News & Media

Fantasy Preview: Look for Edwards to reverse fortune at Michigan

June 15, 2011, Dan Beaver, Special to NASCAR.COM,

Stewart deserves benefit of the doubt; Hamlin should be watched from a distance

Last week may have been a turning point for three drivers, but only one of them welcomed the checkered flag in the 5-Hour Energy 500. Before the race, Carl Edwards told reporters that the team would change their tactic in the coming weeks and start swinging for the fences in an attempt to earn more victories during the regular season in a quest for the bonus points that are attached for the championship. His lead of 40 points over second-place Jimmie Johnson was enough that he could afford a bad race or two and still be in good shape to protect his lead, but it is doubtful they intended to break a valve and finish 37th. That squandered nearly his entire cushion over second and snapped a seven-race streak in which the No. 99 Ford had finished on the lead lap. Lesser things have stalled momentum.

On the other end of the spectrum, Jeff Gordon probably solidified his spot in the 2011 Chase for the Championship with a second win of the season. He got on the board quickly this year with a victory at Phoenix International Raceway in week two, but has largely struggled for the remainder of the season -- especially on unrestricted, intermediate speedways -- but with a second victory on the flat track of Pocono Raceway last week, he has a little breathing room in regard to the wild card slot in case he does not climb into the top 10 in points. Momentum has been started with less.

As predicted, Denny Hamlin dominated much of the 5-Hour Energy 500, but a freak occurrence with a valve on his tire caused him to lose one of his best opportunities to reverse his fortune and put him in the same category as Gordon. At the start of the season, it was widely believed the No. 11 team would be Johnson's biggest competition for the 2011 Championship, but the team keeps missing one opportunity after another. Texas Motor Speedway and Martinsville Speedway should have been great occasions for them to climb up the points, but those races became part of a five-race streak of results outside the top 10. While the team is only nine points out of 10th and 17 points behind eighth, it's beginning to look like they are going to watch their momentum stall as well. Unlike Edwards, however, they don't have any cushion on which to fall.

The Favorites

If Edwards was going to experiment and risk a poor showing, last week was a good time to do so because this team should immediately reverse their fortune at Michigan International Speedway. The driver of the No. 99 Ford has nearly always been perfect on this track with top-10s in all but two attempts and another 12th in one of the pair of races when he failed to finish that well. His Michigan victories have come in the 2007 June running of the Citizens Bank 400 and the August 2008 3M Performance 400, and that makes him a threat each time the series visits. Better yet, in 13 previous starts, Edwards has never failed to finish on the lead lap at Michigan, which means that even if he struggles, he won't miss the top five by much.

Tony Stewart failed to live up to expectations last week, but it is hard to know what might have happened if the No. 14 had not experienced transmission problems. Fantasy owners should give them the benefit of the doubt, because the past two seasons have been kind to Stewart on 2-mile tracks. At Michigan and Auto Club combined, he entered this spring's Auto Club 400 with seven top-10s in his past eight races on this track type. Last year, he finished fifth and sixth at Michigan and as with Pocono, he tends to excel on this track because both of their events are run during the heat of the summer.

Now that his probation is over, Kevin Harvick might become distracted by his desire to make Kyle Busch's life miserable on the track, but a similar goal of toying with the No. 18 last week didn't keep the Richard Childress Racing No. 29 out of the top five. Harvick thrives on controversy -- so much so in fact, that his past four races during which he's been under NASCAR's watchful eye have ended in one victory, three top-10s, and a worst finish of 11th. Better yet, Harvick has won two of the past three races on 2-mile tracks including last August at Michigan and this spring at Auto Club.


Our experts pick the studs and duds for this week.

Dark Horses

By all rights, Hamlin should be a favorite this weekend since he enters Michigan with a four-race streak of top-10s there. Last year, he dominated this track with a victory in June and a second-place finish in August, but if the 5-Hour Energy 500 taught fantasy owners anything, it was that fate is fickle. He could have the best car on the track for 300 miles and still not earn the number of points needed for a driver of his stature. With his championship hopes hanging in the balance, you will feel a lot more comfortable watching him from a distance this week.

Hamlin's teammate Joey Logano hasn't been nearly as strong at Michigan, but he delivers a lot more bang for the buck and he too enters the weekend with a streak of top-10s. His last three attempts on this track have all been productive from the seventh he earned in the 2009 Carfax 400 to the pair of 10ths he logged last year. To keep his championship dreams alive, he has to do two things. First, he needs to make up 25 points on the driver that currently occupies the 20th position in the standings and secondly, he's going to have to win a race or two in the next 12 weeks to qualify for a wild card. That can be done, but this team is going to have to run error-free races in order to accomplish it.


Perhaps Dale Earnhardt Jr. should also be more highly valued this week since he has as much momentum as anyone else in recent events, but during his current streak of three consecutive top-10s, only last week's sixth at Pocono showed any real strength for the team. Michigan is the site of his last victory and his only win with this current team, but fantasy owners are reminded weekly that his winless streak currently stands at more than 100 races. Eventually, he will break back into Victory Lane, but in order to make him a favorite or even a dark horse, he is going to need to drive his way into the top three.

Fantasy Power Ranking

2-mile tracks (past three years)
Pos.DriverPA* Pos.DriverPA* Pos.DriverPA*
2.Brian Vickers9.30 18.David Ragan19.32 33.Andy Lally34.18
3.Tony Stewart9.76 19.David Reutimann19.83 34.David Gilliland34.26
4.Carl Edwards9.83 20.Joey Logano20.94 35.Bobby Labonte34.67
5.Matt Kenseth10.00 21.Martin Truex Jr.21.10 36.Mike Bliss35.46
6.Jeff Gordon10.03 22.Ryan Newman23.15 37.Robby Gordon36.38
7.Greg Biffle10.30 23.Jamie McMurray23.81 38.Michael McDowell36.41
8.Kyle Busch11.35 24.A.J. Allmendinger25.12 39.Landon Cassill36.45
9.Mark Martin11.75 25.Paul Menard27.98 40.Dave Blaney36.51
10.Denny Hamlin12.01 26.Brad Keselowski29.12 41.Joe Nemechek37.57
11.Kevin Harvick12.98 27.Regan Smith29.40 42.Mike Skinner37.96
12.Kasey Kahne14.78 28.Casey Mears29.79 43.Tony Raines37.97
13.Juan Montoya15.76 29.Trevor Bayne30.00 44.David Stremme38.13
14.Clint Bowyer15.95 30.Travis Kvapil30.69 45.J.J. Yeley38.35
15.Kurt Busch17.11 31.Marcos Ambrose31.46 46.Brian Keselowski39.00
16.Dale Earnhardt Jr.18.03 

Clint Bowyer is a constant threat to finish with the leaders, but this is a good week to let him rest and spread the wealth around to some other teams. The Kansas native has a pair of top-10s on this track in 2009, but those are his only strong runs in 10 previous starts at Michigan and he has no top-fives at all. In fact, he hasn't really come close with a career-best of eighth and when one weighs that against the fact that this is his second-worst track in terms of average finishes, he's simply not worth the risk.