Fantasy Racing: Michigan
Michigan International Speedway
Sunday, June 14th, 2:00 PM ET, TNT
Race Facts: Fuel mileage has a tendency to come into play at Michigan, like it did last year as Dale Earnhardt Jr. won… Believe it or not, Jimmie Johnson has not won in 14 Michigan starts… David Pearson has nine wins at Michigan, and among active drivers, Bill Elliott, who is racing this weekend, leads with seven… More than 78 percent of winners at Michigan have qualified in the top 10… Tony Stewart is the driver that’s won from the furthest qualifying position, qualifying 28th when he won in 2000.
Drivers to Watch:
Jeff Gordon: Gordon struggled last year at Michigan with finishes of 18th and 42nd, but there is no logical reason to assume that he’ll struggle this year at Michigan with the way he’s performing. Heck, with some great strategy, he and Steve Letarte pulled a fifth place finish out of their hats last week with a poorly handling car. And remarkably, in the 10 races from 1995-1999 at Michigan, Gordon’s lowest finish was 6th, even though he only won once. I’m not taking Gordon to win this weekend, but I’m certainly believing he’ll get a top 10.
Ryan Newman: This pick is based more on my gut than Newman’s recent performance at Michigan, as his overall average finish is 18.6 and in the last eight Michigan races, Newman’s highest finish is 12th. However, Newman is a two-time winner here and is having the best run of his career. He had one of the best cars last week when it had all of the spark plugs firing, so there’s no reason to expect that with an engine at full-strength that Newman will replicate the struggles of the last four years.
David Ragan: A week after being in the bad column, I’m shifting Ragan over to the good side. Ragan finished 8th and 3rd in the two Michigan races last year, and this weekend is shaping up to be a battle between the Hendrick equipped cars and the Roush cars. Ragan may not be a threat to win, but if he qualifies well, he’s more than talented and well equipped to stay near the front all day.
Drivers to Watch Out for:
Jeff Burton: Burton said earlier this week that he and his team struggle at Michigan, But struggle may be a bit of an overstatement. Burton got his highest finish at Michigan with RCR last year in the August race with an 11th place finish. However, he hasn’t been absolutely horrible at MIS either, with his two lowest finishes being 42nd and 26th. I would have opted for “mediocre,” but I still wouldn’t trust a driver who knows he’s going to struggle with a team who has underachieved on speedways this season.
Juan Pablo Montoya: Now if we want to talk about drivers who have struggled at Michigan, Montoya tops the list. Montoya’s average finish in four Michigan races is 33rd. Yes, you read that correctly. While four races isn’t a great sample size, Montoya has never finished on the lead lap at Michigan and his highest finish is 25th. Save your JPM start for next week, because this week he isn’t going to be getting it done.
Kevin Harvick: Harvick does have two top 10s at Michigan in his last four races, but with the way that team is running, stay away at all costs. The crew chief switch to Gil Martin hasn’t done a thing for Harvick’s performance, and he went backwards last week at Pocono as soon as the green flag dropped. This team is due for a rebound because they’re not nearly as bad as they’ve been performing, but that rebound is infinitely more likely to happen next week than this week.
Stone Cold Lock of the Week:
Greg Biffle: I’ll take Harvick’s arch-nemesis (are they still rivals?) this week to win at Michigan as long as a mistake on pit road isn’t their undoing. Biffle hasn’t had the best recent history at Michigan, with three finishes of 19th or worse in his last four races, but despite all that, he still has an overall average finish of 13.2. I’ll take the gamble that the Biff and co. can run a mistake free race and get their first win of 2009.
Drivers to Watch: Stewart – 1st, Kenseth – 16th, Ambrose 8th
Drivers to Watch Out: Sadler – 25th, Kyle Busch – 22nd, Ragan – 26th
Stone Cold Lock: Kahne – 15th
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