To be perfectly honest this week, who to pick or not pick on my NASCAR fantasy team hasn’t been at the forefront of my mind. In fact, it’s been pretty far back there, following the aftermath of the accident between Tony Stewart and Kevin Ward, Jr. Saturday. It’s expected that the investigation will take another week or two, and while it is difficult to speculate as to the outcome for many reasons, I will just go on my gut feeling here: I think when all the evidence is made public there should be a lot of these quick accusers ready to apologize to Stewart.
And so it is with some apologies, that we must go on here. The Sprint Cup race for Sunday at Michigan is still on the schedule, and as has been the case in the history of the aftermath of tragedies, it’s important at some point to keep moving forward.
So with that somber note in mind, here’s a look at this week’s favorites for Michigan.
LOOKING FOR SOME ACES
It took Jimmie Johnson a long time to mark Michigan off the list of tracks he has not won at before finally taking the June race. Now that he’s got it figured out, and you know he and his team are not going to remain in a slump forever, Johnson is definitely one of the favorites this week. In the June race, Johnson led 39 laps on the way to the victory. Overall, in the last five races at Michigan, he has led 83 laps and has had one other top five finish.
Another Hendrick Motorsports driver that has to be considered at Michigan is Dale Earnhardt Jr. He finished seventh there in the June race and overall, has three top 10 finishes in the last five races there, including a win. He was leading last year as well before his engine gave up the ghost with 70 laps to go, and blew a tire in August while running seventh. Given that Junior has won three races this year and in his past success at Michigan, it would be no surprise to see him end up in Victory Lane again, as he has led an active driver high 175 laps in those races.
A top driver who has not won at Michigan in the last five trips there, but has knocked on the door of victory is Kevin Harvick. In those last five races, he has four top 10 finishes, including a high finish of second. His worst finish has been 16th giving him an active driver best average finish of 6.4 in those races. Harvick has also led 63 laps in those races. Harvick won here in 2010, and won the pole for the June race. If the No. 4 team can keep it together in the pits, he will be a contender on Sunday.
A driver who is still surprisingly winless this season, though he still is in good shape to make the Chase based on the points standings, is Matt Kenseth. He has traditionally been good at Michigan with two career victories and the third-best average finish among active drivers for his career at 9.77. Kenseth hasn’t been quite as good in the last five races at MIS, with two top 10 finishes, including a best finish of third. But you have to think he’s got a win coming his sometime somewhere and Michigan is as good as any place that he could get one. The only potential hiccup might be Toyota’s lack of horsepower of late, but MIS can often turn into a fuel gamble; MPGs might trump HP this time around.
One thing that would be a bit ironic though concerning Kenseth is if he should go on and win the title without a win. You might remember one of the reasons the Chase format was started back in 2004 was because Kenseth won the crown with just one win in 2003. Now with all the emphasis on wins, wouldn’t it be a bit crazy to see Kenseth take the title without a win? I’m doubtful that it will happen, but you can’t completely rule it out either.
MIDDLE OF THE ROADSTERS
One driver who definitely needs a win to ensure his Chase spot and has to consider this probably his best chance to win is Greg Biffle. He has won two of the last five races at Michigan, and that includes two other top 10 finishes while leading 140 laps. He has the second best average finish among active drivers in those five races at 7.0. And you know Biffle and his team would like to win after losing long-time sponsor 3M and proving to the yet named new sponsor that the team is still quite capable.
A driver who would love to win for the first time in Sprint Cup at his home track is Brad Keselowski. And he certainly does have a chance as he did finish third in the June race at Michigan this year. Keselowski is another door knocker when it comes to recent races at Michigan as he has two top five finishes in the last five races and also has an average finish of 8.4 in those races. Keselowski has also led 41 laps in those five races.
And if you’re thinking about picking Keselowski, you also have to think about picking his teammate, Joey Logano. The driver of the No. 22 has proven he can win now and is the defending champion of the event, winning last year as Mark Martin ran out of fuel with two laps to go. He also has three other top 10 finishes in those races, including a ninth in the June race at Michigan. Logano has also led 101 laps in his last five trips to Michigan, third most behind Earnhardt Jr. and Biffle.
Note that while Tony Stewart is currently on the entry list for Michigan, it was still unknown as of late Wednesday afternoon if he would drive at Michigan or not. Stewart is now left needing a win to make the Chase, however all of that pales in comparison to what his having to contend with outside of the racecar. His status will be monitored closely in these next couple of days, but the expectation is that he will not be in the car this weekend – and understandably so. Keep him off your starting lineup.
Let’s be clear on one thing here though: If you have room in your budget, or have plenty of picks left if you are in a league with pick limits, Larson is the best choice. He finished eighth in the June race and as expected, seems to be getting better at tracks, or similar types of tracks, he is visiting the second time.
Dillon struggled to a 30th place finish in the June race at Michigan, so you would think he will be in for a marked improvement as well, though he did finish 14th here last August, subbing for Tony Stewart following his broken leg suffered in a sprint car accident.
As for Bayne, his career best finish at Michigan is 15th and he was also 19th at the June race in Michigan. With Bayne set for a full-time Sprint Cup ride next year in the No. 6 for Roush Fenway Racing, it will interesting to see how he reacts to that, as well. Allgaier was one of the surprises in the June race at Michigan with a 16th place finish. He also was competitive in the August race at Pocono before a late pit stop cost him a key positions. So he and his team just might be getting these big tracks figured out a bit.
Then, too, we have to mention Patrick. She has been 13th, 17th and 23rd in her three Michigan races. That’s enough of a track record to think she can finish in the teens once again, which is just fine for a rarely used or low-budget pick for your fantasy team.
The top of the season-long standings in the Frontstretch Fantasy League remained the same. The leader is LeftTurnOnly with 6,031 points, followed by NoBarNASCAR at 5,989, Mojothemonkey at 5,904, ShadowsPT at 5,706 and Ace Racin’ at 5,723. In a bit of an oddity, probably because of the road course picks, there was very little movement in the standings throughout. The biggest move was SiLo Sounds Racing jumping up two spots into eighth place.
The top point scorer for the week was the C.Elliott 2014 Champ team with 357 points. The selections were race winner AJ Allmendinger, second place Marcos Ambrose, third place Kurt Busch and 17th place Justin Allgaier.