Chevy might get back into the winner’s circle in Michigan

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The NASCAR Cup Series has been racing twice a year at Michigan International Speedway since 1969, with the exception of 1973 when they raced only once because of a national fuel shortage. Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400 will be the 100th Cup on the wide 2-mile layout located in the Irish Hills of Brooklyn, MI., 74 miles southwest of the Motor City.

The 15th race of the season will be the seventh using the race package with engines producing 500 horsepower with nearly the same body design. This race is always about the manufacturers with Detroit so close by. Executives from Ford, Chevrolet, and Toyota will all be hand looking to do some bragging before, during and after the race.

Ford has led the way at Michigan with 37 wins and they also have another 12 wins from the Mercury division which accounts for more than half the Cup wins in track history. Chevrolet has 26 wins with 10 other wins from the General Motors brand between Buick, Pontiac and Oldsmobile. Dodge has nine wins and the newest brand in the series, Toyota, has five wins. Incidentally, the Toyota Camry is manufactured in Georgetown, KY. 

Ford swept both races last season with Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Clint Bowyer and Kevin Harvick, but this season it’s been Toyota doing most of the celebrating at tracks visited so far. Joe Gibbs Racing has won nine of the 14 races this season for Toyota, the last coming Sunday at Pocono with Kyle Busch winning his series-leading fourth race of 2019. And by the way, I must admit I was dead wrong about the expected racing at Pocono which I promised would be better with this new package. Only 13 lead changes among nine drivers with only three drivers leading 25 laps or more. it looked just like every other Pocono race.

But Sunday’s race should have us getting back to what we saw at Charlotte two weeks ago with lots of passing. The teams have been getting better with this package each week and I expect it to continue with another race on a high-speed oval. We might even see a Chevrolet back in the winner’s circle, something we’ve seen happen only once this season with Chase Elliott winning at Talladega.

Elliott leads all active drivers with a 5.3 average at Michigan. He’s never finished outside the top-10 and has been runner-up three times. He’s been on an incredible run since the Talladega run — five straight top-fives using three different race packages. His father, Bill Elliott, holds the Michigan record with four straight wins sweeping the 1985 and 1986 season.

Kyle Larson is another Chevy driver to watch this week despite only one top-five in the first 14 races. He’s been snake-bit every week despite showing some speed. Last week at Pocono he won the first two stages, but had trouble late and finished 26th. But Michigan is a place he should feel very confident and possibly put all together. He won three straight races at Michigan from 2016-17.

Chevrolet also has Larson’s teammate, Kurt Busch, who has won three times at Michigan and the rest of the Hendrick Motorsports stable that includes Jimmie Johnson, Alex Bowman, and William Byron. Surprisingly, Johnson only has one win at Michigan (2014) despite having six wins on the almost identical track at Fontana, which Kyle Busch won at in March.

The odd thing about Kyle Busch is that his only Cup win at Michigan was in 2011. His 18.3 average finish in 28 Michigan starts makes it his third-worst statistical track behind Daytona (18.6) and Talladega (20.3). Last season he was fourth in the June Michigan race and third in the fall. His JGR teammate Denny Hamlin is a two-time winner at Michigan while Martin Truex Jr. and Erik Jones are still searching for their first at the track.

Jones is a Michigan native and is currently in negotiations with Joe Gibbs to extend his contract and win would certainly go a long way with leverage considering his teammates have nine wins so far. he’s averaged an 11th-place finish in four Michigan Cup starts with a best of third-place in 2017.

Another Michigan native is Brad Keselowski, who has been Ford’s top performer this season with three wins. But he doesn’t have any wins at his home track, and it kills him. He’s had 19 Cup starts there and been runner-up twice, the last time coming in August. He may have more of an edge this week due to getting two wins already with this package and finishing third at the sister-track in Fontana. His teammate Joey Logano is a two-time Michigan winner.

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