Maybe the Cup Series drivers are waiting to use all seven of their allotted Xfinity Series spots at once? I’m not sure, but we have a field of nearly all points eligible drivers this week for the LTi Printing 250 at Michigan International Speedway. The Cup Series guys weren’t allowed to participate in the Dash 4 Cash races and we haven’t seen much of them in the other races either.
Paul Menard is the only one this week as the drivers get ready for the 13th race of the regular season. We popped the winner last week with Cole Custer at Pocono and we’ll look to do the same here.
Odds are on the right-hand side for desktop viewers and down below the comment box for mobile viewers.
How They Stand
We took a good, long look at the standings on the Cup Series side in advance of the FireKeepers Casino 400 and will do the same here. Tyler Reddick ripped off his ninth straight top-five finish last week at Pocono and has a commanding points lead with 572. Christopher Bell has three wins to Reddick’s two, but he is nearly 80 points behind with 495. Cole Custer’s third win of the season bumped him up to 473 points. Austin Cindric has 455 and Justin Allgaier, who won the second stage last week as our other pick, has 439.
Rookies Chase Briscoe, John Hunter Nemechek, and Noah Gragson sit sixth, seventh, and eighth, respectively. Michael Annett and rookie Justin Haley round out the top 10. Annett is the only driver outside of the top three with a win this season. He won the first race at Daytona.
If the playoffs started today, Ryan Sieg and Brandon Jones would grab the final two spots. Jones finished third and fourth in the first two races of the year, but has not finished in the top five since.
A Different Look
My surprise was evident in the intro regarding the number of Cup Series drivers in the field. Denny Hamlin won this race back in 2017 and Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Paul Menard, and Austin Dillon all finished in the top 10. Dillon won it last year, with Menard fifth, Busch sixth, and Harvick eighth. Those are some heavy hitters for an Xfinity Series race. Menard is the only one this year.
Even with Cup Series guys in the race last year and the year prior, points drivers still finished second and third both years and rounded out the top five after Dillon last year.
This is a big track. Only Daytona, Talladega, Sonoma, and Indianapolis are bigger. That means that this race is more about equipment than anything else. Driver skill is mitigated a little, especially at this level. That’s what makes it a little surprising that the Cup guys didn’t do better, but it also speaks to how the playing field is leveled a little bit.
Toyota, Ford, or Chevy?
Toyota drivers have won six of the 12 races so far. The three wins for Ford have all come via Custer. The three wins for Chevy have come via Annett and Reddick. Toyota moved from the Camry to the Supra this year at the Xfinity Series level and the returns were pretty good in the early going. Toyota has only won one of the last five races.
It does seem like the playing field is a little bit leveler this year. Chevy has made some big Cup Series strides and Reddick has had the best car or the second-best car just about every time out. After some Toyota dominance in recent years, the gap appears to be closing or maybe has closed altogether.
The reason why this is worth examining is that Toyota has three of the last four wins here in this race. Who knows what would have happened last year, but Dillon won a rain-shortened race that went 91 laps. Busch led the most laps and won the first stage, but fellow Chevy Elliott Sadler did win the second stage before finishing 30th.
Toyota is hard to bet against in this race, but Chevy and Ford have made quite a push.
The top finisher in the race from last year is Custer, who finished third. Menard finished fifth. The next highest finisher was Reddick in seventh. The highest returning finisher from 2017 is Jones, who was ninth. With an almost all-Xfinity Series field this time around, we’ll have some guys setting some new benchmarks at Michigan.
As mentioned, the track hasn’t really mattered much for Reddick with two wins, three seconds, two thirds, and two fourths in his last nine races. Bell had a tough run at Richmond and finished 31st with a good car at Charlotte, but he’s a threat everywhere, especially with less of a Cup Series presence. Custer has been more inconsistent, but he’s had the pole position five times and has those three wins. He also won on the big two-mile track at Auto Club Speedway. Two of Bell’s wins are on the smaller tracks.
Chase Briscoe has six top-five finishes in his last eight races. He hasn’t shown the speed of Custer with his Ford Mustang, but he’s had some strong efforts. With a big track and less emphasis on the driver, maybe this is the week for the rookie to find his way. The +3350 balloon price is certainly intriguing.
Because this event is all about speed, Reddick makes a ton of sense with such an outstanding car. The problem is that Bell and Custer make a lot of sense as well and those are the three shortest prices. I really don’t think we get a long shot to the window here. Briscoe is worth some fun money, but one of the three lowest prices seems poised to take this one down. Reddick was the fastest in qualifying at Auto Club, which could give him a leg up on the field, at least to start. Custer has been the best all-around qualifier, with Bell right behind him.
I don’t think you can go wrong with any of the three this week. I’ll go with Bell because of how well Toyotas have run here, but won’t be shocked if Reddick or Custer win. I will be shocked if something other than those three win.