The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series goes from the shortest timed race last weekend to the fastest track on the circuit this weekend, as teams will be making their second stop at Michigan International Speedway this season for Sunday afternoon’s Pure Michigan 400. Believe it or not, qualifying up front is a definite precursor to doing well here at Michigan, as 84% of the winners at this track have started inside the top 5. Additionally, four of the last six races here have been won from the pole, including this year’s first race, where we saw Kyle Larson race to victory lane. Michigan is a 2-mile D-shaped oval, and the only other track on the schedule that is also 2 miles in length is Fontana–so if you see that mentioned below, that is why.
I will post my final Yahoo! roster for Michigan on Twitter on Thursday evening. Please follow me there: @FanRacingOnline
PLEASE NOTE: I’m going to continue just updating this post after qualifying and practice. This weekend, be sure to check back here after practice on Saturday afternoon for my post-practice final Group rankings as well as my starters and a little bit of notes from practice.
Yahoo! A Group Picks and Rankings for Michigan 2
Martin Truex, Jr. (6 starts remaining) – The #78 team is bordering on the brink of unstoppable. They’ve already matched their win total from last season and show no signs of slowing down any time soon. Martin Truex, Jr. has never gone to victory lane here at Michigan International Speedway, but he has ended up 6th or better in three of the last five races here, including the first event here this season back in June. In that race, the #78 Toyota started 2nd and led for nearly a third of the race. Truex also led over a third of the race at Fontana earlier this season. He’s a no-brainer pick and is one of the three clear favorites heading into the race weekend.
Kevin Harvick (5 starts remaining) – The last time we were here at Michigan, Kevin Harvick had a pretty bad day. He still ended up finishing 14th in that race, but for Kevin Harvick, that’s a bad day at this track. You see, in the previous eight Michigan races, “Happy” had finished inside the top 5 in seven of those, five of which were runner-up 2nd-place finishes. And while there was really no rhyme or reason for Harvick’s struggles that day, it’s not too concerning. He likes this track, and the #4 Ford is better on speed than it was back then. Harvick should still be good for a top 5 finish this weekend.
Kyle Busch is a viable option in all types of Fantasy NASCAR leagues this weekend. He’s even an option for me in my current Yahoo! situation, where I only have 2 starts left for the rest of the year. The #18 Toyota was one of the best cars here at Michigan last time we came here but ended up finishing 7th. Surprisingly, that’s Kyle’s only top 10 here in the last eight races, as MIS hasn’t been kind to him. With the kind of raw speed that the #18 Toyota has right now, though, it’s a lot easier to ignore that bad history.
As far as the Penske Racing teammates of Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, both are definitely capable of good runs this weekend. Kez finished 9th or better in six of the last seven races here at his home race track, and Logano is a two-time winner here who finished 3rd the first time we stopped here. Additionally, Joey hasn’t ended up outside of the top 10 in a Michigan race since way back in 2012. Keep an eye on his ownership percentage before lockdown this week, as the #22 Ford could be a great off-sequence pick in Yahoo! this weekend.
My ultimate off-sequence pick in Yahoo! this week, however, is Denny Hamlin. Despite starting in the rear at Watkins Glen last weekend, Hamlin still wheeled the #11 Toyota to a 4th-place finish, which makes it five times in the last eight Cup Series races that he has finished in that exact position. The only exceptions? His win at Loudon, and then bad finishes at the wreckfest races of Daytona and Indianapolis. Oh, and the last time we were at Michigan, Denny Hamlin finished…you guessed it, 4th.
Pre-Lockdown A Group Rankings: (1) Kyle Busch, (2) Martin Truex, Jr., (3) Kevin Harvick, (4) Denny Hamlin, (5) Brad Keselowski, (6) Matt Kenseth, (7) Joey Logano, (8) Jimmie Johnson, (9) Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Final Post-Practice A Group Rankings: (1) Brad Keselowski, (2) Kyle Busch, (3) Martin Truex, Jr., (4) Joey Logano, (5) Kevin Harvick, (6) Matt Kenseth, (7) Denny Hamlin, (8) Dale Earnhardt, Jr., (9) Jimmie Johnson, (9) Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Practice/Qualifying Notes: Brad Keselowski is in the cat bird’s seat to start the race and ranked 2nd and 1st in the two practice sessions on Saturday. If he doesn’t lead the most laps and compete for the win on Sunday, it’d be surprising. Both Kyle Busch and Martin Truex, Jr. are pretty equal on speed, but you have to give a tiny edge to Busch due to his starting spot (6th compared to Truex’s 13th). One off-sequence driver to consider is Joey Logano, who qualified on the outside pole and was 3rd-fastest in Happy Hour. That team absolutely needs a win, so they’ll probably try to pull some strategy moves on Sunday. Denny Hamlin is ranked a little lower than he should be in my final rankings, simply because he’s on baby watch again this week.
