The Irish Hills in Michigan are the site of this weekend’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race, as the FireKeepers Casino 400 is set to run on Sunday afternoon. Kurt Busch will lead the field to the green when we get going, and it’ll be interesting to see how long he can hold off the guys around him; Brad Keselowski (who led over half of the laps the last time we raced at Michigan) is starting 2nd with Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick starting on the second row. Michigan is notorious for the leader not being able to get passed, though, so pretty much whoever takes the lead on a restart is going to hold that until a caution flag or something weird happens.
The FireKeepers Casino 400 is, you guessed it, 400 miles in length which equals 200 total laps around this 2-mile race track. That gives us 50 FPTS up for grabs for laps led and probably around 80 FPTS available for fastest laps on Sunday, depending on the number of cautions. One interesting stat that is noteworthy when it comes to Michigan, though, is how the leader doesn’t necessarily have the best chance at getting fastest laps; in this race last year, Kyle Larson led 96 laps but only had 31 fastest laps (Truex led with 50 fastest laps), and then in the fall race Brad Keselowski led for 105 laps but only had 26 fastest laps (Truex led again with 65 fastest laps).
GPP Drivers I Love For The Michigan FireKeepers Casino 400
Martin Truex, Jr. ($10,700) – Martin Truex, Jr. was my top driver heading into the race weekend, and even though the #78 Toyota doesn’t look like it’s super fast–Truex was 6th-fastest in the lone practice session on Saturday–it’s without a doubt top 3. One of the real reasons why I like Truex so much this weekend, though, is how he’s doing on the high-horsepower tracks: he’s fresh of of a win at Pocono (with 32 fastest laps and 31 laps led) despite having to overcome a terrible pit stop after winning Stage 1, and he also won Fontana from the pole earlier this year, leading 125 laps and posting 69 (nice) fastest laps along the way. Truex also had the most fastest laps in both Michigan races last season. This weekend, he’s going to roll off the grid from 17th to boot, so the place differential points are just an added bonus. Martin is under-priced at $10,700, and while that could create a huge ownership percentage on Truex this Sunday, I’m hoping a lot of people choose to over-pay with Harvick and can’t afford these gold mines sitting in the mid-$10,000s. One other thing to note, albeit a weird one, is that Truex tends to out-perform expectations whenever he runs an Auto Owners paint scheme on the car, which is what he’s running this weekend.
Kyle Larson ($10,500) – Two studs are better than one. The #42 team kind of got thrown through a loop during qualifying on Friday thanks to the new tire that Goodyear is using this weekend at Michigan, and because of that, the guy who has won the last three Michigan races is going to start back in 26th. You know what that means, though? Place differential points galore. Larson isn’t really used to starting this far back here at Michigan, but we’ve seen him come from the back at what seems like half of the tracks on the circuit, so why not add another one to the list? The #42 Chevrolet was 2nd-fastest to Kevin Harvick during the lone practice session on Saturday and ranked 3rd when it came to ten-lap average. Larson hasn’t won yet in 2018, but with how he’s been running lately, it’s bound to happen soon. It’ll be really impressive for him to make it four in a row here at Michigan on Sunday, and there’s no way I’m counting him out from accomplishing that.
Jimmie Johnson ($8,500) – I don’t really understand why Jimmie Johnson went down to $8,500 in DraftKings, but that doesn’t mean I won’t exploit it. Having a driver like Johnson available at this price point is good enough, but when it comes at a time why a guy like “Seven Time” is really starting to heat up, it’s almost like robbery; Jimmie brought the #48 Chevrolet home in 8th at Pocono last weekend and has now posted a single-digit finish in five of the last seven Cup Series races overall. He’s starting back in 20th for Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400, which means a top 10 finish would be a really nice point day out of a driver in this price range. Johnson didn’t show a lot of speed in practice here on Saturday, but he did finish 9th at Fontana earlier this year, and that’s noteworthy because that was during the time when this team was really struggling to find speed. He’s finished 10th or better in two of the last three races here at Michigan.
