Can Kyle Larson end his three-race slump?
The DraftKings daily fantasy NASCAR game heads to the midwest this weekend for the Pure Michigan 400. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will make its second stop at Michigan International Speedway this Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m.
After a few one-day shows, we're back to a traditional schedule this week. Cars hit the track Friday morning for first practice; drivers then battle for the Coors Light Pole Award at 5:05 p.m. The series then holds their two final practice sessions on Saturday morning.
ELITE TIER: $9,500 and up
Martin Truex Jr. ($10,600)
Michigan: 23 starts, five top fives (21.7 percent), eight top 10s (34.8 percent)
Average finish at Michigan: 16.0
Truex is coming off a statement road course win last weekend at Watkins Glen. Clearly, he can no longer be looked at as a driver who can only win on the “cookie cutter” tracks. The race came down to fuel mileage, one where Truex saved just enough to hold off second place Matt Kenseth.
Truex will now look to build upon his series-leading four wins. Earlier this season at Michigan, he finished sixth, leading 62 total laps in the race while also winning the first two stages. Over the past five races here, the veteran's average finish is 8.8, besting his overall track average by seven positions. Truex should be a sure bet for Sunday.
Kyle Larson ($10,300)
Michigan: Seven starts, Two wins, three top fives, four top 10s
Average finish at Michigan: 12.3
Larson excels at the two-mile tracks on the NASCAR schedule. In fact, Michigan is the home to his first career MENCS win; he earned a second at the track earlier this season. In last year’s race, Larson started 12th and then led 41 laps en route to the victory. Back in June, he started from the pole and led 96 laps in a dominant performance.
Larson has finished 23rd or worse in three straight races, slumping to third in the MENCS point standings behind Truex and Kyle Busch. With that said, he remains the favorite to win Sunday and should be a lock to start up front. This type of oval is the true test as to whether he can put this growing slump to rest.
Chase Elliott ($9,800)
Michigan: Three starts, three second-place finishes
Average finish at Michigan: 2.0
Elliott was the lone Hendrick Motorsports driver that showed decent speed at Watkins Glen last weekend. The four-car team has been up and down all season, leaving the No. 24 car winless and squarely on the playoff bubble.
Elliott hopes to change that Sunday and he's got as good a chance as anyone. His Michigan resume is almost as impressive as Larson’s, participating in three Cup races at the track and finishing runner-up in all of them. In the first two events, Elliott led just over 30 laps apiece but fell just short of Victory Lane. Could Sunday finally be the breakthrough moment fans have been looking for?
ALL-STAR TIER: $8,000 – $9,400
Brad Keselowski ($9,400)
Michigan: 16 starts, five top fives (31.2 percent), eight top 10s (50 percent)
Average finish at Michigan: 12.6
Keselowski was in contention for the win at Watkins Glen last weekend before a green-flag pit stop penalty as the race came to an end caused him to fall back to 15th. Fuel mileage didn't work in his favor but the No. 2 Ford remains the strongest within the two-car Team Penske camp.
Michigan should bring another chance at a quality run. Keselowski hasn't finished outside the top 16 here since 2011 and has six top-10 finishes in the past seven races at the track. Keselowski has also led laps in three straight MIS races and in nine of the past 11.
If he qualifies inside the top five, Keselowski could also be a value dominator play as well. He's a bargain at nearly $1k less than the top guys.
Matt Kenseth ($9,300)
Michigan: 36 Starts, three wins, 14 top fives (38.9 percent), 20 top 10s (55.6 percent)
Average finish at Michigan: 10.4
Kenseth is second among all active drivers at Michigan in average finish, average running position, driver rating, and laps inside the top 15. He also led 146 laps during his last win here back in August 2015.
Watkins Glen marked the fourth straight race in which Kenseth finished inside the top 10. Since it was announced he would no longer be the driver of the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, Kenseth has finishes of fourth (NHMS), fifth (Indianapolis), ninth (Pocono), and second (Watkins Glen). He is clearly racing with a chip on his shoulder, energy you can put to good use for your DraftKings roster.
Jamie McMurray ($8,500)
Michigan: 29 Starts, two top fives (6.9 percent), eight top 10s (27.6 percent)
Average finish at Michigan: 17.4
At Michigan, McMurray has finished inside the top 10 in four out of the last five races. He finished fifth in June, his second top five of the season and has top-10 finishes in 11 of 22 races this year.
McMurray currently sits eighth in series points, but because of the playoff system, finds himself 15th. The driver of the No. 1 Chevy likely needs a win to secure his spot in the playoffs. Can it happen at MIS, an intermediate where McMurray is not known to flash winning speed?
Sure, that's certainly possible as this veteran has been one of the most consistent drivers this season. McMurray is having his best statistical year in over a decade and can't be counted out with Chip Ganassi Racing's intermediate track program.
BARGAIN TIER: $4,500 – $7,900
Dale Earnhardt Jr. ($7,900)
Michigan: 35 starts, two wins, eight top fives (22.9 percent), 15 top 10s (42.9 percent)
Average finish at Michigan: 15.6
Earnhardt's luck this season has been terrible. Last week, he earned his seventh DNF of the season, the most of his career since 2007. He ran only 22 laps before he experienced engine trouble and retired to the garage early.
Clearly, momentum doesn't appear to be on Junior's side as of late. But Michigan is a track that Earnhardt has run pretty well at historically. He has two career wins here, in 2008 and ‘12 while finishing ninth in the first stop at the track this season. That was his fifth top-10 finish at Michigan in six races.
With the NASCAR playoff window closing, it is “checkers or wreckers” for the No. 88 team in the final few races before the playoffs start. Junior will be all boom or bust in daily fantasy this weekend. Will the risk be worth it?
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ($6,900)
Michigan: Nine starts, one top 10
Average finish at Michigan: 21.3
Stenhouse is averaging just outside the top 15 in average finish this season, which is right where he is expected to run this weekend. He hasn’t been fantastic at Michigan, struggling overall in nine career races but did finish eighth here earlier this season.
The driver of the No. 17 Ford has fallen off since starting the season on a hot streak. But Stenhouse has two wins on the year and has run well at his non-conventional tracks throughout 2017. Priced below the $7k mark, Stenhouse will be the bargain-tier driver to watch during practice. If he shows top-20 speed, be sure to stick him in your lineup.
(Top photo by ASP Inc.)