The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will compete at Michigan International Speedway Sunday. NASCAR had a regular practice schedule this week. There was a practice Friday morning followed by qualifying on Friday evening. The MENCS had one practice Saturday to dial in their cars for the race at Michigan. Final practice was canceled because of rain. Practice speeds usually translate into race speed at this track so be sure to check out the lap times at the bottom of the article.
Here are the Garage Talk Notes for the practices at Michigan…
The weather during final practice was cloudy and 68 degrees. The forecast for the race Sunday is about the same so the practice speeds should translate into race speeds this week.
The teams had 3 sets of tires for the 2 practice sessions but some teams saved their final set for the last practice which was washed out. The teams will have an additional set of tires for qualifying and 6 sets of tires for the race.
Goodyear held a tire test at Michigan in April. The drivers who participated were Aric Almirola, Alex Bowman, Austin Dillon, Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr. Since the speeds were so high in the tire test, Goodyear decided to bring a brand new tire to the track this week. The same tires will be used in the Xfinity Series as in the MENCS race Sunday. The drivers who are running in both races (Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Austin Dillon, Paul Menard and Alex Bowman) should have a good idea of how the tires will fall off in the race Sunday.
Chevy rolled out a new engine at the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte and the teams have had more speed ever since. They are getting closer to finding what they need to compete with the Fords and Toyotas.
Chase Elliott: Michigan ranks as the No. 1 track for Elliott. He has finished 2nd, 2nd, 2nd and 8th in his last 4 races at the track. Elliott has been pretty consistent lately. He has 6 consecutive top-12 finishes. Elliott made a long run and he said, “It is really secure.” I am not sure what that means but he was 15th-fastest at the time.
Jimmie Johnson: Michigan ranks as the 10th-best track for Johnson. He only has 1 win in his 32 races. The No. 48 team is slowly getting better though. Johnson has finished 5 of the last 7 races in the top 10. Johnson started practicing his pit road speed before he made any laps. Johnson has not had a pit road penalty since 2016 (Longest streak in MENCS). Johnson told MRN after practice, “The bad news is our team has a lot of work to do. The good news is… we know what we have to do and we are up to the task.” Johnson was only 23rd-fastest in the morning practice.
Alex Bowman: Bowman will have more information about the new tires used this week that the other drivers. Bowman and Austin Dillon are the only two drivers who competed in the tire test at Michigan and the Xfinity Series race. That is a lot of track time to figure out the car. Bowman made a 8 lap run in morning practice and said, “The balance is a lot better than yesterday.” He was 7th fastest at the time.
William Byron: Byron will be making his MENCS debut at Michigan. He finished 4th in his Xfinity Series and Truck Series races at Michigan. He finished 15th earlier this season at Fontana. The No. 24 team really liked their car in practice. It had good short-run speed and good long-run speed. Byron was 8th-fastest with the 7th-best 10-lap average speed.
Kyle Larson: Larson has won the last 3 races at Michigan. He is the best driver in the field on the 2-mile ovals. Larson has a 1.2 average finishing position and nearly a perfect driver rating in the last 5 races on the 2-mile tracks. Larson made a 8-lap run and he told the team, “It is not bad but I want to drive it into the corner a little further and I can’t.” The team made some adjustments and sent him back out. Larson went to 2nd on the speed chart. Larson said, “That is much better!!!”
Jamie McMurray: McMurray has the 4th-best average finishing position (7th) in the last 4 races at Michigan. The track ranks as the 2nd-best track for McMurray. The No. 1 team has been pretty inconsistent this season. McMurray only has 1 finish in the top 10 in his last 7 races. The team made a long run and McMurray told the Fox Sports crew, “It is a lot better than yesterday. It has a lot of speed.” The team worked on the camber of the tires.
Kevin Harvick: Harvick has never finished in the top 10 at Michigan while driving a Ford. That should change this week. Harvick has finished every race in the top 7 when he did not have a tire go down this season. In the first 15 minutes of the morning practice, Harvick was the only driver to crack 200 MPH. The team was working on their long-run speed but the car had great short-run speed as well.
