Pure Michigan 400 Preview: Logano Michigan Sweep?

Pure Michigan 400 Preview: Logano Michigan Sweep?

This article is part of our Weekly Preview series.

NASCAR returns to Michigan International Speedway this weekend for the Pure Michigan 400. This is the second and final race at the Brooklyn, Michigan oval for the season. We return to the scene of Joey Logano's big victory in June at the two-mile oval. He took the lead from Chase Elliott and led the final 48 laps to capture his second-career victory in the Irish Hills. This has become the theme for this race track in recent seasons. It's not typically the strongest car and driver of the day that wins, but often times it's the team that surges in the final leg of the 400 miles and has the right pit strategy and timing at the end.

In this case, multiple crashes and cautions came into play over the closing laps and became another variable in this equation. Considering that the driver of the No. 22 Ford is battling for a good position in the Chase for the Cup entering this weekend, Logano will have high expectations coming to the Irish Hills of Michigan this time around. The Penske Racing star has only one win this season and he will be looking to add to that total in order to improve his Chase for the Cup standing. The distinct possibility of a Logano Michigan sweep is on everyone's minds as we take on Sunday's Pure Michigan 400.

Despite the Logano sweep theme of this weekend, we have to acknowledge that it has mostly been Chevrolet teams and drivers that

NASCAR returns to Michigan International Speedway this weekend for the Pure Michigan 400. This is the second and final race at the Brooklyn, Michigan oval for the season. We return to the scene of Joey Logano's big victory in June at the two-mile oval. He took the lead from Chase Elliott and led the final 48 laps to capture his second-career victory in the Irish Hills. This has become the theme for this race track in recent seasons. It's not typically the strongest car and driver of the day that wins, but often times it's the team that surges in the final leg of the 400 miles and has the right pit strategy and timing at the end.

In this case, multiple crashes and cautions came into play over the closing laps and became another variable in this equation. Considering that the driver of the No. 22 Ford is battling for a good position in the Chase for the Cup entering this weekend, Logano will have high expectations coming to the Irish Hills of Michigan this time around. The Penske Racing star has only one win this season and he will be looking to add to that total in order to improve his Chase for the Cup standing. The distinct possibility of a Logano Michigan sweep is on everyone's minds as we take on Sunday's Pure Michigan 400.

Despite the Logano sweep theme of this weekend, we have to acknowledge that it has mostly been Chevrolet teams and drivers that have been everyone's nemesis at this two-mile oval the last couple seasons. Prior to Logano's big win, three of the prior four Michigan trophies had gone to Chevrolet drivers Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Kurt Busch. Joe Gibbs Racing star Matt Kenseth grabbed the only win in between the Chevy victories. The Gibbs Toyota camp has been coming on strong of late with victories in three of the last five events. Carrying the flag high for Joe Gibbs Racing at the wide-grooved speedway will be the hot teams of Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth. These four drivers have combined for eight wins at the big Michigan oval, with Kenseth being the last of those victories. The driver of the No. 20 Toyota won this event one year ago.

As usual, we'll take a look at the loop stats for the last several races at this week's track in order to collect some recent data on the drivers. The table below has the loop data for the last 23 races at Michigan International Speedway. This information will be helpful, but we'll put some emphasis on the results from June's FireKeepers Casino 400, since it was only several weeks ago and we expect that the teams will utilize the same setups for this race as well. What worked in June will likely work well again this weekend. Here are the loop stats for the top-performing Michigan drivers, sorted by driver rating.

DRIVERAVG FINISHQUALITY PASSESFASTEST LAPSLAPS LEDLAPS IN TOP 15RATING
Chase Elliott2.0253135191123.8
Matt Kenseth11.09302493813,411102.7
Carl Edwards9.59832203373,445101.3
Greg Biffle12.89523155003,342100.6
Jimmie Johnson16.58304325693,10099.2
Joey Logano12.84711343321,82996.7
Dale Earnhardt Jr.13.29332052892,97796.0
Tony Stewart11.37761051572,85393.8
Kevin Harvick11.67441912022,58192.7
Brad Keselowski13.051065591,86792.4
Kurt Busch19.87501863302,82490.5
Denny Hamlin15.57781091582,49888.8
Kasey Kahne16.7803185612,41888.0
Kyle Larson16.8174271058786.9
Kyle Busch20.57621431792,72586.6
Martin Truex Jr.16.3611131812,02383.5
Austin Dillon16.6193272177481.6
Clint Bowyer16.065537282,16981.0
Ryan Newman17.672114312,15678.9
Ryan Blaney21.7606024076.6

