Michigan is a wide open 2-mile track that offers drivers plenty of options and room to make moves, which hopefully will lead to on-track passes and its fair share of racing action. But for fantasy players that worry about their drivers being caught up in someone else’s problems, they can rest assured that it generally will not happen at Michigan. You have all of the racing room of a multi-groove track to thank for it; but on a serious note, driver history at a place like Michigan will frequently dictate future success, thanks to the multiple racing grooves offered by the wide-open surface. The cream will rise to the top at this speedway; and hopefully, your fantasy team will rise right along with it.
So, will Michigan be a repeat of recent years, or will someone who has achieved recent success surprise and steal a win? Will Dale Earnhardt Jr. finally break his losing streak, and what driver should you avoid at all costs? Only this week’s Picks ‘N’ Pans will tell… read below to find out.
Bryan’s Race Rewind
At this time one year ago, Carl Edwards hadn’t won in 52 races – it was as hard to believe then as it is now – but that all changed at Michigan. Edwards overcame a pit-road speeding penalty and outran a red-hot Martin Truex Jr. to take the checkers, winning his first race since Texas in 2005. It was just the second win for Roush Racing in 2007 as they struggled to keep up with the Hendrick juggernaut. Truex Jr. continued his blazing month of June with a runner-up finish, while Tony Stewart, Casey Mears and Earnhardt Jr. rounded out the top five. It was a strong day for Hendrick Motorsports, who saw three of their cars finish in the top 10 (Mears fourth, Kyle Busch sixth and Jeff Gordon ninth). Jimmie Johnson ran with the leaders all day, but poor pit strategy resulted in an 18th-place finish for the No. 48 once he got off sequence. The Dodge teams also struggled royally, with their best finish coming from Reed Sorenson in 23rd.
Mike’s Keys to the Race
Michigan is an extremely wide-open racetrack that offers racing grooves from the bottom to the top. Drivers during the race this weekend can make their car work depending on where they choose to run on the track. If the car is too loose or too tight, the drivers can move around and find a groove to make their car work well until the team can adjust it.
In prior years, Roush Fenway, Penske and Gillett Evernham have been very strong at Michigan, scoring 12 of the last 13 race wins. Roush and Evernham have also been running well as of late, so it might bode well to pick up some of their drivers for this weekend. Also, don’t count out the teams who are notoriously good at making in-race adjustments, especially the HMS bunch.
Crank ‘Em Up:
Edwards has been on fire on intermediate tracks this year. He has three wins, a ninth at Charlotte and a 42nd at Atlanta – a race he dominated before his engine failed. Edwards was strong this past weekend at Pocono before a race strategy move left him a ninth-place finish, and he’s also finished second at Dover and Darlington. His average finish at Michigan is 7.3, and he only has one finish outside of the top 10 in seven career starts. Don’t be surprised to see him bring home the checkers again this weekend.
Truex Jr. has had some strong runs this season, but the finishes have not reflected how well the team has been running. Pit-road mistakes and untimely tire issues have resulted in finishes further back in the pack than what the car was capable of. But with Truex’s recent strong runs at Michigan, and his effort at the similar track in Fontana early in the year resulting in a sixth-place finish, expect to see him pull off a strong run to propel them back towards the Chase this weekend.
Sit ‘Em Down:
Clint Bowyer started off this season very strong and was quietly in the top 10 in points without much fanfare. But unfortunately for Bowyer, his luck has begun to fade in recent weeks since his win at Richmond. He followed that race with a 15th-place run at Darlington, a 25th at Charlotte, and two finishes in the 30s at Dover and Pocono. That backwards slide – all done while heading into a track where his average finish is 26.3 and where he’s never finished higher than 16th – leads me to believe that the stars are not lining up for a good run for Bowyer this weekend. He may be fighting for his Chase life after the checkered falls at Michigan.
Juan Pablo Montoya was in the top 12 in points after his second-place run at Talladega, but since then has only finished higher than 23rd once. He’s also lost another crew chief and is now running with one who had not had any Cup experience before he got on the box for Montoya at Charlotte. His history at Michigan is also less than impressive with an average finish of 34.5 in his two previous starts. Until the series hits Infineon the following weekend, it’s best to keep Juan Pablo on the bench.
Roll the Dice:
Rolling the dice is just that, a gamble on a driver that has the potential for a good finish. This weekend, Mears falls into that category. Mears has finished in the top 16 over the last five races at Michigan with a top five and two top-10 finishes. While his success over the last five races this season has not been good, his history at Michigan gives some indication that he could surprise us with a strong run this weekend. With the No. 88 and No. 48 teams looking real strong, Mears could come out of his recent slump… and that possibility is worth taking the chance this weekend.
Crank ‘Em Up:
Earnhardt Jr. isn’t necessarily who fantasy gamers would think of when it comes to Michigan International Speedway, but the stats speak volumes as to his ability to navigate the wide grooves of the track. In the last four races at Michigan, only Edwards has scored more points than Earnhardt. Earnhardt has scored three top 10s in the last four events and has an average finish of 6.5 – and let’s not forget Earnhardt’s affiliation with the same HMS team that owned MIS in this race one year ago. Dale Jr. has been fantasy money all season with consistent top-10 runs, and there’s no reason to think this is the weekend that’ll stop. Plus, there isn’t a hungrier driver in the Sprint Cup garage.
