Three to go. That’s how many races are left to determine the 2016 Chase for the Sprint Cup field. After a rain delayed race at Bristol last week, NASCAR heads back to Michigan International Speedway this week for Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400. The series was here in June and Joey Logano won from the pole for his second career Michigan win.
Sunday’s race will have a familiar twist for the field as NASCAR will have a final test of the provisional 2017 aerodynamics rules package. The reduced downforce setup for Michigan will mirror the one used in the series’ June 12 race at the 2-mile oval. The race at Kentucky Speedway in June was to be the final test for the 2017 base package, but NASCAR will have the same rules in effect Sunday.
The new package has a smaller rear spoiler, down 1 inch to a 2.5-inch height, and the removal of rear-axle offset or “skew.” Those adjustments — combined with modifications to cooling fans, the front splitter and the rear-deck fin limit the effects of downforce and side force on the cars. The idea is to favor driver control over an overly stabilized car in an effort to promote passing and side-by-side racing.
Here are my favorites for Sunday’s 24th race of the year for your betting or fantasy racing leagues. Driver Ratings compiled from 2005-2016 races (23 total) among active drivers at Michigan International Speedway. The Driver Rating is a number based on a formula developed by NASCAR which combines “loop data” elements such as average running position, average speed under green, number of fastest laps, and other stats. There is a maximum of 150 points that a driver can earn for each race. The odds are current as of Wednesday.
Matt Kenseth (7-1) is the defending winner of this race. He has the second highest driver rating in the field, 102.7 and three career Michigan wins overall. Kenseth has had some rough outing in the last few weeks, but it wouldn’t be surprising if he was able to turn it around and get back in winning form.
Carl Edwards (7-1) has two wins at Michigan the last coming in 2008. However he has the third highest driver rating in the field, 101.3, and was sixth in the last two races here. With the way Joe Gibbs Racing has been running everywhere this season, Edwards will be a strong contender to add a third win to his Michigan resume and a third win to his 2016 record.
Kevin Harvick (6-1) is coming off his win last week at Bristol, his third of the season. Harvick won here in 2010, has the eighth highest driver rating in the field, 92.7 and was second in this race last year. Coming off a fifth place finish here in June, Harvick could easily improve on that Sunday.
Kurt Busch (18-1) is a bit of a longshot, but he did win the June race here last year, and has the 10th best driver rating in the field, 90.5. His three Michigan wins can’t be ignored and if he is no his game Sunday, he may just add a fourth.
Brad Keselowski (7-1) has never won at Michigan in the Cup series. His best finish was second in August of 2012. Keselowski has the ninth highest driver rating in the field, 92.4, and was ninth in this race last year. In June however, he finished a strong fourth, and could be on the cusp on his first win at Michigan, which he considers his home track.
OTHERS: Joey Logano (6-1) won here in June and has the sixth highest driver rating in the field, 92.4. He finished seventh in this race last year. While a season sweep of both races in the same season isn’t unheard of, it’s a rare feat and hasn’t been done since 1995. Martin Truex Jr. (7-1) has never won at Michigan and has a driver rating of 83.5, only 13th best. However he was third here last year, and few would be surprised to see him score his first Michigan win Sunday.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway will be run on Sunday August 28. Live coverage will be on NBC Sports Network starting at 1:30 p.m. ET with the green flag coming just after 2:00 p.m. ET.