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NASCAR Barometer: Hamlin Owns Michigan

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.

Joey Logano led the field to Sunday's green flag on the newly repaved Pocono Raceway. He also led the opening caution-filled laps in a strong start for the driver who had been struggling until scoring two top-10s in the last three races. Little did we know that he would end the day on top in Victory Lane.


Pit road speeding penalties dominated the headlines throughout the first half of the race. Many drivers fell afoul of the timing lines, some more than once. When the dust settled, however, Logano became the first driver to win from pole in the last 31 races.


The tricky triangle of Pocono gives way this week to the wide-open oval of Michigan International Speedway. Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch split the race victories at this track in 2011. The track has been repaved since the last visit. Grip level will be an unknown, but the layout of the track makes for some of the best line variations seen in any race of the season. The race can often come down to fuel mileage, but speeds are high and engines will be tested to their limits.


UPGRADE


Joey Logano -
Logano had a fantastic drive Sunday in Pocono. His car was quick throughout the hot afternoon, and he mastered the tricky track over the entire distance, backing up his one-lap speed that put him on pole. Looking ahead to Michigan, Logano has finished in the top-10 there three times. In a six-race career at the track, his worst finish was 25th in his first effort, the 2009 LifeLock 400. His average finish 15.2, and with a victory under his belt, he should be ready for more. His form has taken a marked step forward over the last five races and is now repeating the strong start he had to the season. Logano should be a good option for a Gibbs dominated track this week.


Clint Bowyer -
Bowyer put together an impressive run through his last five races at Michigan International Speedway. His average finish in that time is 11.8. When you keep your nose clean, and run consistently, averages like that materialize. His results with Michael Waltrip Racing so far this season have him in the top 10 in points. Heading to Michigan with two top-10 finishes in the last two races in the bag has to have Bowyer dreaming of a spot in the Chase for the Championship. Toyota power has been strong this year, and MWR is making the most of it. Fantasy owners could do a lot worse than Bowyer this week, and he should find a spot on many rosters.


Tony Stewart -
Stewart snapped his slide Sunday in Pocono. He came home with a top-5, his first following back-to-back 25th-place finishes in the last two races. This season has shown a different Stewart after winning the championship last season, one that is turning in top results earlier in the year and building a solid base of momentum well before the summer hits. This week could showcase Stewart's newfound season-long consistency. Despite not winning any of the last five races at Michigan, no one has a better average finish than Stewart in the same period. His average is 8.8 and includes four top-10 results with no finishes off of the lead lap. Regardless of having not found Victory Lane at the track yet, Stewart makes one assured fantasy play.


Denny Hamlin -
Winner of two of the last three races at Michigan International Speedway, Hamlin and Joe Gibbs Racing are top prospects this week. His average finish at the track in 12 career tries is 12.1. He claims two wins, five top-fives and seven top-10s in that time. He finished fifth in Pocono last week, a good result for the driver who now has seven top-fives on the season. Fantasy owners could be a bit cautious this week since Hamlin finished 15 laps down in last August's Pure Michigan 400, but that finish was due to damage from contact with the wall. As long as he keeps it out of the fence Sunday, he should be in store for another strong Michigan finish.


Matt Kenseth -
There was a time, a few years ago, when Roush Fenway Racing owned the sister tracks of Michigan and Auto Club Speedway. If your fantasy roster could use a Roush hedge and some Ford power then Kenseth should be your man. His average finish in the last five Michigan races is the best of his teammates at 9.0. Having finished outside of the top-10 just once in the last nine races, Kenseth is the darling of fantasy owners. He has been piecing together one of his strongest seasons to date, and has shown no signs of slowing down, especially after taking over the top points spot from teammate Greg Biffle. It will take a lot to knock Kenseth off of that perch, making him a go-to fantasy option almost every week.


DOWNGRADE


Brad Keselowski -
Sunday's 18th-place finish makes it two races in a row where Keselowski has not been as competitive as he would like. The results aren't bad, but he also hasn't failed to finish in the top-10 for two straight races since mid-April. He is a driver that we are used to seeing challenge for victory, but the team hasn't had the measure of the competition at the past few tracks. Unfortunately, Michigan has not been a productive place for Keselowski either. Through the last five races at the track he only finished on the lead lap three times, and totals an average finish of 22.6. This week's test may be the first time this season where Keselowski doesn't finish in the top 10 for three consecutive races.


Mark Martin -
The latest of Martin's three wins at Michigan was fairly recent, in the 2009 LifeLock 400. In the five Michigan races since that victory though, he claims an average finish of 17.6. Martin's part-time schedule this season hasn't turned in the bumper results that forced him to rethink retirement when he tried it before in 2008. Sunday's second-place Pocono finish was the veteran's second top-five this season in 11 starts. While Michael Waltrip Racing is taking steady steps forward, it hasn't translated to consistent top finishes for Martin. Until he starts showing the prowess he demonstrated Sunday every week, fantasy owners may wish to temper expectations. A part-time ride with a growing team just isn't getting the job done for fantasy owners yet.


Jimmie Johnson -
Two pit lane speeding penalties forced Johnson to play pit strategy early in Sunday's Pocono 400. He battled back to finish fourth, an impressive turnaround from an impressive driver. How often does the Sprint Cup series visit a track where Johnson doesn't have the best finishing average? Not often at all. However, one such place is Michigan International Speedway. Johnson's average finish of 16.0 puts him deep in the field after the last five Michigan events. He scored a top-five and another top-10 in that time, but failed to finish on the lead lap twice. Johnson has never won at the track, scoring his best finish in last year's Pure Michigan 400. For those reasons fantasy owners shouldn't expect a No. 48 steamroller this week.


Carl Edwards -
Holding down 12th in the championship standings is nothing Edwards would boast, especially considering he was runner-up the prior season and his teammates currently have a strangle hold on the top two spots. Edwards was tapped in the rear on the first lap of Sunday's Pocono 400, immediately putting him behind the eight ball. Hs team pulled out the sheet metal, and Edwards marched his way back to finish 11th. Two top-fives and eight top-10s so far is a decent season for many drivers, but the top tier of driver options in most fantasy leagues is a competitive bracket. Edwards isn't making the grade compared with other options in this range, and it may take a victory before his value as a fantasy option starts to rise again.


Jeff Burton -
Sunday was another anonymous day for Burton, which is rapidly becoming the norm in 2012 for the No. 31. The season so far has been better than last year, but only marginally. Completing every single mile of the last five races at a track, yet tallying the lowest average result is not a statistic that anyone would be proud of. It is also a statistic that should warn fantasy owners off of Burton for this week's race. His average Michigan finish in the last five races is 18.2, and includes just one top-10. Couple those numbers with the disappointing season that Burton and Richard Childress Racing is having in 2012 so far, and you have a combination that fantasy owners should continue to avoid.


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