Johnson has had success at MIS (though it’s not among his best tracks), and this showed in the last June race, where he led 56 laps before having pit strategy backfire on him. Fantasy gamers ought to give the No. 48 serious consideration for a roster spot this Sunday based solely on momentum alone… because the No. 48 team is knocking on the door. Johnson led laps and was at the front all day Sunday at Pocono, looking a lot more like the behemoth driver that he was in 2007. He’s also led laps in the last three Cup races and would have easily had three consecutive top 10s had he not lost an engine at Charlotte. Johnson’s team is hitting their stride just in time for the run to the Chase, and they’re going to be a fantasy goldmine this weekend and in the weeks to come.
Sit ‘Em Down:
Jamie McMurray might seem like a no-brainer to sit this weekend, given the way the No. 26 team has been running, but consider this a friendly reminder to keep him far from your roster this weekend. Don’t let his status as being under the Roush Fenway Racing banner fool you: McMurray is way too risky. He’s scored only one top 10 at Michigan during his tenure with Roush, and perhaps more relevant is his record on intermediate tracks in 2008. McMurray finished a distant 22nd at Fontana, Michigan’s flatter sister track, and has yet to score a single top 10 on tracks longer than one mile this season. RFR is primed to dominate MIS this weekend, but the No. 26 will assuredly be bringing up the end of their parade.
Ryan Newman has won two Cup and two Nationwide Series races at Michigan, but consider those wins as what they are, relics of Newman’s past success. Since winning the June 2004 Cup race at MIS, Newman has not scored a top 10 in Cup competition there. Newman’s results at MIS have been even more lackluster the last two seasons, with only one top 15 as well as finishes of 25th and 37th. Newman’s team has also struggled on intermediate tracks of late; since a fourth-place run at Texas, the No. 12 struggled royally at Charlotte and Pocono. Newman’s qualifying has been in a backslide this year, leaving no reason for fantasy gamers to give him a roster slot this weekend.
Roll the Dice:
Kurt Busch and his No. 2 team is looking much like they did in 2007, digging a hole and then getting hot to get out of it. If the way Busch has been running of late is any indicator, the No. 2 team is starting to figure out their cars and priming to make a late push for the Chase. Pat Tryson and his crew have figured out something to make their Dodges run on the longer tracks, as Busch led 64 laps at Charlotte and posted a convincing top 10 at Pocono last weekend. MIS has been kind to Busch in the past (he has two wins there, including one last August) and, much like Matt Kenseth’s team, is showing signs of life that a fantasy gamer ought to pay attention to. The blue deuce just may be a gamble worth taking this Sunday.
Mike: Well Mr. Keith, congratulations. You have officially joined the ranks of Picks ‘N’ Pans experts who saw fit to sit the eventual race winner for a weekend. Don’t feel bad… it’s happened to the best of us.
Bryan: I admit I underestimated Mr. Kasey Kahne… though I still don’t think that team has figured out everything outside of intermediates yet. For the record, my Crank ‘Em picks were on the money, minus Stewart’s speeding penalty. But hey, time for some redemption… Edwards in the house of Roush makes sense, but Truex? This is Michigan, not Dover… explain.
Mike: It’s pretty straightforward. Truex finished second in both races last season at Michigan, and finished sixth at its sister track in California at the beginning of the season. You, on the other hand, are going with Johnson and Junior, neither of whom have a very strong track record at this track.
Bryan: Johnson ran extremely strong at Pocono, and while that doesn’t translate necessarily to Michigan, it just goes to show how on the cusp the No. 48 car is. But that team is due to break out, and I think it will be this weekend that we see them join the hunt. As for Junior, he has an average finish of 6.5 at Michigan in the last four Cup races, and that was with DEI cars – now, he’s got a Hendrick ride. Junior and Johnson together are running too well for them to stay winless much longer… fantasy gamers oughta jump on their bandwagons early. I see from your Sit’ Em picks that you don’t see Bowyer shaking off his bad run at Pocono. What’s keeping you away from the No. 07?
Mike: I’m just feeling like they are in a bit of a funk. They were very far off at Charlotte. Bowyer hasn’t run well at Michigan in the past, and that teams momentum is heading in the wrong direction right now. As for you, I’ll never criticize anyone for sitting MACMurray… but Newman? He’s always been pretty strong at Michigan. Why do you think the players should shy away from him this week?
Bryan: Newman has only an average finish of 23.2 in his last four starts there. His team was lost at Charlotte, much like Bowyer, and they were off pace all weekend at Pocono. The No. 12 team is way too inconsistent to take up space on a fantasy roster – kinda like Mears. There’s gambles and there’s gambles, and that’s a huge gamble. What’s going on there?
Mike: It’s a gamble, that’s for sure; however, Mears has been more consistent with decent finishes at Michigan. Every now and then he pulls out a good run, and this weekend just might be it. Not to mention, he’s got a better average finish at Michigan than your dice pick.
Bryan: Momentum, Mike, momentum. Mears’s finishes at intermediate tracks have declined steadily since the season started, while Busch is just hitting his stride, much like he did during the summer last season when he won the August Michigan race.
Mike: It will be interesting to see how it all unfolds this weekend. I guess we’ll just have to see how it pans out.
The following are the guidelines that Bryan and Mike follow in making their picks each week: Crank ‘Em Up drivers can be in any position in the driver standings, Sit ‘Em Down drivers must be in the current top 25 of the driver standings and Roll the Dice drivers can not be in the top 12 of the current week’s driver standings.
Crank – 11.8
Sit – 23.8
Roll – 16.0
Crank – 8.3
Sit – 17.8
Roll – 15.5