NASCAR Fantasy Blog


NASCAR Fantasy Preview: Michigan

August 13, 2013, Dan Beaver, NASCAR.com

Biffle, coming off a June Michigan win, looking like another solid fantasy pick

Michigan International Speedway is one of NASCAR’s perfect tracks.

Measuring two-miles in length, the radius and width of the corners allow for drivers to run two- and three-wide for most of the afternoon, which contributes to a variety of strategies. Teams that set up their cars to run best at the end of long stretches of green flag laps can pick a groove that is not crowded and make their way to the front. Drivers who prefer to attack every lap can dive into the corners hard and charge immediately to the front. If all goes to plan, the field eventually accordions back together and everyone gets to see the favorite driver in contention sometime during the afternoon.

Michigan was repaved prior to the spring 2012 race and that took away some of the need to seek out an optimum groove. The Pure Michigan 400 (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, ESPN) will mark the fourth race since the asphalt was updated, and the change of seasons can be harsh in the upper Midwest, so drivers are beginning to see a little wear and tear. Teams with the best notebooks will challenge for the victory. Michigan has been a fairly predictable race in recent seasons. Coming on the heels of the Wild Card race in Watkins Glen, that is welcome news.

Fantasy Power Ranking: Two-mile tracks, last Three Years

Rank

Driver

Power Avg.

1.

Matt Kenseth

7.54

2.

Greg Biffle

8.71

3.

Kyle Busch

9.01

4.

Jimmie Johnson

10.51

5.

Clint Bowyer

11.65

6.

Kevin Harvick

11.74

7.

Kasey Kahne

11.97

8.

Carl Edwards

13.12

9.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

13.51

10.

Martin Truex Jr.

13.97

11.

Ryan Newman

14.74

12.

Mark Martin

15.33

13.

Denny Hamlin

15.62

14.

Jeff Gordon

17.09

15.

Paul Menard

17.69

16.

Brad Keselowski

19.13

17.

Joey Logano

19.31

18.

Kurt Busch

21.73

19.

Juan Pablo Montoya

21.86

20.

Jeff Burton

21.95

21.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

21.95

22.

Jamie McMurray

22.18

23.

Austin Dillon

22.20

24.

Aric Almirola

22.44

25.

Marcos Ambrose

23.10

26.

David Ragan

25.51

27.

David Reutimann

26.39

28.

Danica Patrick

27.00

29.

Trevor Bayne

28.34

30.

Scott Speed

29.24

31.

Casey Mears

30.99

32.

Landon Cassill

31.38

33.

Travis Kvapil

31.94

34.

Bobby Labonte

33.35

35.

David Gilliland

33.38

36.

JJ Yeley

34.77

37.

Dave Blaney

35.87

38.

Josh Wise

38.84

39.

Mike Bliss

39.04

40.

David Stremme

39.19

41.

Tony Raines

39.72

42.

Joe Nemechek

40.70

43.

Timmy Hill

42.20

The Favorites

Ford has struggled for much of the year, but there have been some shining moments. Greg Biffle provided one of these in June when he overcame a 19th-place qualification effort to win the Quicken Loans 400. Starting deep in the field, it took nearly half of the race before he was established in the top five, but once he got there he was as strong as any of the competitors.

If Kasey Kahne had not cut a tire and Dale Earnhardt Jr. had not blown an engine, Biffle may have had some serious challenges for the victory, but he would have had a great finish regardless of what happened to the remainder of the field. That was the No. 16’s second consecutive Michigan victory and his third straight top-five. During the past three years, Biffle has led the field in every statistical category that awards points in the NASCAR Fantasy Live game with the most laps led, the greatest number of fastest laps recorded, and the most quality passes. In fact, he is about 30 percent greater than the closest competitor Earnhardt.

Kyle Busch is subject to streaks. That is true on every type of track on which NASCAR races and he recently strung together four consecutive top-three finishes on two-mile courses. From the 2011 Auto Club 400 race through the 2012 edition of that same event, he appeared to be unstoppable until Michigan repaved its surface. He had engine trouble that afternoon and finished 32nd. He was 13th in last year’s Pure Michigan 400, but he managed to get back on a winning course in California this spring at Auto Club Speedway and took the trophy home again. Busch finished fourth at Michigan this June and it appears he is on his way to stringing an impressive list of top-fives once more.