In the season's first running at Michigan International Speedway we can take away more information than just Logano's second-career win at the oval. The FireKeepers Casino 400 saw just 14 lead changes among eight different drivers. That was the lowest total for a Michigan race since the 2009 season. Handling and tires were a real problem and it led to multiple crashes. This oval typically produces fuel mileage battles, but not that day in June. Hopefully, we'll see more lead changes and more leaders assuming this Sunday's event improves.

While everyone is focused on the sweep watch this Sunday, we can't lose sight of the other dominant teams coming to the Irish Hills. Could we see another Chevrolet driver dominate and win at MIS this weekend? Will Brad Keselowski collect his first-career win at the oval? Will Kevin Harvick surprise and win for a second-straight week? Could the talented rookie, Chase Elliott, improve on his runner-up finish here in June and breakthrough for that first-career win? Will Kyle Busch step up and rebound from his disappointing Bristol crash and DNF of last weekend in this Sunday's Pure Michigan 400? We'll attempt to answer these questions and many more as we outline all the drivers you need to dominate the day at Michigan International Speedway.

The Contenders - Drivers in the hunt for the win

Joey Logano -
The Penske Racing driver is having a great season in the No. 22 Ford. Logano comes to Michigan a lofty fifth in the driver standings and battling for a top Chase berth. While he's not posted the wins this season that he has in the last two campaigns, the veteran driver and team have led laps and been at the front of the pack most weeks. A small nudge is all that it will take to get the No. 22 back into victory lane. Logano has well over 300 laps led for his career at Michigan International Speedway, and he is a two-time winner at this track. He's practically become a specialist on these two-mile ovals. Logano is currently the top-performing driver on these style ovals in the Sprint Cup Series.

Kevin Harvick -
The two-mile ovals have always been tracks of success for the SHR veteran. Harvick is a one-time winner at Michigan and one-time winner at the sister oval in Fontana. His recent performances have been nothing short of stellar. Harvick has 254 laps led and four runner-up finishes in the last six events at these style ovals. Back in June during the FireKeepers Casino 400, the driver of the No. 4 Chevrolet raced from deep in the field to claim an impressive fifth-place finish. Harvick has been narrowly missing victory lane at this oval recently, but that could change this Sunday afternoon. Coming off the big Bristol win last weekend, we should see a revitalized and motivated driver.

Carl Edwards -
Edwards is a driver to watch closely this weekend as he's a great historical play at the Michigan oval. Since the Chase is fast approaching, the No. 19 team needs to shore up their position to assure a good Chase berth. MIS ranks as one of his best statistical tracks with two victories, nine Top 5's and an average finish of 9.5 in 24-career starts. Edwards has led 337 laps at the two-mile oval in Michigan, so he's used to racing up front here. Given his strong 71-percent Top-10 rate at the Michigan oval, the Joe Gibbs Racing star should be racing among the leaders in this Sunday's 400-mile race in the Irish Hills.

Matt Kenseth -
When we visit Michigan we always think of the Wisconsin native Kenseth. In his 34-career starts at the huge, sweeping oval he's crossed the finish line first three times and piled up a stack of 20 Top-10 finishes. That works out to a lofty 59-percent Top-10 rate at MIS. You could say that this big oval feels like home for Kenseth and he indeed races like it each time we visit the Irish Hills. The Joe Gibbs Racing star qualified on the pole position and won this event one year ago in a dominant performance. The two-mile ovals have been a little tough on Kenseth of late, but he should rebound nicely this weekend.

