Two To Go: NASCAR Cup Series heads to the Irish Hills of Michigan

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The penultimate NASCAR Cup Series regular season race has arrived, and Michigan International Speedway has set the stage for the FireKeepers Casino 400, this Sunday, August 22 at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (Channel 90). With just two races remaining in the regular season, the Playoffs loom and the competitors know time is running out to secure their spot in the postseason, making these 400 miles at Michigan that much more pivotal. 

Michigan International Speedway sits on more than 1,400 acres in the “Irish Hills” of Southeastern Michigan. Ground-breaking for the facility took place on September 28, 1967 and the 2-mile asphalt paved track with 18 degrees of banking in the turns was created – the only track with those dimensions on the schedule. The first NASCAR Cup Series race at Michigan was held on June 15, 1969 and the event was won by NASCAR Hall of Famer Cale Yarborough in the Wood Brothers’ No. 21 Mercury at a speed of 139.254 mph. The first NASCAR Cup Series race at Michigan was 500 miles in length; the second was scheduled for 600. The track was re-measured to 2.04 miles for the last race in 1970 and both races in 1971 – with the race distance being 402 miles. All other races have been scheduled for 400 miles, except for last season’s races that were 312 miles each and run on consecutive days.

Michigan International Speedway has hosted a total of 103 NASCAR Cup Series races. Other than 1973, which had just one race, there have been two races each season since 1969. The 2021 season is just the second season (1973) to host just one NASCAR Cup Series event at Michigan International Speedway since the track joined the schedule in 1969.

A total of 38 different drivers have won in the NASCAR Cup Series at Michigan International Speedway. NASCAR Hall of Famer David Pearson leads the series in wins at Michigan with nine victories (1969, 1972 sweep, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976 sweep, 1978).  Kevin Harvick (2010, 2018, 2019, 2020-1, 2020-2) leads all active series drivers in wins at Michigan with five victories. Seven of the 38 NASCAR Cup Series race winners at Michigan are active this weekend.

RankActive Race WinnersWins
1Kevin Harvick5
2Joey Logano3
3Kurt Busch3
4Kyle Larson3
5Denny Hamlin2
6Ryan Newman2
7Kyle Busch1

A total of 50 different drivers have qualified on the pole at Michigan International Speedway in the NASCAR Cup Series. NASCAR Hall of Famer David Pearson leads the NASCAR Cup Series in poles at Michigan International Speedway with 10 poles (1969, 1974 sweep, 1975, 1976, 1977 sweep, 1978 sweep and 1979).

Joey Logano (2013, 2016 sweep, 2019) leads all active NASCAR Cup Series drivers in poles at Michigan with four. Due to COVID-19 restrictions this season’s starting lineups for the Firekeepers Casino 400 will be decided by Metric Qualifying and as a result Kyle Larson will start on the pole and will be joined by his Hendrick Motorsports’ teammate Chase Elliott on the front row.

The first starting position is the most proficient starting position in the field, producing more winners (22) than any other starting position at Michigan International Speedway: 21 from the pole and one from the first starting position due to qualifying being cancelled – 1985 (Bill Elliott). The most recent driver to win from the pole at Michigan was Joey Logano in 2019. The deepest in the field that a race winner has started at Michigan is 32nd, by NASCAR Hall of Famer Mark Martin in the spring of 2009. 

Regular Season Championship: Larson could clinch regular season title this weekend

Hendrick Motorsports’ Kyle Larson has opened up his points lead over Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin in second in the NASCAR Cup Series regular season driver standings by 22 points and has a chance this weekend at Michigan International Speedway to clinch the Regular Season Championship.

All Larson needs to do is be at least 61 points ahead of the driver ranked second in the NASCAR Cup Series regular season driver standings at the conclusion of the race at Michigan. Currently Denny Hamlin holds the second spot in the standings. 

It will be tough for Larson accumulate that many points on Hamlin this weekend at Michigan because both have run well at the 2-mile track. Larson has made 12 series starts at Michigan posting three wins (2016, 2017 sweep), five top fives and six top 10s. His average finish is 12.4 – fourth best among active drivers. Hamlin has made 30 series starts at Michigan putting up two wins (2010, 2011), nine top fives and 15 top 10s. His average finish is 13.1 – sixth best among active drivers. 

