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Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Track position will be key in Saturday’s FireKeepers Casino 400 (4 p.m. ET, NBCSN) at Michigan International Speedway.
Yes, I know, track position is always crucial, especially with the current high-downforce intermediate race package that makes clean air king.
Last year’s races at Michigan were won by Joey Logano, who started on pole, and Kevin Harvick, who started second, showing just how important track position will be.
In addition, because NASCAR is hosting a doubleheader at Michigan this weekend, each race is just 312 miles compared to the traditional 400-mile distance run at this track, making clean air even that much more important with such short races.
With this being such a massive advantage and tires that don’t fall off, expect to see plenty of pit strategy by crew chiefs to get their cars toward the front of the field, similar to how Richard Childress Racing stole a win and second-place finish with Austin Dillon and Tyler Reddick, respectively, at Texas.
As a result, we can find value in top-10 props with drivers further down the odds board who have shown flashes of speed this season, but can also use strategy to potentially steal a better-than-expected finish and cash our tickets.
With this in mind, here are two drivers I’m betting for top 10s in Saturday’s race at Michigan.
NASCAR FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan Picks
*Odds as of Friday at 8:30 a.m. ET
Matt DiBenedetto (+125) for a Top-10 Finish
For many of the reasons I think there is value in betting DiBenedetto to win the FireKeepers Casino 400 at 50-1, I’m doubling down and playing him for a top 10 as well.
The No. 21 Ford posted the fourth-best average finish and the sixth-best driver rating in three races (Las Vegas, Kentucky and Texas) that used the same tire combination teams will run this weekend at Michigan.
The data says this should be a top-10 car on Saturday, so I’ll gladly back Matty D at plus-money.
Jimmie Johnson (+150) for a Top-10 Finish
I have to admit, I’m waffling on whether to take a shot on Jimmie to win outright — if I do, I’ll be sure to post on Twitter (@PJWalsh24) — but am going ahead and taking the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevy for a top 10 right now.
Johnson has been an enigma this season, showing flashes of speed but having trouble finishing races.
In his 20th full-time season, the seven-time Cup Series champion is driving like a fast and talented, yet inexperienced, rookie. However, if you give a driver with his ability a fast car, he has to eventually figure it out, right?
At the two most recent races run on this tire combo (Kentucky and Texas), Jimmie ranks seventh among all drivers in fast laps run, with more fast laps than Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin.
It’s certainly nerve-racking to back a driver with just six top 10s on the season to accomplish just that, but when that driver is a future Hall of Famer and his team has proven that it can give Jimmie a fast enough car, I’m confident enough to play the +150 price.