Solid Plays - Drivers who are near locks for the top 10 with an outside shot at winning

Brad Keselowski -
After a poor Bristol performance and finish, the Penske Racing star will be happy to make this homecoming trip to Michigan. Keselowski has been steadily improving on these two-mile ovals the last couple seasons, and he can't wait to mount another effort to win at his home state track. The last time the Sprint Cup Series visited the Irish Hills, he led 10 laps and finished fourth at MIS. The Penske Racing stable has been making gains at this facility, and Keselowski's performances here have mirrored that improvement. He rides a strong six-race Top-10 streak on the two-mile ovals into this Sunday's event.

Jimmie Johnson -
Johnson hasn't looked much like a six-time champion the last several weeks, but his strong effort to crack the Top 10 at Bristol this past weekend cannot go unnoticed. The Hendrick Motorsports star is looking to improve before the Chase for the Cup begins, and now is a great time for a potential turnaround. Johnson won the race earlier this season on the similar oval in Fontana, and that's a very good sign. Given the team's recent struggles, it may not be very likely that Johnson pulls out a victory this weekend. However, the veteran driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet has nabbed two Top-10 finishes in his last five starts at this oval. That alone is reason enough to deploy Johnson in the Pure Michigan 400.

Kurt Busch -
Busch has been a feast or famine driver at Michigan International Speedway over the years. The veteran Stewart Haas Racing driver has three-career victories at MIS, but only a 36-percent Top-10 rate at the track. Busch's performances have been improving though since three seasons ago and since joining the No. 41 SHR team. The former champion won the June event at MIS last season, and he returned there this past June to claim a respectable 10th-place finish. Busch won't likely add a fourth Michigan trophy to his collection, but the possibility of a Top-10 finish seems more than likely this weekend.

Denny Hamlin -
Hamlin is surging entering Michigan weekend. With one victory in the last month and riding a five-race Top-10 streak coming to the Irish Hills, the Joe Gibbs Racing star is visiting this oval at the right time. Michigan International Speedway has been an up-and-down track for the veteran driver most of his career. However, Hamlin does have two-career wins at this oval and nine Top-10 finishes (43-percent). He qualified on the outside pole and finished fifth in this event one year ago. Hamlin should have plenty of speed for this installment of the Pure Michigan 400, and if his luck continues to hold up as it has of late, yet another Top-10 finish should be in store.

Sleepers - Drivers with good history at Michigan who can provide a solid finish

Martin Truex Jr. -
The Furniture Row Racing veteran is coming off a disappointing Bristol finish, but he should rebound nicely on the much larger oval of Michigan. Truex has been strong on the larger ovals the past few seasons. His last three tips to Michigan have yielded a pair of third-place and one 12th-place effort. Those finishes have bolstered his career rate to 33-percent and an average finish of 16.3. Last June Truex qualified on the outside pole and led 10 laps before finishing 12th at MIS. We expect him to do even better this time around.

Kyle Larson -
It's clear that Larson is the next budding superstar in the Sprint Cup Series. It seems that each week he improves the more he sees these ovals. He's coming off a bit of a tough two-race stretch between Watkins Glen and Bristol, but we're certain he's happy to once again see a large oval come up in the schedule. Larson owns a pair of Top 10's in his five-career starts at Michigan International Speedway. In June's FireKeepers Casino 400, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver qualified seventh and finished third for his best-career effort at the Michigan oval. He'll be hard-pressed to match that finish again, but he'll be among the challengers for a Top-10 spot in this 400-mile battle.

Jamie McMurray -
The other Chip Ganassi Racing driver also makes a steady fantasy racing play this Sunday at MIS. McMurray is on a bit of a hot streak with four Top 10's in his last six races. He's fresh off a pair of Top 10's at Watkins Glen at Bristol. Now he'll carry that momentum into the Pure Michigan 400. McMurray sports three Top-10 finishes in his last five starts on the two-mile ovals of Michigan and Fontana. That includes his ninth-place finish in the Irish Hills in June. Don't get caught up in McMurray's 22-percent career Top-10 rate at Michigan, rather, look at his body of work the last couple seasons. That's an average finish of 11.6 over his last five starts.

