The series heads to Michigan this weekend for the second of the series’ two visits on the year – and hopefully, your fantasy team is scorching like the late summer heat. Just four races remain until the end of the regular season, and just like the excitement surrounding the Chase, the battle in many leagues is at a fever pitch. Are you in Kurt Busch‘s shoes, holding on to a tenuous lead while others battle to knock you down from a spot in the money? Or are you like Dale Earnhardt Jr., a driver in need of some solid finishes – and more importantly, luck – to work your way back into contention?
Either way, we offer you a chance to transfer the warmth from the Dog Days of Summer into your own personal fantasy momentum. Just read ahead for who to start in the Irish Hills – and who to push aside – in this week’s edition of Fantasy Picks ‘N’ Pans.
Cami’s Race Rewind
Matt Kenseth used clever pit strategy, plenty of Roush-Yates engine power and a little bit of luck to score his third win of the season in last year’s GFS Marketplace 400 at Michigan International Speedway. Kenseth, who led a race high 87 laps, caught a lucky break after crew chief Robbie Reiser made a gutsy call on pit road that could have easily backfired on the team. On lap 131, Kenseth opted to stay out on the track and retain his lead while the rest of the leaders came down pit road for fuel and tires.
In typical MIS fashion, the race hit a streak of green-flag racing, and Kenseth was within two laps of having to come in for a stop. But as luck would have it, JJ Yeley spun on lap 161 to bring out the record-setting 10th caution of the day, allowing Kenseth to make his stop under yellow. Jeff Gordon tried to run down Kenseth in the final 10 laps of the race, which had fans remembering their previous bump-and-run encounter at Chicagoland the month before… but Gordon was never able to get close enough to mount a serious charge, and Kenseth marched on to take the checkered flag.
Mike’s Keys to the Race
Michigan is a wide 2-mile oval with multiple racing grooves that sweep from the apron all the way to the wall. With such a wide range of options, drivers can find a line that will allow their cars to work no matter what the handling characteristics are. With lots of room and opportunities to pass, this intermediate track offers some great racing that caters to all different sorts of driving styles. Located just outside the auto factories of Detroit, this has very much been a Ford-friendly track over the past decade; as such, look for the Roush Fenway Racing team to be a factor this weekend.
Crank ‘Em Up
Kenseth is the defending champion of this race and also won earlier this year at California, the sister track to Michigan. Considering the fact that Roush Fenway teams always run strong here, this is certainly the type of event where you expect Kenseth to run near the front all day long. Add to that his average finish of 10.1 at Michigan, and you have to feel confident that the No. 17 team will score some solid points this weekend.
It’s summertime, which means only one thing in NASCAR: Stewart is red hot. He’s already won three out of the last four races on the circuit, and now he comes to a track where eight of his last 10 starts have been top-10 runs. In fact, the last two times Stewart’s run on the 2-mile Michigan oval, he’s come home with a pair of third-place finishes. With the roll that the No. 20 team is on right now, it is hard to pick against them.
Sit ‘Em Down
Yeley has been dogged by bad luck for most of his career in the No. 18 car, and Michigan has not been kind to him at all. In the three races he has run at the track, his best finish is a mediocre 28th. Now that he’s officially a free agent, having to answer all of the questions about where he is going and what he might do next year is only going to serve to distract him; so, don’t expect anything special from JJ this weekend.
Elliott Sadler is once again the Evernham Dog of the week, representing the team that just can’t seem to get its act together this season. Sadler’s average finish at Michigan is 23.6, and he has posted only two top-10 finishes there in his career. With the way the whole Evernham organization has been performing, the No. 19 car just doesn’t seem like a pick to use this weekend.
Roll the Dice
Earnhardt Jr. has the best average finish over the last three races at Michigan, placing third, fifth and sixth. Add to that the urgency of trying to make the Chase, and the No. 8 team is going to step it up this weekend. Assuming they can keep their engine from blowing to smithereens (why he’s in the Roll the Dice category in the first place), Junior and his Budweiser Chevy should be a sure bet to run at or near the front by the end of the race.
Crank ‘Em Up
With four wins this season, Gordon is tied for the series lead in victories – but he’s hit a bit of a dry spell, if you can call it that. In the past eight races, Gordon has finished ninth or better, but he has been shut out of victory lane – making this the longest period he has gone without a win this season. You know Gordon has to still be steaming over last weekend’s “oops” at Watkins Glen, too, as well as the 10 bonus points which got giftwrapped to Stewart instead.
That should give him extra incentive to go out and win this weekend – and with Gordon on a major roll, he should be in great shape. With crew chief Steve Letarte returning from a six-week suspension this weekend, and with Gordon recording three straight top 10s at Michigan, things are looking good for the No. 24 team this weekend.
When the series rolled into town in June, Carl Edwards left Michigan with the monkey off his back, breaking his own 51-race winless streak. This time around, Edwards is looking for win number two of the season, and the chance to solidify his position in the Chase. Michigan has always been a good track for the Roush Fenway drivers and Edwards is no different, recording an average finish of 7.3 in six starts. Given the current momentum this team has behind them, they should have no trouble maintaining that kind of average this weekend.
