What to Watch: Full guide for the FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway

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FireKeepers Casino 400 (⏰ 3 p.m. ET | 📺 NBCSN | 📻 MRN, SiriusXM)

Everything you need to know for Sunday’s race, the 25th points-paying NASCAR Cup Series event of the 2021 season.

Where: Michigan International Speedway, a 2-mile oval located in Brooklyn, Michigan
Green flag: 3:16 p.m. ET
TV/Radio: NBCSN/NBC Sports App, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Forecast: A slight chance of showers before 11 a.m., then a slight chance of showers and thunderstorms between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., then a slight chance of showers after 2 p.m. Sunny, with a high near 85, according to NOAA.gov
Grand Marshal: Healthcare Workers form Henry Ford Health System and Oaklawn Hospital
Race distance: 200 laps, 400 miles
Stages: 60 | 120 | 200
Pit-road speed: 55 mph
Caution car speed: 65 mph
Michigan 101: Get the full lowdown
Starting lineup: See who’s in the field | Larson wins Busch pole
Pit-stall assignments: See who is pitting where | Expert breaks down pit-road challenges
TV schedule: See the full listings

Michigan Fans
Michigan Fans

Five to watch

Here are five big story lines we’ll be following at Michigan International Speedway:

1. OK, if it doesn’t happen here for Kevin Harvick, we can pretty much rule out seeing the No. 4 car in Victory Lane this year. All season, there have been spots in the schedule where it seemed like the Stewart-Haas Racing driver would finally break through and all season, last year’s nine-time victor has remained winless. Out of all 36 races, this weekend might be his best opportunity yet, so if we wake up Monday morning and we aren’t talking about Kevin Harvick’s win, chances are we won’t be doing that until 2022. Harvick is the unquestioned master of Michigan, having won four of the last five there and three straight. He’s finished in the top two in 30% of his 40 starts. Of course, if he doesn’t win this weekend it doesn’t actually rule out a win at some point this year, but Sunday is clearly his best shot remaining. And a win would go a long way to establishing him as a title hopeful in 2021.

2. Harvick is not the favorite, however. Twice in the last nine Michigan races a driver has won three straight, and the other one is (pre-Hendrick Motorsports) Kyle Larson. The No. 5 Chevrolet driver and Sunday’s pole starter is also the only driver to win from the first starting position this year, having done so twice. He’s the oddsmakers’ pick for the weekend, and for good reason as he’s the season’s best driver and this is arguably his best track. Larson could put the finishing touches on a Regular Season Championship this weekend as well, and the only question now is if he can keep up this pace all the way to Phoenix.

3. Larson’s only threat to the Regular Season Championship, of course, is Denny Hamlin. The No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing driver is now not first in the points standings for the first time since week two of the season after what was looking like a win at Indianapolis turned into a 23rd-place finish. It’s been an interesting year for Hamlin, who had eight top fives in the season’s first nine races but has just four in the past 15. The veteran still clinched a playoff spot last week, however, and many of the season’s early tracks make their return in the playoffs, so after a midseason lull we might be right around the corner from Hamlin domination once again. Perhaps this time he’ll even throw in a win or two.

4. As each race goes by it appears more and more likely that Tyler Reddick is going to be the last man standing in the Richard Childress Racing battle of teammates between he and Austin Dillon for the final playoff spot. The sophomore continues to put distance between himself and his veteran teammate, but the No. 3 driver may have the upper hand in these final two races to add to the intrigue. Last year’s Michigan doubleheader stands as Reddick’s only Cup experience at the track, and it didn’t go well (18th and 24th, no stage points). Dillon hasn’t lit the world on fire at the northern track — and finished 31st himself in one of those races — but did finish fourth there in the August race in both 2015 and 2018. Daytona is still the 2018 500 winner’s best shot, but he could make up a good amount of ground this weekend.

5. It’s hot, there’s a lot of pressure to make the playoffs and drivers are starting to get a little testy with each other after a long regular season. Ah, late-summer NASCAR. The postseason intensity is already starting to ramp up with two races remaining before the title contenders are cut down to 16 and we’re seeing some beefs starting to pop up in the garage (two road courses in a row might have played a helping hand in that). Michigan isn’t the most likely of places for drivers to take out their frustrations with each other — well, except that one time — but several drivers talked about how disrespectful they felt their competitors were at Indy. Drivers have short fuses and long memories, so it isn’t like those transgressions will just be forgotten. The feuds (Hamlin vs. Chase Briscoe, Christopher Bell vs. Larson, Daniel Suarez vs. everybody) may or may not heat up over this weekend, but they’re still simmering in the background ready to boil over.

Hamlin Com Powerrankings Hero
Hamlin Com Powerrankings Hero

Race-day staples

Our biggest pieces of the week — get covered for race day from all angles.

