NASCAR Cup Series: Top Bets for Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400
Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Martin Truex Jr.
This weekend NASCAR heads to Michigan International Speedway, a two-mile oval that was repaved in 2012. Since then, speeds have been in excess of 200 mph on average for the top cars, making passing difficult despite the wide surface, and putting track position at a premium.
To combat the track-position issue, Goodyear is bringing in a new tire package aimed at producing more tire wear so that speeds fall off more, allowing cars on different tire strategies or drivers who manage their tires well to pass more easily. The new tire package adds a little bit of extra unknown to a track that already tends to have elevated variance thanks to multiple racing strategies across the teams.
However, don’t count on attrition to be a major factor. Since 2014 (removing the second Michigan race in 2015, when NASCAR experimented with a high-drag package), the incident rate has been a measly 10.5%, which should give us more confidence that the top cars can hang around to the end.
Taking into consideration the aforementioned set of races, plus this year’s race at Michigan’s twin track (Auto Club Speedway), my machine learning model places a premium on long-run speed, year-to-date driver rating at all nonrestrictor plate tracks and large oval driver rating this year. I use the RotoViz Driver Sim Scores to gauge race-winning upside.
As always, make sure you shop around for the best lines.
Martin Truex Jr.: +625
The big four of Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson and Truex are the four favorites to win. Truex at +625 is the longest of the four, but he may actually be the second-best bet to win behind Harvick. At the two high-powered nonrestrictor plate tracks this year, Truex had a dominating win at Auto Club (although Harvick crashed on lap 37 with what was possibly the strongest car), and he overcame an early pit-stop error to win at Pocono in a straight-up fight with Harvick and Busch.
With limited practice (third practice was canceled due to rain), don’t be alarmed by Truex’s 17th-place starting position or sixth-place single-lap speed in final practice. He didn’t get to make a long run at such a large track. He likely has a top-three and maybe a race-winning car.
Brad Keselowski: +1050
Michigan is Keselowski’s home track, and while he’s yet to win a race there, he does have four top-three finishes. Add in a win at Auto Club Speedway, and it’s clear he can get it done at the two-mile ovals. Outside of the big four, Keselowski was the best of the rest at Auto Club this year, and he has the fifth-best driver rating at large ovals and fourth-best driver rating overall. His second-place starting position gives him a nice advantage in the pits over the big four, so if he can win some late track position, that should help his cause. The model gives Keselowski the third-best average finish among all drivers, while the Sim Scores show that two of his top five and three of his top 20 driver comps won their races.
Kurt Busch: +2100
Like Keselowski, Kurt Busch has a pit-stall advantage, which could especially help out the Las Vegas native if he hangs around the lead pack all day. With track position being so important this year at the large ovals (and historically at Michigan), Busch could stay out front early in the race to avoid any potential midpack issues.
Busch this year has the sixth-best driver rating at large ovals in incident-free races, and he posted a top-five speed over 10 consecutive laps in final practice. The model gives him the fourth-best average finish, while his Sim Scores are even more impressive: His two most comparable drivers each won their races, and both of those wins were at Michigan.