This points battle could come down to the regular season finale at Daytona to see who will take home the trophy and the 15 additional Playoff points. Denny Hamlin has made 31 starts at the ‘World Center of Racing’ grabbing three wins (all in the Daytona 500 – 2016, 2019, 2020), 11 top fives and 12 top 10s. His average finish at the track is 16.0.  Kyle Larson has made 14 starts at Daytona posting five top 10s. His average finish at the track is 21.1.  

If Larson or Hamlin wins the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series Regular Season Championship, the winner will become just the fourth different driver in series history to win the prestigious award.  

NASCAR Cup Series Regular Season Champions
12Kyle Busch2019, ’18
21Kevin Harvick2020
Martin Truex Jr.2017

Clinch Scenarios: Two spots left heading to Michigan International Speedway

All but two Playoff spots have been spoken for as the NASCAR Cup Series prepares for the penultimate race of the regular season, the Firekeepers Casino 400, at Michigan International Speedway. Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin became the most recent driver to clinch and did so on points following Indianapolis.

Already Clinched

The following 14 drivers have clinched a spot in the 16-driver postseason field: Kyle Larson, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, William Byron, Chase Elliott, Joey Logano, Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Blaney, Brad Keselowski, Alex Bowman, Kurt Busch, Christopher Bell, Michael McDowell, Aric Almirola.

Can Clinch Via Points

If there is a repeat winner or a win by a driver who cannot advance to the Playoffs, the following drivers could clinch by being 56 points above the third winless driver in the standings. The same point requirements listed below would hold true if a new win comes from Denny Hamlin.

Kevin Harvick: Would clinch with 44 points.

Can Clinch Via Win

The following drivers would clinch on their win alone this weekend: Kevin Harvick, Tyler Reddick, Austin Dillon, Matt DiBenedetto, Chris Buescher, Ross Chastain, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Darrell Wallace Jr., Chase Briscoe, Daniel Suarez, Erik Jones, Ryan Newman, Ryan Preece, Cole Custer, Corey Lajoie, Anthony Alfredo.

2021 Driver Playoff Outlook Following Race No. 24 – Drivers Who Haven’t Clinched
RankDriverPointsWinsStagesPlayoff PtsPts From Cutoff
15Kevin Harvick73300095
16Tyler Reddick66603328
17Austin Dillon638000-28
18Matt DiBenedetto521011-145
19Chris Buescher520011-146
20Ross Chastain490000-176
21Ricky Stenhouse Jr.479000-187
22Bubba Wallace464011-202
23Chase Briscoe #424000-242
24Daniel Suarez408000-258
25Erik Jones408000-258
26Ryan Newman393000-273
27* Ryan Preece382000-284
28Cole Custer368000-298
29Corey Lajoie307000-359
30Anthony Alfredo #234000-432

Michigan offers great opportunity for Kevin Harvick to snap winless streak

Last season’s NASCAR Cup Series leader in wins, Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick, returns to Michigan International Speedway winless this season but hoping he can not only snap his winless streak but tie NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott for the series-most consecutive wins at Michigan. Harvick has won four of the last five races at Michigan, including the last three consecutively while becoming the first driver in series history to win on back-to-back days at the same track. 

NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott holds the record for the most consecutive wins in the NASCAR Cup Series at Michigan International Speedway with four victories (1985 sweep and 1986 sweep). A total of 10 drivers have posted consecutive wins at Michigan International Speedway – Bobby Allison (1971 sweep), David Pearson (1972 sweep – 1973), (1974-1975), Cale Yarborough (1983 sweep), Bill Elliott (1985 sweep – 1986 sweep), Bobby Labonte (1995 sweep), Mark Martin (1997-1998), Ryan Newman (2003-2004), Greg Biffle (2004-2005), (2012-2013), Kyle Larson won three-straight at Michigan (2016-2017) and Kevin Harvick (2019, 2020-1, 2020-2). With a win this weekend Harvick can tie Elliott’s record. 

