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NASCAR Barometer: Hamlin's on his Horse

C.J. Radune

C.J. Radune

Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the 2012 Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.

Rain postponed Sunday's running of the Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at the Glen, but the festivities resumed Monday morning.

Kyle Busch led the field to the green flag with A.J. Allmendinger alongside him on the front row. Allmendinger led until lap 9. Then it Marcos Ambrose took the lead, making the pass after Allmendinger was bumped by Kurt Busch as he tried to make up an early lost lap.

After a late caution, which allowed some drivers to make the finish on fuel, Ambrose came from behind Busch and Keselowski to take the victory. The win was redemption for the mistake he made last season at Infineon Raceway when he stalled his car under caution in the lead in the closing laps. It was Ambrose's first career win in the series, and reaffirms his ability to throw the heavy cars around a road course.

This week the drivers tackle Michigan International Speedway for the second time this summer. Denny Hamlin took the previous outing, and fuel mileage is always an issue at the wide two-mile oval. Another key to victory at Michigan tends to be flawless adjustments on pit road. Teams will be forced to adjust their cars throughout the race, and just one slip up on pit road while making those adjustments can cost a driver a handful of places, or even a win.

UPGRADE

Denny Hamlin -
Hamlin's day at Watkins Glen ended early with hard contact in turn 1. A locked front wheel sent him off the track and hard into the wall. Don't count that bit of bad luck as a streak, though. Hamlin was running well in the race and looked likely to score a top-10 result before the trouble. Additionally, not only did Hamlin win at Michigan in June, but he also has the best recent finishing average at the track. The last five races at the oval have produced and average finish of 3.4 for the driver. With two wins, four top-fives and five top-10s in the last five Michigan races, Hamlin is the man this week.

Matt Kenseth -
Kenseth came away from Monday's race at Watkins Glen with a lackluster 17th-place result. However, three of his last five races have ended in top-10 finishes, and Kenseth isn't the first name on people's lips when talking about strong road course racers. Roush Fenway Racing teammates have always shown a good presence at the sister tracks of Michigan and Auto Club Speedway, and the pressure to perform is on. Kenseth has done his part with an average finish of 11.0 in the last five Michigan races, including two top-fives, one of which was second-place in this season's June race. Kenseth is an easy fantasy play if you want to hop aboard the Roush train this weekend.

Kyle Busch -
Busch qualified on pole at Watkins Glen International Saturday afternoon, reasserting himself at the front of the field. Through the last restart, he was fighting at the front. After his victory earlier this year in Sonoma, the series may have a new king of the hill when it comes to oval-regulars on road courses. The finish marks three consecutive finishes in the top 10, and shows that the No. 18 team has momentum on its side. Busch's average Michigan finish in the last five races is 15.4, not as good as teammate Hamlin, but good enough for consistent points. He finished third there in June and will want to make sure he adds another win to this season's tally.

Paul Menard -
Ending the day against the wall with a torn up race car was not what Menard hoped for when he came to New York. The finish will sting, but he will have to move on. Road courses are not Menard's specialty, and the calendar now includes many of the tracks where Menard started to truly demonstrate his potential earlier this year. Menard has emphatically come to life with Richard Childress Racing and is easily enjoying his best season. He finished fourth in the last Michigan race, and could take a step forward with his winning experience in the Brickyard 400. Menard should outperform his career average finish of 23.0 at the track this week, despite crashing out at the Glen.

DOWNGRADE

Brad Keselowski -
Neither ovals nor road courses seem to have presented Keselowski much trouble with his broken ankle. Halfway into Monday's race he was challenging Busch for the lead despite the injury, and he was just unable to hold off Ambrose at the end. Like Denny Hamlin's knee surgery last season, Keselowski is showing that pain can be an inspiration. Several factors point to that trend being unsustainable through this week, though. Keselowski has struggled at Michigan International Speedway. His average finish is among the worst in his four starts at the track, 27.5. He finished last on the lead lap in June, 25th, and hasn't shown anything that would make him an acceptable option this week.

David Ragan -
Running in Saturday's Grand Am race at Watkins Glen did not help Ragan score a top finish in the Sprint Cup race Monday. An early caution Monday morning forced Ragan to run out of fuel, and he was pushed to pit road by teammate Greg Biffle, who had fuel issues of his own. The trouble put Ragan deep in the field, and a lap down, making the rest of his day long and difficult. He worked his way forward to 28th when the checkered flag waved. Ragan finished 20th in June's Michigan race and hasn't seen the top 10 there since 2008. His average finish in the last five Michigan races is 22.0. Ragan is not the best driver to turn to if you decide to include a Roush car this week.

Jimmie Johnson -
Two top-10s in the season's two road course races are a great result for Johnson, who is always racing for the big picture. He packed his bags for the ride home with a 10th-place finish Monday, and can be proud to move on to the remaining oval races focused on the championship Chase. This will be another rare weekend when fantasy owners should adjust what they would normally expect from the No. 48 team. Johnson's average Michigan finish is 20.0, with just one top-10 finish in the last five tries. He rolled the car onto the hauler after finishing 27th and a lap down in June. This week is one where you can save a Johnson start for later.

Jeff Burton -
The disappointing season that Burton has endured this year finally showed a glimmer of hope with his first top-10 result of the season. The weight off the No. 31 team's back must be incredible with the notch, but it still has yet to get the job done on ovals. Not a single top-10 result this year on an oval is a problem. Burton's season of woe is typified by June's Michigan race where he came home 24th. There was only one car on the lead lap behind him that day. He can only claim one top-10 in the last five Michigan races, but his average finish is still 20.0. Don't rely on Burton this week.

Jamie McMurray -
The best McMurray could do Monday was 17th after rarely finding himself at the competitive end of the order. It just wasn't a productive day. The finish is his second finish outside the top 10 in a row, and that makes it just one top-10 result in the last 11 races since the All-Star Race. Results haven't materialized for the Earnhardt-Ganassi driver this year, which is disappointing after scooping up trophies in last season's biggest races. McMurray finished 19th at Michigan in June and his average finish in the last five races is just 21.2. He hasn't scored any top-10s at the track in that time, and that does not earn him a start on fantasy rosters this week.

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