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Pure Michigan 400 Preview

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Only four races remain before the 12-driver lineup is set for the Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship, NASCAR's version of the playoffs, and for a few drivers, things are getting a little too close for comfort.
Last week’s race on the road course at Watkins Glen shuffled the standings quite a bit with the biggest loser being Jeff Gordon, who fell four positions, down to 13th. Because Gordon doesn't have any wins on the year, if the Chase started today, he would miss it. What's the most surprising about his tumble is that it came on a road course, the type of track he's dominated on over his career, the type that he's the all-time NASCAR leader with nine wins.

The biggest beneficiaries of Gordon's poor performance were Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr., and Ryan Newman. Keselowski moved into eighth in points with his second-place finish -- his third straight runner-up performance at The Glen, and Truex Jr. moved into 10th with a third-place finish. With Gordon out of the top-10, Newman, 14th in points, moves into position to take the final wild card spot which is given to the higher ranking driver 11-120 in points that has the most wins.
With four races to go, we can expect a few of these drivers like Gordon or Kurt Busch, who sits 11th in points with no wins, to go all out. The problem for both of them this week is that neither of them drive a Roush Ford, the type of car that has been the most dominant at Michigan over the years. Car owner Jack Roush has a track best 13 wins at his home track.

Greg Biffle has won the past two races run at Michigan and should be considered one of the favorites to do so again. He's won four times on the two-mile sister track of Fontana. Carl Edwards is a two-time winner at Michigan and has the best average finish (8.2) among all active drivers.
One of the strangest oddities about Michigan is that Jimmie Johnson has never won on the track. This is a very fast track, and the type that Johnson should have compiled lofty numbers like he has on every other fast track in the series. He's dominated at Fontana with five wins, a track that is almost identical to Michigan, but hasn't been able to win despite leading countless laps there, including 18 laps in the June race. In that race, another piece of bad luck struck Johnson at Michigan when he blew a tire while in second and reeling in Biffle with four laps to go. He would finish 28th on the day. He's only got four top-5 finishes in 23 career starts.
We don't get to see Dale Earnhardt Jr. win too much anymore, but Michigan is a place where his chances increase. His past two wins of his career have come at Michigan (2008, 2011). However, in the June race he blew an engine and finished 37th. The entire Hendrick Motorsports crew had a rough day with Johnson 28th, Kahne 38th and Gordon 39th. We'll see how he fares this week, but it's likely he'll be pumped knowing it's a track he does well at and place that he's given a good car by his team.
Kevin Harvick won in 2010 and finished second behind Biffle in the June race. Harvick has been sneaky good in races where no one expects him to do anything. He's got two wins on the season and has an average finish of 13th in his last 20 starts at Michigan.
Kyle Busch finished fourth in June and has a 2011 win to his credit. He is an interesting choice to win this week and also the Sprint Cup title at 6/1 odds (Bet $100 to win $600). We've seen him wilt down the stretch before while having better seasons, but his team looks dialed in and ready to make a run.
Look for Johnson to be tough again, at least early on. Sooner or later, he'll eventually win at Michigan, but I have to roll with the streak here. Something always seems to happen to him here no matter how good his car is.
Plus, who wants to lay the favorite? There are plenty of other drivers offering better value, beginning with Biffle at 10/1 odds (Bet $100 to win $1,000).
Top-5 Finish Prediction:

1) #16 Greg Biffle (10/1)
2) #18 Kyle Busch (8/1)
3) #99 Carl Edwards (12/1)
4) #29 Kevin Harvick (12/1)
5) #88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. (12/1)

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