Fantasy NASCAR race preview: Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips 400

by Eric McClung on June 15, 2011 @ 12:10:40 PDT

 


Michigan International Speedway is a long, wide track which allows the action to spread out. This produces long green flag runs and a lot of tough decisions to make in the late stages of the race. Several recent winners have received an assist from the leader running out of fuel in the closing moments. Auto Club Speedway, which held the fifth race of the season, is the only other D-shaped, 2.0-mile oval on the schedule and has four more degrees of corner banking.

Owners facing prequalifying deadlines will get the benefit of two Friday practice sessions prior to qualifying on Saturday. Checking these results is a huge benefit in order to see what drivers have unloaded with an early edge and are most likely to score a prime starting position.

Location: Brooklyn, Mich.
Shape: D-shaped oval
Length: 2.0 miles
Laps: 200
Turns: 18 degrees
Front stretch: 12 degrees
Back stretch: 5 degrees

Drivers to keep an eye on

Carl Edwards | No. 99 Aflac Ford | Roush Fenway Racing

Prior to an engine problem last week at Pocono Raceway, the Roush headliner appeared bullet proof. This week is an excellent opportunity to quickly reestablish that reputation. With an average finish of 6.3 in 13 career starts in the Irish Hills, Edwards leads all active drivers. In addition to a pair of wins, the series points leader has only finished worse than 12th just once at MIS. Since loop data was introduced in 2005, Edwards has never seen his average running position drop below 12th.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. | No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports

Just 14 races into the season, NASCAR's most popular driver has already matched last year's production in both top-fives and top-10s while nearly stealing a few victories. However, since winning at Michigan in June of 2008, Earnhardt has yet to find Victory Lane in the Cup series. Over the next four starts at the site, he recorded three finishes of 14th or better with an average running position of at least 17th. In fact, Earnhardt is ranked eighth among active drivers in that very telling loop data statistic.

Tony Stewart | No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet | Stewart-Haas Racing

Tony Stewart

Despite finishing 13th at Fontana, Stewart was the only driver to spend the entire race running in the top 15. In addition, his average running position of fifth was the second-best of the race. Last year, Stewart was once again impressive at Michigan with finishes of fifth and sixth, never running lower than ninth in the August event. Stewart won here back in 2000 and has not finished worse than seventh in the June race since 2006.

Jeff Gordon | No. 24 Driver to End Hunger Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports

After finishing as the runner-up in both Michigan races of 2009, despite starting worse than 20th each time, Gordon finished fourth last June with a better average running position and more laps inside the top 15 than either start. In August, he was working on a similar finish until damaging his race car with 46 laps to go. Coming off his second win of the season, Gordon and new crew chief Alan Gustafson are riding high despite a boom-or-bust season of results thus far.

Greg Biffle | No. 16 Red Cross Ford | Roush Fenway Racing

Since 2008, Biffle has recorded an average running position of 10th or better in five of the six races held at MIS. In his three top-fives during that span, he spent more than 98 percent of his laps running in the top 15. After starting 32nd at Fontana, Biffle rallied to finish 11th. Combining for 11 victories at Michigan, including two by Biffle, Roush drivers should be a fantasy staple this week.

Kasey Kahne | No. 4 Red Bull Toyota | Red Bull Racing

During an otherwise disappointing 2010 season, Kahne had his best year at MIS since winning from the pole and finishing fourth in 2006. With a career-best average running position of third, he posted an impressive runner-up performance in June. After scoring another pole in August, Kahne finished 14th after running seventh. Although Kahne hasn't been as sharp on 1.5-mile tracks this season as in year's past, he finished ninth at Fontana.

Brian Vickers | No. 83 Red Bull Toyota | Red Bull Racing

Even though a medical issue kept Vickers off the track for both MIS events last season, Vickers has been very impressive at the site in recent years. In his last three qualifying attempts, he has won the pole each time. Capped off by a win in August of 2009, Vickers has five consecutive top-10 finishes with an average running position of fifth or better in three of the last four. With Kahne and Vickers under one roof, their collective resumes at Michigan will have many fantasy owners downing two Red Bulls this week.

Trevor Bayne | No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford | Wood Brothers Racing

A mysterious illness has kept Bayne from racing since late April. Now cleared to compete again, 20-year-old Daytona 500 winner heads to MIS for the first time in a Cup car. In last year's Nationwide event, Bayne finished 11th at the site. He also owns an average finish of 11.8 over four starts at Auto Club in NASCAR's top developmental series, including a career-best sixth earlier this year. Although Bayne struggled in the Cup race at Fontana, the Wood Brothers saw veteran Bill Elliott finish 16th in both 2009 starts at MIS in the No. 21 car.

Temper your expectations

Ryan Newman | No. 39 Army Strong 246 years Chevrolet | Stewart-Haas Racing

Since winning two consecutive races at MIS, Newman has since gone 13 straight starts without a top-10 finish. During that disappointing stretch, his average finish is a meager 22.3. While last year's average running positions of 16th and 18th are big improvements over the past few seasons, there's little reason to trust Newman unless he really lights up the practice speed charts.

Joey Logano | No. 20 Home Depot Toyota | Joe Gibbs Racing

In addition to sitting a disappointing 23rd in points, Logano also ranks 23rd in average running position. You have to go back seven races to find an event where Logano ran better than 16th. With a pair of 10th-place finishes at MIS last year, some may talk themselves into starting Logano as a sleeper. In reality, he has fallen too far off the radar and needs several impressive runs to become fantasy relevant once again.

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About Eric McClung

Eric McClung has been profiled by the FSWA for covering the fantasy sports spectrum and is a two-time award finalist. He's also made several appearances in print and on radio. McClung began contributing to KFFL in 2008 and currently serves as one of KFFL's featured fantasy NASCAR experts.

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