Podium Preview: FireKeepers Casino 400 & Consumers Energy 400

Indeed, it's twice the Michigan fun with this weekend's FireKeepers Casino 400 and Consumers Energy 400! (Photo Credit: Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

Indeed, it’s twice the Michigan fun with this weekend’s FireKeepers Casino 400 and Consumers Energy 400! (Photo Credit: Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

If the FireKeepers Casino 400 and Consumers Energy 400 at Michigan live up to expectations, then this weekend’s action may be what the doctor ordered.

Whether it’s the potential battles for the lead or the midfield scraps at Michigan International Speedway, there’s something for everyone with Rounds 21 and 22. Both struggles prove quite entertain to watch and it’s the perfect venue chronicling the balance between aggression and finesse.

Either way, the oft-discussed predicament with Cup drivers and teams is more horsepower or more emphasis on fuel mileage. With this in mind, there’ll be plenty to watch as we prepare for the race to the NASCAR Playoffs.

Each week, The Podium Finish’s panelists, Ashley HobbsChrissi LuttrellCody ShoppeKobe LambethMatteo MarcheschiMichelle RaynorTerra Jones, and yours truly will share their thoughts on the latest happenings in NASCAR.

First, we ruminate over Bubba Wallace’s future and potential spoilers for this weekend’s action at Michigan!

Podium Preview: FireKeepers Casino 400 and Consumers Energy 400 at Michigan
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Question 1
Certainly, Bubba Wallace's future seems quite bright. (Photo Credit: Stephen Conley/TPF)

Certainly, Bubba Wallace’s future seems quite bright. (Photo Credit: Stephen Conley/TPF)

With Bubba Wallace’s 2021 plans seemingly boundless, including the potential to own a portion of Richard Petty Motorsports, how do you see Wallace’s future shaping in NASCAR?

Lambeth :  For the first time in his NASCAR Cup Series career, it seems like Bubba Wallace has a solid number of options heading into next season. Typically, there is some uncertainty surrounding his future. However, Wallace’s stock has skyrocketed to a new level.

The current driver of the No. 43 car will be on the grid in 2021. He has the option of remaining at Richard Petty Motorsports and becoming a partial owner within the organization. This would allow him and the team to stay together for the foreseeable future, in order to build the program into a competitive one. Wallace is rumored to have options at Chip Ganassi Racing and Hendrick Motorsports as well. 

Without a doubt, the future is bright for Wallace at NASCAR’s top level. Staying at RPM would be a great opportunity to improve his current program. A move to Ganassi or Hendrick gives him better equipment to showcase his skills. At the end of the day, I am sure that it will be a tough decision. This move may determine how the remainder of his NASCAR career plays out.

Hobbs :  It seems that Darrel Wallace Jr. has a lot of options on the table, outside of his current ride. Wallace is a hot ticket in the garage right now, not because of his on-track stats, but because of what he has done for the sport itself on and off the track. Right now, he holds all the cards and can practically shape things to go the way he wants to see his future go. If he sees himself as a driver / (partial) owner, the deal with RPM certainly cannot be passed up.

Jones :  It sounds like numerous pivotal spots await Bubba’s decision. There are certainly pros and cons to be discussed with the options at hand. Staying with RPM and having an investment in the long-term future of the organization definitely has perks. Additionally, moving to a different team, with a teammate, could work in his favor in terms of growing as a driver. 

Tiongson :  All things considered, Bubba Wallace finds himself in the best position possible. Being a hot commodity in today’s economic climate is about as good as it gets. While Wallace’s best option may be to remain with RPM and accept the ownership stake, it’s not quite the slam dunk opportunity that Tony Stewart encountered 12 years ago with Haas Racing.

If Wallace has the chance to accept a better opportunity with a teammate, hopefully, crew chief Jerry Baxter follows him. For example, if the Ganassi seat is available, it’d be wise for him to accept this deal.

Raynor : He has lots of options and if he makes the right decisions and plays his cards right he could become a major factor in the sport. With that said, he needs to be careful how he portrays himself from here on out and think through all his decisions. Is this deal really right for him? I’m not really sure. 

Question 2
In this case, Denny Hamlin doesn't mind ruining the spoilers' chances at Michigan. (Photo Credit: Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

In this case, Denny Hamlin doesn’t mind ruining the spoilers’ chances at Michigan. (Photo Credit: Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

Michigan hosts the latest doubleheader action for the NASCAR Cup Series. Which driver and team have the potential to play spoiler this weekend?

Shoppe :  While I highly doubt we see anyone below the cutline get a win this weekend at Michigan, there is a decent chance we could see fuel milage dictate the outcome of one or both of these races! With that said, anyone could upset the playoff picture and steal a win. Teams like Ricky Stenhouse and Ryan Newman come to mind for having historically aggressive pit calls that could pay off if the stars align perfectly.

Marcheschi :  That’s a tough one… spoilers have been tough to come by at the 2+ mile tracks lately. In the last doubleheader at Pocono, it was Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick, hardly spoilers. It was a similar story in Indy, where Harvick took the W.

However, the races where the 550 horsepower package has been in place more recently have been crapshoots, with Cole Custer and Austin Dillon taking wins in consecutive weeks. Tracks like Michigan also seem to favor young guns, and I can see someone like Erik Jones or even Christopher Bell coming out of nowhere to take the win. After all, they’ve been in the news… 

By all means, twice the action at Michigan makes one’s mind race quite quickly! Next, we reflect on last Sunday’s action from New Hampshire Motor Speedway!
Our sorceress of numerology correctly chose the winner.

Our sorceress of numerology correctly chose the winner.

Meanwhile, our machine continues with its dominant reign.

