NASCAR Pre-Race Media: 5 burning questions for Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400 (3 p.m. ET, USA, MRN) at Michigan

Final Chance To Control Destiny?

Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400 (3 p.m. ET, USA, MRN) at the Michigan International Speedway may be one of the final chances left for the drivers that haven’t won a race this season to control their own destiny.

As we enter the final month of the NASCAR Cup Series regular season, this is the 4th to last race on the slate. However, 2 of the final 3 races are in Watkins Glen (Aug. 21) and Daytona (Aug. 27). We know what Daytona produces while for Watkins Glen, 3 of the 4 road course races run this season has produced a 1st time winner.

Which means Sunday in Michigan and next Sunday in Richmond (Aug. 14) are really the last 2 chances to pick up a win and solidify a spot to the postseason.

BROOKLYN, MICHIGAN – AUGUST 11: Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Mobil 1 Ford, and Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, race during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Consumers Energy 400 at Michigan International Speedway back on August 11, 2019 in Brooklyn, Michigan. (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)

Is Ford’s Michigan Reign Over?

Toyota hasn’t won at Michigan since 2015 as that’s their lone MIS win in their last 19 tries. Chevrolet has been in a similar boat. That’s all because Ford has dominated on this track in their own backyard. The blue ovals are a perfect 7-0 at this this track since 2018 with 4 different drivers winning those 7 races.

Can they pick up another victory on Sunday?

OEMDateMichigan Winner
FordSunday, June 10, 2018Clint Bowyer
FordSunday, August 12, 2018Kevin Harvick
FordMonday, June 10, 2019Joey Logano
FordSunday, August 11, 2019Kevin Harvick
FordSaturday, August 8, 2020Kevin Harvick
FordSunday, August 9, 2020Kevin Harvick
FordSunday, August 22, 2021Ryan Blaney

Eight different manufacturers have won in the NASCAR Cup Series at Michigan; led by Ford with 42 victories; followed by Chevrolet with 26, Mercury (12), Dodge (nine), Toyota (five), Buick (four) Pontiac (four) and Oldsmobile (two).

If any year their streak was going to end, this is the one. They’ve won just twice in the last 18 points paying races and their main drivers are backing their ways into this weekend.

Joey Logano won the spring race in 2019 and has five top 10 finishes in his last 7 Michigan starts including 14 in his last 17 there overall. He’s also only had 2 top 5 finishes on the season since late April. Ryan Blaney won just last year for also his 5th top 10 in his last 6 Michigan tries but he’s winless this year.

Austin Cindric is a rookie and despite heating up, he hasn’t won since the Daytona 500.

Kevin Harvick swept Michigan in 2020 and won the August race the year prior. Harvick, has four wins in his last 6 Michigan tries including five top twos in his last 7 in the Irish Hills overall. He also has just 2 top 5 finishes over the last 8 races on the season. Chase Briscoe was fast at Fontana back in February and was 11th in this very race last year. He has 1 top 10 in th elast 14 races. Aric Almirola was 6th in both races in 2020 while Cole Custer desperately needs a good finish.

RFK Racing likely won’t pick up their first win since Daytona 2017 while Front Row Motorsports could be solid, but there’s also a reason that they’ve reached victory lane just once ever too.

FONTANA, CALIFORNIA – FEBRUARY 27: Kyle Larson, driver of the #5 Chevrolet, takes the checkered flag to win the NASCAR Cup Series Wise Power 400 at Auto Club Speedway on February 27, 2022 in Fontana, California. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

Can Hendrick Pick Up 1st Michigan Win Since 2014

Kyle Larson won the Cup race at Fontana back in February. He has to enter Sunday’s race at Michigan as the favorite, right?

Well he hasn’t won a race since and Ford has won 7 straight races at Michigan. Hendrick Motorsports hasn’t won on the 2-mile track since 2014.

However, Ford drivers are struggling now on the season and the blue ovals have just 2 points paying wins in the last 18 races run on the season. Maybe this is Chevy’s chance.

See, Larson has been great on 2-mile ovals in the past. These realistically were his best tracks.

