Consumer's Energy 400
August 8, 2018
By Micah Roberts
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When the NASCAR Cup Series last visited Michigan International Speedway on June 10 we witnessed a Stewart Haas Racing beat down of every other team. They finished 1-2-3, the first time a team has done that since Roush Fenway Racing did it at Dover in 2008. It was an impressive showing and because it wasn't that long ago the set-up notes should all still be fresh and relative for Sunday's Consumer's Energy 400.
Clint Bowyer would win that race and it was a brilliant piece of pit strategy and luck with the rain cutting the race short with 67 laps remaining. In what would be the final pit stop, Bowyer took two tires and came out of the pits first.
“I looked in the mirror – everybody behind me is on four tires,” Bowyer said. “(I’m thinking that) I don’t know what you’re looking at, but there’s an army of people on pit road who saw the same forecast, same radar, they took four.”
Now all he had to do was hold off the best car on the track, his teammate Kevin Harvick who led a race-high 49 laps on the day.
“I knew, if we could get the lead, we had a decent shot of holding them off,” Bowyer said. “Fortunately, we did. We were racing for the win. I couldn’t have held him off had it gone another lap.”
Harvick, with four tires, certainly would have caught Bowyer and passed, but Bowyer drove those final eight laps like a bat out of hell.
The eventual third-place driver, Kurt Busch, was the pole sitter and led the first 46 laps. The Las Vegan has won at Michigan three times with three different manufacturers.
“The biggest thing about Michigan is respecting the speed," Busch said of the 2-mile layout. "It’s a very fast racetrack."
His last win at Michigan was rain shortened in 2015 from a 24th start position. Busch's 25-to-1 odds to win Sunday's race offered at the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook looks to be the best value on the board.
The last leg of SHR, Aric Almirola, finished 11th. That's an amazing day for the organization and it's obvious there was some note sharing going on with all four teams. The big question this week is whether or not they'll be just as good, as well as whether or not the rest of the field stayed the same or improved.
I'm inclined to believe that the rest of the field improved beginning with Chevrolet and Hendrick Motorsports.
Kyle Larson had won three straight races at Michigan until finishing 28th in June. He'll be much better this week and contend with those SHR Fords for the win. His Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Jamie McMurray has finished in the top-10 of the last five Michigan races and he's offered at 100-to-1 odds.
HMS got their first win of the season with Chase Elliott winning his first career Cup race last week at Watkins Glen. It was the first Chevrolet win since Austin Dillon won the season-opening Daytona 500 in February.
Despite Watkins Glen being a road course and not comparable or relative to Michigan, I think the Chevrolet upswing was apparent a week prior at Pocono Raceway. Sure, Kyle Busch won, but inside the top-10 was Alex Bowman third, William Byron sixth, Elliott seventh and Ryan Newman eighth. That is relevant this week because of needing lots of horsepower down the long Pocono straights. Drivers at Michigan need that same massive horsepower to be successful as well.
Could it be two straight for Chevrolet? That may be a bit forward thinking based on how good SHR Fords were in June, but Bowman and Byron are each 100-to-1 to win.
“I think this race at Michigan will be a little different than the first race just because it will most likely be a little hotter than it was in June," said Byron. "I think you’ll need to move around a little more than in the first race, but we’ll still try to apply what we learned the first time. We were pretty good there in June, so hopefully, the second time around is even better.”
Byron finished 13th in June after finishing eighth in the first stage and 10th in the second stage.
As for Elliott, all I can say is Wow! NASCAR Royalty. Class. Humble and the identity boost NASCAR needed. Even the idiot CEO Brian France DUI in Sag Harbor, NY the same day as Elliott's huge win can't derail this NASCAR boost. I witnessed NASCAR taken to huge levels when Dale Earnhardt, Jr. won at Texas in 2000 as a rookie and his dad smiling ear to ear afterward giving him a big bear hug and I saw the same thing with Chase's dad, Bill Elliott, on Sunday. NASCAR is a family thing and Chase Elliott is the most popular driver.
Elliott is pretty good at Michigan as well finishing ninth or better in all five of his Cup starts, including three runner-ups. That's an amazing 4.6 average finish, the best among all drivers in the past five Michigan races.
“It's been a good place, no doubt; I won't deny that," said Elliott. "It also helps when you haven't run many, too, to help that average. But I was really encouraged when we left Pocono in the spring race that we were going to be able to go to Michigan and be really solid again, and we went there and really struggled. I think that'll be kind of a testament to really see where we stack up and where our gains have got us because at that racetrack, the driver certainly is a big deal everywhere, but you've got to have your stuff driving good to be good at Michigan. I think we've gotten better, so I hope that we're improved, and we'll see where we stack up.”
The popularity of Elliott is also going to affect his odds just like Earnhardt, Jr. where true value is never found. He's 10-to-1 this week.
Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #4 Kevin Harvick (3/1)
2) #41 Kurt Busch (25/1)
3) #18 Kyle Busch (7/2)
4) #42 Kyle Larson (8/1)
5) #2 Brad Keselowski (12/1)