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FireKeepers Casino 400 & Consumers Energy 400 (Michigan) NASCAR Preview and Fantasy Predictions

FireKeepers Casino 400 & Consumers Energy 400 (Michigan) NASCAR Preview and Fantasy Predictions

FireKeepers Casino 400 & Consumers Energy 400 (Michigan) NASCAR Preview and Fantasy Predictions

Since 1974, Michigan International Speedway has been a mainstay on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule, playing host to two races per year. But this two-mile oval will break new ground in 2020 by hosting those races about 24 hours apart.

MIS becomes the second attempt at a NASCAR weekend doubleheader this summer as the sport experiments with its schedule during the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, no fans will witness twice the action along with the shortest scheduled races in MIS history: 312 miles (156 laps) apiece. The hope is smaller stage lengths (the first one is just 40 laps) will up the level of competition at a track that's seen the leader pull away all too easily in recent years.

With only six races left in the regular season, it's a make-or-break weekend for several drivers fighting for a playoff bid. The 10 drivers with a win this season have now clinched their spots but that also means a victory from any other full-time driver locks them in the field, too. Matt Kenseth, for example, could go from zero to hero despite sitting 28th in the standings; his Chip Ganassi Racing team has won with his No. 42 car in recent years.

It's also an open audition for some heading into 2021. Silly Season heated up this week as in a matter of days, Leavine Family Racing announced the sale of its No. 95 team, Erik Jones announced his departure from Joe Gibbs Racing next season and Bubba Wallace was offered partial ownership in the No. 43 to stay at Richard Petty Motorsports.

In the meantime, Brad Keselowski signed a contract extension with Roger Penske, taking him off the market while Tyler Reddick reaffirmed his commitment to Richard Childress Racing. Keep in mind all this news happened since Sunday once the checkered flag fell at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

That ups the stakes for the racing at Michigan around the bubble. Clint Bowyer, 43 points ahead of Reddick for the final playoff spot, might be racing for his own contract extension at Stewart-Haas Racing. Jimmie Johnson is hoping to salvage his final full-time season while a fellow bubble driver, Jones, looks to potentially take his spot in the No. 48 come 2021. And Michael McDowell, up to 20th in points with a career year at Front Row Motorsports, is looking to keep his job there over the long term with a miracle postseason bid.

They'll all jockey for position at a speedway that's near the epicenter of American manufacturing. Lately, it's been the Blue Oval crowd that's been able to brag after races at Michigan; Ford has won four straight races at the track. Before that, it was a three-race win streak from Chevrolet as American-born manufacturers have earned all but one Cup victory here since the start of the 2012 season.

Toyota's tough history here is another obstacle for Kyle Busch, whose last-place finish at New Hampshire opened the door just enough that the defending NASCAR champion could miss the playoffs with a catastrophic August. Can Busch get it together to win and lock in a spot before the regular season finishes up?

That's plenty of storylines to set the stage in what NASCAR hopes will be a competitive weekend in the Irish Hills. A loss of a date on the 2021 schedule seems unlikely but, then again, that's what is rumored for the other tracks hosting doubleheaders this season: Pocono Raceway and Dover International Speedway (Dover's date loss is already confirmed). Two solid, exciting races after one too many snoozers could help keep MIS from sitting on the chopping block.

FireKeepers Casino 400

Date: Saturday, Aug. 8

Time: 4 p.m. ET

Track: Michigan International Speedway (Brooklyn, Mich.)


Radio: MRN, SIRIUS XM Channel 90

Consumers Energy 400

Date: Sunday, Aug. 9

Time: 4 p.m. ET

Track: Michigan International Speedway (Brooklyn, Mich.)


Radio: MRN, SIRIUS XM Channel 90

Who's at the Front: Brad Keselowski

Team Penske's top veteran reminded everyone he's a dark horse title contender by cruising past Denny Hamlin to win Sunday's New Hampshire race with ease. It's the fifth straight year Keselowski has posted at least three victories driving the No. 2 Ford, a remarkable run of consistency he kept up this year despite a crew chief swap to Jeremy Bullins.

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A rocky start to 2020 had some thinking Kes was on his way out at Penske. But the day after this race, a one-year contract extension kept him at the organization he's been with for over a decade now. One of the smartest drivers in the sport, in hindsight, made the best career move for his long-term finances. Why sign a long-term deal now with 2021 the end of the pandemic (we hope) and a top-tier ride still potentially available at Hendrick Motorsports?