Power Rankings: Locked in, Hamlin now ready to roll? | Scope the ranks
Paint Scheme Preview: Check out the Michigan paint | See the schemes
• Bubble Watch:
Where cutline drivers stand before Michigan | See the bubble
• Clinching scenarios:
What drivers need to claim their playoff spots | Read more
• Playoff Watch: How the full postseason picture looks | See the outlook
Fantasy Fastlane: See which drivers to use, avoid | Full Fantasy advice | Set your roster
Preview Show: Kim Coon and Alex Weaver preview the race | Watch the show

Get in on the action

Think you know NASCAR? Put your mettle to the test with gaming, fantasy.

• Odds: Betting figures for Michigan | See the odds
• Michigan betting
: Harvick poised to break through at Michigan | Find out why
• Jackpot Races:
Kyle Larson or Kevin Harvick in Group 1? | Watch the video
• Fantasy:
Why you should start Larson, bench Byron | Watch the video
• The rise: Todd Fuhrman dishes on NASCAR’s ascent as betting sport | Read more
Take a shot at winning cash prizes with the free-to-play Jackpot Races app | Hit the jackpot
Full guide to 2021 NASCAR Fantasy Live game | Get the FAQ

Gettyimages 71234650
Gettyimages 71234650

Michigan memories

NASCAR makes its way back to the Irish Hills. Take a look at some track history and what happened last time out.

Fast out front: Top 10 lap leaders at Michigan International Speedway | See the list
• First-timers: A look back at the first NASCAR Cup race at Michigan | Read more
• Irish Hills smile on Chase: Michigan stands as Elliott’s best track | Read analysis
• Memorable moments:
See the most memory-worth moments at Michigan | See the history

Fast five

Hard-hitting, race-relevant statistics, brought to you by the experts at Racing Insights.

• Ryan Blaney has finished 15th or worse in seven of his 12 Michigan starts.
• Kurt Busch, Joey Logano and Kyle Larson each have three career wins at Michigan and all three are 2021 winners.
• Joe Gibbs Racing hasn’t won at Michigan since 2015 with Matt Kenseth.
• Chase Elliott‘s nine top 10s at Michigan are his most at any track.
• Kyle Busch has the longest active top-10 streak at Michigan, with eight straight.

Catch the pack

Read up on all the headlines from the week leading up to Sunday’s race.

• LaJoie out: No. 7 driver to miss Michigan due to COVID-19 protocols; Berry to sub | Read more
• Spotter swap:
Logano, Keselowski trade spotters for rest of 2021 | Read more
• Debate:
Briscoe vs. Hamlin | Watch the video
• Debate:
Hard racing or disrespectful racing? | Watch the video
• Straight from the source:
Chase Briscoe breaks down the final lap on ‘Stacking Pennies’ | Watch the clip
• Spicy scanner
: ‘Then he wrecked us’ | Hear the audio
• Penalty report:
Todd Gordon fined for No. 12 lug-nut violation | Read more
• Last week’s winner:
AJ Allmendinger focused on fun, savoring opportunity | Read more
• Another one in the books:
JGR re-ups with longtime Truex sponsor | Read more
• Chasing Victory Lane:
Matt DiBenedetto offers a look into his mindset and future | Read more
• Next Gen sighting:
Christopher Bell tests prototype at Bristol | See the photos

Say what?

The best quotes from big names in the sport heading into this weekend’s race.

“It‘s a totally different package; aero, engine, all that compared to when I used to win there but Hendrick Motorsports has been strong there and we have been good on all the bigger ovals this year. The draft plays a big role there, so you have to be really patient when you are making moves. As long as we keep executing and being smart like we have been doing all year long, we should have ourselves in position to challenge for another win.” — Kyle Larson, driver of the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - AUGUST 15: Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #19 Auto-Owners Insurance/MTJF Toyota, waits on the grid during qualifying for the NASCAR Cup Series Verizon 200 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on August 15, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) | Getty Images
INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - AUGUST 15: Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #19 Auto-Owners Insurance/MTJF Toyota, waits on the grid during qualifying for the NASCAR Cup Series Verizon 200 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on August 15, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) | Getty Images

“A fast car is the biggest key. Our organization has run really well at Michigan. The Roush Yates folks from the engine side and Doug Yates, in particular, love going to Michigan. Ford, from a manufacturer‘s side, loves having the manufacturers‘ trophy sitting in its facility. So there is a lot of motivation going into Michigan. For us, being at a race track we have run well at and won at, the expectations are in the same category. We want to get to Victory Lane.” — Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford

• “Historically, we‘ve struggled at Michigan, but I‘m more optimistic now than ever before going into Sunday. The package, and just us improving as a race team, we can finish in the top 10 or top 15 and really get a good result. Right now, we‘re looking to have that good finish. We raced well in Indy, but disappointed in not getting the result. I think Sunday, we‘ll have a good MTS/Love‘s Travel Stops Ford and can get the finish that we all want.” — Michael McDowell, driver of the No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford

“Michigan is just a fun race track. It‘s wide and you can move around a little bit. We‘ve also had very strong cars up there the past few years, just haven‘t quite had the best car yet, but we have been close. I‘m excited to get back up to Michigan this weekend. I love the track and love that part of the country. It would mean a lot to finally win there for sure.” — Martin Truex Jr., driver of the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota