There were some conflicting statistics heading into last Sunday’s race at Pocono when it came down to determining the race winner. The track said that 47 of the previous 66 winners came from a top-10 starting spot. The 2011 season said a top-10 starter had reached victory lane in only four of the first 12 races.
The last five race-winners started outside the top 20.
Jeff Gordon’s victory last weekend kept the odds in Pocono’s favor, after Gordon started third. It was the first time since April 17 at Talladega that a top-20 starter won a Sprint Cup race. Jimmie Johnson started second on that day. Statistically, more wins have come from starting positions 20-28 (seven) than 1-8 (five) in 2011.
After qualifying, many fantasy owners select the highest qualified drivers in each group, but from what we’ve seen this season, qualifying has no implication on what will happen on race day. Keep that in mind this weekend at Michigan, especially after Kevin Harvick won from 24th at a very similar track, Fontana, earlier in the season.
A 37th place finish one week ago due to engine problems was the first bump in the road the No. 99 team has seen all season. Carl Edwards has been solid everywhere this season and has the best track record at Michigan of any driver. Edwards has two wins, eight top-5s and 11 top-10s in 13 career starts at the 2-mile track. His average finish of 6.3 is far and away the best of all active drivers heading into Sunday.
Much like Edwards, Matt Kenseth has seen a resurgence in 2011. He’s already picked up two victories and don’t be surprised if he gets his third at Michigan. Kenseth has two wins in Michigan and the second best average finish behind teammate Edwards at 9.8.
The statistics from recent years say keep Dale Earnhardt Jr. out of the lineup, but the Hendrick driver continues to rack up solid finishes at tracks he hasn’t had much success in recent years. Last week’s sixth-place finish at Pocono was a perfect example. The stats heading into this weekend are a little more in Earnhardt’s favor. He has two top-10s in his last four starts at Michigan and was 12th earlier this season at Fontana. Earnhardt has been the most consistent mid-level driver on the circuit this year and he should come through again on Sunday.
Kasey Kahne was second at Michigan last spring and has proven he is still a contender with Red Bull Racing. He finished ninth at Fontana earlier in the season. Kahne has six top-5 finishes at Michigan in 14 career starts.
The other Red Bull car, Brian Vickers, should be a safe pick as well. Before stepping away from the team last season, Vickers picked up a pair of top-10 finishes at Michigan in 2009, including his first and only win with Red Bull Racing. Michigan has been one of Vickers’ strongest tracks since he entered the series. He has seven top-10s in 12 starts. Vickers also was eighth at Michigan’s sister track Fontana in the fifth race of the season.
I’ve advised benching David Ragan in the past couple of weeks. I would put Ragan back in the lineup this weekend. He has a pair of top-10s in eight starts there and the Roush cars are always strong in the Irish Hills.
Ryan Newman doesn’t struggle with many tracks, but he has not fared well at Michigan. The Stewart-Haas driver has just four top-10 finishes in 19 career starts there. He hasn’t finished in the top-15 at the 2-mile track since he won there in 2004, driving for Penske Racing. Last season, he was 32nd and 23rd. Newman is a highly valued mid-level driver, but he should be used elsewhere.
Much like Newman, Clint Bowyer is a great mid-level selection just about everywhere. He’s not at Michigan. Bowyer has two top-10 finishes in 10 starts at Michigan and an average finish of 20.4. Save your Bowyer fantasy picks for the short and flat tracks.
Until next week, good luck my friends!
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