Last Updated Aug 10, 2022, 10:27 PM

NASCAR FireKeepers Casino 400 Picks, Predictions, Odds

The 23rd race of the NASCAR Cup season takes us to Michigan International Speedway’s wide 2-mile oval for Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400. It’s the second season in a row that Michigan has had only race after hosting two Cup events annually since 1969.

While I miss the two dates, it makes me appreciate the lone date at Michigan even more. The racing is always great with drivers having success using differing strategies. Some love running up high, or rim-riding, while others do well on the low or middle lines.

We saw a race already this season on a 2-mile layout at Fontana, the sister track of Michigan both built by Roger Penske. That race gave us a prelude to how different the NextGen car was going to be this season which essentially made every car equal. It brought teams like Hendrick Motorsports back to the pack while also elevating teams that have struggled to keep up like Trackhouse Racing, Richard Childress Racing, and Petty Motorsports.  

Sure, Kyle Larson won at Fontana as the favorite, but Austin Dillon was second followed by Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez, and Joey Logano. Larson hasn’t won since that February race. Then it was to Las Vegas with another Hendrick car winning in Alex Bowman with Larson runner-up, but Ross Chastain burst onto the scene leading a race-high 83 laps and finished third.

Through 22 races, we’ve seen parity at its finest in NASCAR with 14 different winners, including five first-time winners. One of those first-time winners, Chastain, leads the series with 10 top-five finishes. 

I’ve used Fontana and Las Vegas as my starting point for dissecting this race while also throwing in some Darlington, Kansas, Charlotte, and Pocono. The same race package was used in all of those while Atlanta’s two races used the superspeedway race package. 

I think it’s still important to note that Ford has won the last seven races at Michigan even though none were in the new car and I have a few Ford drivers kind of flying under the radar in the sportsbooks in regards to pricing. 

FIREKEEPERS CASINO 400 PICKS & PREDICTIONS

Here’s a list of the favorites to win Sunday with odds provided by BetMGM sportsbooks:

Chase Elliott (6/1) has four wins this season and his 7.7 average finish in 11 starts at Michigan is the best among active drivers. No wins yet. His Daddy Bill Elliott won seven times at Michigan. He deserves to be the favorite. Elliott talks about his mindset with the playoffs approaching.

"You have to be at the top of your game heading into the playoffs,” Elliott said. “We can’t let setbacks like last week get to us. We have to keep focusing on what we can control and having good execution and just keep improving. I need to make sure I’m doing my job inside the car. Those are the things we’re focusing on to make sure we’re peaking at the right time."

I find it funny that Caesars sportsbooks have Kyle Busch +550 as the favorite to win, but BetMGM’s is just as bad. Please explain the formula used to make him the favorite. Is it because he had one win at Michigan (2011) in 33 Cup starts? Could it be that he has just one win on the season and it came on the gimmick Dirt Race at Bristol? How about that six drivers have as many or more than his six top-fives this season? Whatever the case is, it’s a dumb number. Busch talks about what it takes to run a successful lap at Michigan.

“Michigan just being a 2-mile speedway, it’s not like a Daytona and Talladega, where it has the banking like those tracks do, but it is medium banking, so it’s all about speed,” Busch said. “You just have to be fast and willing to go through the corner fast. The faster you can get through the corner, the better you are going to be down the straightaways. That’s just a product that we all understand. A couple of years ago, we tried to get better straightaway speed and it made us not as good in the corners, so we re-did our philosophy a bit for both getting off the corner and down the straightaway.”

(Getty)

After being the favorite most of the season, Kyle Larson (7/1) has dropped a tick this week. Imagine all the money the sportsbooks could have raked in on people chasing Larson if they just jacked his prices up sooner. Last season he won 10 races and a season championship, but while he’s experienced some tough moments with the new car and new Goodyear tires blowing up on him, he’s still managed to race at a high level with nine top-fives. He’s the last Chevrolet driver to win at Michigan in 2017 which was his third straight win there. He loves to rim-ride at the top of the track and I expect more of it this week. I also expect him to win and end his drought. It’s the perfect track for him to bounce back. Larson talks about the Michigan comparison to Fontana.

"I feel like the runs haven’t been quite as big as they were earlier in the year,” Larson said. “I’m sure we will be able to draft, but the runs were huge at California. I don’t know if they’ll be quite that big at Michigan, and there will be less lane options when you get to the corner this weekend (compared to Fontana)."

Two wins and 10 top-fives is a great season and Ross Chastain (15/2) has done it already through 22 races. He is one of my favorite stories of the season so far. He's shaking up the series. Caesars sportsbooks are offering 10-to-1 odds on him, shop around for the best price.

Denny Hamlin (8/1) has two Michigan wins in Cup and two wins in Xfinity. He’s also got two wins on the season in what has been a season full of lows for the team, including the disqualification at Pocono after winning. I’m expecting him to be fast this week.

