Podium Preview: FireKeepers Casino 400

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As Michigan International Speedway kicks off its 51st year of operations, Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400 certainly presents a challenge of unpredictability.  By all means, Round 15 of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season could be as exciting or predictable as ever.

On the other hand, one constant that remains with Michigan is its sweeping corners and wide straights conducive to passing.  No matter the era of stock cars on track, the draft remains a consistent factor, especially on restarts.

Overall, the usual competition mind games between the three manufacturers presents itself at the forefront of Sunday’s race.  Last year, Ford swept the races, namely Stewart-Haas Racing.  Moving forward, Chevrolet and Toyota teams remain hopeful with their chances for this 200-lap event.

In the meantime, The Podium Finish’s Adam Lucas, Amanda ShoopmanAshley HobbsCody Shoppe, Kathleen Cassidy, Jose Acero JrKobe LambethMatt Sisoler, and yours truly weigh in on the possibility of an exciting race at Michigan and the state of NASCAR with its recent changes.

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Question 1
Sunday's FireKeepers Casino 400 ought to be a treat!

Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400 ought to be a treat!

Michigan kicks off the second half of the regular season.  Based on what we’ve seen at similar tracks with relatively newer asphalt, might we see a blend of superspeedway racing at this wide and spacious venue?

Bowman :  Racing at Michigan has varied largely from year to year. Since the repaving we have seen the racing get tighter, but that was also dependent upon the package brought to the track. I hope that we see a lot of side by side racing and passing in the corners in comparison to long green flag runs of single file racing.

Cassidy :  With the new car package at MIS this weekend it will be hard for drivers to pass with less speed. It will be interesting to see how the weather plays a factor – sunny and hot not ideal, but cloudy and cool could make for some super speedway like racing!

Hobbs :  Technically, Pocono kicked off the second half of the regular season, being the 14th race of the season 😉 And since Michigan International Speedway is a 2 mile, D-shaped oval, it is considered a super speedway track. The surface is the only component that would contribute to the racing in this case.

Lucas :  I am hoping and praying that we finally get a Daytona/Talladega-esque race! Lord knows that Michigan needs a shot in the arm for some quality racing since its repave in 2012. The trouble is who will be willing to run the high groove and risk getting loose and crashing. I think a high line could get going and make for an interesting Sunday afternoon.  

Sisoler :  I believe it’s a definite possibility. From what I’ve heard, this is a similar package to what Xfinity ran here last year. And there was some definite slicing and dicing then! Plus, Michigan is one of the few tracks on the NASCAR calendar that drivers can, for the most part, hold the throttle wide open for the whole lap. That, coupled with this package (yes, Kyle Busch’s least favorite word so far this 2019 season), should make this year’s FireKeepers Casino 400 a very interesting race.

Tiongson :  It’s anyone’s guess as to how this race will play out, but this package seems to work best on tracks that have been recently repaved speedways.  On that note, perhaps it may be good for Michigan to have this low horsepower, high downforce package as speeds were getting a bit too high in recent years.  

For instance, the top speed heading into turn one at Pocono was no more than around 182 mph.  At this time last year, the top speed heading into the first corners at Pocono and Michigan exceeded 200 mph. With a not so drastic fall-off with corner entry and corner speeds, it may promote more passing exiting a corner and into the next straights.

Michigan is a track where side-by-side racing and drafting in packs can be accomplished.  As a track that’s had some memorable finishes, at least since I first watched NASCAR in 1991, it could be time to make good memories in the Wolverine State this weekend!

Question 2
Low horsepower but three wide action, as seen at Charlotte. (Photo Credit: Andrew Fuller/TPF)

Low horsepower but three wide action, as seen at Charlotte. (Photo Credit: Andrew Fuller/TPF)

Given some of the changes that NASCAR has implemented in recent years, do you feel the sport is trending in the right direction?  Could more be done to make it a better product?

Acero :  Headed in the right direction. We have seen some great racing lately and in my opinion, it will only get better. Típ of the hat to the fellas over at NASCAR! Look for drivers who have struggled this first half to come out and make noise beginning this weekend!

Conley :  I think we are absolutely trending in the right direction. But, you can’t have perfection every weekend, and Pocono showed that. Sometimes you have a dusting, but look at what we got at Charlotte. A car pounded the wall and still won the race. We’ve got cars a little slower and a new aero package that has changed the way drivers race. And, it’s more competitive. Michigan will prove this as drivers have learned how to race this package and we could be in for our best race yet.