My Starter: Martin Truex, Jr. over Kyle Busch
Yahoo! B Group Picks and Rankings for Michigan 2
Kyle Larson (3 starts remaining) – How can you go against the driver that has won the last two races here at Michigan International Speedway, as well as the race at Fontana earlier this year? There’s really only one reason, and in the grand scheme of things it may not even be true; with his 23rd-place finish at Watkins Glen last weekend, Kyle Larson has now finished 23rd or worse in five of the last seven Cup races overall. Remember, the #22 Ford was a completely different car once they got caught cheating, and the same could be happening to the #42 Chevrolet now, since they got caught at Kentucky last month. With that being said, Larson is capable of winning this Sunday, and he almost has to be on your Yahoo! roster for the Pure Michigan 400.
Chase Elliott (5 starts remaining) – Yes, I have Chase Elliott ranked #1 in the Yahoo! B Group right now, and the reason is simple: I trust him much more than Kyle Larson right now. Obviously, this ranking could very well change before the actual race starts, but heading into the weekend, I’m standing tall with this. Chase Elliott has been consistent as hell during his career here at Michigan, as he has made three Cup Series starts and has came home with 2nd-place finishes in each. Will this be the week he finally gets to victory lane, though? The #24 Chevrolet has more speed in it now than it did back in June, but it’s still probably going to come down to good track position here at the end on Sunday.
Ryan Blaney (2 starts remaining) – Having a good race at Michigan requires a car that puts out a lot of horsepower, and that has definitely been the strength of Ryan Blaney and the Wood Brothers team this season. As far as his record at this track, Blaney finished 4th in this race one year ago, but the bad news is that that is his only result better than 17th in five career starts here. So as far as reliable, the #21 Ford is far from it, but at the same time, Blaney could easily end up solidly inside the top 10 here on Sunday. He started 19th and finished 9th at Fontana earlier this year.
Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. (6 starts remaining) – We still have quite a few races to go this season, and you have to make the math work with allocations in the B Group. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. has actually out-performed expectations in most races this season, but has been pretty under-utilized by most Yahoo! players–myself included. The #17 Ford came home 8th when we raced here at Michigan in June, and should be good for at least a top 15 finish this weekend as well.
Kurt Busch has had his fair share of bad luck at Michigan International Speedway, but ever since the rain gave him a victory here in 2015, he’s actually been pretty solid. In the four races since then, Kurt has wound up 12th or better in three of them, including a 12th-place result here back in June. The biggest issue with the #41 Ford this weekend is their struggles to qualify up front, and that is a big factor at this track. As far as his teammate, Clint Bowyer, he used to be a top 10 machine at Michigan but has since fallen off in a big way. With that being said, Bowyer is running really well right now, and has five finishes of 7th or better in the last seven Cup Series races overall. Don’t be surprised if he posts a solid top 10 at Michigan this weekend.
The Richard Childress Racing cars of Ryan Newman and Austin Dillon should be good for top 15 finishes this weekend. Both have pretty similar records here over the last five races, as the former has ended up between 8th and 18th over that span while the latter has ended up between 8th and 27th. Dillon has probably ran the strongest between the two RCR cars but Newman is the safer pick. With the firepower that is above them in the B Group this weekend, though, it’s hard to recommend rostering these two–let alone starting them–unless you have to.
Jamie McMurray had another negative place differential day at Watkins Glen last weekend, and continues to stay in the slump he’s been in since the start of July. The good news for Jamie Mac fans is that he came home 6th at Fontana this year and wound up 5th the first time we raced at Michigan. Additionally, McMurray has wound up inside the top 10 in four of the last five races here in the Irish Hills, so if he’s going to turn things around anytime soon, this is the best place to do so.
