Championship Contenders Face Off in Michigan Starting Lineup

Kyle Larson

Getty Kyle Larson (right) races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The NASCAR Cup Series heads back to Michigan International Speedway for one of the two remaining regular-season races. Two championship contenders will lead the field to the green flag with Kyle Larson on the pole and Chase Elliott next to him on the front row.

The sanctioning body released the starting order on Wednesday, Aug. 18, confirming that the two Hendrick Motorsports drivers would start the race at the front of the pack. Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney and Wood Brothers Racing’s Matt DiBenedetto will make up the second row while Joe Gibbs Racing’s Martin Truex Jr. and Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kurt Busch will round out the top six.

The NASCAR starting lineup formula primarily takes into account the previous race on the schedule, but it also relies on the owners’ points. The fastest lap from the previous race makes up 15%, the driver’s finishing position makes up 25%, the team owner’s finishing position makes up another 25%, and the team owner’s points ranking makes up the final 35%.

A Wreck-Filled Indianapolis Race Shook Up the Order

The starting order at Michigan features some newer names in the top 15 while some playoff drivers remain near the back of the pack. The reason for the change is the wreck-filled final stage at Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course.

Several playoff drivers — William Byron, Michael McDowell, Aric Almirola, Joey Logano, and Christopher Bell — all wrecked or suffered damage to their stock cars during the late stages of the Verizon 200 at the Brickyard. They ended the race near the rear of the field while others such as Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Chris Buescher finished in the top 15.

These results made a direct impact on the starting order. Stenhouse will start 12th while Buescher will start 11th. Bubba Wallace and Ryan Newman will start 15th and 16th, respectively. By comparison, Byron will start 18th, Logano will start 20th, Brad Keselowski will start 21st, and Aric Almirola will start 23rd. McDowell (25th) and Bell (28th) will be behind the rest of their fellow playoff drivers.

Austin Dillon Will Face a Distinct Disadvantage Early

Austin Dillon

GettyAustin Dillon races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Aug. 15.

Prior to the race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Richard Childress Racing teammates Tyler Reddick and Austin Dillon sat on opposite sides of the playoff cut line. Reddick had a 15-point advantage and only continued to add points during the road course race.

Reddick won the first two stages at Indianapolis while Dillon finished just behind him. They both locked up crucial points early, but they ended the race differently after one of the on-track incidents. A wreck sent Dillon to the garage and relegated him to a 31st-place finish. Reddick’s stock car also suffered damage and lost its hood, but he finished the race 21st overall and increased his lead to 28 points.

Dillon will most likely have to win the race to lock up his spot in the playoffs. There are only two races remaining and only two available spots. However, he will start the Michigan race far away from the front of the pack. Dillon will head to the green flag 26th overall and will have to move through the field to stack points and potentially contend for the win.

Dillon has yet to win at Michigan after making 17 Cup Series starts, but he has turned in some strong performances. He has five top-10 finishes and two top-fives, a list that includes a pair of fourth-place outings in 2015 and 2018.

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