Photo: Logan T. Arce/ASP, Inc.

Up to Speed: Firekeepers Casino 400 at Michigan Preview

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

The end of the NASCAR Cup Series regular season is in sight with just four races remaining before the Playoff field is set.

After a visit to the hallowed grounds of Indianapolis Motor Speedway last weekend, the series heads north to Michigan International Speedway for Sunday’s running of the Firekeepers Casino 400.

With this race taking place near the home of two of the three manufacturers (Chevrolet and Ford), teams put extra emphasis on winning here for bragging rights. Especially this year with the track debut for the Next Gen car, which will add additional bravado for the manufacturer able to claim the first victory with the new car on the oval

The two-mile speedway tends to favor the teams that can get the most horsepower out of their cars and since being repaved in 2012, the track’s groove has widened out every race since allowing drivers to race from the wall down to the apron. Though horsepower is key, fuel mileage is also a big key as races at this track come down to fuel mileage more often than not.

Of the drivers still looking for a win to punch their ticket into the Playoffs, two of them in the thick of the points battle around the bottom half of the Playoff grid – Ryan Blaney and Kevin Harvick – are recent winners at the track. Blaney was victorious last season and Harvick won four of the five races taking place between 2018 and 2020.

Sunday will also mark the third straight race that Kurt Busch has missed while battling concussion like symptoms as a result of his crash in qualifying at Pocono. Once again, Ty Gibbs will be substituting for Busch behind the wheel of the 23XI Racing Toyota.

By the Numbers

What: Firekeepers Casino 400, NASCAR Cup Series races No. 23 of 36

Where: Michigan International Speedway – Brooklyn, Michigan (Opened: 1968)

When: Sunday, August 7

TV/Radio: USA Network, 3:00 pm ET Sunday / MRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Channel 90

Track Size:  2.0-mile D-shaped oval

Banking: Turns: 18 degrees; Straights: 12 degrees (front), 5 degrees (back)

Race Length: 200 laps, 400 miles

Stage Lengths: First stage: 45 laps, Second stage: 75 laps, Final stage: 80 laps

2021 Race Winner: Ryan Blaney – No. 12 Ford (Started third, eight laps led)

Track Qualifying Record: Jeff Gordon (34.857 seconds, 206.558 mph – 8/17/2014)

Top-10 Highest Driver Ratings at Michigan International Speedway:

  1. Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford – 101.8
  2. Chase Elliott – No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 100.7
  3. Kyle Larson – No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 98.9
  4. Joey Logano – No. 22 Team Penske Ford – 98.1
  5. Brad Keselowski – No. 6 Roush Fenway Keselowski Ford – 96.8
  6. Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 93.5
  7. Ryan Blaney – No. 12 Team Penske Ford – 93.5
  8. Kurt Busch – No. 45 23XI Racing Toyota – 92.2
  9. Kyle Busch – No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 91.0
  10. Martin Truex Jr. – No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 88.9

From the Driver’s Seat

“I don’t think any of us really know what to expect,” said Daniel Suarez. “The new cars race good everywhere so I expect a good race. But Michigan is different than really everywhere else we have raced. It looks like Auto Club Speedway, but that track is bumpy where I expect Michigan will have more grip. It will be interesting.

“Michigan is the kind of racetrack where you have to have a lot of straightaway speed and try to be as good as possible in the corners. You have to have a good downforce car in combination with drag to be able to go fast in the straightaways.”

Last Time at Michigan

Hendrick Motorsports teammates William Byron and Kyle Larson combined to lead 139 of 200 laps last year at Michigan, but when a late race restart bunched the field back up, it was anyone’s ballgame.

Taking the bottom lane as a result of the choose rule, Blaney was able to advance from fourth to the front row for the restart and that’s was the key for the No. 12 Team Penske Ford to steal the win away from Byron and Larson.

A push from Kyle Busch when the green flag dropped gave Blaney the advantage he needed to hold off the furious charge from the Hendrick duo, holding serve over the course of the final eight laps and beating them back to the line by .077-seconds.

“We were going to be fourth and the front row was open. You have to take the front row,” Blaney said. “It gave us a shot to win the race and Kyle (Busch) gave us a really good push to get us clear into turn one and then I was playing defense. We were wide open. Especially with Larson and William (Byron) laying back and trying to get runs. That made it tough.

“It was cool to persevere all day. We didn’t start off very good but we worked on it all day and found ourselves in a spot to capitalize on it at the end and did that. A very cool day and nice to be in victory lane here in Michigan. This is huge for Ford and Mr. Penske and a lot of fun.”

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

Saturday, August 6

  • NASCAR Cup Series Practice (12:35 pm to 1:20 pm – USA Network)
  • NASCAR Cup Series Qualifying (1:20 pm – USA Network)

Sunday, August 7

  • NASCAR Cup Firekeepers Casino 400 at Michigan (3:00 pm – 200 laps, 400 miles – USA Network)

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.