Fantasy NASCAR preview: Carfax 400

by C.J. Radune on August 12, 2009 @ 16:01:07 PDT


In the spring race at Michigan International Speedway, Mark Martin picked up his third victory of the season after starting the day in 32nd. It was a fuel mileage race that will have every team on pit lane this weekend making sure they save as much fuel throughout the day as possible.

Michigan is similar to Auto Club Speedway in many respects. They are both two-mile, tri-oval sister tracks, but each is unique. The Michigan track is tough on engines, and attrition can often become a factor, especially in the hot and humid Midwest summer. Drivers tend to like the track because there is a lot of room to pass in the wide corners.

Three-wide, and even four-wide, racing is commonplace, and drivers can pass just about anywhere assuming their car works in the particular groove. Long green runs are the norm, so fuel strategy will almost certainly come into play. The ability to save fuel was what won the race in June as a number of drivers ran out of fuel or had to pit in the closing laps.

Location: Brooklyn, Mich.
Shape: Tri-oval
Length: 2.00 miles
Laps: 200
Turns 1-4: 18 degrees

Front stretch: 12 degrees

Back stretch: 5 degrees

Drivers to keep an eye on

Kurt Busch | No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge | Penske Championship Racing

Busch is having an outstanding season so far. He is fourth in NASCAR Sprint Cup points and comes to Michigan International Speedway on the heels of back-to-back top-10 finishes. Busch had a strong car in the June race and spent much of the day at the front of the pack. He finished eighth in the LifeLock 400 and will be working for his third top-10 finish in a row this weekend. Busch is not a driver to overlook as the series visits Michigan, and his current form only enhances his attractiveness as a fantasy option this weekend. Look for Busch to have yet another strong race in the Carfax 400.

Denny Hamlin | No. 11 FedEx Office Toyota | Joe Gibbs Racing

Hamlin was somewhat of a surprise at Watkins Glen International running second in the race's early stages. In the LifeLock 400 earlier this season Hamlin overcame his last two poor Michigan finishes to return to his normal form at the track. He finished that race third. In seven career starts at the track Hamlin took home two top-fives and three top-10s. His average finish in that time is 13.7. Hamlin was strong in the spring race and, after a strong run Monday, should carry some momentum into Michigan as well. Look for Hamlin to have a solid run in an attempt to maintain his fifth position in the points this weekend.

Kasey Kahne | No. 9 Budweiser Dodge | Richard Petty Motorsports

Kahne quietly put himself solidly into the top 10 in points throughout the season and now is focused on maintaining that form to qualify the Chase for the Championship. Despite finishing 21st in the LifeLock 400 earlier this season at Michigan, Kahne was a strong competitor. He ran in the top 15 for 179 of the 200 laps that race. Kahne has always had a stout car at Michigan International Speedway, and his record shows it. He earned a win and five top-fives at the Michigan oval in just 11 career starts. Kahne and his team have a solid base for car setup at Michigan and will work to use that to their advantage again in the Carfax 400. Kahne is a solid choice for any fantasy roster.

Juan Pablo Montoya | No. 42 Target Chevrolet | Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing

Juan Pablo Montoya, Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing
JP: enjoying breakout season

Montoya scored a top-10 finish when the series last visited Michigan International Speedway. He started the LifeLock 400 seventh and finished sixth. Montoya has been the bright spot for Earnhardt-Ganassi racing this season and is looking to consolidate his position in the Chase for the Championship as the regular season winds down. Despite Montoya's poor record there in the previous two seasons, we should expect him to roll off the truck with a solid setup for the Carfax 400. He has improved his qualifying at the track in each race. That should give him a good start for the weekend and yet another chance for a solid points finish. Montoya will be focused on a solid points result, and that should give fantasy players some security when choosing him for their rosters this weekend.

David Reutimann | No. 00 Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota | Michael Waltrip Racing

In his last trip to Michigan International Speedway, Reutimann spent over a quarter of the race in the top 15. He ran as high as fourth before the race ended with him in 19th position. It was a good outing for Reutimann despite the disappointing finishing position. In five career starts at Michigan his average finish is 21.2, but he has finished 14th and 19th, respectively, in his last two tries there. Reutimann is a consistent top-15 car at the two-mile track and has proven that he can be relied upon for a solid result. The Carfax 400 might be the Michigan race where Reutimann scores his first top-10 at the track. He should be a safe midrange option for fantasy owners this weekend.

Temper your expectations

Joey Logano | No. 20 The Home Depot Chevrolet | Joe Gibbs Racing

Logano has certainly proven his worth as a NASCAR Sprint Cup driver this season. He has a win under his belt and is steadily improving. He didn't show a lot of promise earlier this season at Michigan, though. He finished the LifeLock 400 in 25th place after starting 24th. That was his only Cup start at the track, but he did race there once in the Nationwide Series. He collected a top-10 finish in the 2008 Carfax 250. Logano can be safely used at most tracks, but to get the most out of him you should probably save the start for a track other than Michigan. He may do well, but he doesn't have the resume right now to be a lock in your lineup at MIS.

Kevin Harvick | No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet | Richard Childress Racing

Kevin Harvick, Richard Childress Racing
Disappointments galore for Harvick

After a strong top-10 run at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Harvick seems to have slipped back into the clutches of his disappointing season. He is only 22nd in points at the moment; Richard Childress Racing and Harvick both expect more. The work they've done to correct their problem hasn't shown itself on the track just yet, but they continue to persevere. Until we see some solid improvement from Harvick, and RCR in general, it would be best to stay away from having Harvick in your fantasy lineup despite his decent 15.4 average result at Michigan. He finished just 18th in the LifeLock 400 earlier this season, and we can't expect much more from him at this juncture.

Marcos Ambrose | No. 47 Little Debbie/Kingsford/Clorox Toyota | JTG Daugherty Racing

Ambrose was truly in his element at Watkins Glen International on Monday. He was able to pass almost anyone and ended the race in second position after fighting a questionable pit strategy all day. Ambrose has also been strong on ovals too this year, but Michigan isn't a place where he has excelled yet. His two career starts there have resulted in finishes of 43rd and 31st. Ambrose may be one of the surprises of the season sitting in the top 20 in points, but Michigan doesn't look promising for the Australian. From a fantasy perspective, it might be best to save your Ambrose starts for ovals where he has better finishes already under his belt.

Martin Truex Jr. | No. 1 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Chevrolet | Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing

Truex hasn't had the year he was hoping for with Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing. He currently holds 23rd place in NASCAR Sprint Cup points. After having back-to-back second-place finishes at Michigan International Speedway, Truex has struggled. His average finish in the last three races at the track is 23rd, but including the two second-place finishes that average jumps to 14.6 in the last five. Truex hasn't been a driver fantasy owners could consistently rely on this season, and Michigan probably will hold more of the same. Not since the Southern 500 in May has Truex finished in the top 10. Statistically it would be wise to avoid choosing Truex for your fantasy roster this weekend.

Jeff Burton | No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet | Richard Childress Racing

Burton suffered a big hit Monday at Watkins Glen. He collided with cars that were crashing in front of him and ended his day. He finished 38th. Michigan doesn't promise to be much to look forward to for Burton, either. His average finish at the track in the last five starts is just 18.0 with no top-10 finishes in that time. In fact, Burton only scored one top-five and three top-10s at the track in his 23 career Michigan starts. With the struggles that Richard Childress Racing has been working through this season, Burton just doesn't seem likely to turn around his Michigan record this weekend. Fantasy owners would be best to avoid picking Burton if possible.

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About C.J. Radune

Radune has been a KFFL contributor since January 2008.

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