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Last year, Michigan International Speedway hosted only one race for the first time since 1973 and for only the second time in its history. In 2010, Auto Club Speedway lost one of their two dates and with the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, there have not been a lot of recent races on 2-mile tracks.
These courses share some commonality with the similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks, but there are two obstacles. Those tracks are different enough under normal circumstances that we typically use them to validate what is going on at Auto Club and Michigan. And, with the uncertainty surrounding the NextGen car, there are still more questions than answers.
This year's Wise Power 400 was early enough in the season and the finishing results were volatile with the new car. The top-five was filled with surprises. Kyle Larson's victory wasn't one of them, but second through fourth were not exactly household names on unrestricted, intermediate speedways with Austin Dillon, Erik Jones, and Daniel Suarez filling those positions in order. Uncertainty should make you cautious.
1. Kyle Larson
As the most recent winner on a 2-mile track and with a third-place finish at Michigan last year, we expect Larson to break out of his funk in time to develop momentum for his title defense. (25)
2. Ryan Blaney
As the focus shifts to doing whatever is needed to win, Blaney has failed to crack the top 15 in his last three starts. He needs to stop this downward spiral on a track where he is the defending winner. (35)
3. Ross Chastain
Chastain is one of the most improved drivers this season, but that doesn't mean he's been great on every track type. His results on unrestricted, intermediate speedways can be uneven. (22)
4. Chase Elliott
Elliott got off to a great start at Michigan with three consecutive second-place finishes. He has not earned a top-five in eight races since, but has seven top-10s in that span. (82)
5. Denny Hamlin
The No. 11 team is starting to gain some momentum, but they will need to avoid mistakes this week. Hamlin has finished 16th or better in his last 15 races on 2-mile tracks and the vast majority of those were top-10s. (5)
6. Martin Truex, Jr.
There is a lot of room on the 2-mile tracks to maneuver, so strong drivers and teams aren't as susceptible to peaks and valleys. Truex has 13 top-15s in his last 14 races on this course type. (57)
7. Kyle Busch
He came close to snapping it last week at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, but Busch is now riding a seven-race streak of results outside the top 10 and in that span of races, he has an average finish of 22.7. (11)
8. Tyler Reddick
Winning fixes a lot of things and in Reddick's case, it appears to have repaired some of the rift created when he announced he will leave Richard Childress Racing (RCR) at the end of next year. (50)
9. Austin Cindric
This will be Cindric's first Michigan race, so we are left with handicapping him based on his 12th-place finish at Auto Club and his general strength at this stage of the season. (72)
10. Daniel Suarez
One of the first signs of Suarez's strength this year came in the Wise Power 400 when he finished fourth. There are still a lot of unknowns, but the picture is getting progressively clearer as the regular season nears its end. (7)
11. Kurt Busch
If Busch returns from concussion protocol this week, he could be one of the best values on this 2-mile track. In his last 10 efforts at Michigan and Auto Club, he's earned nine top-10s. (15)
12. Michael McDowell
With eight top-10s in his last 14 races this season, McDowell is becoming a driver that commands your attention. A solid top-15 makes him a good value. (67)
13. Joey Logano
Logano's historic stats on each track type are not providing a very predictable model, so we are left to guess where he will finish each week. (33)
14. Erik Jones
There were a lot of pleasant surprises at Auto Club and Jones' third-place finish was one of them. He also finished 10th and 11th in two of the three 2-miler races in 2020. (38)
15. Kevin Harvick
We're giving up on forecasting strong runs for Harvick. He'll win whenever he wins and it's going to be unpredictable. It could happen this week, though; he has four victories and a runner-up finish in his last seven Michigan starts. (9)
16. Chase Briscoe
In two starts on this track type, Briscoe has been solid enough to consider as a filler pick. He was 11th at Michigan last year and one spot shy of the top 15 at Auto Club this spring. (41)
17. William Byron
