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Pure Michigan 400

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There have been 94 previous NASCAR Sprint Cup races held at Michigan International Speedway with the backdrop of the Motor City making it kind of a manufacturer's World Series. Fordleads the all-time battle with 35 wins while Chevrolethas 23 and the new kid of the block, Toyota, has five.

The 24th race of the season takes us to back to Michigan for Sunday's Pure Michigan 400, the second and final race of the season on the wide 2-mile oval.

Historically, the track fact that glaringly stands is that qualifying matters with 56 of the races won from a top-five start position (60%) and 71 races won from a top-10 (76%). The pole winner has won 19 times, including four of the last six races. Those are facts to seriously consider heading into this weekend.

The big story coming in to this week will be the reduced downforce package being applied again just as it was in the first Michigan race June 12 and the Kentucky race on July 9.

The idea with this package that decreases the size of the splitter and spoilers is to create more opportunities for the drivers to pass and create better racing for fans. The cars will not stick as well around the turns meaning it gives the drivers more control of theirs cars, which they love. If they take it too strong into the corners, they'll slip and hit the wall. They'll have to feather the gas pedal gently in and out of turns and find the perfect mix of getting maximum speed without wrecking, making it kind of a tight-wire walk or like driving on ice. It's all on them, but they still need big horsepower.

In the June Michigan race there were 14 lead changes among eight drivers, which isn't all that exciting as intended, but the volatile nature of the package showed up as there were nine cautions. At Kentucky there was 16 lead changes among nine drivers and whopping 11 cautions. It's apparent that quite a few drivers were having some difficulties sticking. All it takes is one mishap around one of the four turns and that's it for their day, and they have to do it error-free for 200 laps.

Surprisingly, a Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota didn't win any of those races -- they've won 11 of 23 races this season. It was a Team Penske Ford winning each time with Joey Loganotaking Michigan from the pole and Brad Keselowskiwinning at Kentucky. That alone should give comfort in the idea that someone can beat the Gibbs cars this week, but the books know this too so don't expect chunky prices on the duo. They appear to be ahead of the curve a bit with this package, so let's check out their resume's.

Logano has only one win this season, and that came at Michigan with this package. He's been just a bit behind the Gibbs cars but has still managed to have nine top-five finishes, which is third-best in the series. He's a two-time winner at Michigan (won in 2013, also from the pole) and is currently on a run of seven straight finishes of ninth or better. He likes the track and he likes the package, which is why he should probably be considered the favorite over the Gibbs cars.

Keselowski hails from Michigan and wants to win at his home track more than any other. His career best finish was runner-up in 2012 and he's averaged a sixth-place finish in his last five starts, including fourth with this new package in June. He's currently the series co-leader with four wins on the year.

Now we get to the Gibbs drivers, who have all had some success at Michigan, beginning with Matt Kensethwho won this race last season for his third victory there. He's had a 10.2 average finish in 34 career starts, but his teammate Carl Edwardshas the best average finish (9.5) among all active drivers with at least two starts. Edwards is a two-time winner, the last coming in 2008, and has finished sixth in his past two Michigan starts.

Kyle Busch'sonly Michigan win came in 2011 and has a surprisingly poor 20.4 average finish over 23 starts. But he'll be fast again, you can believe that. The guy has four wins on the season. Denny Hamlinis a two-time winner with a 15.4 average finish.

Two of the fastest cars late in the June Michigan race were Chase Elliott, who finished a career-best second, and Kyle Larsonwho finished third. Both these drivers should be considered to win at 18/1 odds.

Elliott has been struggling of late, but this track should get him back in shape. Larson is just trying to get himself back in Chase contention after falling out of the top-16 last week. Larson could play it safe and not go for the win just to score points, but he's looking for his first career win and if the opportunity presents itself, he'll sacrifice the risk of making the Chase to go all out for the win.

Top-5 Finish Prediction:

1) #2 Brad Keselowski (8/1)
2) #24 Chase Elliott (20/1)
3) #22 Joey Logano (7/1)
4) #19 Carl Edwards (7/1)
5) #20 Matt Kenseth (7/1)

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