Jeff Wolfe · Thursday June 13, 2013
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has won just twice in his last 180 Sprint Cup starts. However, both victories have come at Michigan, on Father’s Day, driving the No. 88 Chevrolet. So with NASCAR set to visit the two-mile D-shaped oval this week, you can’t help but look at Junior as a possible pick. Driving another superhero car this Sunday, keeping with the theme of last June’s dominating victory driving the Batmobile, you’ve got to think for Earnhardt; maybe the third time’s a charm.
But there are plenty of other good options at Michigan, too, so don’t go putting your Junior or Hendrick Motorsports blinders on when it comes to making your fantasy team selections. Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch, among others would beg to differ. After a rough Pocono race in which their horsepower got dialed back, will 400 miles in the Irish Hills tune Toyota’s engines back to normal? Here’s a look at who’s expected to stand out in the race on Sunday…
LOOKING FOR SOME ACES
The scary thing here is I’m getting the feeling that the No. 48 team could win again this week. It’s something that many of you don’t like to hear, I know, but he was so impressive at Dover, then dominant again at Pocono, so it’s just one of those cases where you’re kind of surprised if he doesn’t win. I wouldn’t use Jimmie Johnson this week if you are on pick limits, but this track is one he has yet to conquer. You know, considering their current momentum that team would like to cross Michigan off its winless list.
A driver who has won at Michigan twice and has been good all year when his engine holds up is Matt Kenseth. Toyota did regain some horsepower this week for Michigan, a “must have” development considering how fast of a track it is. The question will be if the Toyotas hold up under the stress of 210 mph speeds. For Kenseth, who has 17 top-10 finishes in 27 races at Michigan, that’s something to keep in mind. But if there’s no DNF… I expect him to run up front.
Another top driver who has come to life the last three weeks is Tony Stewart. He’s got a seventh, first, and fourth coming to a track where he has one win and 18 other top-10 finishes in 28 races. Smoke is putting his patented sizzling summer together and this race shouldn’t go any differently.
Finally, don’t forget about Denny Hamlin. You know he is looking for a win while trying to inch his way into the top 20. However, he’s got a ways to go, currently 25th in the standings and 76 points behind 20th-place Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. Hamlin, who missed four races after a back injury from an accident with Joey Logano at Michigan’s sister track Auto Club Speedway, has two wins in 14 races along with five other top-10 finishes at MIS.
MIDDLE OF THE ROAD
A driver who got within smelling distance of victory last week was Greg Biffle, posting just his second top-5 finish of the season at Pocono. The driver of the No. 16 Ford has been fairly consistent, but had been fading some before his surprising second-place result. Biffle’s record at Michigan could be placed in the “beacon of hope” category; he has three wins in 20 races and nine other top-10 finishes there, including the last race here in August of 2012.
We know, of course, that the past can repeat itself and that’s what Dale Earnhardt, Jr. fans are hoping for this week. He broke a 143-race winless streak with his Michigan victory last year; now, he’ll look to repeat as champion. Junior does have eight other top-10 finishes in the Irish Hills to go along with his two wins. But there is also a bit of a warning sign before you get too giddy about Junior’s chances Sunday: He has led just 293 laps in 27 races there. That’s far from dominant.
The driver with the best average finish among active drivers in Michigan hasn’t been mentioned yet, but that would be Carl Edwards. In 17 races there, he has an average finish of 8.24, also pairing two victories with 11 other top 10s.
And I just can’t leave out Mark Martin. He will be making his 55th career start at Michigan and he does have five wins on the two-mile oval, coupled with TRD showing up with some steam in the engine department. He was leading last August before being collected by Kasey Kahne and Juan Pablo Montoya, and impaling the car into the pit wall. If there’s a place where the 54-year-old ageless wonder could get one more victory, it just might be here, a place where we’ve seen some surprises as of late.
And that would make a lot of people happy, too.
THE DARK HORSES
Things get a bit interesting this week as there are some decent choices here, especially if you are on pick limits.
First, you’ve got A.J. Allmendinger driving the No. 47 this week, flipping rides with Bobby Labonte, who will be in the No. 51. The Phoenix Racing car has been pretty solid most of the season with Allmendinger, Austin Dillon, and Regan Smith. So, we’ll see if the No. 47 car is better or not this week for Allmendinger, who has been a solid choice for a final spot on a fantasy roster when he has been entered. Of note: JTG Daugherty has been a clear step below the No. 51 at times. Their best result, on an unrestricted track is 19th at Richmond in April.
Another option this week is Trevor Bayne. He has four starts at Michigan, clicking off a best finish of 16th and has been fairly consistent at this type of track. If you are on pick limits, and know that Bayne is on a limited schedule again this year, then you have to look at him this week. Besides, he just got hitched and sealed the deal with a win in Nationwide last week at Iowa.
Also entered this week is Austin Dillon, driving the No. 33 car with Richard Childress support. Dillon is still in learning curve mode, but he does have a 24th-place finish in his only Sprint Cup start at Michigan. He’s also on a limited schedule, so this week is an opportunity to use him.
Then, there are the two regular picks for this slot in Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and Danica Patrick. Stenhouse has been the best rookie so far, with ease, and if you have plenty of picks for him available, or plenty of money of you are on a budget, he’s not a bad choice. The No. 17 car Stenhouse drives had an average finish of 10th at the track last season.
Patrick, meanwhile seems to have been a little better on the bigger tracks. But she was a disappointing 29th at Pocono last week, despite managing to stay on the lead lap. Her best bets are in the two restrictor plate races and the two road courses still remaining, but if you’re in a pinch, she is usable here.
THE REAR-VIEW MIRROR
The full season standings remain close in the two Frontstretch fantasy leagues on Yahoo! The overall leader is team cdakost with 3,660 points, but not far behind is Underbird with 3,653. The next two spots go to SiLo Sounds with 3,614 and RWO Motoring at 3,607.
Pocono also began the summer segment of the fantasy season and the winner in the first week was Moonshine Runner, racking up 288 points. The winning combination was race winner Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch in sixth, Carl Edwards in 18th and Joey Logano in 10th.
The winner of the 13-race spring segment was team cdakost with 3,408 points, three points ahead of Underbird and 10 ahead of SiLo Sounds Racing. The final segment of the season will be the 10-race Chase for the Championship.
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