It is nearly impossible to go to a track and not mention Jimmie Johnson as a favorite. Even when he suffers hardship like he did in this year’s Quicken Loans 400, he earns enough points to justify the expenditure of this salary cap. In that race, he was chasing down Biffle when he cut a tire and slammed the wall hard with less than 10 laps remaining, but he still scored the sixth-most points in the NASCAR Fantasy Live game with 61 quality passes and 39 fastest laps. His salary cap remains the most expensive in the field, but there is no question that he is worth every penny.

Dark Horses

The minimally-banked tracks of Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Pocono Raceway are not overly predictive of how a driver will run at Michigan, but among the unrestricted, intermediate speedways, this track is relatively flat. Earnhardt has some momentum on his side with strong runs on those courses that produced the fourth-most points each time. Unlike his teammate Johnson, his trouble in the Quicken Loans 400 came too early to help him remain a top-10 value the last time the series visited Michigan, but he was a top performer there and has been for quite some time. According to NASCAR Statistical Services, he is ranked fourth in terms of both fastest laps run and quality passes in the past eight years.

Carl Edwards is not nearly as overpowering as he once was on the two-mile tracks, but his numbers remain impressive. During the past eight seasons, he has recorded 811 quality passes compared to Biffle’s 802 and former teammate Matt Kenseth’s 751. Earnhardt has 720 quality passes in that same span of races, but the next closest competitor is well down in the 600s and that speaks to a level of dominance for the Roush-Fenway Racing organization. Edwards has lost some momentum, but not much. During the past three years, he has continued to lead laps and run with the leaders -- enough so, that he is easily expected to scored top-five points this week. 

Underdogs

Brad Keselowski‘s last five oval track attempts have been erratic at the very least. Between the two road courses, he struggled to find momentum. He suffered crash damage at Kentucky Speedway and dropped more than 100 laps off the pace before finishing 33rd. His next outing went the distance, but he was shuffled out of the draft at Daytona International Speedway and finished 21st. The Camping World RV Sales 301 featured a fourth-place finish and he was sixth at Pocono, but the seesaw continued and in between the two events he was outside the top 20 once more with a 21st at Indy. He has been just as erratic on two-mile tracks during his career. In this, his fourth full season of competition, he has never scored more than one top-10 per year on this track type and after finishing 23rd at Auto Club and 12th in the spring Michigan race, he will not improve on that record in 2013.

Marcos Ambrose ran strong last week until he suffered damage in two late-race restarts. The residual effect of his road course strength means that he is likely to be on a lot of rosters when the weekend begins. Most fantasy players know that a driver’s record on the road courses does not recommend him on an oval, but there is some reason to be hopeful. That is because the No. 9 swept the top 10 on this track last year. He even won the pole on the newly repaved track in last year’s spring event and it appeared he had found the handle for Michigan. Ambrose has an interesting record there, however, and that it is one that suggests he is going to finish in the mid-20s this week. During his career, he has always backed up his June Michigan result with one that is very similar in the fall. As a rookie, he finished in the low to mid-30s twice, he was 15th in both races as a sophomore, and in the mid-20s in both events of his third full season in 2011. He finished 23rd in this year’s Quicken Loans 400 and will probably keep that streak intact.

* The Power Average is the average finish during the last three years, plus the number of laps spent in the lead, in the top five, and in the top 10 expressed as if they were finishing results. For example a driver who has led the most laps receives a hypothetical first-place finish, the driver who leads the second most laps receives a hypothetical second-place finish, and so on. This rewards drivers who competed at the front of the pack for the majority of the race, even if an unfortunate event takes them out of contention at the very end of the race. A driver's recent record in the support series is also factored in, as is his average running position as provided by NASCAR Statistical Services. Failures to qualify are credited to the driver as if they were a finishing position (i.e. the first non-qualifier is assigned a 44th-place finish).

The road courses are Watkins Glen and Sonoma.

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