Stock Car Challenge preview: Michigan
It's been a week filled with controversy on the Nextel Cup circuit, beginning with a rain-shortened Jeff Gordon victory at Pocono, plus the bombshell announcement that Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be moving to Hendrick Motorsports. On Sunday, however, the spotlight could shift back to other racers and teams.
Recent history has shown us that Roush Fenway Racing should be the featured team at Michigan International Speedway, while those who drive Chevrolets could see their 2007 dominance come to an end. As an owner, Jack Roush has won nine times at Michigan, and Roush Fenway has won three of the past five MIS races.
Chevrolet has won 12 straight races this year, and 13 of 14 overall. Yet a Chevy has not ended up in Victory Lane in the past 11 races at Michigan, since Gordon last turned the trick in 2001. Hendrick has won 10 of the 14 races so far this year, and Gordon continues to be a fine anchor for any fantasy squad, even in the Stock Car Challenge, where he tops the price list at 24.5. Yet the odds of him winning two consecutive races do seem to be a bit longer than usual at MIS.
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Matt Kenseth (23.2): Kenseth won the second race at MIS in 2006, and has moved up to second in the Nextel Cup standings behind Gordon. So far this season, he has completed every lap and has the only non-Chevy win of any driver (California). He has 10 top-10 finishes and six top-5s in 2007. Kenseth has won twice at Michigan and has 10 top-10 finishes in 15 career races at the site. In the past two seasons, he has three top-5 finishes at MIS with an average running position of 10th and an average finish of seventh. He has not finished lower than ninth in seven of the past eight Michigan races and finished in the top four in both 2005 races at the site. In the second race of 2006 at MIS, he led for 87 laps after starting third.
Tony Stewart (22.5): He still has yet to earn his first win of the season, but his record at Michigan suggests that he should deliver a very strong finish. Stewart has finished in the top 10 in four of the past five races at MIS, and he has seven top-5 finishes and 10 top-10s in his career at the site. Stewart finished third in the second Michigan race of 2006, and he placed in the top five in both races at the site in 2005. He does have one win to his credit at Michigan. Stewart has finished in the top 10 in four of his past five races in 2007 and placed fifth at Pocono last week.
Carl Edwards (21.2): He is another one of the Roush guys who should make a strong push for a top spot. Edwards has four top-10 finishes in five Nextel Cup races at MIS. In the past four races there, he has the second-best average running position among current drivers (7.9) and has run 55 of the fastest laps, tied for second-best. He also has a series-best 210 "quality passes" during that span, which NASCAR defines as passes of cars in the top 15 while under green flag conditions. He has an average finish of 8.6 at Michigan and he finished third in the first race at the site in 2006.
a href="http://sports.espn.go.com/rpm/driver?seriesId=2&driverId=150">Dale Earnhardt Jr. (21.2): Junior should stay focused on the track this week instead of the news on his impending move, and could deliver one of the best finishes for a Chevrolet at MIS. Last season, he notched a pair of top-10 finishes at MIS, including a third-place showing in the first race. His 176 quality passes are third-best among current drivers in the past two seasons. He has an average running position of 11th during that span, fourth-best among the current drivers. He led for 40 laps in the second MIS race of 2006 and ultimately placed sixth. He has also taken the pole at the site twice. Junior has now finished in the top 15 in five of his past six races in 2007.
Ryan Newman (19.5): He has been one of the best drivers on the circuit during the past month, with consecutive second-place finishes and five top-10 finishes in the past six races. He has vaulted 13 spots in the standings in that span and is now on the verge of cracking the Chase field. Newman said he considers MIS his "home track" because his father used to take him to watch races there before NASCAR came to Indianapolis. He should qualify well again; Newman has started in the top five in three of the past four MIS races. Newman has won twice at Michigan, including the second race of 2005.
Greg Biffle (19.1): It's been a very disappointing season for Biffle so far, but if Roush is going to come through with a strong showing this week, he should be part of it. He has two wins at Michigan and has finished in the top 10 in the past five races at the site. Over the past two seasons, he has the best average running position (6.5), the most fastest laps run (65) and the highest amount of laps in the top 15 (680). Biffle finished fourth and seventh at MIS in 2006.
Reed Sorenson (16.1): He took to MIS immediately last season, with fifth- and eighth-place finishes. In two starts at the site, he has an average running position of 12th, with 246 laps in the top 15 and 77 quality passes. Sorenson also finished seventh in the second Busch Race at MIS in 2006.
Gordon has two wins and 15 top-5 finishes at MIS. Kurt Busch (19.9) has one win and five top-10 finishes at Michigan. Kasey Kahne (18.5) won from the pole in the first MIS race last year and has four top-5 finishes in six starts at the site. Scott Riggs (16.2) finished 14th in the second MIS race last year and came in second in the second race at the site in 2005. David Stremme (15.8) finished 19th in his Nextel Cup Michigan debut last year. Brain Vickers (17.4) has two top-10 finishes at Michigan.
Scott Engel covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can contact Scott here.
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