Clint Bowyer: Bowyer has been running really well this season. His stats at Michigan are not great but he has never had cars this fast. Bowyer finished 11th at Fontana and had the 8th-best average running position. They need to finish the race as well as the run in the race. Bowyer liked his car in the morning practice. He said, “She is good boys. Maybe a little help on entry but it could be the driver more than the car. Not bad… not bad.” He was 4th fastest at the time.
Kurt Busch: Busch had a really loose racecar at Pocono and that should scare away people from using Busch this week. The No. 41 team should be really good though. Busch has 3 wins at Michigan and the track ranks as his 7th best. Busch will start from the pole and if he can hold off Kevin Harvick he should be able to lead some laps Sunday. He liked the balance of their car.
Aric Almirola: Almirola has been one of the biggest surprises this season. His average finishing position in the last 5 races is 9th. He finished 12th at Michigan last year while driving for Richard Petty Motorsports. He should be a lot better in his Stewart-Hass Racing Ford. Almirola told the Fox Sports reporter, “We learned what not to do in practice. Every adjustment we made hurt the car. We are going back to what we had at the beginning of practice.” They will work with their teammates to get the car dialed in for Sunday.
Brad Keselowski: Michigan is the home track for Keseowski and it is no secret he really wants to add a win at this track to his resume. Keselowski dominated the last race at Michigan. He led 105 of the 200 laps. He finished 4th at Fontana earlier this season and that should translate into a good run Sunday. Keselowski made a long run and he said, “Pretty close to where we were with it last year. Good job guys.” Ut oh…. Keselowski dominated this race last year so if the car is the same the field may be in trouble Sunday.
Joey Logano: Logano has two trips to Victory Lane at Michigan on his resume. Logano has been one of the most consistent drivers this season. He has finished 11 of the 14 races this season in the top 10. Logano made a long run and his crew chief told him, “You 1 and 2 look really good.” Logano told them, “The car starts off free and builds tight as we run more laps.” He was 2nd-fastest at the time.
Ryan Blaney: Michigan has not been a very good track for Blaney. His average finishing position is 18th, but that should change this week. Blaney has two of the best drivers at the track (Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano) to lean on for information this week.
Paul Menard: Menard could be a sneaky good pick this week. Michigan ranks as his 5th-best track. Menard finished 19th at Fontana earlier this season. He should finish in the top 20 again this week. Menard really liked his car. He told his team, “This is the best car I have had here.” The team liked their single-run speed, they were working to keep the tires from falling off.
Kyle Busch: Busch usually performs very well when he runs in the Xfinity Series race the day before the MENCS race. Busch will be driving the No. 18 car on Saturday so I expect him to know how to save his tires better in the race than most of the competition Sunday. Busch told his team he needed the front tires to get into the track better. He is a perfectionist so he complains even when the car is near perfect. Busch was 6th fastest at the time. He told Fox Sports, “ The car has great balance but lacks some of the speed of the No. 4 car, but we will be good in race-trim and in the race Sunday.”
Erik Jones: Michigan is the home track for Jones and he ran well at the track last year. Jones finished 3rd and 13th. He finished 4th in his one race in the Xfinity Series at Michigan. He said he loves this track. Jones looked decent in the morning practice. Most of his lap speeds were in the top 10. The No. 20 team was on new tires.
Denny Hamlin: Hamlin has been hit or miss on the 2-mile ovals. He either finishes in the top 5 or outside the top 10. Usually when he has problems it is from penalties on pit road or racing other cars to hard. He will be a high risk high reward driver this week. Hamlin complained that his car was, “Way to free on entry and exit. Center is stable.” Hamlin was 21st fastest at the time.
Daniel Suarez: Suarez has 4 races on the 2-mile ovals on his resume and his average finishing position is 23rd. Suarez has only finished 1 of the 4 races inside the top 20. Suarez liked his car a lot better in Saturday morning’s practice than what they had in qualifying. They used the same setup as the No. 11 car.
Martin Truex Jr.: Truex Jr. has never won at Michigan but that could change Sunday. Truex won the last race on a 2-mile oval (Fontana) and he finished 2nd in this race last year. The No. 78 team is starting to find their 2017 form and that is a scary thought for the competition. Cole Pearn said the team set the car up the same as last year in qualifying and that package did not work for the new tires Goodyear brought to the track. He is very confident they will be good in race-trim.
