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NASCAR Barometer: Riding the Hot Car

C.J. Radune

Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the 2015 Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.

Sunday's Party in the Poconos 400 saw Chevrolet and Hendrick Motorsports dominate the day. The Fords of Roush Fenway Racing, which have suffered from a relative lack of power, bounced back and were also a factor in the day's running.

While tricky Pocono Raceway didn't produce any spectacular incidents, the long straights and wide corners offered up a bevy of side-by-side racing. Jimmie Johnson's No. 48 team hit the cover off the ball from the drop of the green flag, taking the lead and never looking back. The team was the fastest on pit road as well as on the track, and it adjusted the car throughout the 400 miles to maintain dominance over the field.

The series heads to another flat oval this week in Michigan International Speedway. Chevrolet and Hendrick Motorsports have made their mark on the track in the past, but Roush Fenway Racing Fords were the ones that imposed their will on it and the sister track of Auto Club Speedway in seasons past. As Toyota works to overcome their mechanical gremlins, Ford and Chevrolet could be left to battle it out for victory this week.


Jimmie Johnson -
It is hard to look away from Johnson when he dominates a race like he dominated the 400 miles at Pocono Raceway on Sunday. This team has everything going in its favor, and it seems as though bad luck and downswings in performance don't last long. Johnson's two top-10 Michigan finishes in the last five races give him a 14.6 average result in that time, but it still only includes three lead-lap finishes. He nearly won two weeks ago, but was penalized for jumping the final restart, and made up for it last week with a dominating performance. This team is the one to beat, and fantasy owners shouldn't need to be told that Johnson is a great play this week.

Tony Stewart -
Four top-10s in the last five Michigan races should make Stewart an attractive fantasy play this week, continuing to reverse his early season stumbles. His average finish in that time is 11.2 despite recording a DNF. His breakthrough win came two weeks ago, and the momentum from that performance carried him to another top-5 last week in Pocono. Those two races produced his only two top-5 finishes of the season, and go a long way to indicate that this summer should be another hot one for Stewart. It seems as though his bad luck has passed and this team can once again become a reliable fantasy option, especially at tracks like Michigan where Stewart often runs well.

Greg Biffle -
Biffle's 8.8 average finish in the last five Michigan races include one win and three top-5s. He and Roush Fenway Racing have been exceptionally strong at the sister ovals of Auto Club Speedway and Michigan in past seasons, mastering the layouts and setting their cars up for top runs. Add to that strength the fact that Biffle had a wonderful race day at Pocono, scoring his second top-5 of the season, and he rockets up the charts. While there was no driver who could compare to Johnson last week, Biffle still impressed, especially after spending the last six races locked out of the top 10. Biffle said Ford is turning the corner, and that should mean another good run this week in Michigan.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. -
A past Michigan winner, Earnhardt may take just enough of a lift from a top run at Pocono last week to challenge for another win this week. Earnhardt's third-place finish in Pocono was his second consecutive top-10 finish and his third in the last four races. This team is on an upswing and could find its way into Victory Lane this week, especially if it leverages what the No. 48 team is doing back at the shop. The last five Michigan races have given the No. 88 a win and another top-5, producing a 11.8 average finish. He didn't finish off of the lead lap in any of those events, making him a consistent and attractive fantasy option for this week's race.

A.J. Allmendinger -
With the weekend announcement that Allmendinger would take over the JTG Daugherty Racing seat from Bobby Labonte, fantasy owners received a valuable option for a third or fourth driver at Michigan International Speedway. The "Dinger's" last four Michigan races earned him a 15.0 average finish. After two difficult races in Detroit in the IndyCar Series two weeks ago Allmendinger will be on the hunt for something better. This is a driver who continually progressed before he was sidelined for violating NASCAR's substance abuse policy while driving for Penske Racing. He knows this may be his final chance, and isn't taking anything for granted. He should be one to watch as he steps into his new race seat.


Kasey Kahne -
Almost immediately after the green flag dropped on Sunday's race, Kahne started experiencing trouble. He reported a big vibration and pitted for repairs. That stuck him in the garage as everyone continued circulating, ruining Kahne's afternoon. Kahne's top-5 and top-10 finishes in the last five Michigan races give him a 17.0 average finish. That tally includes three lead-lap finishes and one DNF. The No. 5 team hasn't been as consistent as their teammates so far this season and seems to endure a bit more trouble than their stable mates as well. Not having one of the better records at this week's track in addition to his disappointing 35th-place finish last week make Kahne a lower value option this week.

Clint Bowyer -
Bowyer's four top-10 finishes in the last five Michigan races contribute to an 8.6 average finish, which is one of the top performances at the track in that same period. Coming from an average start of 18.0, Bowyer shows he can move forward in the pack and races well on the Michigan oval. Unfortunately, Toyota engines have been feeling the pinch, and some have been dialed back to last a full race distance. As a result, no Toyota-powered cars finished in the top 5 last Sunday at Pocono. While Bowyer and team were confident and strong in the early season, they only managed to finish 15th last week. The No. 15 could be a solid play this week, but questions remain over power and reliability.

Joey Logano -
Logano has one of the lowest average finishes of active drivers at Michigan in the last five events. His lone top-10 finish in that time didn't boost his average result any higher than 23.0. His average start is 21.0, which shows that he just hasn't been able to find the speed necessary to be in the mix at this track recently. Logano managed to score a top-10 on Sunday and has been making strides since his crewmembers returned from suspension. Sunday's result was his third top-10 from three consecutive races. While it might seem counterintuitive to downgrade Logano while he is on a streak, his past Michigan results are just too disappointing.

Matt Kenseth -
Sunday proved to be yet another disappointing result for Kenseth and his team after threatening to run away with the season. After coming into contact with Juan Pablo Montoya the No. 20 of Kenseth had to battle back, but only managed to work his way back to 25th position. The result was his second consecutive finish outside of the top 20, the first time that has happened to Kenseth this season. The No. 20 was one of the cars that suffered mechanical failure and was a driver of Toyota's decision to dial back power to preserve reliability. If Toyota figures out its problems this week Kenseth would easily become a top play, but that is not a guarantee.

Kurt Busch -
Of the active drivers who started the last five Michigan races only Joe Nemechek has a worse average result than Busch. Despite landing pole position in one of those attempts, Busch only managed a 29.0 average result, finishing the race twice and on the lead lap just once. This week's downgrade comes in contrast to the hard-fought race Busch put forth last Sunday, battling back from early race troubles to score a top-10 finish at Pocono. While the effort isn't enough to warrant a fantasy play this week due to past Michigan disappointments, it shows that Furniture Row Racing is continuing to steadily progress toward the front of the field and should be a regular contender very soon.