Meanwhile, our machine continues with its dominant reign.

As we round our way to Turn 3, Ashley Hobbs presents the numbers that matter for Saturday’s FireKeepers Casino 400!
First, here's how your favorite team fares in the FireKeepers Casino 400.

First, here’s how your favorite team fares in the FireKeepers Casino 400.

Indeed, here's the manufacturers' stats worth savoring for Round 21.

Indeed, here’s the manufacturers’ stats worth savoring for Round 21.

In the past 15 years, the FireKeepers Casino 400 winner has an average starting spot of 11th, led an average of 56.6 laps, started within the top-five 37.5 percent of the time, and started within the top-10 56.25 percent of the time.

In the past 15 years, the FireKeepers Casino 400 winner has an average starting spot of 11th, led an average of 56.6 laps, started within the top-five 37.5 percent of the time, and started within the top-10 56.25 percent of the time.

All in all, Logano loves the FireKeepers Casino 400.

All in all, Logano loves the FireKeepers Casino 400.

Next, these are your trends in the FireKeepers Casino 400 since 2010.

Next, these are your trends in the FireKeepers Casino 400 since 2010.

Moreover, here's the trends for the FireKeepers Casino 400 since 2015.

Moreover, here’s the trends for the FireKeepers Casino 400 since 2015.

Oh, what a big surprise.

Oh, what a big surprise.

Now, here’s your picks for Saturday’s FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan!
To say the least, Saturday's FireKeepers Casino 400 is a crapshoot!

To say the least, Saturday’s FireKeepers Casino 400 is a crapshoot!

Sisoler :  This panelist chooses Denny Hamlin.

Lambeth :  After learning that he would not be returning to Joe Gibbs Racing in 2021, a fired up and motivated Erik Jones will win in his home state of Michigan.

Marcheschi :  After a hot spring and early summer, Chase Elliott has been a bit cool lately. But Michigan is a great track for him, with only one finish outside the top-10 in eight races there. Hendrick Motorsports as a whole has been quite strong at the bigger tracks, so if Elliott can get in the front, he may be hard to beat.

Jones :  He won last week, now he’s going to his home track with an extended contract in hand. Prepare to see Brad Keselowski fly the American Flag in the Irish Hills on Saturday!

Hobbs :  Momentum is very important and will give BK that home track victory he’s been longing for.

Shoppe :  Hard to bet against Kevin Harvick and the 4 team any weekend especially at Michigan!

TPF Stats :  Status: Hoping Kevin takes me back.

Tiongson :  While it’s been a quiet season for Kurt Busch, he returns to Victory Lane in grand fashion at Michigan.

Next, let’s ruminate once more with Ashley Hobbs’ numbers for Sunday’s Consumers Energy 400 at Michigan.
First, here's how your favorite team fares in the Consumers Energy 400.

First, here’s how your favorite team fares in the Consumers Energy 400.

How does your favorite manufacturer fare at Michigan's second race?

How does your favorite manufacturer fare at Michigan’s second race?

All things considered, the Consumers Energy 400 race winner (since 2004) has an average starting spot of 9.3 while leading an average of 54.5 laps, starting within the top-five 43.75 percent of the time, and 56.25 percent of the time.

All things considered, the Consumers Energy 400 race winner (since 2004) has an average starting spot of 9.3 while leading an average of 54.5 laps, starting within the top-five 43.75 percent of the time, and 56.25 percent of the time.

Surprisingly, it's quite close between Busch and Truex.

Surprisingly, it’s quite close between Busch and Truex.

Here, we consider the trends at Michigan's second race. Keep in mind that the Lap 134 of 154 would be when the final caution is expected.

Here, we consider the trends at Michigan’s second race. Keep in mind that the Lap 134 of 154 would be when the final caution is expected.

However, in the past five years, the last caution is expected with 19 to go, or Lap 137 of 156.

However, in the past five years, the last caution is expected with 19 to go, or Lap 137 of 156.

Call us surprised.

Call us surprised.

Last but not least, here’s our picks for Sunday’s Consumers Energy 400 at Michigan.
Certainly, we're favoring Fords and Toyotas.

Certainly, we’re favoring Fords and Toyotas.

Sisoler :  My strategy of jumping back and forth between the top two guys in the series (hopefully) doesn’t backfire on me now. I picked Hamlin Saturday and now I’m taking Kevin Harvick to sweep the Irish Hills Twinbill!

Hobbs :  How can you not choose the winner and the one who won the past two races at Michigan when they returned?

TPF Stats :  After the big day yesterday, I think a double is in order. Though, the last time we had a double, first and second swapped for this race.

Lambeth :  With Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin performing like two early championship favorites, there is one driver who some may consider adding to the conversation. After winning last weekend in New Hampshire, look for Brad Keselowski to complete the Cup sweep for Michigan natives.

Jones :   This panelist chooses Brad Keselowski.

Shoppe :  Ditto.

Marcheschi :  Erik Jones has been plagued by inconsistency, but with the news that he’s out of the No. 20 car for 2021, his fire will burn brighter than ever. With a third-place in the second Pocono race, he clearly learns from the first doubleheader event. Top ten finishes at both Fontana, both Darlington races, Texas and Kansas don’t hurt either.

Tiongson :  I’m absolutely going with Denny Hamlin because he rocks it at Michigan!

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

We’re ready for some racing. How about you? What do you think are the biggest storylines heading into this weekend’s races? Who are your favorites to win?  Tweet us now @ThePodiumFinish and tell us now!

Thanks as always to the TPF team for their amazing efforts this week!  Let’s stay connected as we focus on getting back together on the track soon!  Please stay safe and wear a mask if you must go out!

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. Ultimately, they 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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