Ryan Newman: Michigan ranks as the 2nd-best track for Newman. He finished 4th in the last race at Michigan. New really liked his car. They made a long run and he said, “The balance is where we need it to be. It feels really good at the bottom.” The team was working on their long run speed and Newman was near the top of the speed chart in the 10-lap average speed in the morning practice.
Austin Dillon: Dillon got off to a hot start this season with a win in the Daytona 500 and a top-10 finish at Fontana. He has not finished in the top 10 since. Maybe a trip back to a 2-mile oval will help the No. 3 team this week. The crew chief asked Dillon how it felt after his long run. Dillon replied, “Pretty darn good. I am happy with it.”
Ty Dillon: It has been hard to trust the No. 13 team this season. Dillon has an average starting position of 27th and an average finishing position of 24th. Those types of results do not help your fantasy team. Dillon ran most of his laps near the 30th spot on the speed chart in practice.
Kasey Kahne: Kahne ran well at Kansas and Charlotte and he was running well at Pocono until the No. 95 car lost a transmission. Michigan ranks as the 6th best track for Kahne. He has 1 win (2006) and 10 finishes in the top-10 at the track. Kahne made a long run on scuff tires in and said, “Wow, it is a completely different car from Friday. It is a tick tight but much more driveable.” He starts 29th and should move up in the field Sunday.
AJ Allmendinger: Allmendinger has been pretty consistent at the 2-mile ovals over the last 2 seasons. He usually qualifies around the 22nd position and finishes near the 18th position. Allmendinger was fighting a tight racecar. He told the team, “It is horrible in 1 and 2 and decent in 3 and 4. I need it to turn better.” He was 26th fastest at the time.
Chris Buescher: Buescher has one of his best races in the MENCS at Michigan last year. He qualified 20th and finished 6th. I would not expect that to happen again Sunday. Buescher did not look too bad in practice. His lap times were mostly near the 20th spot. He starts 18th so he is about the same as he was in qualifying.
Darrell Wallace Jr.: Bubba has competed in 2 races in the MENCS on the 2-mile ovals and he finished 19th (Michigan in 2017) and 20th (Fontana this season). Bubba made a long run and said, “It is not bad. My biggest problem is getting back to the throttle. If I can get back to the throttle earlier we should be pretty close.”
Matt Kenseth: Each week Kenseth gets better in the No. 6 car. He finished 36 at Kansas, 17th at Charlotte and 13th at Pocono. **This could be a break out week for Kenseth. He tested for 2 days at Darlington and said the team really learned a lot about the car and how to make it go faster**. Kenseth made a lot of short runs and complained the splitter was getting into the track. The made a shock change to raise him up a tick. He was 19th fastest at the time.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Stenhouse Jr. has been decent at Michigan. He finished 8th and 18th in the 2 races at the track last year. He also finished 18th at Fontana earlier this season. The No. 17 team was working on their long-run speed. The spent most of the morning practice on scuff tires.
David Ragan: Ragan has really started to run well in the No. 38 car. His average finishing position since the team started to receive cars from Roush Fenway Racing is 17th. Ragan showed decent speed in practice. His car was a little too loose but not bad. He ran most of his laps between 20th and 25th on the speed chart.
Michael McDowell: McDowell got off to a slow start this season but he is starting to gel with his new team. McDowell now has an 18th average finishing position in his last 3 races. McDowell was fighting a loose racecar. He said, “I am really loose on entry and a snappy loose on exit.” He was 27th fastest at the time. The team made some adjustments and McDowell said, “I just can’t turn it. It is like I run out of track before it gets turned in the corners.”
Matt Dibenedetto: Dibendetto enters the race at Michigan after back-to-back 37-placed finished. The ship is starting to sink so the No. 32 team needs a good finish this week to keep this team from becoming a complete disaster. Dibenedetto told his team, “Center-off is pretty neutral but the exit is really edgy.” The team worked on tightening up the car.
Cars that looked good in practice: Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr.
Good Sleeper Picks: Kurt Busch, Clint Bowyer, Erik Jones, William Byron, Paul Menard, Daniel Suarez, Alex Bowman and David Ragan
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