Following A.J. Allmendinger‘s victory on the Indianapolis Road Course, NASCAR goes to the superspeedway at Michigan. Thus, let’s recap that chaos called a Cup race, the regular-season standings with three to go, and what to expect for NASCAR DFS in this Sunday’s Firekeepers Casino 400.
A Race of Pure Attrition
During Live Before Lock this past Sunday, the discussion came up about the viability of punts in a road race like the Indy GP. The case was made that these ilk of drivers are never realistic plays unless attrition occurs. Turns out, attrition was on the menu for Sunday.
By Toby Christie‘s count, there were 39 incidents involving 27 different drivers. In all, 11 different drivers failed to finish the race, only two of them were for mechanical failures.
Truth be told, the race was fairly clean for the first half of the race with no real cautions. Furthermore, only two more yellow flags were waved until lap 79 for separate debris cautions. However, on lap 79, calamity ensued as the curb began to deteriorate in turn six as nine cars were collected in one fell swoop. Following a lengthy yellow/ red flag duo, racing began on lap 90 when another incident in turn six collected seven more cars.
Eliminating this turn-six, and instead opting for the Formula 1 layout, would eliminate this switchback that affected both Xfinity and Cup races. Drivers were already unhappy about moving from the oval to the road course. These late circumstances may cement the idea of going back to the oval in 2022. Nonetheless, returning to the road course wouldn’t be the first time a track decided not to heed the voice of the drivers this season.
Post-Indy Playoff Picture
What’s baffling is that this chaos, somehow wasn’t the only story to emerge from Indianapolis. In the final restart, with two laps remaining, Chase Briscoe dumped Denny Hamlin, after getting penalized himself for cutting a turn. Hamlin and Briscoe had been racing one another rather aggressively and it came to a head on the lap-94 restart.
Briscoe cut across the grass, in the turn-one area, but failed to gain any positions so he stayed in line behind Hamlin. As the duo made their way through turns eight and nine, Briscoe got a chrome horn on Hamlin’s back bumper and booted him out of the way. At some point, during this entanglement, NASCAR penalized Briscoe and the ruling put Allmendinger in the lead. He would go on to win the race giving Kaulig Motorsports their first Cup Series victory.
While a win would have sealed Hamlin’s spot in the playoffs, Sunday’s result accomplished the same. Now, just two spots remain unaccounted for in the playoffs, currently held by Kevin Harvick (+95) and Tyler Reddick (+28). Austin Dillon‘s 15-point hole nearly doubled this week, thanks to the lap 90 incident. Dillon is now on the cusp of joining everyone else in positions 18 through 30 who have to win this weekend or at Daytona in order to make the playoffs.
The Irish Hills of Michigan
After two weeks of racing at road courses, NASCAR returns to a familiar sight. The two-mile superspeedway of Michigan will host this weekend’s action in NASCAR’s lone journey to the Irish Hills. Traditionally, Michigan has hosted two events per year, spaced just mere months apart. However, for the first time since 1982, Michigan will hold just one race this season. With the proposed changes to Auto Club Speedway, the only other two-mile track on the NASCAR circuit, Michigan’s singular calendar event is further proof that the scope of the sport is changing.
As per Michigan itself, this superspeedway is a horsepower dominant venue. The size and shape lend to drivers never needing to lift out of the gas. Thus, the best drivers in the best equipment tend to perform well here. That said, a “fluke” driver ending up in the victory circle can’t be ruled out either. Due to weather patterns over Michigan from June through August, stray showers are always a threat in Brooklyn, Michigan. While it isn’t often, rain has shortened two races in the last six years. Both of those races saw pit strategy, with eyes on the impending rain, provide surprise winners.
In the June 2015 race, Kurt Busch won after the race was called on lap 138. Those final 18 laps saw six different drivers lead, including Kurt Busch who led the final six. More recently, in the June 2018 event, Clint Bowyer won after taking two tires while everyone else grabbed four. After grabbing the lead on pit road, Bowyer was able to hold off teammate Kevin Harvick long enough before the rain fell on lap 133. Bowyer’s victory would break Kyle Larson’s string of three straight victories at Michigan while starting a current streak of six straight victories by Ford here.
Currently, the forecast looks promising for racing on Sunday. Yet, weather patterns can easily shift so be sure to check back this weekend before finalizing rosters. With just 200 laps on tap for Sunday, any reduction in laps could really play with what DFS lineups should look like.
Speaking of lineups, with just the aforementioned 200 laps on tap this isn’t a cut and dry take. As in, don’t just see 20 laps and assume one or two dominators. In this week’s edition of the Race Sheets, on the laps led data page, DFS players can see how these laps led totals have broken down since 2013. In the double-header from last season, both races saw two drivers lead the majority of laps. Coincidentally, that top driver in each event was Kevin Harvick – winner of four of the past six Michigan events. However, when looking at numbers from 2019 – the June race saw one driver lead 163/200 laps while four drivers led 20 or more laps in the August event.
In the year prior (2018) the June race was shortened by rain and the August race saw three drivers lead 10% or more of the race. Thus, everything from one up to four is on the board. Lineups will really be determined by salaries this week. If driver salaries look closer to last week, then fitting in three lap leaders will be within reach. On the other hand, if salaries shoot back up then DFS players may only be able to assemble rosters with two.
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