The wild 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season has provided 20 races for its fans so far and they give us a doubleheader this weekend at Michigan International Speedway’s wide 2-mile layout.
For the second time in modern NASCAR history, we get a points-paying race on both Saturday and Sunday. And if the first time they did it at Pocono Raceway in June is any indication, betting the same drivers to win in each race pays off.
The doubleheader at Pocono was on the original 2020 schedule as a new idea to squeeze in races and free up an extra weekend for the drivers and teams who seemingly work non-stop from February to Thanksgiving. But the coronavirus pandemic served notice that 2020 is going to have to be a little different and Michigan made it on the latest revised schedule NASCAR produced last month. The Pocono races with no practices or qualifying proved to work well, so two Michigan races on the same weekend isn’t that big of a deal.
However, for race fans it’s awesome. I wish they’d do something like this every weekend at every track. I’ve somehow gotten used to no practices or qualifying for the trade-off of having more racing with a mid-week race or what they’ve done at Pocono and Michigan. I’ve adjusted my rating system because of it but I’ve also found that my initial rating for each driver holds up well despite no seeing practice times.
The Pocono races showed that what happened in Saturday’s race is most likely to happen again in the Sunday race. The Michigan races are usually 400 miles but each race this weekend will be 312 miles, similar to what they did shortening the Pocono races.
Kevin Harvick won the Saturday Pocono race and was runner-up on Sunday. Denny Hamlin was runner-up on Saturday but won the Sunday race. Aric Almirola had top-fives in both races and led a race-high 61 laps in the Saturday race.
Those three guys are where we need to start a conversation about who will win the Michigan races and while the odds on Harvick and Hamlin will be short, Almirola should still be able to be found at 20-1 odds. I wouldn’t have him at that price because I think he can and will win eventually, but he’s never won on any track outside of a Superspeedway so the oddsmaker will gladly keep taking money on him until he does win.
Of the 20 races the Cup Series has raced, 14 of them have used the race package with engines producing 550 horsepower which will be used this weekend. No word on what tire compound Goodyear will be using but it’s something to look for on Tuesday when announced because the hard compound that doesn’t wear much was used at Kentucky and Texas that produced the highest back-to-back payout in Las Vegas betting history with NASCAR. Cole Custer paid out at 300-1 odds with his Kentucky win and Austin Dillon paid out at 100-1 with his Texas win. Foregoing tires in the last pitstop for track position was a wise gamble by the crew chiefs.
But outside of those two long shots, it’s been the Hamlin-Harvick show with the 550 race package. Hamlin has four wins with it, and another at Daytona using the superspeedway package, and Harvick has four wins as well. They dominated the field in both Pocono races. Clean air was the key then and should be the same this weekend.
Historically, we have several drivers that have always been good at Michigan’s layout in the Irish Hills of Brooklyn, which is located about 78 miles west from Detroit. This is a chance for Ford and Chevrolet to battle for bragging rights while Toyota brings its Camry from Georgetown, KY. Ford has won the last four Michigan races, three by Stewart-Haas Racing with Harvick winning twice and Clint Bowyer getting the other in 2018.
Harvick, Joey Logano, Kurt Busch, and Matt Kenseth have all won three times at Michigan and Hamlin and Ryan Newman have each won twice. Chase Elliott’s 7.6 average finish is the best among active drivers at Michigan as is Jimmie Johnson’s 700 laps led. Surprisingly, Johnson has only one win at Michigan and has had just about everything go wrong for him over his career there. He’s dominated at Michigan’s replica at Fontana, but Michigan has been a tough one for him to grasp.
Another driver who always has problems at Michigan is Brad Keselowski, winner of last week’s race at New Hampshire using the 750 race package. Keselowski is from Rochester Hills, MI, the same place Madonna was born, but not winning a Cup race at Michigan has been one of his biggest voids as a driver. And he hasn’t won the Daytona 500. It’s home. It’s where you want to win. Then again, Kurt Busch hasn’t won at home, either in Las Vegas.
NASCAR piles up some weird trends, but you also know in the back of their minds it weighs on them which could affect their performance each time for the worse. The building pressure can be a burden.
Logano and Harvick won the Michigan races last season and Alex Bowman won the Fontana race per-shutdown after leading a race-high 110 laps. Anything 35-1 or higher with Bowman presents value.