Michigan International Speedway is a place that always tests engines. The long, full-throttle straights challenge the internals, and almost always claim one or two victims over a race distance. The same was true last week, as was the likelihood that the race may come down to fuel strategy.
Mark Martin found himself out front with less than 10 laps remaining, but knew he wouldn't make the full distance without running out of gas. Joey Logano was in position to capitalize on Martin's misfortune, but his fuel situation wasn't guaranteed either. When the distance was covered, however, Logano remained out front. Having started from pole it was a perfect afternoon for the young driver, despite the fact that he wasn't in the afternoon's fastest ride.
The annual night race at Bristol Motor Speedway should have plenty of excitement in store for fantasy owners this week. The March race featured a plethora of bad blood between rivals, and its winner was Kasey Kahne. The race may best be remembered for Logano and Denny Hamlin sharing a difference of opinion, but circumstances changed since then. Hamlin is no longer in the running for a spot in the Chase, and Logano heads into the weekend as the series' most recent winner.
Joey Logano - Logano started first and finished first Sunday in Michigan. It was a strong race for the Penske Racing driver, though he wasn't the dominant car through much of the distance. Logano and team benefitted from some fuel and pit strategy to pick up that important win. It had been 44 races since the driver scored a victory, and some would argue that the honor was overdue. He said in Victory Lane that the next track on the schedule is good for him too, and it is. His last five Bristol races total a 15.4 average finish with one top-10 result. Some will remember that Bristol was where his feud with Denny Hamlin started to boil over, but Logano looks more calm and content this time around.
Brad Keselowski - Keselowski started to put the stumbles of the early season behind him. He scored three top-10s in the four races leading to Michigan and has a wonderful record at Bristol. His average finish in the last five races at the bullring is 10.6, which includes two victories. He only managed to record a finish of 12th Sunday in Michigan, but he finished third the last time the series visited Bristol. While his title defense hasn't been as robust as he would like, there are some tracks where Keselowski can never be counted out, and Bristol is one. Fantasy owners should feel confident when deciding to play the No. 2 this week.
Martin Truex Jr. - A mediocre 16th-place run last weekend in Michigan doesn't reveal the potential that Truex could have in this week's race. The Michael Waltrip Racing driver claims one of the best records in the last five Bristol races, scoring a 9.0 average finish with two top-five finishes. That record is second only to Johnson. While Truex hasn't been the dominant driver on the team, losing out to Clint Bowyer more often than not, he can still make his presence felt in the garage and with the rest of the field. He won the Toyota/Save Mart 350 after threatening to break into Victory Lane on a few occasions this season. He finished 12th in the March Bristol race and offers a respectable option for fantasy rosters this week.
Brian Vickers - After clinching the race seat for the No. 55 team full time in 2014, the sky appears to be the limit for Vickers. He is joining a team he won with in a part-time schedule, and a team that knows how to consistently put its drivers into the Chase. Add to that boost the fact that Vickers has a superb Bristol record, a 14.8 average finish in his last five tries, and you have a driver with momentum on his side this week. He scored a top-10 finish when he raced at the track in March and could have even more in the tank this week knowing that the No. 55 car will be his in 2014. Fantasy owners looking for a driver with upside potential should consider Vickers.
Jimmie Johnson - Putting Johnson in the Upgrade side of the equation is getting a bit redundant, though this week doesn't come with its detractors. The superlatives from this team cannot be overstated this season, though. His average result in the last five races at Bristol is 8.0, and includes just one finish outside the top 10. He stumbled last week while running in the top 10 when an engine issue ended his afternoon, and that could give some pause. Only twice this season has the team finished outside the top 10 in consecutive races, though. His top Bristol statistics, and impressive performance in 2013 make Johnson a favorite play for fantasy teams this week despite last week's hiccup.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. - Earnhardt doesn't have a terrible record at Bristol recently, but he hasn't been the strongest the last two weeks. He finished 30th in the Cheez-It 355 at the Glen two weeks ago and blew a right-front tire while running well at Michigan last week. He owns one top-10 in the last five Bristol runs, with a 12.0 average finish. The team could use this week's event as an opportunity to right the ship and pull itself out of the downswing it is riding, but fantasy owners should probably look for another driver if they want confidence in this roster. Earnhardt may be one to keep as a back up this week, but start him with caution.
Carl Edwards - Edwards has not gotten his 2013 season to where he wants it quite yet. Gone are the years where Edwards would battle for the championship, and today he works hard just to find a Chase position. Sure, he got his 2013 win, but Edwards hasn't finished inside the top 10 consistently since the All-Star Race. His last five Bristol races include two top-10 finishes, but tally an 18.0 average finish. Edwards failed to finish on the lead lap three of those times. His current season inconsistency coupled with the up and down Bristol finishes make him a gamble this week. All things considered, his downside is greater than the upside for fantasy owners.
Juan Pablo Montoya - Earnhardt Ganassi Racing informed Montoya that his services would not be required next season. This is a driver who has completely failed to live up to expectations after tasting success in IndyCar and Formula 1. His NASCAR resume includes zero wins on ovals, which is very disappointing for a rookie Indy 500 champion. The lone top-10 finish he claims in the last five Bristol races doesn't help his average finish, which is 18.8 for the period. His 11th-place result in Michigan won't do much to sway potential future employers to his side either, and one wonders if he'll race next season in Sprint Cup. Fantasy owners hoping to find a sure thing should not look the Colombian's way this week.
Jeff Gordon - Michigan wasn't the greatest day for Gordon. He was just one of the Hendrick Motorsports cars that failed to perform, and the best the No. 24 could manage was a 17th-place result. Not making prospects any better this week is the fact that he finished 34th in the March Bristol race following an accident. Despite tallying two top-10 finishes in the last five races at Bristol Motor Speedway, Gordon's average finish is not impressive at 17.8. He failed to finish on the lead lap twice in those five races, and also suffered a DNF. Gordon's luck hasn't been the best in recent races, and that could be a deciding factor this week for the veteran.
Kyle Busch - It is counter-intuitive to see Busch's name on the Downgrade side of the equation heading to Bristol. His win and three top-10s from the last five Bristol events should make him a favorite, but the myriad problems he endured in Michigan dent his prospects this particular week. He endured plenty of trauma and damage last Sunday, ultimately finishing 31st of the 43 contenders. Three laps down to the leader at the checkered flag couldn't have been more disappointing. Sure, Busch could rebound spectacularly this week, he always holds that potential, however to suffer such a result after a string of top performances could be damaging to his progress this week. Consider starting him, but have other names in mind for safety.