With only four races to go until the playoffs begin, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series returns to Michigan International Speedway for the Pure Michigan 400. There are only three playoff spots left for drivers to claim on points, which are currently occupied by Chase Elliott, Jamie McMurray, and Matt Kenseth. Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano, Erik Jones, and Daniel Suarez are within range of taking one of these spots on points, but will one of them win and race into the playoffs? It’s possible, but unlikely due to other top picks with better odds to take a victory.
Martin Truex Jr. ($10,600 on DraftKings) captured his fourth win of the season last week, leading all Cup Series drivers in 2017. In 23 starts at Michigan, Truex has eight Top 10 finishes, three of which came in his last five starts at the site. Truex has four Top 3 finishes in the last five races in 2017 and led 62 Laps in the last race at Michigan, the second-most of all drivers. Truex qualified 13th and was fourth in first practice, 10th in second practice, and second in final practice. Truex has been great on most tracks this season and will continue to be a threat to win.
One of Kyle Busch’s ($10,500) worst tracks statistically is Michigan. In 25 starts at the site, Kyle Busch has one win, seven Top 10 finishes, and 222 Laps Led, which is seventh of active drivers. Kyle Busch ranks 15th in Average Running Position at 16.9, seventh in Fastest Laps at 187, and 12th in Driver Rating at 87.1. Kyle Busch qualified sixth and was second in first practice, eighth in second practice, and fifth in final practice. Even if the past MIS stats for him are not favorable, Kyle Busch has looked good enough in practices to finish around his starting position.
Kyle Larson ($10,300) is going for a feat that only two other drivers have accomplished in the Cup Series: Winning three consecutive races at Michigan. Larson won the previous two races at two-mile oval tracks this season. He has the third-best ARP of 12.1, the 10th most Laps Led at 147, and the third-best DR of 100.7. Larson led the most laps at the last race at Michigan and has finished in the Top 3 in his last three Michigan starts. Larson was seventh in first and final practice, first in second practice, and qualified ninth. He also had the best 10 Consecutive Lap Average in final practice. Larson excels at two-mile ovals and his practice speeds indicate that he will once again be one of the best plays this week.
Kevin Harvick ($9,900) continues to have a solid season, with 14 Top 10 finishes, which is tied for second-most of all drivers. This includes four of them in the last five races. Harvick has been solid at Michigan before with only two finishes outside of the Top 5 since 2013. He has the eighth-best ARP of 13.1, the third-most Fastest Laps at 214, and the seventh-best DR of 93.7. Harvick was eighth in first practice, 17th in second practice, and 14th in final practice and will start third. Despite the favorable history, Harvick will drop from his starting position and finish around 10th based on practice speeds.
Chase Elliott ($9,800) is a nice choice this week. In three starts at Michigan, Elliott finished second every time. Elliott has the best ARP of 5.1, the highest percentage of Laps in the Top 15 at 98.5%, and the best DR of 119.0. He was ninth in first practice, fifth in second practice, and 15th in final practice while qualifying fifth. Elliott’s practice speeds have been decent but his strong history should not be ignored. He deserves strong consideration for his price tier.
Denny Hamlin ($9,600) has quietly been consistent, finishing in the Top 4 in four of the last five races. In his last six Michigan starts, Hamlin has finished in the Top 10 four times. Since 2005, Hamlin has the ninth-best ARP of 13.6, the 10th most Fastest Laps at 117, and the ninth-best DR of 90.2. Hamlin was third in first practice, 15th in second practice, and eighth in final practice while qualifying 10th. There is a chance that Hamlin may not race since his girlfriend might be giving birth, and Truck Series driver Christopher Bell might race in his place. Bell would be making his Cup Series debut and has barely raced in the Xfinity Series. This makes Hamlin not worth starting due to his questionable status.
Michigan is a home track to Brad Keselowski ($9,400), who is still looking for his first win at the site. In 16 starts at MIS, Keselowski has eight Top 10 finishes, which include six of his last seven starts. Since 2005, Keselowski has the sixth-best ARP of 12.5, the fourth-highest Percentage of Laps in the Top 15 at 70.5%, and the eighth-best DR of 92.9. Keselowski was fifth in first practice, second in second practice, and the fastest in final practice. He will start first and has been very fast throughout practices compared to the rest of the field. Watch for him to lead laps and compete for a Top 3 finish.
Matt Kenseth ($9,300) needs to keep having great finishes to maintain his points position in the playoffs. Kenseth has finished in the Top 5 in three of the last four races in 2017. In 36 starts at Michigan, Kenseth has three wins, 20 Top 10 finishes, and 443 Laps Led, which is the third-most of active drivers. Since 2005, Kenseth has the second-most Fastest Laps at 273, the most Laps in the Top 15 at 3,783, the second-best ARP of 11.0, and the second-best DR of 102.4. Kenseth was 13th in first practice, 16th in second practice, 11th in final practice, and will start fourth. Kenseth’s history at Michigan is very favorable, but he was slower than his starting position in practices, making him hard to recommend as a quality play.
Jimmie Johnson ($9,100) is going through one of the worst stretches of his career, failing to score a Top 5 since his last win at Dover, nine races ago. Michigan has the fourth lowest Average Finishing Position of all tracks in his career at 16.2. In 31 starts at the site, he has 13 Top 10 finishes. In his last 25 starts at MIS, Johnson has the fourth-best ARP of 12.3, the most Fastest Laps at 449, and the fourth-best DR of 99.1. Johnson was 16th in first practice, third in second practice, and crashed in final practice, which will force him to start in the back as he goes to a backup car. Johnson’s original starting position was 22nd. Johnson’s history at Michigan is solid, but the lack of momentum in recent races and his starting position at the rear of the field make him a driver to avoid. DraftKings will use his original starting position.
Joey Logano ($9,000) is a driver who has always been competitive at Michigan and will be a good pick. Ever since he joined Team Penske in 2013, he has finished in the Top 10 every time at the site. Logano has two wins and 12 Top 10 finishes in 17 starts at MIS. In 17 starts at Michigan, Logano has the fifth-best ARP of 12.5, the ninth-most Laps in the Top 15 at 141, and the fifth-best DR of 96.9. Logano was 10th in first practice, 18th in second practice, third in final practice, and will start second. Most of Logano’s practice speeds indicate a Top 10 finish, but Logano has great history at MIS and needs a win to secure a spot in the playoffs. Expect him to take a risk on fuel mileage for the win.
MID-RANGE PRICED PICKS
Ryan Blaney ($8,700) is a driver with strong fantasy appeal this week. In five starts at Michigan, Blaney has one Top 10 finish and three finishes outside the Top 20. Blaney was the fastest in first practice and was fourth in second and final practices. Blaney starts 12th and will easily compete for a Top 5 finish as signaled by his practice speeds.
Kurt Busch ($8,000) has three Top 13 finishes in the last four races in 2017. In 33 starts at Michigan, Kurt Busch has three wins, 11 Top 10 finishes, and 445 Laps, which is the second-most of active drivers. Kurt Busch has finished 12th or better in four of the last five races at MIS. Since 2005, he has the eighth-most Fastest Laps at 186, ranks 11th in ARP at 14.8, and has the 10th best DR of 89.3. Kurt Busch was 14th in first practice, ninth in second practice, 13th in final practice, and qualified 15th. His practice speeds point to a finish ahead of his starting position outside the Top 10, and he will gain a small amount of points from Place Differential.
Daniel Suarez ($7,800) has been a fantastic fantasy play recently, with four consecutive Top 7 finishes. Suarez made his only start at Michigan earlier this season, when he started 20th and finished 24th. Suarez was 20th in first practice, 14th in second practice, ninth in final practice, and qualified 16th. Suarez improved every time he visited a track for the second time in 2017. Expect him to do better and score another Top 10 as marked by his speed in final practice.
Ryan Newman ($7,300) will pick up points from PD in addition to capturing a decent finish. Newman has finished no worse than 18th at MIS since joining Richard Childress Racing in 2014 and finished with a negative PD only twice in that span. Newman was 22nd in first practice, 21st in second and final practices, and qualified 25th. Newman will finish ahead of his starting position as denoted by his practice speeds and history.
Ty Dillon ($6,600) is the best value pick of them all this week. In three starts at Michigan, Dillon has two Top 20 finishes. In his last start at the site earlier this season, Dillon started 37th and finished 20th, picking up a PD of +17. Dillon starts 33rd this week and was 31st in first practice, 28th in second practice, and 24th in final practice. Dillon will finish far ahead of his starting position and in the Top 25 as showcased by practice speeds.
Aric Almirola ($6,000) is another top bargain who can deliver a favorable finish. In his last four starts at MIS, Almirola finished with a positive PD. Almirola also has six Top 20 finishes in 10 starts at Michigan. Almirola will start 24th and was 23rd in both first and final practices, and 24th in second practice. He will finish around his starting position, based on practice speeds, but will finish better if other cars wreck ahead of him.
Chris Buescher ($5,900) continues to have finishes that are much better than his value implies. Buescher has finished 11th or better in two of the last three races in 2017. In three starts at Michigan, Buescher has one Top 20 finish. Buescher was 18th in both first and final practice, 22nd in second practice, and qualified 20th. Based on practice speeds, expect Buescher to finish around his starting position in the Top 20.
TOP DRIVERS IN EACH PRICE RANGE FOR PURE MICHIGAN 400 – BASED ON COMBINATION OF PROJECTED PERFORMANCE AND VALUE
$10,000 – Plus Range
1: Martin Truex Jr. ($10,600) – Truex starts outside the Top 10 and his practice speeds signal another strong finish that will include some points from PD.
2: Kyle Larson ($10,300) – He looked very fast throughout practices and starts ninth, so he will also gain some points from PD.
3: Kyle Busch ($10,500) – He will finish around his starting position as marked by practice speeds.
$9,000 – Plus Range
1: Brad Keselowski ($9,400) – He has very good history at MIS and looked very fast in practices. Expect him to lead laps and compete for a Top 3 finish.
2: Chase Elliott ($9,800) – Michigan is his best track statistically and he looked good in second practice.
3: Joey Logano ($9,000) – He has great history at MIS and he will pull a risk to win this race due to pressure to make it to the playoffs.
$8,000 – Plus Range
1: Ryan Blaney ($8,700) – Blaney has been one of the fastest throughout all practices.
2: Kurt Busch ($8,000) – He has been equal to or better than his starting position as marked by his practice speeds.
3: Jamie McMurray ($8,500) – McMurray’s practice speeds have been just slightly worse than his starting position. He will still acquire a solid number of points from his finishing position.
$7,000 – Plus Range
1: Daniel Suarez ($7,800) – Suarez is in one of the best stretches of his career and looked fast in final practice.
2: Ryan Newman ($7,300) – His practice speeds point to a finish ahead of his starting position.
3: Kasey Kahne ($7,600) – He will be starting in the back, going to a backup car, but has displayed speeds that can at least match his original starting position.
Below $7,000 Range
1: Ty Dillon ($6,600) – He starts 33rd and his practice speeds looked a lot better than that.
2: Chris Buescher ($5,900) – Buescher often finishes in the Top 20 and his practice speeds indicate a finish in that range once again.
3: Aric Almirola ($6,000) – Expect him to finish around his starting position.