Consumers Energy 400
August 7, 2019
By Micah Roberts
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The second manufacturer Super Bowl of the season takes place Sunday at Michigan International Speedway located just west of the Motor City. It's where the Ford, Chevrolet, and Toyota executives all get to root their brand in and so far after 100 race NASCAR Cup Series races since the track opened in 1969 it's been Ford -- including the Mercury brand -- winning 50 of those races, including the last three.
“Michigan is in the manufacturer’s backyard, and winning there not only means bragging rights for those folks, but goes toward business reasons they are in the sport and support all of us,” said Ford driver Clint Bowyer. “We’ll take a victory anywhere, but winning at Michigan is always a good thing for everybody.”
Bowyer won the June race last season to start a three-race win streak for Ford and he's an interesting look this week at 16/1 odds in part because of his desperation sitting 15th in points, barely hanging onto a playoff spot with four races to go before the postseason begins in Las Vegas. He's only 12 points above the 16th and final playoff spot. It took him 25 races to finally win at Michigan in what was only his third race driving a Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing.
“The speed at Michigan will surely get your attention," Bowyer said of the flat 2-mile layout. "You better have everything right at Michigan. That’s engine, aero, handling and everything else. You are going so fast there that anything slightly off will show up.”
Kevin Harvick would finish second behind his SHR teammate Bowyer last June and then win in the fall race in dominating fashion leading 108 laps and winning the first two stages. He was seventh in the first race this season after leading 15 laps. Overall he has two career wins in the Cup Series along with a win in both the Xfinity and Truck Series.
“How you finish at Michigan depends on how your day is going," Harvick said. "If you’re having a good day, it’s not really hard to tell your guys what you need and everyone is in a good mood. If you’re having a bad day, you can get behind at Michigan really fast. You’re going to end up with a green-flag pit stop and a whole bunch of green-flag laps. You just have to be going from the time the green flag drops and keep yourself in position at the end.”
The last time the Cup Series used this week's race package featuring aero ducts and engines that produce only 550 horsepower was at Pocono where Harvick finished sixth but led a race-high 62 laps. That race coupled with Ford and his last three races at Michigan is why the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook listed him as the 5/1 co-favorite to win along with Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr.
Truex and Busch each have a series-leading four wins and Joe Gibbs Racing has 11 of the 22 Cup wins this season, but Michigan hasn't been a place they've dominated. Truex doesn't have any Michigan wins, although I have no idea how didn't win one those 2017 race he dominated there. He was third in the June race. Busch has just one win at Michigan and it came in 2011 which means 15 races have passed since he won there. He's had top-fives in his last three starts there but only led laps (22) in one of those.
Busch's 2011 win was the last by a Toyota driver at Michigan that is still active. Matt Kenseth's 2015 win was the last at Michigan by a Toyota. Before those two it was Denny Hamlin winning the 2011 June race. In fact, Hamlin has two wins which is twice as many as all his JGR teammates combined.
Hamlin has some nice value this week at 14/1 in what is shaping up to be a career year. He has three wins on the season, two using this week's race package, and his 9.7 average finish is his best ever. He's come into this week's race finishing in the top-five of his last four races.
“We’re certainly in a groove right now," Hamlin said. "Our team looks forward to each week’s challenge, and we’re going to prepare and put ourselves in the best position to win this weekend. Especially now that we are returning to tracks for a second time, (crew chief) Chris Gabehart and the team are making good corrections to help us be better in our second effort.”
The only JGR driver without a win this season is Michigan native Erik Jones and just like Hamlin, he comes in with top-five finishes in his last four races. He's never won at Michigan in any series before so this would be a huge moment in his career. Jones is listed at 16/1 odds to win.
Another Michigan native that has never won a Cup race on his home track is Brad Keselowski. He's been runner-up twice, including this race last season. It's a mystery that he's never won on the track his car owner Roger Penske built. He drives a Ford and his teammate Joey Logano has won three times in his last 12 starts in a Penske Ford, including this season. Both Keselowski and Logano have two wins each this season using the week's race package.
Ford is going to be tough to beat this week, but I'm keying on a Chevrolet driver at 16/1 odds who was the last Chevrolet driver to win at Michigan.
Three of Kyle Larson's five career Cup wins have come at Michigan, but that's only a small portion of the reason to support him to win this week. The main reason is that he's knocking on the door for a win with this race package. He's finished in the top-five of the last three races using it, including a near-win runner-up at Chicagoland. He's also watched his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Kurt Busch get a win at Kentucky. It's looking like both Busch and Larson's cars are fairly equal of late. The signs are all there that Larson can get back into the winner's circle for the first time since 2017 and also be the 10th different driver to win in the last 10 races on the schedule.
Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #42 Kyle Larson (16/1)
2) #4 Kevin Harvick (5/1)
3) #2 Brad Keselowski (6/1)
4) #22 Joey Logano (6/1)
5) #20 Erik Jones (16/1)