“I expect it to be a pretty wild Michigan race like we normally see,” Hamlin said. “It’ll be interesting to see how this car fares and how much throttle we’ll be able to carry, but I do expect that we will be lifting and hopefully we can move around a little bit. Michigan is a fun racetrack that provides you some opportunities as far as where you want to run, so I think it has the potential to be a good race.”

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FIREKEEPERS CASINO 400 BETTING RESOURCES

Date: Sunday, August 7, 2022
Venue: Michigan International Speedway
Location: Brooklyn, Michigan
Distance: 312 miles
Laps: 156
Network-Time: USA - 3:00 p.m. ET
Defending Champion: Ryan Blaney

Tyler Reddick (10/1) won an Xfinity Series race at Michigan in 2019, but his three Cup races didn’t go well in the past with a 23rd-place average finish. But the new car is cooking for him. Two wins already. Amazing. Like Larson, he’ll be at the top rim-riding most of the race. I get the strategy because you save tires by running a straight line with little movement while being able to go full throttle.  

Ryan Blaney (12/1) is one of the Ford drivers to key on and I’m surprised his odds are so high since he’s the last driver to win at Michigan. Just a few weeks ago he was 8-to-1 at a track he never won at while still having no wins on the season. The desperation of Blaney is what I like. His seven top-fives and points will likely keep him safe into the playoffs unless two new winners arise, but he knows he needs a win. It’s embarrassing for someone like him to be waiting for a win. What’s worse is many of his colleagues are bullying him on the track ending his day short several times. It happened last week too. I think I have a pissed-off Blaney ready to exact some revenge, punt anyone in his way for a win. I like Blaney to send a big message this week. 

The low odds on William Byron (12/1) is why I think the person or robot creating the odds just looks at last year's results and posts a number. Sure, Byron was runner-up last season at Michigan after leading 18 laps, but that car is gone. He had two wins in the new car to start the season but has been terrible since winning at Martinsville in Week 8. This is race No. 23 and he hasn’t had a top-five since Martinsville. That is a drought. That is the type of run that will get a crew chief fired at season's end. And no one is running to bet Byron, either. BetMGM might attract something on him if offered at 25-to-1 odds. Now, at this price, he’s just un-bettable. He talks about the nuances of Michigan.

"Michigan is a tricky track,” Byron said. “You have to manage drafting on the straightaways but also the feeling that you’re always on the limit of grip. It’s almost like Daytona but with characteristics of a mile-and-a-half track. It’s basically a hybrid track. Timing passes is also a major factor as well as it’s a very momentum-heavy track. Last year, we were leading on the last restart, but I blocked the run coming from the high lane and lost momentum and that took us out of contention with how few laps were left. I’ve been really close to winning a few times at Michigan. I’m trying to rewrite history this weekend and hopefully be able to finally pull out the win with how close I’ve been before. This is also an important track for manufacturers, and I would take a lot of pride to be able to go out there and get the win for Chevrolet."

FIREKEEPERS CASINO 400 CONTENDERS

Martin Truex Jr. (14/1) has no wins this season, and no wins at Michigan in 31 Cup starts. No one is betting Truex to win so the sportsbooks should try to get some action by juicing up the odds. And now he might just be points racing as he hangs onto the last playoff spot with hopes no one else wins unless it’s him. He talks about his strategy with four races remaining while barely hanging on. 

“We’re just approaching it the same we have all year,” Truex said. “Our goal is to go there and win the race. If we can’t do that, then we need to get the best finish possible. I do have confidence going to Michigan based on how our cars have been trending on the bigger tracks lately. I feel like the Toyotas as a group have been getting a lot stronger lately, so we should have an opportunity. We just have to make the most of it.”

What Toyota driver is having a better season than Christopher Bell (16/1)? Hamlin has two wins, but Bell has 169 more points than Hamlin. He has three poles, six top-fives, and 12 Top-10s to go with a New Hampshire win. This is a team that is confident and ready for more wins.

“They’ve done a great job with track prep the last couple years and have given us options and the ability to pass,” Bell said. ”I’m super excited to go to Michigan with the NextGen car. It seems like that has been our strength, the high-speed intermediates.”   

Here we go. Blue light special on a live Ford driver who can win and why do we get a sweet chunky price on Joey Logano (18/1)? Because he was 33rd last season in the different car. It seems like lazy oddsmaking. But I also saw him win three times in three different eras in NASCAR and all three were won from the pole. His last Michigan win was in 2019. He has two wins this season but it was his dominating performance at Darlington that leads me to believe he can bring it strong this week. He was fifth at Fontana in February.

FIREKEEPERS CASINO 400 BETTING ANALYSIS

Alex Bowman (22/1) has a 24th-place average finish in 12 Cup starts at Michigan with two 10th-place finishes as his best during the 2019 season. He gets consideration because of his Las Vegas win in Week 3. But he knows the team is struggling right now.