Pre-Lockdown B Group Rankings: (1) Chase Elliott, (2) Kyle Larson, (3) Ryan Blaney, (4) Clint Bowyer, (5) Kurt Busch, (6) Jamie McMurray, (7) Ryan Newman, (8) Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., (9) Austin Dillon, (10) Trevor Bayne, (11) Kasey Kahne, (12) Paul Menard, (13) Danica Patrick, (14) A.J. Allmendinger, (15) Chris Buescher, (16) Aric Almirola
Final Post-Practice B Group Rankings: (1) Ryan Blaney, (2) Kyle Larson, (3) Chase Elliott, (4) Clint Bowyer, (5) Kurt Busch, (6) Jamie McMurray, (7) Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., (8) Ryan Newman, (9) Austin Dillon, (10) Trevor Bayne, (11) Chris Buescher, (12) Danica Patrick, (13) Kasey Kahne, (14) Paul Menard, (15) Aric Almirola, (16) A.J. Allmendinger
Practice/Qualifying Notes: Believe it or not, Ryan Blaney probably has the best car in the field this weekend. Chances are he would be on the pole if he didn’t mess up his lap in the final round of qualifying, and if that was the case, he’d probably lead the most laps, too. The #21 Ford is a legitimate contender to win on Sunday. As far as Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott go, they’re both solid top 5 picks, but they’re probably not going to dominate this race. Larson starts are so valuable in Yahoo! that, personally, I think it’s best to only start him when he can dominate a race. With that being said, the #42 Chevrolet had the best ten-lap average in Happy Hour, and if Larson can get to the point, he can very easily make it three wins in a row here at Michigan. If you’re looking for a quality sleeper, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. had a super fast car on Friday, and should have made the final round of qualifying. The #17 Ford was off a bit during the practice sessions on Saturday but don’t forget that Stenhouse finished 8th here back in June.
My Starters: Chase Elliott and Clint Bowyer over Kyle Larson and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.
Yahoo! C Group Picks and Rankings for Michigan 2
With his career-best 3rd-place finish at Watkins Glen last weekend, Daniel Suarez now has four straight top 10 finishes in Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series action–and don’t be surprised if he contends for a fifth in a row here at Michigan this weekend. The Toyotas are all noteworthy faster than the other manufacturers right now, and that’s not going to suddenly change at the fastest track on the schedule. Suarez qualified 20th and finished 24th the last time we were in the Irish Hills but should be much better this time around. Don’t forget that he had to start from the rear of the field in that race after changing tires following qualifying. Erik Jones is the clear 2nd-best option this weekend, and he could challenge for a top 10 as well. The #77 Toyota ended up 13th the last time here at Michigan and finished 12th at Fontana earlier this year. Jones, too, is starting to build some momentum, and now has back-to-back top 10s over the last two weeks. Him and Suarez will be my two C Group drivers this weekend. As far as Ty Dillon goes, we’re going to need to start using him just from an allocation standpoint, but this isn’t the week to do so. The #13 Chevrolet should come home in the top 20 here on Sunday but not much better. Ty has made three career Cup starts here at Michigan and has ended up between 14th and 24th in all three.
Pre-Lockdown C Group Rankings: (1) Daniel Suarez, (2) Erik Jones, (3) Ty Dillon, (4) Michael McDowell, (5) David Ragan, (6) Matt DiBenedetto, (7) Landon Cassill, the rest
Final Post Practice C Group Rankings: (1) Daniel Suarez, (2) Erik Jones, (3) Ty Dillon, (4) Michael McDowell, (5) Matt DiBenedetto, (6) David Ragan, (7) Landon Cassill, the rest
Practice/Qualifying Notes: Both Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez look pretty equal this weekend. Jones has a better starting spot (8th) for the Pure Michigan 400 but Suarez–who will start 16th–is a bit more trustworthy. As far as speed over the long runs, you have to give the edge to Jones, who was just a tick faster in those categories than Suarez during the practice sessions on Saturday. With that being said, the #19 Toyota ranked higher as far as single lap goes in Happy Hour. Both have top 10 potential.
My Starter: Erik Jones over Daniel Suarez