Tony Stewart -
Stewart's disappointing 30th-place finish at Bristol this past week snapped a string of great finishes for the owner/driver. Six of his eight starts prior to Bristol had yielded Top-10 finishes. Smoke will once again pick himself up, dust himself off and hit the reset button at Michigan this weekend. The veteran driver has a whopping 21-career Top-10 finishes at this two-mile oval, which works out to a strong 64-percent rate. Stewart missed the start at Fontana this year with his early-season back injury. However, his start in June at Michigan International Speedway yielded a strong seventh-place finish. The No. 14 team should be on their "A" game this weekend.

Austin Dillon -
The driver of the No. 3 Chevrolet has turned things up a notch in the 2016 season. Dillon comes into Michigan with a career-best 10 Top-10 finishes so far this season and ranked a respectable 11th in the championship standings. He's improved on many tracks over the last two seasons, and Michigan International Speedway has been a big part of that improvement. Dillon failed to crack the Top 10 in his first six trips to MIS, but he's racked up two-straight Top-10 finishes dating back to last summer. Those fourth- and eighth-place finishes were no flukes and showed some real excellence by the No. 3 team. Coming off the Top-5 finish at Bristol, Dillon should be ready to roll this weekend.

Chase Elliott -
Elliott slipped off the fantasy racing radar screen for a few weeks. The talented rookie hasn't cracked the Top 10 since his runner-up finish at Michigan in June. He went four-straight races after that event finishing outside the Top 20. However, things are turning back positive for the No. 24 team. Elliott has three Top 15's in his last four starts, and he raced competitively with the leaders last weekend at Bristol. The two-mile Michigan oval should provide the perfect venue for this young driver to get back to his Top 10 ways. Elliott was strong in both two-mile oval events this season with sixth- and second-place finishes at Fontana and Michigan.

Slow Down - Drivers to avoid this week

Dale Earnhardt Jr. - Earnhardt received the unfortunate news Wednesday that he was not medically cleared to compete in the next two events. That means he will not be in the No. 88 Chevrolet at both Michigan and Darlington. It's a real shame too, as Michigan has been a really good oval for the Hendrick Motorsports star over the years. He's a two-time winner at MIS and has four Top-10 finishes in his last five starts. However, it's not the comeback scenario we all expected this weekend. Keep him benched for the next two weeks, and check back in on his status after Darlington.

Greg Biffle -
It's hard to believe that Biffle used to dominate at this two-mile oval given how he's raced here the last three seasons. The Roush Fenway Racing veteran is a four-time Michigan winner, and he's racked up 10 Top-5 and 15 Top-10 finishes over the years in the Irish Hills. Since 2014, however, things have turned pretty bleak for the driver of the No. 16 at MIS. In those last six Michigan starts Biffle only has one Top-10 finish as opposed to two finishes outside the Top 20. His 19th-place finish in this past June's FireKeepers Casino 400 is likely indicative of what to expect this Sunday afternoon, and that's well below our expectations for Biffle at Michigan.

Kyle Busch -
The Joe Gibbs Racing star is coming off a stunning DNF at Bristol. After leading more than 200 laps and looking like a good bet to win, Busch found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Now we visit an oval that's been a bit of a mixed bag for the veteran driver. Busch is a one-time Michigan winner, but his performances of late have been very shaky. Since the victory in 2011 he's only posted one Top-10 finish in the nine starts since that win at MIS. The luck has not been good. Those stats dovetail with his recent performances on two-mile ovals in general. Busch hasn't cracked the Top 10 over his last five combined Michigan and Fontana starts, and has two DNF's in the span.

Alex Bowman -
While Jeff Gordon made a fairly comparable fill-in for Dale Earnhardt Jr. during his concussion recovery, Bowman will be a downgrade this weekend. The young driver made a spirited start at the New Hampshire oval for Earnhardt, but his lack of experience would eventually catch up to him with a 26th-place finish in that event. Things look less than encouraging for Bowman at Michigan. In four-career starts between Fontana and Michigan he's only cracked the Top 30 once. While the equipment he was driving in those starts was inferior to the No. 88 Chevrolet, we don't expect much of an improvement for Bowman in this spot start.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Taylor
Taylor is RotoWire's senior NASCAR writer. A nine-time FSWA finalist, Taylor was named the Racing Writer of the Year in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2016 and 2017. He is also a military historian, focused specifically on World War II and the U.S. Navy's efforts in the Pacific.
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