Race: FireKeepers Casino 400
Date: Sunday June 18, 2017
Track: Michigan International Speedway
Time: 3 pm ET
by Virginia Vroom, NASCAR Handicapper, Predictem.com
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Well, will you look at that! As predicted, my dark horse took the win! It looks like the Tricky Triangle paid some dues to the rookies this weekend, particularly to Ryan Blaney, who took his first win in the series. Blaney held off Kevin Harvick to make a memorable win Sunday at a track that typically fools the younger drivers. Erik Jones, Kurt Busch, and Brad Keselowski rounded out the top five spots. The great thing about this win for Blaney is that it catapults him into the Chase for sure. He also bolsters himself to sixth in the points. Blaney has been solid all year long, so this win is not necessarily surprising, and his place in the standings is absolutely reflective of his efforts so far.
The best part of Blaneys win is perhaps the fact that he raced for this win. He didnt passively drive to the checkers or get a win simply because everyone else wrecked out. Blaney did the darn thing and proved that hes a talent to be recognized. Erik Jones third place finish shows off this rookies potential as well. As I mentioned in several articles, this new crop of younger drivers is proving to be what the sport needs. NASCAR hasnt really managed to grab this much talent at once in quite a while. This is definitely a good thing since were seeing many of the veterans falling out of the sport with more retirements on the horizon. NASCAR has certainly evolved into a much different sport than it started out as. It will be interesting to see the future of the sport with NASCAR focusing on bringing in new fans, instead of catering to the fans that have been around for so long now. I guess with new drivers come new fans and thus we must evolve into what they want, even if many of those changes havent been too appealing.
This weekend, we are heading to Michigan to see if these young guns can maintain their momentum. Michigan is a pretty cookie cutter intermediate track. Its a 2 mile D-shaped oval. It has 18 degree banking in the turns, 12 degrees through the frontstretch, and 5 degrees on the backstretch. Theres nothing outrageous about this track and nothing that presents an overwhelming challenge to the teams and drivers here. This track has been around for quite a while. It was constructed back in the 60s, with many facelifts in the following years. The track was last repaved back in 2012. Its a fast track with a lot of room for racing. There are multiple grooves throughout the track, leaving the drivers with a lot of different options for setup and strategy to get around this place.
There are a lot of different options this weekend when trying to figure out the winner here at Michigan. Many of these guys thrive on the intermediate tracks and have a solid record. In particular, Im going to narrow it down to Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, and Kevin Harvick. I think that these guys are the strongest of the bunch. Larson won here last year and honestly has a knack for riding the wall, which is a great strategy at a place like Michigan. Chase Elliott has never won here but has finished in second place twice. Hes got a really great shot at getting his first win this weekend, but hes fallen into a bit of a slump compared to his start this year. This will be a solid opportunity to really get back on track and back to the Chase Elliott that we saw coming into Daytona. Heres your look at the potential winners this weekend heading into Michigan:
My Pick to Win: Kyle Larson
Middle of the Road Pick: Chase Elliott
Dark Horse Prediction: Erik Jones
Jones has never raced a race at Michigan in this series, but hes got a good record from other series here. His third place finish at Pocono should give him some momentum coming into this weekend. Elliott is still a B lister, and I think that hes got a very solid chance at a win. Larson should still be the one to beat, though. Theres just something about a wide fast track and riding that wall that hes got all figured out. He will have a chance to bump back up in the points when its all said and done. Lets see how these guys are shaping up after the race at Pocono:
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Here are your current top 16 after last week’s race:
1. Martin Truex Jr.
2. Kyle Larson
3. Kevin Harvick
4. Kyle Busch
5. Brad Keselowski
6. Chase Elliott
7. Jimmie Johnson
8. Jamie McMurray
9. Denny Hamlin
10. Clint Bowyer
11. Joey Logano
12. Ryan Blaney
13. Matt Kenseth
14. Kurt Busch
15. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
16. Ryan Newman
Erik Jones is sitting in 17th right now. I think theres a very good possibility that he will make his way into the field for the Chase. Kyle Larson is still sitting pretty, only a single point behind Truex Jr. for the lead. Michigan is always a pretty good race. Theres a ton of speed at this place and lots of room for passing and different grooves. We see a lot of different strategy from the teams. There will be some stiff competition this weekend as the rookies and veterans mingle for the lead, but I think that the younger drivers may take the stage as the leaders on this one. One team that we have to watch out for is Penske when it comes to the veteran drivers. Logano and Keselowski have the horsepower and wherewithal to get through races like this is prominent fashion. Those are going to be two drivers to really keep your eyes on as well. Stay tuned as these guys battle it out on the straights of Michigan International Speedway!