Fantasy NASCAR preview: Carfax 400

by Eric McClung on August 11, 2010 @ 16:00:00 PDT

 


Michigan International Speedway is a long, wide track which allows the action to spread out. This produces long green-flag runs and a lot of tough decisions to make in the late stages of the race. The first race of the season at MIS was held in June and saw just 14 laps run under caution.

Auto Club Speedway, which held the second race of the season, is the only other 2.0-mile D-shaped oval on the schedule but has four more degrees of corner banking. The 1.5-mile Chicagoland Speedway just held its event four races ago. That track is a half-mile shorter than Michigan or Fontana but features the most similar banking to MIS on the circuit.

Location: Brooklyn, Mich.
Shape: D-shaped oval
Length: 2.0 miles
Laps: 200
Turns: 18 degrees
Frontstretch: 12 degrees
Backstretch: 5 degrees

Drivers to keep an eye on

Jeff Burton | No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet | Richard Childress Racing

Richard Childress Racing driver Jeff Burton
Burton on a roll

After 14 starts at Michigan without a top-10 finish, Burton snapped that streak in June by finishing eighth. That's not to say Burton exactly struggled at MIS during that time. In fact, he recorded nine top-15s and finished 11th on five occasions in that span. Back in February, Burton finished third and led 46 laps at Fontana, the only other race held on a 2.0-mile track thus far. A few weeks ago at Chicagoland, Burton finished seventh, part of the five straight top-10s he enters this weekend with. Don't look now but Burton is now third in points and could be quite a value given his good-but-not-great average finish at MIS.

Kurt Busch | No. 2 Miller Lite/Vortex Dodge | Penske Championship Racing

No car has been better on intermediate tracks this season than the Blue Deuce. The older Busch brother recorded dominant victories at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway, finished third in the June event at Michigan, fourth at Texas Motor Speedway and sixth at Fontana. Busch also won the pole at Las Vegas Motor Speedway but was collected in a wreck during the race. The team surprisingly missed the setup at Chicagoland but their resume is far too strong on these types of tracks to believe that will happen again. In the spring event at MIS, Busch captured the pole after qualifying fifth and sixth last year. Expect Busch to start up front and stay there most of the day en route to yet another strong showing on an intermediate track.

Carl Edwards | No. 99 Aflac Ford | Roush Fenway Racing

Despite finishing fourth in both MIS races last year, Edwards actually posted better statistics during his run in June. He spent a career-high 99.5 percent of his laps running in the top 15 and held an average running position of eighth. Late pit strategy caused Edwards to lose some spots in the closing laps and left him in 12th, just the second time in 12 career starts Edwards finished outside of the top 10 at MIS. Edwards enters the weekend with five straight finishes of seventh or better, including a runner-up performance at Chicagoland. The Roush organization has made a lot of progress over the last several weeks and Edwards is their best driver at this site.

Greg Biffle | No. 16 3M Ford | Roush Fenway Racing

The man who finally put Roush Fenway back in Victory Lane might have four straight top-fives if not for an engine failure at Chicagoland. It didn't help that he lost several spots last week at Watkins Glen International due to some aggressive driving by the field, either. On the season, Biffle has top-10 finishes at both of the 2.0-mile tracks and two more top-10s at Atlanta and Texas. In June, Biffle finished ninth at MIS where he has three top-10s in his last four starts, including two top-fives. The Biff is at his peak right now and heads to a site where Jack Roush leads all owners with 11 wins.

Kasey Kahne | No. 9 Budweiser Ford | Richard Petty Motorsports

Now that his plans for next season have been finally resolved, Kahne can focus solely on racing. In addition to finishing as the runner-up at MIS in June, Kahne also had top-fives at Atlanta and Texas. At Chicagoland, he finished sixth with an average running position of 10th and spent 98.1 percent of his laps running in the top 15. Over the last three races, Kahne has been a mediocre performer but returning to an intermediate track is the perfect location to turn things around at.

Temper your expectations

Matt Kenseth | No. 17 Crown Royal Ford | Roush Fenway Racing

Roush Fenway Racing driver Matt Kenseth
Stay away from Kenseth

Prior to 2008, Kenseth had a win at MIS and three other top-fives in a span of five races. Since then, he has finished 20th once and 14th on two occasions at the site. Kenseth has had a similar run of mediocrity with nine consecutive finishes outside the top-10 this season. With two Roush Fenway teammates running well, Kenseth is clearly a step behind them at the moment. Michigan is the House of Roush but Kenseth belongs in the garage for the time being.

Ryan Newman | No. 39 Tornados Chevrolet | Stewart-Haas Racing

Since winning two straight races at Michigan, Newman has failed to record a top-10 finish in 12 consecutive starts at the site. In June at MIS, Newman started eighth and was gaining spots early on but started to drop after Lap 40. With 50 to go, Newman hit a piece of debris while running 26th and went a lap down shortly afterwards. He would ultimately finish 32nd. Throw in finishes of 36th at Fontana plus 22nd at Chicagoland and there's little reason to consider Newman this weekend.

Jamie McMurray | No. 1 Philips Norelco Bodygroom Pro Chevrolet | Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing

In the June race at Michigan, McMurray started from the outside pole but was down to 17th by Lap 78 and would finish a lap down in 24th spot. It is possible things could be much better the second time around. At Chicagoland, McMurray started from the pole and finished fifth. He also won the pole at Fontana only to quickly fade back and finish in 17th. By now it's clear that McMurray is capable of a big race at any time, but he's also been very inconsistent on intermediates.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. | No. 88 National Guard - Drive the Guard/Amp Energy Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports

A seventh-place result at Michigan in June began a streak of four straight finishes of 11th or better and pushed Earnhardt into the final spot of the Chase. However, his last four finishes have been 23rd or worse to effectively end any chances Earnhardt once had of making NASCAR's postseason. Since 2006, Earnhardt has a win and five other finishes of seventh or better in nine starts at MIS while only finishing outside of the top-15 once. History aside, though, starting Earnhardt has never been riskier after he described last week's car as the worst he's ever driven.

Juan Pablo Montoya | No. 42 Target Chevrolet | Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing

Coming off a win at Watkins Glen, Montoya should enter Michigan with a newfound sense of optimism. That being said, it's too early to trust him on an oval. Montoya crashed at Texas and Charlotte but managed to finish third at Atlanta. In June, he finished 13th at MIS with an average running position of ninth. At Chicagoland, Montoya was also decent with a 16th-place finish. Those finishes are respectable but not much of a value from a top-tier driver in most formats. The best time to reinsert Montoya before the Chase starts would most likely be Richmond International Raceway where he finished a career-best sixth back in May.

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About Eric McClung

Eric McClung has been profiled by the FSWA for covering the fantasy sports spectrum and is a three-time award finalist. Over the years, he's made several appearances in print and on radio. McClung began contributing to KFFL in 2008 and currently serves as one of KFFL's featured fantasy NASCAR experts. He's also captured the fantasy football championship in the KFFL staff league twice.

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