Podium Preview: FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan

Indeed, Sunday's FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan offers the last "regular racing" opportunity for Playoff hopefuls. (Photo: Stephen Conley | The Podium Finish)

Indeed, Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan offers the last “regular racing” opportunity for Playoff hopefuls. (Photo: Stephen Conley | The Podium Finish)

Without a doubt, any race, especially the Verizon 200, at Indianapolis Motor Speedway proves quite special. Indeed, round 24 of the NASCAR Cup Series season serves more than just another race of a memorable campaign.

In this case, it’s another opportunity for Cup drivers with making Brickyard magic, road course style. Surely, the likes of Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, Martin Truex Jr, AJ Allmendinger and Austin Cindric seem prime for Indianapolis immortality.

Each race weekend, The Podium Finish’s panelists preview each NASCAR Cup Series points-paying race. This weekend, Ashley HobbsCody ShoppeKobe LambethMatt SisolerMichelle RaynorTaylor Kitchen, and yours truly think about the potential improvements for the Indianapolis Grand Prix Circuit and more Playoff bubble talk.

Podium Preview: FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan
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Question 1
Surely, the calm before the storm in last Sunday's Indianapolis Grand Prix Circuit. (Photo: Stephen Conley | The Podium Finish)

Surely, the calm before the storm in last Sunday’s Indianapolis Grand Prix Circuit. (Photo: Stephen Conley | The Podium Finish)

Last Sunday’s Verizon 200 at Indianapolis produced two multi-car accidents around turn 6 resulting in two long red flag periods. What can NASCAR, Indianapolis Motor Speedway and other tracks learn with ensuring a fair on-track challenge along with less lengthy cleanups?

Hobbs : NASCAR needs to test these new configurations. Plain and simple. You cannot use the drivers and cars as the test and hope it works out. 2021 has shown that NASCAR has dropped the ball a few times when it comes to the safety of drivers with on-track issues like this. There is no excuse for NASCAR to just let the teams go out on a fresh course with very little track time. Any new track, any new configuration, should have ample testing from the drivers.

Anything added to a track that is temporary always has a chance of moving – as we saw on Sunday. If the track is not made for these cars, do not attempt to put in a patch to make it as such. NASCAR toots their horn on safety, but this race was anything but. Why would you also put a “ramp” on a course as a deterrent to not cut the course? The safety of the driver and financial implications to a team if a driver hits that “ramp” should be more important than a configuration and what can be added to keep drivers in-line.

Tiongson : Gosh, where do I begin? While I enjoyed the Verizon 200 at Indianapolis, it’s a shame that those two multi-car incidents nearly ruined an otherwise great race. Honestly, given that the Cup cars are so low to the ground with the front splitter, let’s reexamine the need for curbs and their height.

Far too many drivers wrecked around turn 6 mostly because of the curb. Along with the grass height situation, let’s reconsider these turtles and curbs at the road courses. Track limits present great challenges for drivers.

Ultimately, fairness needs to meet with commonsense safety so that we don’t see these grueling crashes and lengthy red flags (sorry, Luis).

Lambeth : First and foremost, I am very disappointed that the Turn 6 curb ruined what was shaping up to be an excellent debut Cup race on the IMS Road Course. Multiple IndyCar and sports car races have taken place on this circuit without any major issues. Therefore, it was surprising when NASCAR experienced some trouble at the Brickyard. Unfortunately, these things happen and we need to learn from what went wrong, so next year’s show can be an improvement for the fans.

Sisoler: If we’re talking about Indy, simple. Ditch the chicane and run the configuration where they go through the hairpin. I didn’t understand the decision to have the Xfinity and Cup cars run that layout, and I was justified with that apprehension with the plethora of cars totaled trying to go through the chicane.

In general, NASCAR needs to reevaluate certain aspects of the road courses they run on, and maybe do away with the car-killing bumps.

Question 2
Can Austin Dillon find an ace up his sleeve in Sunday's FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan? (Photo: Stephen Conley | The Podium Finish)

Can Austin Dillon find an ace up his sleeve in Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan? (Photo: Stephen Conley | The Podium Finish)

AJ Allmendinger’s victory at Indianapolis results in two open Playoff spots available ahead of Michigan. What’s the likelihood of a Playoff bubble driver winning at Michigan, in terms of realistic favorites in this category?

