- Scott Engel, ESPN Fantasy Games
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While Tony Stewart has dominated recently, and Jeff Gordon is still a favorite to win in any race, the focus will shift this week at Michigan International Speedway, where Roush Fenway Racing has fared very well recently. Carl Edwards won the June race at MIS, and Matt Kenseth won the second race at the site last season. It should also be noted that Chevrolet has a 12-race winless streak at the site.
With four races remaining in the "Race for the Chase," only Gordon has clinched a Chase berth, but Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and Stewart can join him this week. Ryan Newman is 96 points behind 12th-place Kurt Busch, and he and Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is 100 points behind Busch, have legitimate shots to move back into the Chase field this week.
MIS is fast and wide, allowing for multiple-groove racing that drivers prefer. Using the draft will be a major key to success, as MIS is one of the fastest tracks on the Nextel Cup circuit. Fuel mileage is also another top factor, because there are many green-flag pit stops. Pit crews must be totally on their game, as errors can cost a driver critical track position. A mistake under green-flag conditions can possibly cost a driver half a lap.
VICTORY LANE SPECIAL
Carl Edwards (22.0): He will attempt to become the first driver to sweep at MIS since 1995. Edwards has four top-5 finishes in the past five Michigan races. In those five races, Edwards leads the current field in average running position (7.6) and laps in the top 15 (806). He also leads the field with 274 quality passes, which NASCAR defines as passes of cars in the top 15 under green-flag conditions. He ranks second over the past five races in fastest laps run, with 74. Edwards has an average finish of 7.3 at MIS. He has led in four of six career races at the site for 137 laps. Edwards has three top-10 finishes in his past five races overall and placed eighth at Watkins Glen last week, although he had second place locked up before losing control of his car on the final lap.
Matt Kenseth (22.9): Kenseth was knocked out of the June race at MIS, but will rebound strongly this week as he bids for his third career victory at the site. He has six top-5 finishes and 10 top-10s at Michigan. He has led in six career races at the site for 150 laps and has an average finish of 10.1 at Michigan. This season, Kenseth has seven top-5s and 14 top-10 showings. He has led in 13 of 21 races for 257 laps. Kenseth has five consecutive top-15 finishes in 2007. He had top-5s in both MIS races in 2005 and finished 13th in the first race at the site in 2006.
Jimmie Johnson (22.8): He has started to run better recently and is one of the best bets to end the Chevrolet drought. Johnson finished third at Watkins Glen, his second consecutive top-5 finish. Johnson has not won in the past 12 races, but he should be a strong contender this week. In the past five races at MIS, he has an average running position of 11.2, 64 of the fastest laps run and 732 laps in the top 15, all third-best ranks among current drivers. He has led in five of 11 MIS races for 139 laps.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (20.8): Look for a good finish as he tries to get back into the Chase field. Over the past five races at MIS, Junior has 229 quality passes, third best among active drivers. He also has 49 of the fastest laps run and 648 laps in the top 15 during that span. He has three consecutive top-10 finishes at MIS. Junior has taken the pole twice at Michigan. He has led in nine of 16 races at the site for 109 laps.
Greg Biffle (19.7): His season has been a disappointment overall, but he has provided better finishes lately and has a good history at Michigan. He placed 10th at Watkins Glen, and has finished in the top 15 in four of the past five races. Biffle won back-to-back races at MIS in 2004 and 2005, and his average running position of 9.0, 781 laps in the top 15 and 237 quality passes are second-best among current drivers over the past five races there. His 76 fastest laps run are the best of any driver during that span. Biffle has four top-5 finishes and six top-10s at MIS.
Casey Mears (18.4): Mears is another quality candidate to end the Chevrolet run of futility at MIS. Mears finished fourth at Michigan in June, and over the past five races at the site, he has an average running position of 13.3 and 569 laps in the top 15. Mears finished seventh in the second Michigan race of 2006 and he has finished 16th or better in his past four MIS races. He has also finished in the top 15 in three of the past four races this season.
Reed Sorenson (15.8): He's always a good bargain on the intermediate tracks, and in three MIS races, Sorenson has an average finish of 12.0. He finished in the top 10 in both races at the site last year and has spent 249 laps in the top 15. Sorenson finished seventh in the Busch Series race at Michigan earlier this season.
Jeff Gordon (25.3) has two wins and 15 top-5 finishes at MIS. Stewart (23.9) has one win and eight top-5 finishes at Michigan. Kurt Busch (21.0) has one win and five top-10 finishes at MIS. Newman (19.7) won back-to-back Michigan races in 2003 and 2004. Michael Waltrip (16.1) finished 10th in the June race at MIS. Paul Menard (14.6) finished 12th in the June Michigan race. Robby Gordon (16.3) has two consecutive top-15 finishes, and three consecutive top-20 showings at MIS.
Scott Engel previews this weekend’s 3M Performance 400 for ESPN.com’s Stock Car Challenge.