It’s crunch time for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series as the playoffs are nearing. In a little over a month, it’s playoff time. So, with what’s at stake this weekend at the Michigan International Speedway, here are the top five storylines for Sunday’s Consumers Energy 400 (2:30 p.m. ET/NBCSN/MRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Playoff Implications And Knocking Off The Big 3
There are just four races left in the regular season and a track like Michigan can be one where drivers gamble at. Paul Menard did so in June and finished fifth. William Byron and Alex Bowman finished 13th and 16th respectively earlier this season too. All three are in positions to gamble and can steal a win.
But, so can some drivers that haven’t won a race yet either.
Kurt Busch finished third back in June and has scored five straight top 12 finishes at Michigan. Kyle Larson is a three-time Michigan winner and has four top three finishes in five Michigan starts. Ryan Blaney finished fourth in this race in 2016 and eighth in June. Brad Keselowski was sixth in June and has six top 10 finishes in his last eight series starts in the Irish Hills. Chase Elliott has three runner-up finishes and an eighth and ninth place effort in five Michigan tries.
So, as you can see, if anyone is going to knock off the “Big 3” this may be the week.
The race is near their backyard as extra bragging rights are on the table this weekend. Ford just unveiled their new car that will debut in the Cup Series next season and would love to beat Chevrolet again in a battle on their home turf. Toyota, would love to steal a win away from the two Detroit automakers.
But, Ford has a leg up. They had seven of the top eight finishers in June and look to have a repeat performance this weekend.
This is a track that you don’t see a lot of fluke winners at. The reason is Michigan is a horsepower track. It’s long straightaways and wide sweeping corners allow for the engines to be full song for most of the way around the 2-mile, D-shaped track. So, if you have speed during the course of the year, it translates well over to the Michigan weekend.
Now, with a recent repave, horsepower is even more crucial at Michigan.
That’s why Ford’s dominated in June and why Michigan is a good barometer on who has speed and who doesn’t.
Harvick And Elliott’s Runner-Ups
Since 2013, Harvick and Chase Elliott have combined to finish runner-up in nine of the last 11 Michigan races. Unfortunately, neither have won in that time frame. Can they do so on Sunday?
Harvick, has had six runner-up finishes on the Irish Hills race track himself. He was runner-up in both races in 2013, both races in 2014 and the summer race in 2015. In both races in 2016, he finished fifth. Back in June, he was second again.
What about Chase Elliott? Chevrolet has been down in power all season and could have a tough time competing on Sunday. But, if they do find an ace in the hole, look no further than Elliott to capitalize. See, in three of his five Michigan starts, he’s finished second. His other finishes were an eighth place run last August and ninth in June. He’s coming off of a win too last weekend.
He struggled in a 28th place finish back in June and hasn’t had a top five finish since his runner-up at Chicagoland back at the end of June, but Larson still has to be listed as a favorite. 2-mile tracks are where he’s at his strongest. At Michigan, other than a bad race back in June, he has three wins and a third place effort to his credit there. Can he get back on track on Sunday?