Photo: Brandon K. Carter/ASP, Inc.

Up to Speed: Previewing the Michigan Doubleheader Weekend

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

Normally Michigan International Speedway’s two annual NASCAR Cup Series races would take place roughly two months apart, but this year, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic means both races will take place over one weekend. Double the fun.

The first race of the weekend on August 8 will be the rescheduled Firekeepers Casino 400, originally planned for June 7, with the Consumers Energy 400 taking place the following day on August 9.

With these races taking place near the home of two of the three manufacturers (Chevrolet and Ford), teams put extra emphasis on winning here for bragging rights.

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.

Just as was done in the second race last year at Michigan, traction compound will be applied in the upper grooves of the track for both races in an effort to make more of the track usable for racing with no practice to lay down rubber and work in the groove. The track will also employ the Tire Dragon to try and speed up that process.

New this weekend and for the remainder of the season is the implementation of the Choose Rule, which made its first appearance at the All-Star Race last month. Drivers will now have the opportunity to choose which lane they would like to restart in, hopefully tuning down on the shenanigans we have seen on pit road over the years to make sure they were in a certain lane for the restart.

The starting lineup for Saturday’s race has already been set by random draw, with Joey Logano on pole and Denny Hamlin starting alongside on the front row. Logano won the June race at Michigan last year.

The remainder of the top-10 starters include: Kevin Harvick, who won last year’s August Michigan race, followed by Aric Almirola, Brad Keselowski, Alex Bowman, Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, Clint Bowyer, and Kurt Busch.

Following the same procedure of previous doubleheaders this season, the starting lineup for Sunday’s race will be an invert of the top-20 finishers from Saturday’s race, with the remainder of the field starting where they finish on Saturday.

By the Numbers

What: Firekeepers Casino 400/Consumers Energy 400, NASCAR Cup Series races No. 21/22 of 36

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

When: Saturday, August 8/Sunday, August 9

TV/Radio: NBC Sports Network, 4:00 pm ET Saturday, 4:30 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: 156 laps, 312 miles

Stage Lengths: First stage: 40 laps, Second stage: 45 laps, Final stage: 71 laps

June 2019 Race Winner: Joey Logano– No. 22 Ford (Started on pole, 163 laps led)

August 2019 Race Winner:  Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford (Started second, 22 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. Chase Elliott – No. 9 Chevrolet – 100.4
  2. Matt Kenseth – No. 42 Chevrolet – 99.8
  3. Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford – 99.6
  4. Joey Logano – No. 22 Ford – 99.3
  5. Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford – 97.2
  6. Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet – 92.6
  7. Ryan Blaney – No. 12 Ford – 92.2
  8. Kurt Busch – No. 1 Chevrolet – 91.5
  9. Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota – 91.0
  10. Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota – 89.3

From the Driver’s Seat

“Definitely looking forward to Michigan,” said 2018 Michigan winner Clint Bowyer. “Fast racetrack and, when you talk about a fast racetrack you need fast hot rods, and our Ford Mustangs have been extremely fast up there. You know that Roush-Yates horsepower is second to none when you’re talking about up-on-the-pipe, baby, and that track keeps it up there. You are sailing around that place and I look for that track to be a track that we can contend for a win at and get back in the right swing of things for these stage points

“At the end of the day, Michigan is about track position. If you lose that track position, it’s a fight to try and get back up there. You look at the restarts, they are wild. We are four-wide, gouging, trying to get every spot you can. If you’re going to gain spots, that’s where you’re going to gain the majority of them. Throughout the fuel run, you might gain one or two. Keeping the track position, I think, is key all day long.”

Last Time at Michigan

Despite a flat tire early in the going last August at Michigan, Kevin Harvick would rebound to score his second straight win in the August races at the two-mile track.

Harvick was forced to pit road just 31 laps into the event due to the punctured tire, but quickly turned things around as he was able to finish the first stage in sixth-place.

By the time the race reached its final stage, Harvick was able to charge from seventh on the final restart of the day at lap 153 to pass Joey Logano for the lead just 30 laps later, eventually stretching out his lead to 1.595 seconds by the time the checkered flag flew.

Logano had to pit for fuel with three laps to go, allowing Denny Hamlin to take over second place. The remainder of the top-five went to Kyle Larson, Martin Truex, Jr., and Daniel Suarez.

“A day of a little bit of adversity that we were able to overcome,” Harvick said. “But we just had a really fast car all weekend.  Our car handled really well today, and with the multiple lanes, we were able to run all three lanes pretty well and make our way through traffic.

“So just really proud of everybody on our Mobil 1 Ford, everybody from Busch and Hunt Brothers and Jimmy John’s and everybody back at the shop from Haas Automation and Stewart‑Haas Racing, just put a really fast car on the racetrack and we were able to capitalize on it, and that’s always fun.”

With another win at Michigan under his belt, Harvick revived a special post-race moment with his son Keelan, as he was able to go for a ride with Dad while the 2014 series champion did burnouts on the frontstretch before climbing out and retrieving the checkered flag.

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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.