Bubba Wallace ($6,100) – If you can’t quite afford Paul Menard ($6,800) in your lineup–who, for the record, I also really like this weekend–Bubba Wallace is a nice pivot and salary cap saver. He qualified 28th for this weekend’s FireKeepers Casino 400, but I think there’s a decent chance that he cracks the top 20 before it’s all said and done. Bubba started 26th and finished 19th in this race last year while subbing for Aric Almirola, and this #43 team was able to come away with a 12th-place finish in the fall race here at Michigan, too. Bubba had a good run going to Pocono last weekend before missing a shift and blowing the engine, and he’s been a high-teens-to-mid-20s guy for the last couple of months or so. He also finished 20th at Fontana earlier this year, which was his best finish since Daytona at that time.
Salary Cap Relief at Michigan
Simply put, Michigan is a high-horsepower race track and that means that the bottom-feeder cars are going to go several laps down if we have long green-flag runs (as expected). So while going for a punt play with someone like Garrett Smithley ($4,600) is enticing (especially with Kevin Harvick priced so high), the only way it’s going to work out is if this turns into a high attrition race–and that’s not very likely. One punt I do kind of like on Sunday, though, is Ross Chastain ($5,100) in the #15 Chevrolet. He qualified back in 33rd for Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400 and is one of those drivers that just stays out of trouble and does a good job with what he’s given. He finished 28th at Pocono, 24th at Charlotte, and 26th at Kansas recently, and hasn’t finished worse than 28th since Bristol in mid-April. Also, for what it’s worth, Chastain came home 29th at Fontana earlier this year after starting 36th. So he’s worth a shot if you need some extra spending room.
Other than that, David Ragan ($5,700) has been running really well as of late and starts 27th on Sunday, which gives him some room for place differential. His record at Michigan isn’t great, though, and he only ran 25th at Fontana earlier this year. In this price range, though, I’m going to go with Ty Dillon ($5,600) for the second week in a row. I don’t like Ty as much as I did last weekend in Pocono but this kid has finished 24th or better in five of the last six Cup Series races overall and he qualified 31st at Michigan this weekend. He has an average finish of 19.8 at this track, and while I don’t see him hitting that on Sunday, a mid-20s finish is pretty much expected.
Kevin Harvick: The $12,000 Question
In case you’re somehow thinking that Kevin Harvick ($12,000) isn’t as fast as he looks this weekend since he’s not starting on the pole, please read this tweet from his crew chief, Rodney Childers, on why the #4 Ford is started P4 instead of P1. And now that we got that out of the way…yes, Kevin Harvick is the guy to beat on Sunday, and no it shouldn’t be a surprise. Now the real question is whether or not he’s worth the $12,000 price tag on DraftKings, especially when we have guys like Martin Truex, Jr. ($10,700) and Kyle Larson ($10,500) starting 17th and 26th (respectively) with huge potential for place differential points.
I do like Harvick, though, because of the dominator potential. Once a car gets out front at Michigan, it’s hard to get around, and we all know Harvick is capable of putting down a bunch of fastest laps. So if he’s adding 0.75 FPTS per lap (0.25 for lap led, 0.5 for fastest lap) on a consistent basis, he’s in for a huge day. Of course, though, we can’t expect him to get all of the fastest laps. Looking back at Fontana earlier this year–the other 2-mile track–Harvick posted 11 fastest laps before wrecking out, which is noteworthy because he crashed on lap 37…so he grabbed 30% of the fastest laps until then.
As far as strategy goes on Sunday, I think the best play is going to be pairing up Truex with Larson, as I said before. With both of those guys in the mid-$10,000 range–and both projecting at around 80 FPTS this weekend–it’ll be a lot easier to fill out the rest of the lineup with legitimate talent. Of course, if Truex or Larson would have trouble in the race, Harvick’s going to be the play paired alongside the other (obviously). I just wish there was a good way to fit him, Truex, and Larson all into the same lineup.
Driver Point Projections for the FireKeepers Casino 400
The following chart takes into account the very basics: the starting position and the projected finish of each driver. The projected finishes are averaged from five different ranking systems, using both mathematical equations as well as personal rankings. This chart also includes the average projected base + laps led + fastest laps DraftKings FPTS as well as the dollar per FPT. You can click the headers below to sort the chart by that attribute. By default it is sorted by average projected FPTS.
|Driver||DraftKings Salary||Avg Proj FPTS||Starting Position||Avg. Projected Finish||Proj Laps Led||Proj Fastest Laps||Dollar Per FPT|
|Martin Truex Jr||$10,700||82.0||17||02.6||28||36||$130|
|Ricky Stenhouse Jr||$7,000||16.2||7||17.4||0||0||$432|