RaceDayScore NASCAR: FireKeepers Casino 400

RaceDayScore NASCAR: FireKeepers Casino 400

This article is part of our RaceDayScore NASCAR series.

FireKeepers Casino 400

Location: Brooklyn, Mich.
Course: Michigan International Speedway
Format: 2.0-mile D-shaped oval
Laps: 200

Race Preview

Michigan International Speedway has earned the reputation of a track that produces some of the most exciting racing we see in NASCAR Sprint Cup competition each season. The wide turns and long front straight create high speeds and lots of passing. While Kurt Busch, last year's defending winner, got his first win of the season last week in Pennsylvania, plenty of other competitors appear ready to take their machines to Victory Lane. The domination that Martin Truex Jr. enjoyed two weeks ago appears to have faded, and some Chevrolet teams are now beginning to challenge Toyota on a more regular basis. While Greg Biffle holds the current mark for most wins at the Michigan oval, the Roush Fenway Racing team remains less than impressive, especially compared to the Fords of Penske Racing. All told, the current rules package and intense competition at the front of the field are the ingredients to make this week's 400-mile race one of the most hotly contested events so far this season.

Key Stats at Michigan International Speedway

Number of previous races: 93
Winners from pole: 19
Winners from top-5 starters: 55
Winners from top-10 starters: 70
Winners from 21st or lower starters: 7
Fastest race: 173.997 mph

Last 10 Michigan Winners

2015 fall - Matt Kenseth
2015 spring - Kurt Busch
2014 fall - Jeff Gordon
2014 spring - Jimmie Johnson
2013 fall - Joey Logano
2013 spring - Greg Biffle
2012 fall - Greg Biffle
2012 spring - Dale Earnhardt Jr.
2011 fall - Kyle Busch
2011 spring - Denny Hamlin

The intermediate oval in Michigan is a slightly unique track that can really only be compared to Auto Club Speedway. The two circuits have the same layout, but vary in terms of banking in the turns. Michigan's width and steeper banking allow a bit more speed through the turns and wider grooves for passing. Drivers and teams will routinely move up and down the banking in search of a line that suits their cars the best and work hard to launch themselves onto the front straight with as much momentum as possible. The ability to carry pace through the center of the corners and return to the throttle as early as possible are key to fast lap times. Raw horsepower is also rewarded as this track as the straights allow for plenty of full-throttle action. At times the distance can create a fuel-mileage exercise, as we saw last week at Pocono, but high speeds and sliding cars are the hallmarks of this particular track.

(Based on Standard $60K Salary Cap)

Tier 1 Values

Kevin Harvick - $12,200
Carl Edwards - $11,500
Kut Busch $11,000
Joey Logano - $11,000

Tier 2 Values

Jimmie Johnson - $10,800
Chase Elliott - $10,700
Matt Kenseth - $10,600
Austin Dillon - $10,300

Tier 3 Values

Greg Biffle - $9,800
Tony Stewart - $9,600
Kyle Larson - $9,500
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. - $9,400

Long-Shot Values

Trevor Bayne - $8,800
Casey Mears - $8,300
Cole Whitt - $7,700


Lower-Risk Cash Game Lineup ($60K Salary Cap)

Carl Edwards - $11,500
Jimmie Johnson - $10,800
Matt Kenseth - $10,600
Greg Biffle - $9,800
Tony Stewart - $9,600
Cole Whitt - $7,700

Edwards leads the lower-risk option at Michigan due to his two track wins coupled with his 41 laps led in this rain-shortened race last season. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver finished eighth last week in Pocono and should be able to leverage his new team more here than he was able to last year. More bad luck thwarted Johnson last week in Pocono, but before he smacked the wall he was one of the fastest cars on the track. The team is still plagued by mistakes, but signs of progress are visible. Kenseth was incredibly quick in Pocono and is a three-time Michigan winner, including the last race at the track of which he led 146 of the 200 laps. Biffle may not be having the season he hoped for, but he's always a threat at this particular circuit. He's also showing more speed from the No. 16 and just needs to put it forth over a full race distance. Last week was one to forget for Stewart, but his ability to drive the wheels off the car could be a benefit this week at a track at which he has had a lot of success. To round things out, we add Whitt, who in four Michigan races, has improved his finishing position by an average of almost 10 places.

Higher-Risk Tournament Lineup
($60K Salary Cap)

Kevin Harvick - $12,200
Joey Logano - $11,000
Kurt Busch - $11,000
Denny Hamlin - $10,100
Casey Mears - $8,300
Michael Annett - $7,000

Of the last six Michigan races Harvick has finished runner-up five times. His next win at the track is overdue. Backing him up in this lineup we add Kurt Busch and Logano. Busch won last week and is the defending race winner, while Logano continues to be on the cusp of his first 2016 win, after adding another top-five finish to his season tally last week. Hamlin gives the roster a taste of Joe Gibbs power. Two of his last three Michigan races earned top-10 results. Mears has been relatively consistent at Michigan and is a regular face in the top 20, while Annett has only failed to better his starting position once in his four tries at the track. On average, he finishes five spots ahead of his Michigan qualifying efforts.

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C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
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