We’ve got the manufacturers Super Bowl taking place in Motor City’s backyard Sunday afternoon at Michigan Speedway as NASCAR roars through for its 15th race of the season.
Chevrolet came strong right out of the gate in 2018 with a win in the Daytona 500. It’s the biggest race of the season, pays the most and gets the most glory. But it’s also one of four restrictor-plate races that any driver can win. Chevrolet hasn’t won a race since.
Michigan’s wide two-mile layout hosts two Cup races and all the executives from Chevrolet, Ford, and Toyota use it as a way to gather, high-five each other and root for the home squad. Since 1969, Michigan has had two races per year, won by eight different manufacturers. The scoreboard reads 34 wins by Ford, 23 wins by Chevrolet and 4 wins by Toyota.
This season, if using football terms for this battle, we would say Chevrolet is getting blown out. Ford has seven wins led by Kevin Harvick’s series-leading five and Toyota has six, including four by Kyle Busch and two by Martin Truex Jr. There’s a major disparity between those who can win and the ones who can’t unless a driver gets rain or a crazy win by fuel mileage. The new Camaro has been giving teams fits trying to find speed, or at least all except one.
Kyle Larson’s No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Camaro has been good enough to win and he’s riding the high-line around Michigan better than anyone the past two seasons winning the past three races there, joining legends like David Pearson and Bill Elliott as the only drivers to do so. One more win Sunday and he’ll tie Elliott who had sweeps in the 1985 and ‘86 seasons.
In this race last season, Larson finished just ahead of Chase Elliott. He led 96 of the 200 laps and rode his high-line around the track masterfully. Larson has found success up high better than most and his crew has found a nice balance set-up to take advantage of his certain set of skills.
In the fall race, Larson led just once in the race and it happened to be the final two laps in overtime after Truex Jr. appeared to have it won. Truex led three times for 57 laps, including lap 189 to 200. Michigan native Brad Keselowski had led five times for a race-high 105 laps, the last coming on lap 161.
Michigan has lots of room for the drivers to maneuver and while it is a downforce track that requires plenty of horsepower to win, it’s unique from the 1.5-mile tracks and even more so from its sister track California Speedway, which appears identical. By the way, Truex won at California, the fifth race of the season and Larson was runner-up after winning that event in 2016. Larson has five wins in his career and four have come between the two two-mile tracks. It’s quite odd, but it is also the main reason why you as a bettor might consider wagering on someone else other than Harvick, Busch or Truex.
Larson grabbed his fifth top-five of the season last week at Pocono, a track that requires lots of horsepower.
Perhaps his most dominant performance of the season happened four weeks ago at Kansas where he led a race-high 101 of the 267 laps before finishing fourth. Harvick would end up winning the race, but chasing down Larson was difficult on that particular day.
Harvick’s only Michigan win came in 2014 in his first attempt there driving for Stewart Haas Racing. He’s had 34 Cup starts there and has 10 top-five finishes. Truex has never won at Michigan in 24 starts and Kyle Busch has just one win (2011) in 26 starts there.
Busch has a pedestrian 19th-place average, one of his worst tracks on the circuit and he is in a major slump there in his last nine starts with no top-fives, which includes five finishes of 31st or worse.
I’d like to think Keselowski can finally win on his home track, but they’re a bit behind. Elliott has a 3.5 average finish in four Michigan starts, but his Camaro has been junky in 2018. Two-time winner Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano have been very consistent and are getting close to the elite level, but are still behind.
Larson has the best chance to beat Harvick, Kyle Busch, and Truex.