The Frontstretch: Frontstretch Fantasy Insider: Finding What Luck is Left in the Irish Hills by Bryan Davis Keith and Mike Neff -- Thursday June 11, 2009

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Frontstretch Fantasy Insider: Finding What Luck is Left in the Irish Hills

Bryan Davis Keith and Mike Neff · Thursday June 11, 2009

 

As the Sprint Cup Series turns to Michigan International Speedway, teams and fans alike will find themselves in the faces of America’s former automotive giants this weekend, harshly reminded of the economic tumult that has driven the country into a deep recession. But while NASCAR’s biggest manufacturers are fighting to stay afloat, it’s the sport’s biggest multi-car teams who should be stacking your roster to fight for the win. Michigan’s long, wide racing surface places a premium on horsepower, and it’s a place where the “haves” that have an intermediate package filled with superior aerodynamics will clearly outshine the “have nots.”

By the Numbers

Best Average Finish at Michigan International Speedway (Since 2005, active drivers)
Carl Edwards, 8 starts, 6.1
Matt Kenseth, 8 starts, 9.4
Tony Stewart, 8 starts, 10.1
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., 8 starts, 10.6
Jimmie Johnson, 8 starts, 11.6

2008 LifeLock 400 Top 5 Finishers
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., 14 laps led
Kasey Kahne, 0 laps led
Matt Kenseth, 41 laps led
Brian Vickers, 44 laps led
Tony Stewart, 1 lap led

Luxury Rides

Carl Edwards finally showed signs of life this past weekend. After running a strong third in the Nationwide Series on Saturday night, Edwards had the dominant car at Pocono before settling for a runner-up finish with his fuel tank running dry. It was the first time this season he looked like the same driver who nearly stole both the NNS and Cup titles as the 2008 campaign wound down, and there is no better place for him to carry that momentum than MIS — the track where he made his Cup debut back in the summer of 2004. With eight top 10 finishes in nine starts, including two wins, Edwards has never finished off the lead lap on the two-mile oval that has always been one of his favorite places to run. Expect the No. 99 to be at the front all day on Sunday; in fact, he’s the likely choice to visit Victory Lane. Bryan

Carl Edwards won at Michigan last August, and has only finished outside the top 10 once at the speedway — making him a solid choice this week for your fantasy team.

Matt Kenseth started off the season like a man on a mission; but after going 2-for-2 to start the year, it’s looked more like he was in need of missionaries ever since. Yet after a serious slump that dropped Kenseth to the fringes of the Chase, over the past few weeks his No. 17 team has been looking like it’s getting things back on track; and now, they are heading to a place where their driver is about as good as you can get. Kenseth has won twice at Michigan since his debut at the track in 1999; and when he hasn’t been winning, he has been a consistent front-running machine. He’s raced at the track 19 times, with nine top 5 and 13 top 10 finishes to his credit. In fact, he has only finished outside of the top 17 at the two-mile oval just once, giving him a scintillating average finish of 9.1. Roush cars have always run well at Michigan and, with Kenseth’s track record here, expect to see him turn into a contender for the victory once more on Sunday afternoon. Mike

Mid-size Sedans

Kurt Busch had a rough 2008 at MIS, but throw those stats out the window as the No. 2 team has found their step again on the Cup circuit’s intermediate ovals. Busch is no stranger to Victory Lane at MIS (he’s won there twice), and was a top 5 contender at Pocono before a fluke part failure sent him behind the wall for repairs. As long as his Miller Lite Dodge doesn’t fall apart a second time, Busch is a lock for another top 10 this weekend… and I’d throw in a parlay that he outruns his brother. Bryan

David Ragan may have only raced at Michigan four times in a Cup car, but he has continually gotten better since his first race there in 2007. Ragan came home 21st in his MIS debut, and has followed that with an 18th, an eighth, and a third. A big fan of the track, Ragan is in equipment that always seems to run well here, most likely leading to a quality finish for a driver who needs to turn his season around. Indeed, a top 5 is a necessity for Ragan, digging out of a nightmare season that finds him 31st in the championship standings — making him a bargain basement deal for your roster. Mike

Sub-compacts

Sam Hornish, Jr. has no numbers to back up a justification to start him this weekend. But what he and the No. 77 team have is momentum… and lots of it. Hornish has been on a tear as of late in Cup, with three top 10 finishes in the last four races marking the best stretch of his stock car career. With the No. 12 car in the Penske camp now the third-tier Dodge in the stable, there is no doubt that Hornish is getting good cars… and now, he’s proving that he knows how to drive them. While the IRL vet still can wreck a car or two, Michigan is far from a treacherous track — meaning it’s all systems go for the Ohio native to run well again on Sunday. Bryan

In his short career driving stock cars, A.J. Allmendinger seems to be at his best on the one-and-a-half to two mile race tracks. While he’s had some good and some bad finishes on tracks of that style this year, it’s true he hasn’t been as good overall as he was back in 2008. But Richard Petty Motorsports has been looking like they’re improving over the last few races, and the new Dodge engine is going to give them added incentive to run better. In this race last year, Allmendinger came home in 19th place for Team Red Bull — so he knows how to get around MIS. While he’s aligned with a different team in 2009, this weekend should be another time for A.J. to run solidly inside the top 20. Mike

Last Word

Michigan is a wide open racetrack, where drivers can make up for some of the shortcomings of their race car by picking different lines through the turns. There is enough room in the corners for cars to run four wide without banging off of each other, leading to exciting side-by-side racing during the first few laps after a restart. The long, banked track lends itself to high speeds, allowing horsepower to generally rule the day. However, there is always the specter of strategy finishes in a race where fuel mileage often becomes a factor. There have been multiple races won by stretching the gas tank, just like last year’s race that saw Dale Jr. win for what wound up being the only time last season. There have also been rain-shortened races here which can also reward teams taking a chance. So, the best fantasy teams will have a combination of cars that are strong on the pit box and on pit road — just pick the ones that have the highest quality horsepower to keep them running up front.

Results of our experts in the Frontstretch Games

Game of Tomorrow

Bryan – 3504
Mike – 3280

Hat Dance Dynasty

Bryan – 2831
Mike – 2767

Frontstretch Fourplay

Bryan – 7073
Mike – 6327

In order to help the readers track how well our experts are doing, we’ll keep track of the cumulative points scored by all three drivers every week, as well as their total for the season.

Driver totals

Brian 414 4895
Mike 308 4739

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