"I feel like we have had our struggles recently getting the finishes we are capable of getting,” Bowman said. “Our team does a great job of putting in the work during the week and getting the little details right. We just keep getting caught in other people’s messes. Greg (Ives, crew chief) did a great job of putting me in a good position to make a late-race push for the front in Indy and then we were taken out of the race, so it’s been frustrating because our car was better than where we finished. Our team has a lot of fight, and this weekend will be no different – we will put a good strategy together and try to be there at the end on Sunday."

I think Daniel Suarez (22/1) is live this week and he has a 2016 Xfinity Series win under his belt. Give him a good car at Michigan and he kills it. In 2019 driving for Stewart-Haas Racing he grabbed two top-fives which still remain his best. Trackhouse Racing, wow. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a new team makes such a splash in NASCAR and it's aided by the new car. Shop around for the best number. I saw Caesars at 30-to-1 on him.

Kevin Harvick (22/1) leads all active drivers with five wins at Michigan as well as 15 top-fives, 21 top-10s, and 699 laps led. His last four Michigan wins have come in the last six races held there. But all that was with the old car. Best of all for Harvick is that he’s desperate to make the playoffs and he knows he has to win to get in. No point racing for this veteran. I think we get a nice run out of him. He was seventh at Fontana in February, but I think his team has learned so much more about what it takes to win with the NextGen car. Harvick explains a lap at Michigan.

(Getty)

“Michigan is one of those places where you don’t want to miss the center of the corner,” Harvick said. “You want to be on the throttle at the center of the corner and get that good exit speed to make the straightaway as long as you can. So the less you can touch the brake pedal and the more time you can spend on the throttle to make those straightaways as long as possible, the better speed you’re going to make. And Michigan in the past has been pretty line-sensitive, so you’ve just got to be careful about where you are on the racetrack. And if you miss that on the entry, it just screws the whole corner up.”

Kurt Busch (22/1) will not be racing again this week, the third straight week out with concussion protocols and now I’m starting to be concerned for my fellow Las Vegan. He was on my list of candidates to win which would add his wins at Michigan driving a Ford, Dodge, and Chevrolet to victory lane. Toyota added to the list would have been very cool. I’m expecting Ty Gibbs to be starting again who won the ARCA race at Michigan last season.

Toyota has speed and this team has found momentum. It all started with 14th at Atlanta, then a third at New Hampshire, eighth at Pocono, and a fifth last week at Indy. Four diversely different tracks and he crushed it. Maybe this is the start of something big. Maybe Bubba Wallace (25/1) wins at Michigan, maybe he wins at Daytona too. Maybe he makes the playoffs. There are worse things to spend $5 on this weekend.

The Michigan native Erik Jones (28/1) opened eyes as his Petty ride finished third at Fontana. He also showed some muscle at Pocono finishing ninth. But 28-to-1? Really? Come on BetMGM, a Petty driver last won in 2014 with Aric Almirola at Daytona and rain got the assist.

FIREKEEPERS CASINO 400 LONG SHOTS

Nothing great to note of Chase Briscoe's (50/1) past Michigan races in any series, but he was 11th in his first Cup start there last season. He says his team is still figuring out the new car as all teams are.

“I think we’re still trying to understand this new car and what it’s going to do at each racetrack,” Briscoe said. “I know some people think we should know by now, but something it did at the last short track or road course may not apply when you get to the next one. The way the car reacts to things changes week to week and it’s tough to anticipate what you’re going to get. There are still tracks we’re just now getting to for the first time with this car, so there’s still a lot we need to learn about it.”

Austin Cindric (66/1) drives a Ford so he should be considered. He won the Daytona 500 and has four top-fives and seven top-10s and the rookie is going to be in the playoffs.

I think this is a good track for Austin Dillon (66/1) just as Fontana is. He won an Xfinity Series race in 2018, but I like his angle more as being the Grandson of Richard Childress and getting a car just as good as teammate Reddick. One of his three top-fives this season was a runner-up at Fontana and in other races where I think we can apply to Michigan he was 10th at Pocono and ninth at Darlington. Caesars has him at 75-to-1 odds.

I’m shocked that Brad Keselowski (80/1) hasn’t won a Cup race on his track. He’s from Rochester Hills, the same place Madonna is from as he’s noted a few times over the years. In 24 Cup starts he’s averaged a 12.5 finish with seven top-fives. No top-fives this season but he has three top-10s.  

“This is obviously a big week for me and always will be, for many reasons,” Keselowski said. “Getting back home is always nice, but it also brings the close familiarity with Jack and our partners at Roush Industries, as well as Ford. We have a big week ahead in promoting this race and making some appearances on behalf of our partners. Michigan is obviously very fast, so we’ll know Saturday what type of speed we have in the Castrol Ford, and will see what we can do come Sunday afternoon.”

FIREKEEPERS CASINO 400 TOP-5 FINISH PREDICTION

  1. #5 Kyle Larson (7/1)
  2. #12 Ryan Blaney (12/1)
  3. #9 Chase Elliott (6/1)
  4. #22 Joey Logano (18/1)
  5. #4 Kevin Harvick (22/1)

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