Fantasy Racing: Michigan Wrap-Up
Carl Edwards won Sunday's race at Michigan International Speedway, his first victory since November 2005 and just the second this season for a Ford and for Roush Fenway Racing. Edwards and his fantasy owners celebrated, but he wasn't the only winner from a fantasy perspective. Owners of Martin Truex Jr. certainly are feeling like winners again after he delivered another strong showing.
Even though he brushed the wall in the closing laps, costing him a chance to catch Edwards, Truex certainly had a winning car at MIS and was very impressive in shaking off an early mishap to ultimately contend for the victory. He had spun 100 laps into the race, seemingly shaking his chances of notching another good finish. Yet he gathered himself and made his way back to the top of the field. Truex had led for 54 laps before the spinout and was certainly dominant early on.
Truex came through with his third consecutive top-3 finish, and he has progressively improved this season to the point that he is no doubt a top contender every week. Truex has proved his win at Dover was no fluke by following it up with a pair of outstanding showings at Pocono and MIS. Truex has often had one of the better cars on the track all year long but dealt with some bouts of bad luck, including an engine problem at California and tire issues at Bristol. Yet he still showed signs of promise early in the 2007 season.
Truex managed an eighth-place finish in the fourth race of the season at Atlanta, then finished seventh three races later at Texas, beginning a stretch in which he finished in the top 20 in five of six races before he busted out with his win at Dover. Now that Truex is on a hot streak, don't expect him to suddenly crumble under the pressure. Truex is a two-time Busch Series champion, and it was just a matter of time before he started shining at the Nextel Cup level. Obviously, that time is now.
So far this season, Truex is definitely the breakout driver, as he was picked lower than most other drivers now in the Chase field before the 2007 fantasy racing season started. He still comes at a rather friendly price tag in salary-cap-style games. Over a long season, Truex is sure to cool down at some point. Yet he should continue to be a top contender in many weeks and usually deliver respectable finishes. He likely isn't the anchor of your fantasy roster, but Truex certainly can help you win a championship this year. He's been the best value choice of the season to this point.
Sudden run of frustration
It seems as though Jimmie Johnson can't steer clear of problems lately. Tire problems ruined his last two races before he came into MIS, and he ultimately ended up in 19th place at Michigan, a performance certainly not reflective of how well he ran for most of the day. Johnson, who might have been able to contend with Edwards for the win had he run a full race, ran out of fuel with seven laps remaining. Johnson started second, took an early lead over pole-sitter J.J. Yeley and led for a total of 56 laps. Johnson's disappointing last three outings can be chalked up simply to plain ol' bad luck. He ran very well for most of the day Sunday, and look for him to rebound with a strong run of finishes very soon.
Johnson's issues have coincided almost fully with the recent rise of Hendrick Motorsports teammate Casey Mears. Much like Truex, Mears has proved recently that his first career win this season was no illusion. He finished fourth at Michigan, his second consecutive fourth-place finish and third top-5 showing in the past four races. Mears also can have a clear head now knowing he won't be the one to leave Hendrick Motorsports next year. It's all coming together for Mears, who finally is living up to expectations, and another win in 2007 certainly doesn't seem out of the question. Mears is a must-start in fantasy leagues as he continues to enjoy a breakthrough run.
Matt Kenseth was considered the favorite to win at Michigan, but he was involved in a crash that brought out the third caution flag of the day. Instead of ending up in Victory Lane, Kenseth ended up in the garage. Until Sunday, Kenseth had been the only driver in the Nextel Cup Series to finish every lap this season. Kenseth placed 42nd, easily his worst finish of the 2007 season. Yet you can expect a quick turnaround from Kenseth, who already has 10 top-10 finishes in 15 races so far this year. Coming into MIS, Kenseth had not finished lower than 12th since the season opener at Daytona.
Around the track
• It was also a forgettable day for Ryan Newman, who had tire issues early in the race and fell three laps down when he had to come into the pits on the 14th lap. He finished 37th after coming into MIS riding a pair of second-place finishes. Newman has endured some rotten luck at times this year but should still continue to perform very well overall.
• Jamie McMurray finished eighth, his best showing since he placed fifth at Talladega in the ninth race of the season. McMurray came into MIS in a mini-slump and had not finished better than 16th in the previous five races. He was able to notch his sixth top-10 finish of the season and could be on the verge of a turnaround, but wait one more race to see whether he is truly ready to rebound.
• The 10th-place finish of Michael Waltrip was a big story line, as he did not have a top-10 showing last year and has run only three races in 2006. A more determined Waltrip has qualified for two of the past three races, but he still is far from useful in fantasy leagues. Don't get too happy about one finish with Waltrip, as he and Dale Jarrett, who failed to make the field at MIS, are much better off doing commercials these days.
• Tony Stewart should nail down his first win of 2007 very soon, as he continues to build very positive momentum toward a date in Victory Lane. Stewart finished third at MIS, his best showing the past seven races and his second consecutive top-5 outing. In six of the past seven races, Stewart didn't finish lower than eighth.
Scott Engel covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can contact Scott here.