NASCAR doubles down with pair in Michigan

By Pete Pistone  () 

Time again for NASCAR to invoke the words of Chicago Cubs legend Ernie Banks and say “Let’s play two.” Yes, it’s another Cup Series doubleheader this weekend, this time at Michigan International Speedway.

The sanctioning body pulled off a twin bill earlier this season at Pocono that, except for a drive-by from Mother Nature that caused a delay, went off without a hitch. Now as NASCAR continues to try to make up races lost during the COVID-19 shutdown, Michigan and Dover later this month will run back-to-back races Saturday and Sunday.

The 2-mile MIS oval has been on the NASCAR calendar since 1969, and though the racing surface has changed, the style of racing has not. Michigan’s calling card has been to offer drivers a wide range of lanes and choices to find speed and opportunities to pass.

However, Michigan was repaved six years ago, and since then the added grip has helped speeds rise at a quick pace. But when a track lays new asphalt, it takes time for the surface to widen out and allow drivers multiple lanes. Signs indicate that two- and sometimes three-wide racing, a staple of the track before the repave and reconfiguration, is coming back. The application of a traction compound, which has been used frequently at a number of tracks this year, will potentially create even more racing options.

Track position will play a vital role, and qualifying up front has proven to be instrumental to Michigan success over the years. Drivers starting in the front row have won a third of the races since Michigan opened. That’s important to remember since the top 20 finishers in Saturday’s FireKeepers Casino 400 will be inverted to start Sunday’s Consumers Energy 400.

Here’s a look at some of the favorites for this weekend’s pair of Michigan races:

KEVIN HARVICK

Harvick has a good chance to sweep the Michigan weekend based on how well the Stewart-Haas Racing driver has performed there in his career plus his current stellar season. Harvick’s average finish of 6.33 over the last six MIS races includes two victories and four top-10 runs. 

CHASE ELLIOTT

The Hendrick Motorsports driver is still searching for his first career Michigan Cup win but has been stout at the track recently. He has finished outside the top 10 only once in the previous six Michigan races and put together a string of three consecutive second-place performances in 2016-17.

MARTIN TRUEX JR.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver is also winless at Michigan but has been a consistent presence at the front of the field in recent years. Truex’s average finish is 7.83 over the last six MIS races, with three of those runs inside the top five.

DENNY HAMLIN

You have to go back to 2011 to find the last time Hamlin won at Michigan, one of his two career wins in the Irish Hills. But the way he’s running in 2020, it’s hard to bet against the Toyota driver. He hasn’t been too shabby recently, compiling an 8.83 average finish in his last six MIS outings with two top-five runs in that mix.

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