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Purely Michigan

Wednesday, August 17, 2011
Carl Edwards and is dominant at Michigan International Speedway. Photo: Getty Images

I've started to cut down some of the intros to the Fantasy NASCAR Preview.  In large part because it takes a while to dig through the stats and it's usually a busy day. But, I'm hesitant to eliminate it all together.

I figure that you as a reader want some sort of basis and background on the race, not just the bare bones of the fantasy options.

This week's discussion is obvious.  It's purely about Michigan!

I've never even been to Michigan, outside of a trip through the Detroit aiport on a Northwest flight.  That's right: Northwest!  It was so long ago that the airline still existed (it's now merged into Delta) and flew out of Manchester.  I was on the way to Tampa with the family for a vacation on Sanibel Island, and, as airlines connections rarely makes sense, we were routed through...Detroit.

From my understanding, visiting the Detroit airport and saying you saw Michigan would be like visiting a bath house in and saying you saw Europe.

This weekend's Michigan race is simply called the Pure Michigan 400.

Now, I'm still not sure if they simply couldn't find a sponsor or it's a tourism promotion being run by the state government or an associated tourism branch.

If it's the sponsorship, I'd recommend Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips (again).  Not only did they already sponsor the first Michigan race, they also sponsored the race this past weekend at Watkins Glen.  Clearly, they're a heluva good supporter of NASCAR (wish I could somehow play off like the pun was unintentional) and could probably toss a little more money Michigan's way for just one more race.  After all, they have several flavors of sour cream dips, why not start hosting a race for each!?

If it's the tourism promotion, this is a great campaign.  There's something majestic about Michigan.  The vision of a tough winter and the thick-skinned mentality that goes with it, yet a gorgeous summer of playing on the lake and the soft-hearted mentality that goes with that.  That's pure Michigan and the simplistic name of the race induces that thought when you hear it.

...Ok, dream time is over!  (Can you tell that I haven't been out on the New Hampshire lakes as much as I would have liked this summer!?)

Time for what you tuned in for: the race preview.

*In case you're new to this segment, check out my first fantasy post on how the system works.

Strategy: I already covered this track earlier this year and the most noticeable characteristic is that, true to its Michigan roots, the Fords (Roush Fenway Racing) tend to do very well here on a regular basis. The track itself is a large two-mile loop and flat out speed is paramount.  On a track of this size and dimension, there's time to make up for poor track position, what you can't hide is a slow car.

A-List

Start

#17 Matt Kenseth - Kenseth really flies under the radar for a guy that sits just 28 points back of the points lead in fifth place.  It's likely most owners have allocations to spare on Kenseth.  Based on his 9.5 average finish and 11 top-fives in 24 starts at Michigan, now's a good time to use one.

#24 Jeff Gordon - Gordon puts up similar numbers to Kenseth with 18 top-fives in 37 starts and an average finish of 11.6.  He also has five poles here over the course of his career, so he could help garner some bonus points if he rolls out quickly.

#99 Carl Edwards - Edwards' average finish of 6.2 is unreal and 110.8 driver rating is the best in the field.  The only question for owners are the amount of remaining starts left for the points leader (tied with Kyle Busch).  However, that's not usually worth the concern in the A-List, there are great options every week.

Park

#18 Kyle Busch - The other points leader has had little success at Michigan with just four top-10s in 13 starts.  He can win anywhere, but he's not a good option.

B-List

Start

#4 Kasey Kahne - For a guy I didn't think would be worth starting every week, Kahne's been a regular go to for me.  He goes feast or famine on this track.  His six top-fives match his six top-10s in 15 career starts, but in the B-List, the risk can be worth the reward.

#20 Joey Logano - Logano continued his second-half surge with a fifth place at the Glen.  He has three top-10s in five starts at Michigan, and, with the way he's been racing lately, he should be in the mix.

#83 Brian Vickers - There's something about Vickers when he comes to Michigan!  He's struggled mightily this season, but backed up my claim earlier in the year that he should get the start here.  His finish of 10th was the fifth consecutive time he's finished in the top-10 on this track and he's qualified on the pole three straight times before a fourth in June (bonus points, baby!).

#88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. - Junior's strange season continues.  He's not racing well and hasn't looked close to snapping his winless streak, but he's now back in ninth in the standings (he'd dropped down to 10th) and holds a temporarily safe 36-point lead over 11th-place Clint Bowyer.  The only thing we know for certain is that the last time he won a race was Michigan in 2008, and he has the best driver rating of anyone in the B-List, so he races well here in general.

Park

#2 Brad Keselowski - In four career starts at Michigan, Keselowski's best finish is 24th.  That's right; I said, "Best!"  He's been racing really well, but it's not worth the risk.

#39 Ryan Newman - The issue with Newman is that he's far and away the best B-List driver, so it's easy to use up his starts.  Despite two wins, he has just five top-10s in 20 starts at Michigan.  His 73.4 driver rating is abysmal and it's best to save him for another week.

C-List

Start

#6 David Ragan - Ragan drives a Roush Fenway Ford so that instantly raises his stock.  He started 20th and finished 20th earlier this year and has been free-falling well out of contention for a Chase wild card.  However, he's been the best C-List driver at this track and presents good upside based on his team's success.

#27 Paul Menard - Menard only has one career top-10 in 10 starts at Michigan, but that came this past June.  He's been racing relatively well (if you throw out last week's road course wreck) and will be pushing hard, as his win a few weeks back gives him a chance at the wild card if he can gain some ground.

Park

#78 Regan Smith - Earlier this year he started fifth and finished (running) in 33rd.  He's never finished higher than 21st in five starts at Michigan.

My Preliminary Roster

A - KENSETH (9), Edwards (4)

B - EARNHARDT JR. (2), VICKERS (8), Kahne (3), Logano (5)

C - MENARD (5), Ragan (3)

*Number in parenthesis are allocations remaining.

-JS