Photo: Stephen A. 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 scorcher in Richmond 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.

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 6

TV/Radio: USA Network, 2:30 pm ET / 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

2022 Race Winner: Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford (Started 16th, 38 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 – 102.5
  2. Kyle Larson – No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 99.4
  3. Chase Elliott – No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 98.6
  4. Joey Logano – No. 22 Team Penske Ford – 98.2
  5. Brad Keselowski – No. 6 Roush Fenway Keselowski Ford – 95.7
  6. Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 94.6
  7. Ryan Blaney – No. 12 Team Penske Ford – 92.9
  8. Kyle Busch – No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet – 89.7
  9. Martin Truex Jr. – No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 89.3
  10. Christopher Bell – No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 89.1

From the Driver’s Seat

“Michigan is always a difficult track just because it’s so fast,” said Kyle Busch. “You’re going through the corners at such a fast speed that you’re sustaining high speeds all the way around. I’ve won at Michigan once years ago but that was on the old asphalt and now it’s finally getting to where the current racetrack asphalt is aging and leading itself to wider grooves that you can kind of maneuver around the racetrack a little bit better. Hopefully that’s the case this time around when we go back to Michigan.

“Fontana is the closest just because it’s a two-mile racetrack, but the asphalt, grip level, and banking level is entirely different at each of those tracks. I would say Kansas, maybe, is the most similar. Kansas has really aged well and has progressive banking from the bottom to the top so you can run all over the racetrack. You can run to the top, right up against the wall for the majority of the day at Kansas. Michigan is not quite there yet. I’m not really sure anywhere compares entirely to Michigan.”

Last Time at Michigan

Don’t ever count out Kevin Harvick, especially at a place like Michigan. Though the driver of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford may have been riding a 65-race winless streak into last year’s running of the FireKeepers Casino 400, he and his team found a way to break that streak and return to Victory Lane.

After starting 16th, Harvick pitted for the final time under green on lap 158 and then caught a lucky break when the caution flag flew a couple of laps later for an incident involving Ross Chastain and Christopher Bell.

As a result of the caution, Harvick was able to leap to the front when the leaders pitted under caution and then took care of business on the subsequent restart, setting sail and not relinquishing the lead for the final 38 laps to capture the win.

Harvick not only punched his ticket into the Playoffs with the victory, but also scored his fifth Michigan win in seven previous starts.

“Just good timing for sure,” Harvick said. “You know, we’ve had several good runs the last few weeks, Loudon, and Pocono where the car ran good and just didn’t have everything work out.

“Just really proud of everybody on our Busch Light Apple Ford Mustang. They’ve been digging along all year long, trying to make these Mustangs run faster. They haven’t been great this year, but our guys have done a good job in trying to take what we have, maximize it and do the things that we need to do. Just really proud of everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing.”

Bubba Wallace looked to be in the catbird seat before the final caution and restart, leading 22 laps on the day and finishing second, some 2.9 seconds behind Harvick.

Denny Hamlin finished third, followed by Joey Logano in fourth, and Ryan Blaney in fifth.

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

Saturday, August 5

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

Sunday, August 6

  • NASCAR Cup FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan (2:30 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.