Sit ‘Em Down
Just four races remain before the field for the Chase is set, and you know that a few more drivers are going to have a bout of bad luck before it’s all said and done. This weekend, it could be Clint Bowyer‘s turn. Bowyer is currently ninth in the standings, but his position isn’t secure by any means. He has been running strong as of late, putting in finishes no lower than 16th in the last five weeks. But for some reason, Michigan isn’t a track he’s been able to grasp. In three races there, he has a meager average finish of 29.3. There will be times to use Bowyer later on; but for now, let him chill out on the bench this week.
With no top-20 finishes in the last 10 races, David Stremme is heading in the wrong direction, fast. Stremme had a promising start to the season, but after 22 races, he’s just two points shy from falling out of the top 25 in driver points. Looking at his record at Michigan doesn’t give you much hope that things are going to turn around this weekend, either. In three career starts, Stremme’s best finish is 19th, and he finished 40th in the race back in June. Those aren’t results that make you want to rush out and pick this guy for your team.
Roll the Dice
Greg Biffle has certainly had his fair share of troubles this year, but with five top-15 finishes in the last seven races, the team is finally showing signs of life. Michigan is always a great track for Roush Fenway drivers, but especially for Biffle: he’s a two-time winner here with a total of six top 10s in nine starts. Granted, he was 38th back in June, but that was more of an exception than the norm. Keep in mind that throughout his four-year career, Biffle has never posted poor finishes in both races – making him a solid Roll the Dice pick.
Mike: So, you think the Rainbow Warriors are going to come out of the box hot with cheating Chad back on the pit box?
Cami: Don’t you mean Sneaky Steve? But yeah, I think they are due. Gordon really wanted that win last week, and I think he’ll want make up for that slipup at the Glen. Plus, he’s due – it has been eight races ya know.
Mike: Oops, my bad. Yeah, I meant Steve the Shyster. Yeah, eight races this year for them is a long stretch. I have to think Gordon is due for a good run – I’m not sure about Cousin Carl, though. The season sweep is tough, and he used up a lot of luck last weekend.
Cami: True, but you don’t always need to get a driver who is going to win. Carl’s been good at Michigan, so a solid top five or top 10 isn’t out of the question at all. I do, however, question your pick of Dale Jr. That team seemed pretty down about their Chase hopes last week.
Mike: I don’t think they were down at all. Like Tony Jr. said, “My team runs in the top five every week, I feel pretty good about that.” On top of that, Junior has the best average finish of anyone over the last three races at Michigan. I think it is time for them to bust out and finish one of these deals off. He has been close the last three times there, and just might break out with a win this weekend.
Cami: Yeah, maybe. I guess I just didn’t read the same into Eury’s interview that you did. To me, he almost seemed resigned to the fact it’s OK if they don’t make the Chase. But he has been good the last three races at Michigan, and you’re the Dale Jr. expert – so I leave that one to you. Meanwhile, I see you finally jumped on the Smoke bandwagon – or was that just because you knew I’d probably take him if you didn’t?
Mike: Yeah, I was making the defensive pick there to make sure you didn’t get him. Eight of his last 10 races at Michigan have been top-10 finishes, and the last two were both third-place runs, so I think he’ll be ready for another good run this weekend. Not to mention he’s won three of the last four races. But what about your Sit ‘Em Down picks? I can’t believe you’re dissing Clint. He’s so due for a win, I just can’t see picking against him until he gets it.
Cami: It’s just a hunch; maybe my woman’s intuition will blow up my face. But I just think he’s due for a bad race before the Chase starts, and looking at his Michigan record, this could be the weekend. His average is only 29.3 there.
Mike: That’s true, but I just feel like he’s due for a weekend that he pulls it all together; I think the RCR brigade is going to be out to atone for last weekend. I will say I can’t fault you too much on Stremme. His record at Michigan is nothing to cheer about, and the Ganassi boys still haven’t done too much on intermediate tracks.
Cami: And I see you made the standard anti-Everham, or I guess we have to say anti-GEM, pick of the week by benching Sadler. I just hope if lightning does strike and they put in a good run sometime this year, it’s a week you have him and not me.
Mike: Yeah, you know we have to pick the GEM dog of the week, and ESad just doesn’t have much going his way when it comes to Michigan. In his entire career, he only has two top-10 finishes there. So until they prove otherwise, I’m going to continue to dog one of their drivers every week. Finally, I see you’re thinking that the Biff has finally turned things around. I’m still not sold on that team having it together yet.
Cami: Well, I wouldn’t say all their problems are magically fixed. But it is Michigan, it’s a great track for Roush, and Biffle certainly has had his share of success there in the past. I’ll guess we’ll have to see how it all pans out.
Crank ‘Em Up- 13.7
Sit ‘Em Down- 22.9
Roll the Dice- 18.9
Crank ‘Em Up- 12.8
Sit ‘Em Down- 22.3
Roll the Dice- 17.8
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