LifeLock 400 fantasy NASCAR preview

by Jeffrey Price on June 12, 2008 @ 13:30:32 PDT

 


This week's race at Michigan International Speedway marks the end of a five-week stretch of racing on intermediate tracks; the longest such stretch on the Sprint Cup schedule. From the high-banked, high-speed hairpins at Darlington Raceway to the flat, nearly road course-like conditions at Pocono Raceway, when Sunday's race ends drivers will have run the gauntlet of the various intermediate track types that the Sprint Cup circuit has to offer.

Michigan International Speedway is most similar to Auto Club (California) Speedway. The track is tough on engines and attrition is usually a factor. Drivers like the track because there is a lot of room to pass. Three-wide racing, and even four-wide racing, is commonplace, and drivers can pass just about anywhere. Long green runs are the norm, so fuel strategy often comes into play. Wrecks are most common coming out of the corners, as it is easy for drivers to carry too much speed out of the turns and slide toward the wall. The race surface is NASCAR's first to use polymer-enhanced asphalt, which protects the track from Michigan's cold winters. A Dodge or a Ford has won each of the last 13 races at Michigan.

Location: Brooklyn, Mich.

Shape: D-shaped oval

Length: 2.00 miles

Laps: 200

Banking: Turns 1-4: 18 degrees; front stretch: 12 degrees; back stretch: 5 degrees

Table: Do not bench

Kyle Busch Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Jimmie Johnson Tony Stewart
Matt Kenseth Jeff Gordon
Kevin Harvick Denny Hamlin
Carl Edwards Jeff Burton

Leading the pack

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

Busch comes to Michigan International Speedway off a strong eighth-place run at Pocono June 8. Shockingly, it was only the second top-10 this season for Busch. The 2004 Sprint Cup champion stands a paltry 21st in Cup points. Busch owns two wins at Michigan, including one in the August race last season; he finished 25th in the 2007 June race. In his last eight races at Michigan, Busch owns a 13.9 average finish with one win and four top-10s. Busch's finish last week is encouraging, and Michigan is a track where he has had success. A second consecutive top-10 is a real possibility.

Greg Biffle | No. 16 Dish Network Ford | Roush Fenway Racing

Biffle is having a rebound season after he missed the Chase in each of the past two years. While he has yet to win this year, he has five top-fives and seven top-10s, which includes two top-three finishes in the past three races. Biffle has two career wins at Michigan International Speedway. He posted back-to-back victories in August 2004 and June 2005. Biffle struggled at Michigan in 2007, however, with a 28.5 average finish in two races. Still, Biffle owns a career-average finish of 13.4 at Michigan and is always a threat on intermediate tracks. A top-five is a solid bet this week, and a win is not out of the question.

Martin Truex Jr. | No. 1 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Chevrolet | Dale Earnhardt Inc.

Truex is having a decent season after his surprise appearance in the Chase in 2007. He stands 16th in Cup points on the heels of one top-five and four top-10s. Truex was stellar at Michigan International Speedway last season, finishing second in both races. In four career races at Michigan, he has an average finish of 12.5. Truex's sixth-place finish in the February race at Auto Club Speedway, Michigan's sister track, is another sign that he excels on the longer, low-banked intermediates. There is no reason to expect anything less than a top-10 from Truex this week.

Mark Martin | No. 8 U.S. Army Chevrolet | Dale Earnhardt Inc.

Martin is having a solid season driving part time for DEI. He has two top-fives and five top-10s in 11 races. He stands 24th in Cup points, but his average points per race project to a 10th-place standing had he run all 14 races. This week he returns to one of his better tracks, Michigan International Speedway, where he has two wins and a 13.8 average finish in 36 career races. He has been abysmal at Michigan of late, however. In his last three races at the track, Martin has an average finish of 25.3 with one DNF. We expect better this week from Martin, who has a 13.9 average finish at intermediate tracks this season. Martin owners should expect a finish somewhere near the top 10.

Kasey Kahne | No. 9 Budweiser Dodge | Gillett Evernham Motorsports

Kahne looks to be starting another hot streak. He has won two of the past three Sprint Cup races to move to from 14th to ninth in the Cup standings. He has five other top-10s to go with the two wins this season. Kahne struggled to a 31.5 average finish at Michigan International Speedway last season. This was a complete reversal from 2006 when Kahne dominated at Michigan with a 2.5 average finish and a win in the June race. Kahne is starting to look like the driver who won six races - all on intermediate tracks - in 2006. Kahne should be considered a favorite to win this weekend's race.

Drivers to keep an eye on

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

Vickers comes into this week's race at Michigan International Speedway on the heels of a second-place run at Pocono June 8; it was his best finish of the season. Vickers stands 17th in the Cup point standings, having moved up three spots in the last two races. Vickers has been solid recently at Michigan with three consecutive finishes of 17th or better before a 41st-place debacle in last August's race. Overall, Vickers has a 20.3 average finish with three top-10s in eight career races at Michigan. If he can stay out of trouble this week, Vickers could find himself with another top-10 result.

Ryan Newman | No. 12 Alltel Dodge | Penske Racing

Since winning the season-opening Daytona 500, Newman has been on a slow but steady slide down the Cup point standings. Currently, he stands 14th and is just 10 points from qualifying for the final spot in the Chase standings. Newman's last three races, in which he has averaged a 17.7 finish with a best of 14th and worst of 21st, is representative of what we can expect from Newman these days. He has two career wins in 13 career races at Michigan, but his average finish is a mediocre 16.6. Newman's average finish on intermediate tracks in 2008 is 19.4. In short, all data points to a decent finish at Michigan for Newman, and fantasy owners shouldn't expect anything more than a finish in the top 15.

Clint Bowyer | No. 07 Jack Daniel's Chevrolet | Richard Childress Racing

Since winning the season's 10th race at Richmond International Raceway and climbing to fourth in the point standings, Bowyer has been in a nosedive. He has a 28.8 average finish in the four races since Richmond and has fallen to 11th in the Chase standings. Michigan International Raceway is an unlikely place for Bowyer to regain his mojo. In four career races at Michigan, he has posted a 26.3 average finish. Bowyer has an average finish of 20.0 on intermediate tracks this season and finished 19th in the February race in California. One has to believe Bowyer would take a finish in the high teens, this week and run with it. Anything better would be gravy for Bowyer and his fantasy owners.

Casey Mears | No. 5 Kellogg's/CARQUEST Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports

Big things were expected from Mears after an excellent second half to his season in 2007, but the results have not materialized. He is mired 26th in the Cup point standings and has no top-fives and just two top-10s. Michigan International Speedway figures to be a welcome site this week for the slumping Mears. In the past two seasons (four races), Mears has posted a 9.5 average finish including a fourth-place finish at this time last season. However, he has done little the past few weeks to indicate that he will be coming out of his funk anytime soon; he has an average finish of 24.0 in the past three races. His past success at Michigan is enough to recommend playing Mears this week, but fantasy owners should temper their expectations.

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About Jeffrey Price

Price has been a KFFL contributor since January 2008.

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