The MENCS heads back to Michigan International Speedway this week for Consumers Energy 400. This will be the second race at the track in the last two months. There was one practice Friday, followed by qualifying Friday evening. The cars returned to the track for two practices Saturday. The teams had plenty of track time to dial in their cars so we should be in for a great race Sunday. The race can be seen Sunday at 2:30 PM ET on NBC Sports Network.
Here are the Garage Talk Notes for the practices at Michigan…
The weather for practice was mostly sunny and 82 degrees. The forecast for the race Sunday is partly cloudy and 82 degrees (25% chance of rain). If the temperature is cooler and there is more shade on the track it will affect the racing. There should be more grip and make it easier for the drivers to control the cars. This means there will likely be less wrecks and less risk using drivers from the back.
Teams were given three sets of tires for the three practices, one set for qualifying and seven sets for the race. The teams will run the same tire compound that they ran in the June race at Michigan. The MENCS will have a different tire from the truck series so I expect it will take a few laps for the truck series rubber to be worn off the track before the tires on the MENCS start to match the rubber on the track.
The tire dragon was used this week. They used it in the same groove as they did in the June race. This should provide 20-feet more of quality racing surface for the drivers. It also helps the upper groove come in quicker which will help drivers like Kyle Larson, Kasey Kahne and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Chase Elliott: Elliott will have a lot of momentum after winning his first race last weekend. Now the series heads to his best track. Elliott has finished 2nd in 3 of his 5 races at this track. He also has a series-best 4.6 average finishing position and the 3rd-best driver rating (108.9). Elliott qualified 21st. He said his car was way too loose so they were going to make major changes overnight. The team put the setup from the No. 88 car and Chase said, “Much better then yesterday. It has the stability we had last year.” Chase got a flat tire and spun into the grass in final practice. No damage to the car. Chase went out for some long runs and said, “Still on the free side, but I am OK.”
Jimmie Johnson: The No. 48 team is starting to show some signs of life but Johnson only has 2 top-10 finishes in the 8 races on the large ovals. He qualified 20th and finished 20th in the last race at Michigan so they have a lot of work to do. The No. 48 team was one of only three teams to spend all three practices in race-trim. The No. 48 team made a lot of short runs using a lot of different setups. In final practice they used the best setup they found and made a long run. Johnson said, “It feels pretty good. Little snug in 3 and 4.” At the end of practice Johnson said, “”Something happened going down the back. It was kind of like a stumble or some sort of loss of power, drop of power. The car pulled to the right. Then on corner entry I let it coast up out of the groove.”
Alex Bowman: Bowman ranks 18th this year on the large oval tracks. Michigan has been his worst track. Bowman has a 30.6 average finishing position at the track, but there is hope because he finished 16th at Michigan in June. The No. 88 team spent all 3 practices in race-trim but Bowman was still able to qualify 10th. Bowman made some long runs and said, “It is really good center off, but a loose on entry.” They brought him in to make a trackbar adjustment. He said it was getting better.
William Byron: Byron will have some momentum this week after finishing 6th at Pocono and 8th at Watkins Glen. Byron performed well in his first race at Michigan. He qualified 14th and finished 13th. The No. 24 team spent all 3 practices in race-trim and it showed in qualifying. Byron will start 20th. Byron made some long runs and told the team, “It is too loose in 1 and 2 and too tight in 3 and 4. If we can give it some more front grip we should be good.” The team worked to get the front end into the track more. He was 2nd fastest in the morning practice.
Kyle Larson: Michigan is the best track for Larson. He has finished 1st, 1st, 1st, 3rd and 28th in his last 5 races at the track. He leads the series in Driver Rating and has led the 2nd most laps in the last 3 years at the track. Larson ran a lot of laps at the top of the track. He was trying to work in a highline. In the middle of practice they came in and put 4 tires on the car and sent Larson back out. He went to 4th fastest on the speed chart. They liked their car.
Jamie McMurray: Michigan ranks as the best track for McMurray. He has finished his last 5 races at the track in the top 10. Since joining Chip Ganassi Racing in 2014, McMurray has had a 9.8 average finishing position at the track. McMurray was struggling with the front end of the car sliding into the corners. They changed shocks and McMurray said it was better. He was 15th on the speed chart.
Kevin Harvick: Harvick had the most dominant car in the first race at Michigan. He qualified 4th, led a series-high 49 laps, had a series-best 140.2 driver rating and finished 2nd. Harvick ranks 2nd on the large ovals this year and has led the 2nd-most laps. Harvick went out in final practice and made a long run. He had the fastest car on the speed-chart. He said, “No bad… it is close… let’s keep tightening it up because it will be slicker tomorrow.” Rodney Childers told Harvick, “We are the best on the long runs.”
