Michigan/Gateway Weekend Preview: Keselowski ready to triumph in home state

LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 04: Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Miller Lite Ford, prepares to drive during practice for the NASCAR Xfinity Series Boyd Gaming 300 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 4, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

A Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion and a 23-time winner, Brad Keselowski boasts quite the racing resume.

One achievement the Rochester Hills, Michigan, native longs to add to his list of accomplishments is a victory in his home state.

He’ll get the chance in Sunday’s FireKeeper’s Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway (3 p.m. ET on FS1).

“I would say (Michigan is) a weekend that is circled every year on our calendar and one where we’ve had a lot of success but haven’t been able to break through for that first win,” Keselowski said. “So I feel like with the season we’re having this year, we have a great opportunity of checking that box off.”

In 15 starts at the two-mile track, Keselowski has five top-five and 10 top-10 finishes. He has placed in the top 10 in his past six Michigan races, including showings of third and fourth last year.

Through the first 14 races this season, Keselowski ranks fifth in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series points standings on the strength of two wins, eight top fives and 10 top 10s. His 12 playoff points are the third-most in the series. In the 10 races where has not wrecked or had technical difficulties, the No. 2 Team Penske Ford driver hasn’t finished lower than seventh.

Keselowski, 33, felt pressure to perform well at Michigan when he was younger, but is relaxed going into this weekend’s contest.

“Earlier in my career it used to feel like a ton of pressure, but as of late, I don’t seem to feel quite as pressured by it,” he said. “I think maybe that’s just changes in my life or changes in the status of my career as I’ve become more established. But now I just look at it and I think of how amazing it is to run well there, and I don’t seem to get stressed about if I don’t run well there.”

Allgaier hopes to extend points lead

Justin Allgaier pulled a theft on his JR Motorsports teammate Elliott Sadler in last Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Pocono.

Allgaier seized the lead in the standings from Sadler after finishing runner-up at the Tricky Triangle.

Justin Allgaier, (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)

He’ll try to extend his one-point lead over Sadler in Saturday’s Irish Hills 250 at Michigan International Speedway (1:30 p.m. ET on FS1).

In six career starts at Michigan, Allgaier has logged one top-five and three top-10 finishes. He placed eighth there last year.

Through the first 12 races of the season, the No. 7 JR Motorsports driver claims one win, four top fives and six top 10s. He leads the series with seven playoff points via his victory at Phoenix and two stage wins.

“I’m pumped to get to Michigan,” Allgaier siad. “We had a great race at Pocono last weekend and we were able to take over the points lead. That was big for us and we want to keep building on that. Michigan is such a fun, fast race track.”

Bell tries for Gateway repeat

Seven races into his second full-time NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season, Christopher Bell, 22, continues to prove why he’s considered one of the top young talents in the sport.

Christopher Bell at the 2016 Chase media day in Miami Beach. (Greg Engle)

The Oklahoman picked up his second win of the season at Texas last Friday, edging out Chase Briscoe by inches for the checkered flag. In addition to his two victories, he owns five top fives, six top 10s and a 6.4 average finish. Although Bell currently sits second to Johnny Sauter in the standings, he leads the Truck Series with 13 playoff points.

Bell will continue his pursuit of Sauter when he goes for his second consecutive victory in Saturday’s Drivin’ for Linemen 200 at Gateway Motorsports Park (8:30 p.m. ET on FS1) – a race he won last year.

“Gateway was a good race for us last year because we were able to get a win and earn a spot in the [playoffs], but it was kind of circumstances that got us the win,” Bell said. “A few of the strong guys crashing late in the race combined with a good pit stop, followed by a good restart won us the race.

“I’m looking forward to going back this year and trying to win the race as the dominant truck like we have the other two wins we’ve collected this year. I feel like every time we’ve gone to the track this year we’ve had really good speed and a Tundra that’s capable of winning the race.”

Race Weekend Guide

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

Race: FireKeepers Casino 400

Place: Michigan International Speedway

Date and Time: Sunday, June 18 at 3 p.m. ET

Tune-in: FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 400 miles (200 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 60), Stage 2 (Ends on lap 120), Final Stage (Ends on lap 200)

What to Watch For: Ryan Blaney, 23, tries to win again after picking up his first career victory at Pocono. … Kyle Larson attempts to win his second straight Michigan race after earning his first career checkered flag at the two-mile track last August. … Joey Logano attempts to defend his win in last year’s FireKeepers Casino 400. He has visited Victory Lane at Michigan twice. … Ten different drivers have won Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races this season. Notable competitors still searching for a win include: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth. … Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Erik Jones, from Byron, Michigan, attempts to build on his career-best third-place finish at Pocono. … Keep an eye on Sunoco Rookie of the Year frontrunner Daniel Suarez who won his first career NASCAR national series race at Michigan last season on his way to the Xfinity Series championship.

NASCAR Xfinity Series

Race: Irish Hills 250

Place: Michigan International Speedway

Date and Time: Saturday, June 17 at 1:30 p.m. ET

Tune-in: FS1, 1 p.m. ET, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 250 miles (125 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 30), Stage 2 (Ends on lap 60), Final Stage (Ends on lap 125)

What to Watch For: JR Motorsports teammates Justin Allgaier (standings leader), Elliott Sadler (one point behind Allgaier) and William Byron (-62) continue to battle for the NASCAR Xfinity Series standings lead. … Kyle Busch goes for Joe Gibbs Racing’s third consecutive XFINITY win at Michigan. Busch won at the two-mile track in 2015, while Daniel Suarez captured the checkered flag there last year. … Seven different drivers have won the last seven Michigan races. The former winners entered this weekend are Kyle Busch (two wins), Brad Keselowski (two wins), Daniel Suárez, Paul Menard and Denny Hamlin.

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series

Race: Drivin’ For Linemen 200

Place: Gateway Motorsports Park

Date and Time: Saturday, June 17 at 8:30 p.m. ET

Tune-in: FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 200 miles (160 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 35), Stage 2 (Ends on lap 70), Final Stage (Ends on lap 160)

What to Watch For: Chase Briscoe enters the race coming off a career-best runner-up finish at Texas. … Last year’s NASCAR K&N Pro Series East champion Justin Haley attempts to best his career-best sixth-place finish at Texas last Friday. … Grant Enfinger leads second-place Chase Briscoe in the Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings by four points. Kaz Grala (-5), Noah Gragson (-16) and Austin Cindric (-37) round out the top five. … NASCAR Next member and defending NASCAR K&N Pro Series West champion Todd Gilliland makes his second career NASCAR Camping World Truck Series start.

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