Last Updated: 2017-08-09
The second of two stops at Michigan International Speedway for the 2017 season Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is coming up this weekend as the drivers get set for the Pure Michigan 400. The two-mile track in Brooklyn, Michigan is regularly the fastest track on the NASCAR circuit because of its wide surface and high banking, so this should be a very fun and exciting race. This will be the 23rd race of 26 scheduled for the regular season.
That means that there are only four races left in the regular season before the Cup Championship Playoffs begin. Sixteen drivers qualify for the playoffs this season. Drivers with a victory have already punched a ticket to the postseason. Those without a victory will need to have the highest point totals in order to make it into the playoffs. Through 22 races, there have been 14 different winners, so just three spots in the playoffs are up for grabs over the final four weeks of the regular season.
The drivers will be in Bristol, Tennessee for next weekend’s Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race. After a weekend off, the drivers set up shop at Darlington, South Carolina for the Bojangles’ Southern 500. The following week, they will be in Richmond, Virginia for the Federated Auto Parts 400. The playoffs begin September 17 at Chicagoland Speedway. There should be a lot of drama this weekend, especially among the drivers that don’t have a win.
A win in the duels does not count towards the playoffs, which is unfortunate for Chase Elliott. The 14 drivers with a win are Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Newman, Kyle Larson, Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Austin Dillon, Ryan Blaney, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Kasey Kahne, and Kyle Busch. That means that only two spots remain. Right now, Chase Elliott and Jamie McMurray hold those top spots without a win. Matt Kenseth is just six points behind McMurray and Clint Bowyer is 34 points out and seems to need a win.
It looks like a three-horse race this weekend for the Pure Michigan 400. The race co-favorites at 5Dimes Sportsbook are Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. at +450. Truex has four wins already this season. Busch just grabbed his first win two weeks ago at Pocono. Truex doesn’t have a win at Michigan in his career at the Cup Series level, so he’s looking to make some personal history and that is usually a good motivating factor for a driver. Busch only has one win at Michigan and it came back in 2011. Truex may not have a win, but he finished third in each race in 2015. He also finished third in 2013. Since Busch’s win in 2011, he only has one top-five finish at Michigan. That came back in 2013. While they generally have great equipment and run at the front, it may be worth your while to try other drivers this weekend.
Kyle Larson is +550 this weekend. He’s won two straight Cup Series races at Michigan. Larson won the Pure Michigan 400 last year and also won the FireKeepers Casino 400 back on June 18. He was third in the June race back in 206. The break out for Larson over the last year has been very impressive. He had six top-five finishes over the remainder of the season last year, including his Michigan win. He has seven second-place finishes this season to go along with two wins. He’s had no luck the last three weeks with finishes outside the top 25, but there isn’t a lot of contact at Michigan, so a wreck shouldn’t be a problem. He’s run well all year long from a speed standpoint, so he’s a good bet, despite having the lower price as the third favorite.
Chase Elliott, Matt Kenseth, and Jimmie Johnson are all +1000 this week. Johnson is safely in the playoffs, so we’ll focus on Elliott and Kenseth. Elliott has 648 points, so he has a five-point edge on McMurray and he’s up 11 points on Kenseth. It isn’t the time to take chances because there are four races left to go this season. In his three career Cup Series starts at Michigan, Elliott has finished second all three times. This has been a very good track for him. Kenseth won this race back in 2015 and also scored a win in 2006, so he knows exactly where the winner’s circle is. He hasn’t gotten to victory lane yet this season, but he has three top-five finishes over his last four races, including second last week on the road course at Watkins Glen. Kenseth was fourth at Michigan in 2015 in the first race and then won the second race. Last year, he was 14th and 13th. He could be a trendy pick given how he has run in recent weeks. Johnson doesn’t have a top-five at Michigan since he won back in 2014 in the early race. His recent finishes haven’t been great at Michigan or this season. He hasn’t been in the top five since he won at Dover.
No offense to Kevin Harvick, but we’ll slide down the board one spot and look at Brad Keselowski. Keselowski doesn’t have a win at Michigan in his career, which is kind of surprising given how well he has been running in recent years. Keselowski has had a roller coaster ride of a season so far. He had seven top-five finishes by the race at Kansas, but only has four over his last 11 races. You can be that the Rochester Hills, Michigan native would love to get back in the winner’s circle. He has five career top-five finishes at Michigan, including a third-place finish last season in this race. At +1250, there seems to be a good chunk of value on the #2 and he might be our favorite play on the board this week.
With Toyota’s incredible rise over the last few years, it’s surprisingly to see that Kenseth’s 2015 win is the only one in the last 10 Cup Series races at Michigan. Chevy has fared very well on the two-mile track, with wins in four of the last six June races and two of the last three August races. That might be pertinent information for those looking at props or matchups.
The Pure Michigan 400 can be seen Sunday afternoon with a 3 p.m. ET start time on NBC Sports Network.