At one point, Larson had won three straight races in Michigan. He won the second of two stops in 2016 and swept the year in 2017. In three NXS starts at Michigan (2013, 2014, 2015) he finished second, eighth and third respectively.

What about Fontana?

Larson, had five top two finishes in his first seven Cup starts there. In NXS competition at Fontana, Larson finished sixth, first, seventh, eighth and first respectively.

Between Michigan and Fontana, that’s nine top eight finishes in as many tries. For Cup, he had five wins and two runner-ups.

He was 3rd here last year and has to be the top driver to halt this Ford streak. So is Chase Elliott who has 10 top 10’s in his 11 Michigan starts to go along with 5 top 2 finishes in his last 6 races on the season too.

Are the up to the challenge to end this drought and stop Ford’s string?

William Byron was runner-up last year and Alex Bowman (Fontana 2020 winner) have struggled on the season which is why HMS’ chances come down to Larson and Elliott.

during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Consmers Energy 400 at Michigan International Speedway on August 12, 2018 in Brooklyn, Michigan.

Is This Harvick and Truex’s Best Chance?

Oddly enough, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. are still both winless on the season. Harvick hasn’t won in any of his last 66 starts. Truex is winless in over a year himself now too In saying that, is Michigan this Sunday or even Richmond next Sunday their best shots for these former series champions to find their ways back to victory lane?

They better hope so.

Harvick has 5 top 2 results in his last 7 Michigan tries including 3 wins in his last 4 there. Truex Jr. has 4 top 4 finishes in his last 5 Michigan starts.

Then we go to Richmond next week to where Harvick was runner-up in the spring race and Truex in 4th. Truex has 7 straight top 5 finishes in Richmond including 4 top 2’s in his last 6 at that.

After Richmond, we go to Watkins Glen and Daytona to close out the regular season. Harvick has just 3 wins and 19 top 5’s in 85 starts between Daytona and Talladega. Truex Jr. is 0-for-69 between these two tracks himself in terms of victories with just 4 combined top five finishes.

That leaves Watkins Glen then for where Toyota has been junk on road courses this year so despite Truex having 5 straight top 5’s there, I don’t see a win coming this year. Harvick has 3 straight top 10s in Watkins Glen but just 1 top 5 in his last 14 starts there.

It’s really down to Michigan and Richmond for these two.

Can You Build Momentum In This Stretch?

With the final 4 races during the final month of the regular season now ahead, one has to wonder in a season of unpredictability, can you build momentum starting now to enter the playoffs hot?

We’ve seen this in all sports before. Whomever is on a hot streak coming into the postseason are usually the ones to triumph in the end.

Last year, Kyle Larson had 3 top 3 finishes over the final 4 weeks of the regular season.

In 2020, Chase Elliott had 3 top 5’s over the final 4 races.

In 2019, Kyle Busch had 3 top 6’s in the same stretch.

In 2018, Joey Logano had 3 top 10’s including 2 top 4’s over the final 3 weeks.

For 2017, Martin Truex Jr. had just 2 top 10’s and 1 top 5 over the final 4 week stretch, but prior to those 4 races he had three straight top 3’s.

In 2016, Jimmie Johnson had 3 top 11’s.

For 2015, Kyle Busch had 4 top 11’s including 3 straight top 8’s to close the regular season out with but on the grander picture, he had 6 top 2 results over the final 11 weeks.

Finally in 2014, Kevin Harvick had 2 top 10’s, both in the top 5 in this stretch.

Moral of the story is, you better be on top of your game at this point, especially at Michigan. Harvick was 2nd in this race in 2014. Busch was 11th in 2015, Johnson was 6th in 2016, Truex Jr. was 2nd in 2017, Logano was 10th in 2018, Busch was 6th in 2019, Elliott was 7th and 9th in the two races run in the doubleheader weekend in 2020 while Larson was 3rd last year.

None of the eventual champions were worse than 11th in this race including 3 of them in the top 3.

What makes this final 4 week stretch challenging is you have a high speed 2 mile oval, a short track (.75 miles), a road course and a superspeedway.

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