NXS: Irish Hills 250 Preview

It’s time for NASCAR to make one of its two stops at Michigan International Speedway. First on the agenda is race No. 13 in the XFINITY Series, the Irish Hills 250.

Located on more than 1400 acres off Highway 12 in Brooklyn, Mich., MIS is a two-mile, D-shaped oval with 18-degree banking in the four turns and five degrees in the backstretch. The start/finish line area has a banking of 12 degrees. The wide, sweeping corners and long straightaways make this track the fastest on the NASCAR circuit. After the surface was repaved in 2012, qualifying speeds were recorded at 200 MPH and higher. Corner entries can be 215 to 220 MPH.

Two rounds of single-car qualifying will set the grid. With 40 drivers on the current race roster, no eliminations will need to be made. The race will be 125 laps with Stage 1 ending on lap 30 and Stage 2 on lap 60.

Daniel Suarez is the defending race winner. A year ago, driving the No. 19 Arris Toyota, the XFINITY champion led only four laps and held off Kyle Busch, who led the most laps of the day at 88. With Suarez not scheduled to run NXS this weekend, Matt Tifft will strap into the No. 19 Tunity Toyota. In 12 season starts, he has earned four top-10 finishes.

White Tifft is making his debut in the NXS this weekend at MIS, he has ran on the track in the ARCA race.  In a Toyota Racing advance, he talked about going to watch his family’s dirt late model at Michigan. “Growing up around the Cleveland area, we would go watch my family’s car so I pretty much grew up watching and learning to love racing in Michigan,” Tifft said. “I’ve probably been here 10 times before as a fan and got to do the ARCA race last year here. Sort of a home track for me even though Mid-Ohio is a little bit closer.”

Tifft believes that stage racing has changed things in the XFINITY Series. “Last year, you had so many strings of long runs and you knew you were going to work through different strategies to where you’re kind of going more for endurance runs to where you had to make your car work for the whole time,” he explained. “You’ve got to attack and be on it now, but at the same time, you have to get your balance close enough to where you’re fast on the short run because the restarts are so important, especially now with the stages.”

There are six drivers doing double duty this weekend – running this race and the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series FireKeepers Casino 400 on Sunday. Paul Menard, Ty Dillon, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski and Ryan Sieg will all gain extra seat time.

Busch has netted a total of 87 XFINITY wins. That is the most in the history of the series. Piloting the No.  18 NOS Energy Drink Toyota, he will be going for Joe Gibbs Racing’s third NXS win at Michigan. After winning in 2015, Busch was nipped by Suarez. With four NXS wins, JGR is looking to tie Roush-Fenway Racing’s record of five.

Justin Allgaier currently leads the XFINITY standings with 409 points, just a tick ahead of his teammate Elliott Sadler at 408. Allgaier already has a win from Phoenix back in March as well as two stage wins. Sadler has not yet been to Victory Lane this season but he also has two stage wins. At Michigan, Allgaier will be in the No. 7 Suave MEN Chevrolet while Sadler will have One Main Financial on his No. 1 Chevrolet.

In 12 starts, Sadler has five top fives’ and 10 top-10 finishes. He also has made 12 starts at Michigan netting two top fives’ and seven top 10’s. Allgaier has made six starts in the Irish Hills posting one top five and three top-10’s.

While this JR Motorsports duo is looking to continue their momentum, we can’t forget about the third member of the group. Michael Annett currently sits 10th in the standings with 272 points. In 12 starts this season, the driver of the No. 5 Pilot Flying J Chevy has garnered four top 10’s.

Another one to watch is Brendan Gaughan in the No. 62 South Point Hotel & Casino Chevrolet. After finishing sixth in Pocono a week ago, he currently sits 13th in points, just shy of making the playoffs. When you look at his statistics from 2016, Michigan proved to be the shot in the arm to propel him to last year’s playoff. After finishing 18th in last year’s race, Gaughan went on to rally off seven top 10’s. Another top finish in Saturday’s race could boost him into the top 10 of the 2017 NXS standings.

Qualifying for the Irish Hills 250 will commence tomorrow morning at 10:00 AM ET. Note that the session will be on FOX Sports 2. The race will be aired at 1:30 PM ET on FOX Sports 1, MRN and Sirius XM Channel 90.

Katie Williams
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