9.2, #2 Brad Keselowski

AVERAGE LOOP RATING @ MICHIGAN (last 5 track events)

115.1, #42 Kyle Larson
110.9 #4 Kevin Harvick
108.9, #9 Chase Elliott
106.9, #22 Joey Logano
106.0, #2 Brad Keselowski

2018 PTS MOMENTUM (last 5 overall races this season)

43.8, #78 Martin Truex Jr.
40.0, #4 Kevin Harvick
39.6, #18 Kyle Busch
36.8, #9 Chase Elliott
32.8, #20 Erik Jones

Dan Roman Contributor|User role
Dan Roman is an opinion writer, content contributor, and league manager from Charlotte, North Carolina – the proud home of NASCAR! Dan is passionate about furthering the reach of NASCAR, and expanding its base of fans and fantasy players everywhere. In his spare time, Dan enjoys simulator racing on iRacing.com, and learning the nuances of motorsports; including racing physics, setup configurations, strategy, and history. The views and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of NASCAR Pools Online.

One Response to “Consumers Energy 400 Preview”

  1. Lol, Jamie McMurray.

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