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Fantasy NASCAR race preview: Pure Michigan 400
By Eric McClung
Michigan International Speedway is a long, wide track which allows the action to spread out. This produces long green flag runs and some tough decisions to make in the late stages of the race. If there are a limited number of pit stops, the track position gained in qualifying may play an important role in the outcome.
Practice session: Friday, August 17 at 12:30 pm ET, Saturday, August 18 at 8:30 am ET, 11:00 am ET
Qualifying: Friday, August 17 at 4:10 pm ET
Drivers to keep an eye on
No driver gets around Michigan with more ease than The Biff. Over the last four MIS races, he's paced the field for the most laps led on three occasions and led the second most back in June prior to finishing fourth. During that span he's started the day no worse than seventh on the grid. Over the last eight races of the season, Biffle has finished inside the top 10 five times.
Even though Kenseth is not known for being a strong qualifier, he owns an average starting position of 4.5 the last four starts at MIS. In that time he's left the site with three top-five finishes and another top-10. This season no driver has spent more time running inside the top 15 than Kenseth at 87.4 percent. In June he finished third with 17 laps led at MIS.
In addition to snapping a long winless streak, Earnhardt led 95 of the 200 laps during the June race at MIS. Even though he's finished outside of the top 25 in two straight weeks, Earnhardt actually ran very well in each race. The late missteps have dropped Earnhardt to fourth in the points, but he continues to perform consistently and should have a shot for the Michigan sweep.
After finishing third last year at MIS, Keselowski qualified 25th back in June but raced his way into the top five by lap 64. He would finish 13th, however, but also started an active streak of eight finishes inside the top 15, including four top-fives. In fact, no driver has scored more points than Keselowski over the last six races.
Since 2009, Bowyer has collected six finishes of 13th or better at MIS in seven starts. He recorded a career best average running position of seventh in June, spending all but five laps inside the top 15. In the last 14 races of the season, Bowyer has only finished worse than 16th once. He may not challenge for the win this week, but Bowyer is the among the safest middle-tier options.
A runner-up performance in June gives Stewart five straight top-10s at MIS. He's been remarkably consistent in his 20 career starts at the site with 17 finishes of 12th or better, which dates back to 2002. Despite three wins this season, Smoke is eighth in points due to volatile performances from week to week. Michigan, however, looks like a safe zone for entrusting Stewart.
The last two races at Michigan have ended in disaster for Hamlin, ending a streak of five consecutive top-10s. That run included a pair of wins at MIS with two other podium finishes. Hamlin returns to MIS with two straight DNFs, so he needs a good run to ensure he makes the Chase on points rather than the wild card. There's risk here, for sure, but Hamlin's recent struggles could provide a value on a track he's been able to excel on.
A sixth-place finish at MIS in June sparked a run of seven straight top-12 finishes for Gordon, inching him closer to making the Chase. He also finished sixth at MIS last year after leading 50 laps. Last week at Watkins Glen International, Gordon took a bad race car and snuck into the top 10 but spun out on the final lap closing in on the checkered flag, knocking him back to 15th in points.
Temper your expectations
Despite finishing 10th at MIS in June, Harvick only managed an average running position of 17th after quickly losing the outside pole. Harvick continues to hang in the Chase window during an otherwise very mediocre season. He's finished in the top 25 in all 22 races of 2012 but has recorded just nine top-10 finishes.
After starting way, way back in 42nd, Edwards left MIS with an 11th-place finish earlier this season. In the seven starts since, Edwards has registered two top-10s with four finishes of 18th or worse. Edwards is a two-time winner at MIS and owns an average finish of 8.4 in 16 career starts but is carrying no momentum right now.
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