Byron scored an impressive runner-up finish to Blaney in last year's edition of this race. Unfortunately, that is one of only two top-10s on 2-milers in an 11-race career. (18)
18. Christopher Bell
This track type has not been overly kind to Bell. His best finish on the 2-milers is a pair of 13ths that are offset by two results outside the top 35. (64)
19. Aric Almirola
Almirola has alternated top-10 finishes with ones in the mid-teens in his last five attempts on 2-mile tracks. He has missed the top-10 mark for most of the season, however. (78)
20. Bubba Wallace
In 167 starts, Wallace never backed up one top-10 with another. After finishing fifth at Indy, he now has three consecutive top-10s to his credit. 70
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21. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
In his last four starts on this track type, Stenhouse has steadily improved - so much so, that he scored a top-10 this spring in the Wise Power 400. He was 12th at Michigan last year. (75)
22. Brad Keselowski
Keselowski finished 27th this spring at Auto Club, and there is still a lot of work that needs to be done at RFK Racing, but the 2-mile tracks are where they had so much success in the past. (44)
23. Alex Bowman
Bowman won the 2020 Auto Club race, but since the pandemic began, he has failed to crack the top 15 in four races on 2-mile tracks. (53)
24. Todd Gilliland
Gilliland is coming off his first career top-10 in the Cup series. In fact, he finished fourth in a highly chaotic Verizon 200 after starting near the front and running strong all afternoon. (84)
25. Noah Gragson
Gragson has a pair of top-20s this year and a few results in the 20s. If he stays out of trouble, he should hover somewhere around the 25th-place mark. (77)
26. Austin Dillon
If the setup he had for the Wise Power 400 carries over, Dillon could wildly beat this prediction. He was second to Larson this spring back when RCR hope was at its max. (27)
27. Harrison Burton
Both came on wild card tracks, but Burton has a pair of top-10s in his last four races: a 10th at Atlanta Motor Speedway and third at Indy. That might not add a lot of momentum, but it must feel good. (30)
28. Chris Buescher
Buescher's 35th-place finish at Auto Club this spring snapped an eight-race streak of top-20 finishes on this course type, but only two of those were top-15s. (61)
29. Cole Custer
If five starts on this track type, Custer has finished worse than 25th one time. That is offset by his 11th-place result at Auto Club this spring. He will quietly be a solid value for the FireKeepers Casino 400. (88)
30. Justin Haley
Last year Haley finished 25th in the FireKeepers Casino 400. As s full-time driver, he was 23rd in the Wise Power 400 and with some luck could crack the top 20 this week. (46)
31. Corey LaJoie
The No. 7 is quietly turning into a consistent mid-pack contender with four results of 18th to 21st in the last six races, but their cap value has not yet grown to match their potential. (80)
32. BJ McLeod
If you build your DraftKings lineup from the bottom, consider placing McLeod there first to see what options it opens in the higher levels. He was 22nd this spring on the similarly-configured track in California. (87)
33. JJ Yeley
Yeley has not run on this track type since 2020, but in three races that year he finished in a narrow band of 26th to 31st. (89)
34. Cody Ware
Ware enters the weekend with a four-race streak of top-30s and a 27th-place finish in last year's edition of the FireKeepers Casino 400, so he should hover around the 30th-place mark this week. (90)
35. Josh Bilicki
In his last two starts on 2-mile tracks, Bilicki finished 31st at Michigan last year and 31st at Auto Club this spring. Without attrition, he will probably land higher this week. (85)
36. Ty Dillon
Dillon missed the 2021 Michigan races, but he returned to a 2-mile track with a vengeance and finished 17th at Auto Club this spring. (86)
37. Austin Hill
As RCR looks for a future replacement for Reddick, expect them to test several of their up and coming drivers - but don't expect top-25s. (50)
The number in parentheses after the handicap refers to our confidence level for that driver compared to the field. A low number does not necessarily mean we do not have confidence this week, but that contrasted with the others in the field in previous races, we have missed more often in their handicaps. Starting with a confidence level of 90 percent, because 100 is impossible to achieve, this number decrements by percentage to a low of about five.
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