NASCAR Race Weekend Central

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

As the Sprint Cup Series turns to the Michigan International Speedway, teams and fans alike will find themselves in the faces of America’s former automotive giants, harshly reminded of the economic tumult that has driven the country into a deep recession. Speaking of giants, look for NASCAR’s giant teams to dominate the weekend. Michigan’s long, wide racing surface places a premium on horsepower, and is a place where the teams that have an intermediate package 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-Five 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

Edwards finally showed signs of life this past weekend. After running a strong third in his Nationwide car on Saturday night, Edwards was the dominant car at Pocono before settling for a runner-up finish with his fuel tank nearly dry. It was the first time this season that Edwards has 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 momentum than MIS. Seven top-10 finishes in eight starts, including two wins, and having never finished off the lead lap on the 2-mile oval, Edwards will be at the front all day Sunday and enters the weekend as the favorite. – Bryan

Kenseth started off the season like a man on a mission, then his season looked more like it was in need of missionaries. Lately he’s been looking like he is getting things back on track, and now he is heading to a track where he is about as good as you can get. Kenseth has won twice at Michigan since his debut at the track in 1999. When he hasn’t been winning, he has been a top-finishing machine. He’s raced at the track 19 times, with nine top-five and 13 top-10 finishes. He has only finished outside the top 17 at the 2-mile oval one time. Roush cars have always run well at Michigan and, with Kenseth’s record at the track, expect to see him turn his 9.1 average finish into another very strong finish again this weekend. – Mike

Mid-size Sedans

Kurt Busch had a rough 2008 at MIS, but throw those stats out the window. The No. 2 team has found its step again on the Cup circuit’s intermediate ovals. Busch is no stranger to victory lane at MIS (he’s won twice there) and was a top-five contender at Pocono before a fluke part failure. 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 first race there. He followed that with an 18th, an eighth and a third. Liking the track and being in equipment that always seems to run well on the track will most likely lead to a quality finish for a driver who would like to have a top five to dig his way out of the 31st place in the standings where he finds himself. – 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… lots of it. Hornish has been on a tear of late in Cup, with three top-10 finishes in the last four Cup races. With the No. 12 car in the Penske camp now the third-tier vehicle, there is no doubt that Hornish is getting good cars… and now he’s proving that he knows how to drive them. Michigan is far from a treacherous track, and that’s all signs go for Hornish to run well again on Sunday. – Bryan

AJ Allmendinger seems to be at his best on the 1.5-2 mile racetracks. While he’s had some good and some bad finishes on tracks of that style this year, he hasn’t been as good as he was last year. Richard Petty Motorsports has been looking like they’re getting better 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. This weekend should be another time for AJ to run solidly in the field. – Mike

Last Word

Michigan is a wide-open racetrack where drivers can make up for some of the shortcomings of their racecar by picking different lines on the track. There is enough room in the corners for cars to run four-wide without banging off of each other. The long, banked track lends itself to high speeds and horsepower will generally rule the day. However, there is always the specter of strategy finishes in races at the track. There have been multiple races won on fuel mileage, just like last year’s race that saw Dale Earnhardt Jr. win for the only time last season. There have also been rain-shortened races that can reward teams taking a chance. The best fantasy teams will have a combination of teams that are strong on the pit box and pit road, with teams that have quality horsepower.

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

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 and the total for the season.

Totals

Bryan 414 4895
Mike 308 4739

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