The 15th race of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series takes us up north to Michigan’s 2-mile, D-shaped oval where horsepower reigns supreme, and that should be the case since it’s a showcase of American-made cars battling it out near Motor City. All the executives from Ford, Chevrolet and Toyota are on hand for their own little battle and the brands.
And yes, Toyota is an American brand with the Camry made in Georgetown, Ky., where $1.3 billion was just reinvested by the company. However, the newcomers are way down the list on the manufacturer winner’s board that has been updated since the Roger Penske built track debuted in 1969. Ford leads all with 35 wins, including one by Joey Logano in this race last season. Chevrolet has 24 wins, including Kyle Larson’s first career win in the fall last season. Toyota has five wins.
Let’s take a look at each of the manufacturer’s chances to win Sunday’s race.
CHEVROLET: Even though Jimmie Johnson is a seven-time champion, which the Chevy executives regularly brag about, the best guy in a bow-tie this week is expected to be Kyle Larson. He has won the last two races on 2-mile layouts. Penske also built California Speedway and Larson grabbed his only win of the season there in March. He deserves to be the lone favorite here because he obviously loves this type of track with the wide sweeping turns and lots of room.
Johnson has six wins on his home track in Fontana but only one victory at Michigan (2014). That’s 30 starts and only one win for Johnson.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. has traditionally liked this track over his career with two wins, but after his emotional meltdown on camera last week at Pocono I’m rethinking my position on him winning any race this season. However, his teammate Chase Elliott is another story. He finished second in both Michigan races last season. Chevrolet has six of the 14 wins this season.
TOYOTA: All is going well for Martin Truex Jr. in a Toyota developed by Joe Gibbs Racing. He’s had the most consistent horsepower this season and should give Larson his biggest test. Truex has two wins this season, and has the most series points (584) and most playoff points (18). He’s had five top-five finishes in 22 starts. The crazy part is those two wins this season by Truex are the only wins for Toyota.
Joe Gibbs Racing’s main four drivers have yet to take a checkered flag. They’re expecting to get their new package dialed in by the time the playoffs start, but there are signs of being much better lately, especially Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth.
Busch’s lone Michigan win came in 2011, but he hasn’t had a top-10 there in his last seven starts. In five of those seven starts he’s finished 31st or worse. It’s been a rough stretch for him there. Kenseth is the last Toyota driver to win at Michigan. He did it in the fall of 2015, giving him three wins in 35 starts. His 10.3 average finish is tops among all active drivers with at least three starts. Denny Hamlin is also a two-time winner at Michigan.
FORD: These guys have had a rebirth this season with Jack Roush getting a win, Stewart Haas Racing being competitive, winning the Daytona 500, and Penske Racing getting three wins out of Michigan native Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano while also providing the same equipment for the Wood Brothers’ famed No. 21 that went to the winner’s circle last week at Pocono with Ryan Blaney getting his first career win. All this and Kevin Harvick still doesn’t have a win.
Harvick’s only Michigan win came in 2010 while he drove an RCR Chevy, but his current Michigan run has been incredible with five runner-ups in his last eight starts. Last season he was fifth in both races.
His teammate, Kurt Busch, has three Michigan wins with the last coming in the spring of 2015. Another SHR Ford to keep tabs on is Clint Bowyer who raced his tail off at Fontana to finish third.
Keselowski has been so close to winning at his home track. It’s one of the top items on his career bucket list to check off. His best finish was runner-up in 2012. He’s finished ninth or better in his last six starts, including fourth and third last season. Logano has been on a similarly great Michigan run with a top-10 in eight straight races, which also includes two wins. His current form is a bit puzzling, though.
If Blaney’s speed on the longest straightaway in NASCAR at Pocono was good enough to win there then it’s only going to help here. With the win and the team feeling confident, this really is a car as good as the two Penske cars.