The MENCS will compete at Michigan International Speedway this week in the FireKeepers Casino 400. The series will once again use the 550 HP engines with the 2” splitter, 8” spoiler and aero ducts. It is the same package used in the last three races (Kansas, Charlotte and Pocono). The FireKeepers Casino 400 can be seen Sunday at 2 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1.
Goodyear will use the same tire combination that they ran at Texas earlier this season. Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin ran very well in that race on these tires so these three drivers should be good Sunday. The Xfinity Series and MENCS will run the same tire compound this week so that could help Paul Menard (He is running both races). Each team will receive 3 sets of tires for the 2 practice sessions, 1 set for qualifying and 7 sets for the race.
* NASCAR will inspect the cars prior to qualifying Saturday so the results of qualifying will set the field for Sunday. No inspection on Sunday.
** Most of the cars made laps in the draft in practice so lap speeds will not be very important this week. It will be more important to know which drivers like the handling of their cars.
Chase Elliott: Elliott is on a hot streak right now. The No. 9 car has finished 1st, 5th, 4th, 4th and 4th in the last 5 races. Elliott also has a hot streak at Michigan. He has competed in 6 races at Michigan and he has NEVER finished outside the top 10. Elliott made some long runs and said, “The balance is not bad. Not sure about the speed, but I can pretty much put it anywhere I want to.”
Jimmie Johnson: Johnson has not been very good in recent races at Michigan but that could change Sunday. Johnson finished 5th at Texas on the same tire compound which will be used Sunday. He also finished 6th at Kansas and 8th at Charlotte using the 550 HP engine, higher-downforce aero package. Johnson was complaining that his car was, “Real loose getting off of turn 3.” Johnson liked the changes Kevin was making to the car.
Alex Bowman: Bowman should bounce back after an average performance at Pocono. Bowman finished 2nd, 2nd, 2nd and 7th in the previous 4 races. Bowman has the 7th best Driver Ranking in the 7 non-Superspeedway races using the current aero package. Bowman told his team, “3 and 4 is where it gets loose and it builds even more loose throughout the run.” After his final run Bowman said, “Still way too loose.”
William Byron: Byron has really shown a lot of improvement over the last month. Byron has finished 8th, 20th, 9th and 9th over the last 4 races. He has also won the pole for the last 2 races. Byron has the 5th-best Driver Ranking in the last 3 races in the current aero package. Byron made some long runs and said the “rear of the car is not in the track.”
Kyle Larson: Michigan is one of the best tracks for Larson. He has 3 wins in the Irish Hills and he has led laps in 7 of his 10 races at the track. Larson has the 9th best Driver Ranking in the last 3 races using the current aero package. Larson made a lot of laps at the bottom of the track which is surprising since he usually loves the top at Michigan. He was P3 after drafting with his teammate (Kurt Busch).
Kurt Busch: Busch does not need the best car to run well in the race. His car was junk at the beginning of the races at Texas and the race last week at Pocono. The No. 1 team worked on the car and Busch finished 9th and 11th in those races. Busch made some long runs and said, “The bumps in 3 and 4 make it a bit unstable. The car rotates well and overall the shakedown felt really good.”
Kevin Harvick: It is time to face the facts… The No. 4 car is not as fast as it was in the past. But this team could easily flip the switch and dominate a race. This is a great track for Harvick. He has a series-best 122.4 Driver Ranking and led a series-high 157 in the last 4 races at Michigan. Jeff Gordon said on the tv coverage, “Harvick has a fast car. He is the only driver who is easily passing the other cars.” Three crew chiefs said on the radio, “The 4 car is the one we need to beat Sunday.”
Clint Bowyer: Bowyer has not been very good at Michigan but the pairing with crew chief Mike Bugarewicz seems to be what he needed to run up front at the track. Bowyer won this race last year and finished 12th in August. Bowyer has the 6th best Driver Ranking in the last 4 races using the current aero package. Bowyer started practice by drafting with his teammates and he went to the top of the leaderboard. After his final run he said, “We have the fastest car but if someone f****s with your momentum you are screwed. This is pathetic racing but it is what it is. At least the car is fast.”
Daniel Suarez: Suarez has not had much success at Michigan in his career. He has 4 races on his resume at the track and his average finishing position is 25.5. Suarez has only been “OK” while using the current aero package. Suarez has the 20th best Driver Ranking in races where the 550 HP engines were used. Suarez liked his car. He said, “I can run it wide up…really easy at the top and for most of the laps at the bottom.”
Aric Almirola: Almirola has had an up and down season. After Daytona he scored 6 consecutive top-10 finish. He then went into a slump for 4 races (Almirola has a 21.25 average finishing position between Bristol and Dover). Almirola has finished 10th, 11th and 12th in his last 3 races so he is starting to get his early season success back. Almirola made some long runs and he said, “It is better by itself than it is in traffic. The backend hops around in dirty air.”
Brad Keselowski: Keselowski desperately wants to win at his home track and he almost got it done last season when he finished 2nd. Keselowski has been money in the new aero package. He has the 3rd best Driver Ranking in the races where the 550 HP engines were used this season. Keselowski made some long runs and said, “The car is a little freer than I want it to be. It just feels darty but the adjustments are going in the right direction.”
Joey Logano: Logano has been “Mr. Consistent” at Michigan. He has finished 12 of his last 13 races at the track in the top 10, including trips to Victory Lane in 2013 and 2016. Logano has the 4th best Driver Ranking in the races where the 550 HP engines were used this season. The No. 22 team was working on their long-run speed and getting their car to travel over the bumps in turn 3 and 4. Overall Logano liked his car.