Lambeth :  I think NASCAR finally has the right people, working in the right places. As we all know, the sport has declined quite a bit over the years. However, the ratings have improved slightly this season. From top to bottom, NASCAR made necessary changes to push the sport forward. I am confident that the executives will make the right decisions to shape a bright future in professional stock car racing. As we look forward to the future Gen 7 car, I hope we can find a right balance to keep both fans and drivers happy.

Shoopman :  I think the racing itself is definitely heading in the right direction. I hope NASCAR continues their recent push to widen the audience. They have been doing a fantastic job recently of bringing in “outsiders” (influencers, athletes from other sports, etc.) to promote that NASCAR is for everyone, and I would love to see them continue that push.

Shoppe :  The sport is absolutely heading in the right direction! Those in charge are aware of their mistakes and own them. More than ever before, NASCAR is full of open dialogue from owners, drivers, fans, and executives from the sport all sharing ideas to help improve the sport.  We all know the situation with track attendance and TV ratings. So, it is so important that the sport continues to work to improve the on-track product.

Two laps around Michigan certainly fly by in a hurry!  Before we consider the winning picks, let’s review the Pocono 400 reports, including our race and points reports!
A machine chose race winner Kyle Busch.

A machine chose race winner Kyle Busch.

Meanwhile, we've had more points movement.

Meanwhile, we’ve had more points movement.

Before we put the bow on this ribbon, Blue Oval, or Toyota logo, let’s consider statistics and trends with Ashley Hobbs’ segment, “Crunching the Numbers: FireKeepers Casino 400” style!
Team stats at Michigan.

Team stats at Michigan.

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And the best Cup champ since 2016 at MIS is…MTJ.

Race trends since 2011.

Race trends since 2011.

Trends at Michigan in the past five races.

Trends at Michigan in the past five races.

The machine digs Chase Elliott.

Well, race fans, it’s about that time which is almost as exciting as the start of a race!  Let’s reveal our picks for Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan.
Quite a potent selection for the FireKeepers Casino 400.

Quite a potent selection for the FireKeepers Casino 400.

Tiongson :  Kyle Larson has to be the driver to beat at Michigan given how he won three straight races from the summer of 2016 through the summer of ‘17.  If he has a good baseline setup like he had at Pocono, the 42 will be the winner on Sunday.

Sisoler :  This is a track where we have seen drivers break long winless streaks at, with the biggest name to do it at MIS being Dale Earnhardt Jr. However, I don’t think his successor in the No. 88 Chevrolet, Alex Bowman, is gonna be the first across the line Sunday, nor do I think it’s gonna be Hendrick’s elder statesman, Jimmie Johnson. I think it’s gonna finally be Kyle Larson breaking through for his first points-scoring win in the Cup Series since Sept. 9, 2017 at Richmond.

Acero :  Larson finally keeps car clean and wins!

Shoopman :  I’d love to see a Kyle Larson win!

Conley :  Hometown hero Brad Keselowski gives Ford a big win in Michigan.

Lambeth :  I am going with Michigan native and Cup champion Brad Keselowski.

Hobbs :  Chase Elliott has been consistent lately; a triplet of fourth place finishes and a fifth since his Talladega victory. Elliott likes these fast tracks, and I look for him to keep the momentum going this weekend.

Shoppe :  Chase Elliott.

TPF Stats :  Statistically speaking, Chase Elliott is the best driver at Michigan International Speedway.

Bowman : Joey Logano is due for a good run at MIS.

Lucas : I’m going bold, he’s finally going to breakthrough, Alex Bowman will get the job done this weekend in the Irish Hills of Michigan!

Cassidy :  Kevin Harvick.

Race fans, thanks for joining us for our preview of the FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan!

We’re ready for some racing. How about you? What do you think are the biggest storylines heading into Sunday’s race and who is your favorite to win?  Tweet us now @ThePodiumFinish and tell us now!

Thanks as always to the TPF team for their amazing efforts this week!  We hope to see you at the races in 2019. 

The opinions and thoughts expressed in Podium Preview are solely of the authors. They do not reflect any organizations affiliated with the participants and author outside of TPF. This weekly feature is strictly for entertainment purposes and are not indicative of TPF, the organization, and its staff.

Rob Tiongson

30-something motorsports journalist who enjoys sports like baseball, basketball, football, soccer, track and field, and hockey. A Boston native turned Austinite, racing was the first sport that caught my eye. From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by me or by one of my talented columnists who absolutely have a passion for racing.

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. I enjoy editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography.

Graduated from Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication. Proud to be from Massachusetts, just as happy to be a Texan.

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