Torres :  The likelihood of another team with a driver not in the playoffs winning at Michigan seems likely. Yes, everyone has Daytona circled as the race where we’ll see that. But I’ll honestly disagree. Michigan has been a track where Kevin Harvick (Stewart-Haas Racing) won and has been one of the better drivers at the two-mile circuit.

But there’s one team I can see stunning everyone and that’s Richard Childress Racing. They’re essentially fighting hard to get the final playoff spot. To make it easier, a win will help so they don’t have to worry about Daytona. Yes, it does mean one over the other will get in. But it’s better to have one than neither due to any circumstances.

Now who’ll be the guy that can make it between the two RCR drivers? Austin Dillon has the better chance due to having some good runs over the years and despite being snake bitten at Indy, he should be able to bounce back. Dillon is the one guy I see making it over Tyler Reddick.

Aside from Dillon and Harvick, I don’t really see any other team being a contender to win that are under pressure at this time.

Raynor : Michigan has been such a good track for Ford but with this Hendricks dominance it’s going to be hard for anyone other than them to win honestly. If anyone has a chance I feel like it is going to be Tyler Reddick. He’s been constantly better than Dillion and he has the best shot. 

Shoppe :  It’s going to take a risky fuel mileage gamble for it to happen but history shows this is the place for that! Someone like Austin Dillon on back should probably try to roll the dice but his teammate Tyler Reddick is in a tricky position. Do you go for points like they did in Indy, or risk points for a win in fear of a new winner bumping them out? It’ll be fun to do what happens!

Jones :  I think the odds are low, but not impossible. I think the most likely contender would be Kevin Harvick. Given how Harvick’s season has gone, this is where the low odds come. If there is going to be more of a dark horse spoiler, I could see Austin Dillon sneaking a win away.

With all that being said, I foresee a repeat winner for Michigan.  

Kitchen :  I do not think a win from a driver within the playoff bubble is likely. The only true contender I see is Kevin Harvick, and even that is a long shot given how his season has gone. 

For a track that has historically treated Harvick well, the odds of him winning are slim. His season (statistically) has not been bad for an average driver, but it is not a standard Kevin Harvick season. In all honesty, if we do not see a victory from Harvick this weekend (even though I said a win is not very likely) I think he goes winless the remainder of 2022, though I do not want to see that occur.

Another driver I will have my eye on is Tyler Reddick. In his 3 MIS starts in the Xfinity Series he has one win and an average finishing position of seventh. However, I am aware that in his time in the Cup Series, this track has not favored him well. So, even if Reddick is not successful in claiming the trophy this weekend, I can guarantee he will finish each stage with valuable points. These points will help him further advance his place in the playoffs against teammate Austin Dillon.

Certainly, two laps around Michigan seems like a smooth five mile exodus. Here, consider how we all fared in last Sunday’s Verizon 200 at Indianapolis with our race and points reports!
Once again, Taylor Kitchen continues her solid summer streak.

Once again, Taylor Kitchen continues her solid summer streak.

Moreover, Hobbs enjoys another week as the points leader.

Moreover, Hobbs enjoys another week as the points leader.

Now, Ashley Hobbs crunches the numbers for Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan.
First, consider how your favorite team fares in the FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan.

First, consider how your favorite team fares in the FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan.

Since 2004, the FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan winner has an average starting spot of 10.5, led an average of 58.7 laps, started within the top five 41.18% of the time and started within the top 10 58.82% of the time.

Since 2004, the FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan winner has an average starting spot of 10.5, led an average of 58.7 laps, started within the top five 41.18% of the time and started within the top 10 58.82% of the time.

Surely, Chase Elliott loves racing at Michigan.

Surely, Chase Elliott loves racing at Michigan.

Here, consider the trends for the past 10 FireKeepers Casino 400 races at Michigan (since 2011).

Here, consider the trends for the past 10 FireKeepers Casino 400 races at Michigan (since 2011).

Next, here's the trends in the past five FireKeepers Casino 400 races at Michigan (since 2016).

Next, here’s the trends in the past five FireKeepers Casino 400 races at Michigan (since 2016).

The machine loves No. 4.

The machine loves No. 4.