Who's at the Back: Christopher Bell

Bell's future seems bright with an almost-certain promotion to Joe Gibbs Racing in 2021. But it could be a rough ride for him in a Leavine Family Racing team that'll wind down operations the rest of the year. Bell now has three straight finishes outside the top 20 and his 28th-place performance at New Hampshire came at a place where the Cup rookie never lost in two NASCAR Xfinity Series victories.

News Briefs

Bob Leavine's sale of the No. 95 team came with a frightening warning for teams searching for sponsorship this offseason. "We looked at our marketing people and we are going to be lucky to sell $50,000 worth for the rest of the year," Leavine said. "Big companies are going bankrupt. They can't invest in something that has no more return than what they are going to get — during a pandemic." Leavine has spent nearly a decade competing at the Cup level but only has six top-five finishes in 240 career starts.

The No. 95 sale, which didn't include any equipment, leaves one less well-funded Toyota seat to go around. That likely forced the release of Jones, whose three-year tenure with Joe Gibbs Racing was marked by unfulfilled potential. "I greatly appreciate the opportunity that JGR provided me with and I wish the team nothing but success and good fortune," Jones said. "JGR gave me a solid foundation from which to go out and compete at the highest level and I look forward to building on that in the years to come." Jones has two victories since taking the helm of the No. 20 Toyota before the 2018 season; previous driver Matt Kenseth won eight times in a nearly three-year stretch.

NASCAR has changed its qualifying draw procedure beginning with next weekend's Daytona road course event. Instead of automatically guaranteeing the top 12 spots to the top 12 in owner points, the new system will allow a variety of teams to compete for the pole. The new formula calculates each driver's starting spot based on their finishing position in the previous race (50 percent), their points position (35 percent), and their fastest lap (15 percent). However, once the postseason begins, only playoff drivers will be eligible to start up front.

NASCAR by the Numbers


Top-10 finishes in the last five races for Cup rookie Cole Custer, including an upset win at Kentucky Speedway last month. Custer had just one top-10 performance in his first 18 races at the Cup level.


Top-10 finishes for Cup rookie Tyler Reddick in his first 20 races driving the No. 8 RCR Chevrolet. Previous driver Daniel Hemric had just two over a full season last year.

Playing the Odds (Fantasy Spin)

Top Tier

A contract extension? A win at New Hampshire? A Michigan native? I'd say it's time to ride the hot hand with Brad Keselowski. He's never won at this track, sure, but that makes him a bargain price at a track where he hasn't run outside the top 20 since 2011. While there are flashier picks on the market, Keselowski brings the best bang for his buck.

Kevin Harvick has led the charge during Ford's four-race Cup win streak at Michigan. During that stretch, he's won twice, including July of last year, and led 194 laps while posting four straight top-10 finishes. If he starts out strong to start the weekend, expect back-to-back top-5 performances for him that could prove to be the backbone of your team.


Middle Tier

Back-to-back top-10 finishes for Alex Bowman last season at Michigan bode well for his 2020 chances. This track is a virtual clone to the Auto Club Speedway track where Bowman won earlier this year. Since then, the No. 88 team has lost its way but a doubleheader weekend provides a 1-2 punch for a summer reset.

Chip Ganassi Racingoffers two attractive, mid-priced options with veterans looking to turn their seasons around. Kurt Busch has a solid history at MIS, earning three career wins, and was second at this track in June of last year. And Matt Kenseth has a new crew chief, Phil Surgen, to help jump-start a rocky 2020 comeback. His personal career history at Michigan (three wins, 11.3 career average finish) meshes well with a No. 42 team that won three straight races here in 2016-17.

Lower Tier

Michael McDowell is 20th in the season standings? The former start-and-parker is over the moon after a season's worth of overachieving with Front Row Motorsports. Ignore a history of no top-20 finishes in 12 starts and drool over the cheap price to stash him on the bottom of a roster.

Ty Dillon has quietly put together two top-15 finishes in eight MIS starts. One of them came last July with Germain Racing and he hopes to bring that momentum into 2020's doubleheader. It's another cheap option in daily fantasy to leave space for others that can contend for the win.

What Vegas Thinks

Kevin Harvick has 4/1 odds to win the first Michigan race, followed by Denny Hamlin at 6/1. Joey Logano, the defending race winner, sits third at 13/2.

If you want a lottery ticket, Matt Kenseth is sitting at 66/1 odds. You could do worse.

What I Think

Ford has been up front the last few years at Michigan and I don't think 2020 will be any different. Kevin Harvick takes the checkered flag Saturday followed by hometown boy Brad Keselowski on Sunday.

— Written by Tom Bowles, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and the Majority Owner of NASCAR Web site He can be reached at or on Twitter @NASCARBowles.