Odds as of August 9, 3 p.m. ET
Kyle Busch +450
Martin Truex Jr +450
Kyle Larson +550
Chase Elliott +1000
Matt Kenseth +1000
Jimmie Johnson +1000
Kevin Harvick +1150
Brad Keselowski +1250
Joey Logano +1250
Denny Hamlin +1650
Ryan Blaney +2750
Jamie McMurray +3300
Erik Jones +3300
Clint Bowyer +4400
Kurt Busch +5500
Daniel Suarez +6000
Dale Earnhardt Jr +6600
Kasey Kahne +8150
Ryan Newman +11500
-END OF 2017 PREVIEW-
Three races remain in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regular season. That means three more chances to pick up wins for bonus points during the first round of the Chase. It also means three more chances for drivers without a win to secure spots in the Chase. And, finally, it means three more chances for drivers to acquire enough points to inch closer to qualifying for the Chase. Michigan International Speedway is the venue for this weekend’s Pure Michigan 400. Darlington and Richmond are the last two regular season stops and then the Chase begins at Chicagoland on September 18.
Not a whole lot has changed since we last checked in on the standings. There are no new winners that secured spots, so the fight is still on for the drivers that are on the bubble. With his fifth-place finish at Bristol, Chris Buescher has cracked the top 30, so he controls his own destiny with three races and a 13-point edge over David Ragan for a playoff berth. While Bristol was exciting for Buescher, and also race winner Kevin Harvick, it was a disappointing week for some of the top drivers.
With that win, Kevin Harvick jumped back into first place. Brad Keselowski finished 33rd and fell to second place. The points don’t matter as much as the number of wins for the top contenders, so it’s all relative. Kurt Busch was 38th last week, but he’s still third. Carl Edwards is fourth, with Joey Logano fifth, and Kyle Busch sixth. Kyle finished 39th last week, even though he led the most laps. Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, and Tony Stewart are guaranteed spots in the Chase.
Austin Dillon should be good with 596 points in 11th place. If Chris Buescher stays in the top 30, only four spots remain for those without a win. Chase Elliott is also relatively safe with 588 points. Jamie McMurray should be okay with 583 points. Ryan Newman has 576 and he should be okay as well. Trevor Bayne has 541 points. Kyle Larson and Kasey Kahne have 537 points, so Bayne, Larson, and Kahne effectively need to win to get in. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. nearly stole a spot, but he finished second last week.
The Pure Michigan 400 has co-favorites at 5Dimes Sportsbook this week. One is Kevin Harvick. Harvick has had speed all season long, but it finally paid off with a big win at Bristol last weekend. Harvick hadn’t won since the fourth race of the season at Phoenix. Harvick only has one career win at Michigan. It came in this race back in 2010. As he has done fairly often lately, Harvick has been the runner-up in this race in three consecutive years. He’s also been the runner-up twice in the late spring race and led the most laps last year before finishing 29th. The wins haven’t been there, but Harvick runs so well here.
The other co-favorite as of Wednesday afternoon is Joey Logano. Team Penske has been rising up in a big way this season as the premier challenger to Joe Gibbs Racing. Logano’s lone win this season came at Michigan in the FireKeepers Casino 400 in mid-June. It was his second Michigan win, with his first coming back in 2013 in this race. Michigan and Bristol were actually flipped this season, which shouldn’t matter much, but Logano led the most laps in this race in both 2013 and 2014. He finished third in 2014. Logano is on a stretch of seven straight top-10 finishes at Michigan, so expect him to contend this weekend.
Logano’s Team Penske teammate, Brad Keselowski, is the third favorite at +700. Keselowski has never taken a victory lap at Michigan, but it’s entirely possible that this could be the week. Prior to last week’s debacle, Keselowski had been one of the most consistent drivers this season and he had four top-three finishes in six races. He tends to run a little bit better in the late spring race, but he has not finished worse than 13th since 2011 at Michigan. In this race, he has four top-10 finishes, including two top-five outcomes.
Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. effectively share a team and also share a +800 price this weekend. Kyle Busch picked up a win in this race back in 2011. He had the worst finish of the season at Michigan in June when he finished 40th. This hasn’t been a good track for him. His 40th-place finish was his third finish in a row in the 40s in that spring race. He was 11th here last year, but 39th and 31st the year before. This is a rough track for him and his team.
Truex Jr. dominates on 1.5-mile tracks, so it’ll be interesting to see how he fares on a two-mile track this weekend. Truex ran well here last year with a couple of third-place finishes. He was 12th in the spring race earlier this year. His results have been all over the map, including a couple of second-place finishes back in 2007. Speed hasn’t been an issue for Truex this year, so we’ll have things play out this weekend.
Chase Elliott has to be considered this week’s long shot pick. He’s safely in the Chase and it is probably in his best interest to just run in the middle of the pack and pick up points, but he finished second here earlier this year. At +2000, there’s definitely some value on the youngster and the two-mile track should give him a little bit more flexibility since there won’t be as much of a bottleneck as cars get spread out. He’s certainly worth a flyer.
NBC Sports Network will have coverage on Sunday afternoon with a 2 p.m. ET start time.