Clint Bowyer: Bowyer won the last race at Michigan. It was his 1st win at the track. Bowyer ranks 5th on the large ovals this season and he is 1 of only 2 drivers (Kyle Busch the other) to run every lap in the 8 intermediate track races in the top 15. The No. 14 team put the same setup as the No. 4 car for final practice. Bowyer went out and made a long run and was 2nd fastest (right behind Kevin Harvick on the speed chart). Bowyer said, “It is close to where we were in the last race.” (Bowyer won the last race at Michigan)
Kurt Busch: Busch won the pole, led the second-most laps (46) and finished 3rd in the last race at Michigan. He has won 3 races at the track so he knows his way around this 2-mile oval. The No. 41 car has run well on the large ovals this season. Busch ranks 4th and has led 203 laps. He made some long runs and said, “The left front is not getting into the track the way it needs too.” He was 15th fastest at the time.
Aric Almirola: Almirola had a decent race at Michigan in June. He qualified 6th, had a 10.2 average running position and finished 11th. Almirola ranks 12th on the large ovals this season and finished 2 of the 8 races in the top 10. Almirola made some long runs and was 10th fastest on the speed chart. He said, “I have some ideas. I will talk to you when I get back.” The team made some adjustments and sent him back out. Almirola said, “Keep going in that direction.”
Brad Keselowski: This is the home track for Keselowski and he said winning at Michigan would mean more to him than winning the Daytona 500. I am not sure he will get his first win this week. Keselowski is in a slump. His average finishing position in the last 5 races is 25.2. The No. 2 car was the slowest of the Team Penske cars in practice. This is becoming a trend with this team. Keselowski told Paul Wolfe, “It is all over the place. It starts off loose and gets tight. It just lacks balance.”
Joey Logano: Michigan is one of the best intermediate tracks for Logano. He leads the series with 162 laps led since 2015 at Michigan and he has the 4th best driver rating (106.9). Logano qualified 5th and finished 7th in the last race at Michigan. Logano made a short run to start the final practice. He said, “Too tight.” They brought him in and made a trackbar adjustment. Logano went back out and posted the fastest lap.
Ryan Blaney: Blaney runs well on large, fast tracks. He qualified 9th, led 15 laps and finished 8th in the June race at Michigan. Blaney ranks 11th on the large ovals this season and he finished 4 of the 8 races in the top 10. The No. 22 team did not say much on the radio. Blaney ran most of his laps in the top 10. The team did say they liked their car.
Paul Menard: Menard had one of his best races of the season in the June race at Michigan. He qualified 15, led 3 laps and finished 5th. The Wood Brothers are good at setting up a car for speed. Menard ranks 14th on the large ovals this season and he has finished 2 of the 8 races in the top 10. Menard made some long runs and he said, “I think it is hitting the splitter…yes it is definitely dragging the splitter. We need to raise it up a lot.”
Kyle Busch: Busch finished 3rd in the last race at June but he did not lead any laps. Busch does rank No. 1 on the large ovals this season. He has led the most laps (623) and finished every race in the top 10. Busch missed the morning practice because of a penalty from Watkins Glen. He made some long runs in Final Practice and said, “To tight in 1 and 2, loose off in 3 and hops into 4.” Busch usually gives the best feedback so Adam Stevens should be able to fix him up. Busch went back out and posted the 2nd fastest lap. He said, “That is better. Keep giving me more of that.”
Erik Jones: Michigan is the home track for Jones. He finished 3rd at this track last year and 15th in June. Jones will have some momentum after back-to-back top 5 five finishes at Pocono and Watkins Glen. The No. 20 team really liked their car. Jones made some long runs and said, “Wow… it is about where I need it to be.” Steve Letart said on the NBC coverage, “After looking at all of the lap speeds, it looks like the No. 20 may be the car to beat.”
Denny Hamlin: Hamlin has had a lot of fast cars this season but his mistakes continue to hurt him. His pit crew ranks 2nd but Hamlin ranks 22nd in time on pit road because he is No. 1 in penalties. Hamlin qualified 12th and finished 10th in the last race at Michigan. Hamlin had the fastest car in the Friday practice and he won the pole. On Saturday he was 10th fastest in the morning practice and he said, “The balance is good but it feels like we may have lost some speed. It is just not connecting like it was yesterday.” Hamlin said, “It just does not have any takeoff speed.” That is not good for a driver starting on the pole.
Daniel Suarez: Suarez is really starting to run well but it may be too late for him to make the playoffs. Suarez has finished 2nd (Pocono) and 4th (Watkins Glen) in his last two races. Michigan ranks as his worst intermediate track. He has run 3 races in the MENCS at the track and he finished 30th, 37th and 24th. Suarez crashed his car in qualifying so he will start dead last. The team repaired the car overnight. Suarez told Dale Earnhardt Jr. before the morning practice, “We had to fix the car. This is the fastest car we ever had here. It had similar speed to my teammates (Denny Hamlin won the pole and Kyle Busch qualified 2nd).” Suarez made some long runs and they were happy with the car. He was 12th fastest in the speed chart.