Next, consider the top 10 starters for Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan!
Row 1
Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

Row 2
Ryan Blaney and Matt DiBenedetto (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

Ryan Blaney and Matt DiBenedetto (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

Row 3
Martin Truex Jr and Kurt Busch (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

Martin Truex Jr and Kurt Busch (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

Row 4
Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

Row 5
Denny Hamlin and Alex Bowman (Photo: Mike Moore and Stephen Conley | The Podium Finish)

Denny Hamlin and Alex Bowman (Photo: Mike Moore and Stephen Conley | The Podium Finish)

Lastly, here’s our picks for Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan!
Introducing the "Fab Four" of Sunday's FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan.

Introducing the “Fab Four” of Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan.

Tiongson : Although Kyle Larson seems like the odds on favorite, I’ve exhausted my picks for him. So, I’m going with Joey Logano. I’ve witnessed and covered his June 2019 victory. Also, he won in August 2013 and June 2016 at Michigan. Look for Smiley nabbing another Michigan victory.

Kitchen : The obvious choice this weekend is Kyle Larson, but I made it my mission (though it may cost me fantasy points) to NOT chose Larson for any of my picks, to keep things interesting. So, for this weekend, I pick Joey Logano to win this race.

MIS is a Ford wheelhouse. It is expected that Team Penske and Stewart-Haas Racing will hopefully do well this weekend and shine above the dominant team of Hendrick and, seemingly, its only competitor Joe Gibbs Racing.

Logano has three wins at this track with the latest being in 2019. He has had an up and down season and has been incredibly close to gaining another win this season. Hopefully this weekend will get Joey Logano back in victory lane.

Lambeth : Do not be surprised if Ford dominates once again in Michigan. Joey Logano is due for a victory, which would give him some positive momentum entering the playoffs.

TPF Stats : In 2020, Kevin Harvick won four out of six superspeedway races. On the superspeedway tracks this year, Harvick is in the top five for average finish. He is still searching for that victory and this might just be his weekend, and have that momentum heading into the Playoffs in a few short weeks.

Raynor : Harvick usually is good here and almost needs a win to make it.

Hobbs : Almost any non-Hendrick Motorsports driver is going to look for momentum heading into the Playoffs. MIS is known for high lines and high speeds – a Super Speedway that dreams of being a Restrictor Plate track. Ryan Blaney loves these type of tracks – he is in the top-3 drivers at Super Speedway tracks this year. Blaney has one victory earlier this year and would love to add another one before the Playoffs.

Shoppe : With Kyle Larson and the No. 5 team being so strong everywhere we go this year and on top of that, we are at Michigan where he was great before he joined HMS. Why not use up a Kyle Larson pick if you have one left?

Jones : Two words: Hot. Streak. Kyle Larson will pick things back up this weekend and start a tear into the Playoffs.

Sisoler : Ah, my home track. I love this track and have good memories here. Speaking of good memories, Kyle Larson also has had really good memories here, as he has three wins. And some of his strongest wins here, given that he was in a Ganassi Chevy that was not always a contender for the win week-in and week-out.

With Larson on the front row and in a resurgent Chevy Camaro from Hendrick, I expect Larson to hit the jackpot and take home the checkered flag come Sunday afternoon.

We’re ready for some racing. How about you? What do you think are the biggest storylines heading into the race? Who are your favorites to win?  Tweet us now @ThePodiumFinish and tell us now! Also, a very special Happy Birthday to my sister Tess!

Thanks as always to the TPF team for their amazing efforts this week!  Stay safe and wash your hands often. Help yourself, your family and friends by getting the COVID-19 vaccine! Take the shot to save your life and others! Also, thanks for reading our content throughout this season.

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.

Also, if you are shopping for NASCAR or racing die-casts, be sure to check out our friends at Circle B Diecast! If your order is $20 or more, be sure to use coupon code TPF2021 for free shipping! Tell them we sent you and buy some new die-casts now!

Rob Tiongson

Rob Tiongson is a 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 his eyes.

From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by him or by one of his talented columnists who have a passion for racing.

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. He enjoys editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography. Moreover, he enjoys time with his family and friends, traveling, cooking, working out and being a fun uncle or "funcle" to his nephew, niece and cat.

Tiongson, a graduate of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication, pursues his Master of Arts in Digital Communications at St. Bonaventure University. Indeed, while Tiongson is proud to be from Massachusetts, he's just as happy to be a Texan.

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