When asked about expectations for Michigan a couple of weeks back at Pocono, Bubba Wallace’s eyes lit up. Without giving a straight answer, he was confident in what Toyota could accomplish at that track. His No. 23 team gathered data after a Goodyear tire test at the track in late May. That data showed true in practice, with Toyotas sweeping the top five spots, before Wallace eventually earned the first pole for himself and 23XI Racing in qualifying.
Dustin Albino’s race-day lineup:
Starter 1: Kyle Busch
Starter 2: Bubba Wallace
Starter 3: Christopher Bell
Starter 4: Kyle Larson
Starter 5: Denny Hamlin
Garage pick: Tyler Reddick
NEXT IN LINE: Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Erik Jones, Martin Truex Jr.
RISING: Aside from his win at New Hampshire last month, Christopher Bell has flown under the radar this season, despite sitting sixth in the championship standings. For the fifth time this season, the No. 20 car will start from the front row, and he felt confident about his car potentially competing for a win on Sunday. Practice and qualifying were a success for the No. 20 team.
In unfortunate circumstances, Ty Gibbs has made the No. 45 Toyota car his home for the last three weeks. And though he has top-20 finishes in both of his starts, Gibbs looked to be more comfortable at Michigan, running the fourth-quickest time in practice. And after being the first driver to miss the final round of qualifying, the 19-year-old showed his frustration with a slight jab to the pit wall.
FALLING: Expectations were high for Ryan Blaney entering the weekend; after all, he is the defending winner of the race. Historically, he’s run well at MIS. The one downside on Saturday was the No. 12 Ford was tight, narrowly avoiding the wall in qualifying. As crew chief Jonathan Hassler showed at Indianapolis, he’s willing to pull strategy to get Blaney towards the front.
Given Trackhouse Racing’s success this year, it’s a surprise when Ross Chastain isn’t in the top 10 in any session. In practice, the No. 1 car was 21st on the scoring chart and dropped to 22nd in qualifying. Though it’s possible the team finds speed overnight, save Chastain’s uses for one of the final three races of the regular season.
Denny Hamlin vs. Tyler Reddick
Straight up, this is the toughest matchup of the week. Both drivers made it to the final round of qualifying, and though Reddick is riding a wave of momentum, the advantage goes to his future boss, Hamlin. This weekend has a Nashville feeling to it, and though Toyota didn’t win that race, it led 253 of 300 laps.
Ryan Blaney vs. William Byron
This matchup last year would have been tough because Blaney and Byron finished 1-2 in the race. On Sunday, Byron starts 20th and Blaney 24th. Still, give the slight edge to Blaney, solely based on Byron’s inconsistency over the last four months, earning just one top 10 in the last 14 races.
Kevin Harvick vs. Joey Logano
Combined, Harvick and Logano have won five of the past six races at Michigan. Ford itself is on a seven-race winning streak at MIS, the longest such streak since the track began hosting Cup races in 1969. Someway, somehow, the No. 4 team always finds a way to grind through adversity. This might be Harvick’s last best chance to win his way into the playoffs, so the upper hand lies there.
Daniel Suárez vs. Bubba Wallace
One word: Toyota. If the No. 23 car can keep all four wheels on the car and execute on pit road, Wallace should be in contention to win the race. The No. 23 team is riding three consecutive top 10s into Michigan, the only multiple top-10 streak of Wallace’s career.