Michigan is one Harvick’s best playgrounds. He has made 40 starts at the 2-mile facility posting five wins, 15 top fives and 21 top 10s. He also leads or is ranked in the top five of several key pre-race loop data categories – average finish of 9.7, second-best; average running position of 11.317, second-best; driver rating of 102.5, series-best; 425 Fastest Laps Run, series-best; 4,099 Laps in the Top 15 (66.8%), second-most. 

Michigan natives Keselowski, Jones return home

2012 NASCAR Cup Series champion and Team Penske driver Brad Keselowski from Rochester Hills and Richard Petty Motorsports’ Erik Jones from Byron are returning this weekend to compete at their home track Michigan International Speedway. 

A total of 101 different drivers in NASCAR national series history have their home state recorded as Michigan, and nine of the 101 have won at least one race in a NASCAR national series. Michigan drivers have combined to win 158 NASCAR national series races. Keselowski has won a combined 75 NASCAR national series races, the most by driver from Michigan.

Winners From Michigan:

Brad Keselowski3539175
Paul Goldsmith9009
Erik Jones29718
Johnny Benson131418
Tim Fedewa0404
Butch Miller0213
Tracy Leslie0101
Jack Sprague012829
Bob Keselowski0011

Next to Martin Truex Jr.’s 30 winless starts at Michigan, Brad Keselowski has made the second-most starts among active drivers at Michigan without a trip to Victory Lane at 23. In his 23 starts he has put up seven top fives and 12 top 10s; including three runner-up finishes (2012, 2018, 2020). His average finish is 12.6 – fifth-best among active drivers.

Erik Jones has made eight series starts at Michigan posting one top five (third in 2017). His average finish is 16.3 – ninth-best among active drivers. His best finish of the two races at Michigan last season was 11th.

NASCAR Cup Series, Etc.

NASCAR Driver Corey LaJoie Named Speedway Children’s Charities Ambassador – In his sixth season racing in the NASCAR Cup Series, Corey LaJoie has been named the official ambassador for Speedway Children’s Charities (SCC).

“Corey has shown a tremendous passion for helping the less fortunate, especially children, and we are thrilled to partner with him to use our collective voices to raise the public profile of Speedway Children’s Charities and the hundreds of partner organizations we work with across the country,” said Marcus Smith, Speedway Children’s Charities Vice Chairman.

Founded in 1982 by Speedway Motorsports’ Executive Chairman O. Bruton Smith, Speedway Children’s Charities has established eight chapters across the country, paired with Speedway Motorsports facilities at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Bristol Motor Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway, Kentucky Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Sonoma Raceway and Texas Motor Speedway. Through a variety of fundraising efforts chapters have raised more than $59 million dollars since the nonprofit’s inception to distribute within their local communities. As a Speedway Children’s Charities ambassador, LaJoie will appear in Speedway Children’s Charities marketing and advertising materials, serve as a spokesman at SCC events and cross-promote SCC news and events on his social media channels, among other responsibilities.

“Traveling to the tracks, it’s hard to miss all that SCC is doing to support nonprofits serving children in need,” LaJoie said. “To be asked to be involved is an honor, and I look forward to helping all the hard-working staff and volunteers that bring the mission of SCC to life to continue to grow the charity and help serve more and more children across the country.”

Ford looks to keep wins streak alive at Michigan – Ford enters this weekend having won the last six consecutive NASCAR Cup Series races at Michigan International Speedway (2018-2020) and this weekend will look to keep the streak alive – the longest consecutive streak of wins by a manufacturer at the 2-mile facility. Kevin Harvick has won four of the last six races for Ford; including the last three consecutively (2018-2, 2019-2, 2020 sweep). Joey Logano (2019-1), and Clint Bowyer (2018-1) are the other two drivers that contributed to the winning streak.

Eight different manufacturers have won in the NASCAR Cup Series at Michigan; led by Ford with 41 victories; followed by Chevrolet with 26, Mercury (12), Dodge (nine), Toyota (five), Buick (four) Pontiac (four) and Oldsmobile (two).