Ryan Blaney: Blaney finished both races at Michigan in the top 10 last year (8th in June and 5th in August). Blaney is in a bit of a slump though. He has not finished inside the top 10 since Bristol. Blaney has the 14th best Driver Ranking in the races where the 550 HP engines were used this season. Blaney almost got into the wall in the first practice. He said, “It is way too loose when someone gets onto my splitter.”
Paul Menard: Menard will get some extra seat time this week since he will be racing the No. 12 car for Team Penske in the Xfinity Series. Menard has been pretty consistent this season in the races where the 550 HP engines where used. He finished the majority of the races between 15th and 19th.
Kyle Busch: Busch won earlier this season at Auto Club Speedway. That is the most similar track to Michigan. Busch also finished 3rd and 4th in the 2 races at Michigan last year. Busch has the No. 1 Driver Ranking in the tracks where the 550 HP engines where used this season. Busch made some long runs and said, “The car will not settle into the car. It just gets loose from the begging to the end of the run.” Adam Stevens told him, “OK, bring it in. We will fix you up.” Busch went to the top of the leaderboard after his first run in final practice (on new tires).
Erik Jones: Jones will be looking to score a win at his home track this week. He has been good but not great at Michigan. Jones has 4 races at the track on his resume and his average finishing position is 11th. Jones finished 4th at Texas, 3rd at Kansas and 3rd at Pocono so he has had success in the 550 HP engine, higher-downforce aero package. Jones liked the balance of his car. He said, “It is free into 3 and 4. The bumps upset the car but when I miss’em it is near perfect.”
Denny Hamlin: The MENCS will use the same tire compound that was used at Texas earlier this season. Hamlin won that race. He has also had a lot of success at Michigan. He has 2 wins at Michigan and he had a 10th place average finishing position last year. Hamlin has the 8th best Driver Ranking in the races where the 550 HP engines were used this season. Hamlin did not post fast laps in practice because he was the driver leading the pack on most of his runs.
Martin Truex Jr.: Truex has finished 1st, 20th, 1st, 19th, 1st and 35th in his last 6 races. If the trend continues he should win the race Sunday. Truex finished both races at Michigan outside the top 10 last year but he has had a lot of speed on the large ovals this season. Truex made some long runs and crew chief Cole Pearn told him, “Your lap times are really good. We just need a little more to be with the 4 and 18.”
Matt DiBenedetto: DiBendetto showed signs of getting out of his slump at Pocono. After 5 consecutive finishes outside the top 20, DiBendetto finished 17th last week at Pocono. The team said they purchased a new fleet of cars from Joe Gibbs Racing and they are still trying to “figure them out.” DiBenedetto did not like his car after his initial run. The team made a shock change and he said, “That is a lot better.”
Daniel Hemric: Hemric will be making his 1st start in the MENCS at Michigan this week. He did finish 2nd at the track in the Xfinity Series race week. He told MRN Radio last week, “I cannot wait to get to Michigan. It is my best track.” Hemric made some short runs and said, “It is way edgier then I need it to be. It is like driving on glass.” After his final run Hemric said, “The height adjustment helped a lot. The bumps are no longer an issue. It has a lot more driveablilty now.”
Austin Dillon: Dillon could be a good sleeper pick this week. He qualified 5th and finished 4th at the track last year and he won the pole at Auto Club (the most similar track to Michigan) and finished 10th earlier this season. Dillon made some long runs and said, “It has speed. It is still a bit tight, but the speed is good.” He was P9 at the time.
Ty Dillon: Dillon has 5 consecutive finishes at Michigan outside the top 20. He has been a lot better on the short tracks than he has been on the large tracks this season. Dillon has the 25th best Driver Ranking in the races where the 550 HP engine package was used this season. Dillon made some long runs on new tires and said, “I was able to run 5 laps without lifting. Then it got tight.” After his 2nd run he said, “That felt great. I do not even have to lift.”
Ryan Preece: Preece will be making his 1st start in the MENCS at Michigan this week. NASCAR is all about momentum and Preece is in a slump. He has finished 4 consecutive races between 23rd and 31st. He has the 27th best Driver Ranking in the races where the 550 HP engine package was used this season.
Chris Buescher: Buescher is having a good season. He is on quite the roll right now too. Buescher finished 10th at Kansas, 6th at Charlotte and 14th at Pocono. He ran well at Auto Club (finished 16th) so he should be good Sunday. Buescher made a lot of runs with the Chevys from Hendrick Motorsports. He liked the balance and driveability of the car.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: It is hard to know what to expect from Stenhouse. He finishes in the top 10 and then the next race he crashes and finishes outside the top 30. He is a high-risk, high-reward driver this season. Stenhouse said, “The car has no speed by itself but it sucks up well in the pack.” He was P9 at the time. After his final run Stenhouse said, “Plowing tight.”
Ryan Newman: Newman only has one finish in the top 10 at Michigan since 2015 (remember they run 2 race each season at the track). Newman has finished most of the races in the 550 HP engine package between 13th and 17th. That is probably what we should expect from him this week. Newman said his car was way too tight. He was P16 at the time.
Cars that looked good in practice: Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Martin Truex Jr., Clint Bowyer and Kurt Busch
Good Sleeper Picks: Daniel Suarez, Aric Almirola, Erik Jones, Jimmie Johnson and Austin Dillon
MENCS Final Practice Speeds
Best 10-Lap Avg. Speed
Best 15-Lap & 20-Lap Avg. Speed
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