Two-mile tracks bracket the season. In Week 2, NASCAR visited Auto Club for the first time since 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic shook up the calendar. Originally, this track was scheduled to be reconfigured into a Bristol-style short track because fans have been clamoring for more bullrings. Those plans have been put on hold for now, but even with this track remaining in its current design, there is a paucity of races on this course type. Currently, there are only two races each season on 2-mile tracks.
In Week 23, NASCAR visits their second 2-mile track. It would be nice to believe that some of the lessons learned from the Wise Power 400 in California could be applied at Michigan International Speedway, but the NextGen car continues to lob wrenches into the works. The top-five at Auto Club was dominated by drivers considered longshots.
In the interim, we’ve learned that there is only a slight variation in shade between favorites and dark horses – and handicapping longshots is tricky at best.
One race does not create a very deep data pool and the 2-mile tracks have traditionally been extremely predictable. It’s possible that the FireKeepers Casino 400 will defy the 2022 trend and reward drivers prone to streaks on these tracks. Gamblers will want to hedge their bets and fantasy players should not feel overly anxious about taking bargain basement drivers this week. Still, uncertainty breeds caution, so be prepared to limit your bets and set multiple lineups in DFS.
1. Kyle Larson ⭐⭐⭐⭐
($10,700 DraftKings | +700 win | -115 top-five)
Not much was expected from Larson last week and he delivered even less. Defending a championship is difficult, but that is more so this year with the introduction of the NextGen car that has turned the field inside out. Drivers are slowly starting to figure out what is needed, however. As they improve, the first signs of predictability should come on tracks that have been kind in the past. For Larson, this means the 2-milers is a potential place to turn his season around. From 2016 through 2018, he earned four consecutive wins in a streak of six top-three finishes. He was second at Michigan last year and won this spring at Auto Club.
2. Kyle Busch ⭐⭐⭐⭐
($10,500 DraftKings | +650 win | -120 top-five)
We suspect this is going to be a weekend of redemption. Busch finished 11th at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and recorded his seventh consecutive result outside the top 10. The only time he’s gone that long without a top-10 was at the very beginning of his career, racing as a part-time, pre-rookie in 2004. A decade later, in 2014, he recorded six sub-10th-place results before rattling off five consecutive top-10s. The X-Factor for him is the unresolved contract with Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), but last week it started to sound as if there is a light at the end of that tunnel.
3. Denny Hamlin ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
($10,300 DraftKings | +750 win | -110 top-five)
The 2-mile tracks have been kind to JGR, and they have the potential to sweep the top 10 this week. If that happens, Hamlin has a good shot at a top-five based on his consistency on this track type. As the organization struggled to get a handle on this new car design, Hamlin finished 15th at Auto Club, snapping a four-race streak of results sixth or better on this course type. It was his 11th consecutive top-15 and he hasn’t finished worse than 16th at Michigan or Auto Club since 2016.
4. Kevin Harvick ⭐⭐⭐⭐
($8,400 DraftKings | +2500 win | +300 top-five)
Continuing with the theme of redemption, the next two weeks are Harvick’s best opportunities to win and get into the playoffs. Michigan and next week’s venue Richmond Raceway are similar in shape even though one is a short track and the other an unrestricted, intermediate speedway. There is something about the sweeping front straight that has played into Harvick’s favor and on this 2-miler, he has four wins and a second-place finish in his last seven attempts. He slipped to 14th in last year’s edition of the FireKeepers Casino 400.
5. Ross Chastain ⭐⭐
($10,000 DraftKings | +900 win | +110 top-five)
Chastain does not have a strong record on 2-mile tracks and that hurts this week’s star rating. But stats get thrown out the window during career-defining seasons like the driver of the No. 1 is experiencing right now. Chastain was penalized out of a seventh consecutive top-10 finish last week for exceeding track limits. The hidden gem in that statement is that he may well want another victory more than anyone in the field – enough so to risk incurring NASCAR’s wrath by speeding through a run-off lane. In a season filled with controversy, he needs to show his worth to silence the critics who say he is overly aggressive.
6. Chase Elliott ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
($10,900 DraftKings | +600 win | -125 top-five)
It depends on which statistic is the most important to you as to whether Elliott should be a top-five contender or just outside that mark. Before getting spun by his friend Ryan Blaney last week at Indy, he was well on his way to earning a sixth consecutive finish of first or second. It is not out of the question that he might have won his fifth race of the season to pad his playoff bonus point lead. His recent record at Michigan is less than we would like to see, however, because he’s finished between seventh and ninth in seven of his last eight attempts there with the outlier being a 20th-place result.
7. Ryan Blaney ⭐⭐⭐
($9,300 DraftKings | +1200 win | +150 top-five)
Blaney is the defending winner of the FireKeepers Casino 400. He had momentum on his side last year and was not worried about making the playoffs; this year, he has even more focus because there is still a distinct possibility that he could get knocked out of the top 16. In his last seven attempts at Michigan, he has been uneven, but the balance is tipped toward strength with three top-fives and five top-10s. If he needs further incentive, it will come from getting punted out of a position that would have allowed him to challenge for the win at Indy.
8. Daniel Suarez ⭐⭐⭐
($8,600 DraftKings | +2500 win | +350 top-five)
Often, two drivers who run into one another find themselves squaring off in the next race – and that is precisely what we think is going to happen with Blaney and Suarez. With no sense of irony, Blaney expressed his displeasure with the driver of the No. 99 moments after the No. 12 wrecked Elliott. The difference in perspective partly comes down to the lack of exposure for Suarez at the front of the pack. He’s earned his spot among the leaders with five top-10s in the last seven races this season.
9. Tyler Reddick ⭐⭐⭐
($9,700 DraftKings | +1200 win | +150 top-five)
With two wins in the last five weeks and a second-place finish, Reddick rivals Elliott as the hottest driver on the circuit. With only eight top-15s in his last 18 races this season, he lacks the longevity to make him a favorite – and this early in his career, he has not yet recorded a top-10 on the 2-mile tracks. He came close in his first attempt at Auto Club with an 11th. Momentum should push him into the single digits.
10. Martin Truex Jr. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
($9,500 DraftKings | +1500 win | +200 top-five)
Truex makes the cut this week based on consistent finishes on the 2-mile tracks. In his last 14 starts at Michigan and Auto Club, he has 13 top-15s and an 18th to his credit. One of these was a win, (in 2018), and seven of them were top-fives. His average finish on this track type in that span is 7.36 and that is close to where he will finish this week. He’s going to need a good strategy to finish in the top five and possibly win.