Martin Truex Jr.: Truex had his worst race of the season in the June race at Michigan. He qualified 17th and finished 18th. He did not lead any laps in the race. Truex did finish 2nd at this track last year and he ranks 3rd on the large ovals this year. The No. 78 team spent a lot of time working on their car. They were not happy with their lap speed. Truex made a short run and he was 16th fastest. This team will not be happy unless they are top 3. They changed shocks and air pressure adjustments. Lots of work on this car, but Cole Pearn is a good crew chief so Truex should be OK. This team usually works on comfort for Truex more than raw speed.
Ryan Newman: Michigan is the 5th-best track for Newman. In June he qualified 11th and finished 22nd. He did have a 13.8 average running position so the poor finish had a lot more to do with a bad pit stop at the end of the race than the speed of his car. Newman qualified 6th and his teammate (Austin Dillon) qualified 5th. Newman told MRN the reason for the improved speed is because Richard Childress Racing purchased an OSS (Scanning Machine) a month ago. Now they can bring cars which are better prepared to the track. After some long runs Newman said, “We are just not up to par this weekend.”
Austin Dillon: Dillon has not been very good in his career at Michigan. He has run 12 races at the track and his average finishing position is 16.4. In June Dillon qualified 16th and finished 14th. After his first run Dillon told the team, “Too lose. We need to tighten it up in each turn.” He made some more long runs and said, “Still too tight.”
Ty Dillon: The No. 13 team has not had a lot of speed on the large ovals this season. Dillon ranks 29th on the intermediate tracks and he has only finished 1 of the 8 races in the top 20. Dillon qualified 31st and finished 21st in the last race at Michigan.
Kasey Kahne: Kahne qualified 29th and tried to use pit strategy to win the last race at Michigan. He was able to lead 11 laps but when the race was restarted the cars with 4 fresh tires shuffled him back to 23rd. Michigan ranks as the 18th best track for Kahne so the team has their work cut out for them this week. Kahne was way too loose on his first run. The No. 95 team made some adjustments and Kahne said, “That is much better. The front is still sliding a bit in 3 and 4 but we are going in the right direction.”
AJ Allmendinger: Allmendinger has been decent at Michigan since he joined JTG Daugherty Racing. He has run 10 races at the track with his team and his average finishing position is 18th. That is not too bad in salary cap games because of Allmendinger’s price. After some short runs, AJ said, “The front is chattering really bad.” The No. 47 team spent a lot of time working on the car. AJ almost hit the wall twice in final practice.
Chris Buescher: Buescher finished 6th at Michigan last year and he came back in June and finished 24th. Buescher ranks 30th on the large ovals this season and he only has 1 finish in the top 20. Buescher liked his car in practice. He said, “It has really good turn through 3 and 4.. 1 and 2 is a tick tight but manageable.”
Darrell Wallace Jr.: I am sure Bubba is happy to get back to on oval track. He is not very good on triangles or road courses. Wallace has run 2 races in the MENCS at Michigan and he finished 19th in both of them. Bubba made some long runs and said, “I really like my entry to 3 that last run. Took some of that away this run.” He felt the car was getting better with each run.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Stenhouse Jr. had a horrible race in the first trip to Michigan. He qualified 7th and finished 24th. Stenhouse has competed in 11 races at Michigan in the MENCS and his average finishing position is 21.7. He ranks 17th on the large ovals this season.
David Ragan: Michigan has not been a good track for Ragan since he joined Front Row Motorsports. In his 3 races at the track, Ragan has finished 38th, 30th and 29th. Ragan made some long runs and told the team, “On a scale of 1 to 5, we are about a 3 tight.” They brought him in to free the car up.
Michael McDowell: McDowell has never finished inside the top 20 at Michigan. In June he qualified 23 and finished 25th. McDowell ranks 22nd on the large ovals this season.
Matt DiBenedetto: Dibendetto has competed in 7 races in the MENCS at Michigan and his average finishing position is 32.1. In June he qualified 30th and finished 36th. Dibenedetto made a lot of short runs and the team spent a lot of time in the garage working on the car. Dibendetto told the team, “I get really aero-tight whenever I get behind another car. I really need to get out of the gas too much.”
Cars that looked good in practice: Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer, Kyle Larson, Erik Jones and Ryan Blaney
Good Sleeper Picks: Alex Bowman, William Byron, Paul Menard, Daniel Suarez and Chris Buescher
Click here for Starting Lineup
Click here for Friday Practice Speeds (No Driver Ran 10 Consecutive Laps)
Click here for Saturday Morning Speeds (Only 15 minutes because of fog)
Click here for Final Practice Speeds
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