Comments: QuickenLoans 400 Practice Recap: Drivers to Watch
With its wide racing surface and multiple grooves, drivers that show up with a fast car at Michigan International Speedway can usually make their way to the front. Of course, with speeds topping 200 mph on a regular basis, a driver needs to have a car that is handling well in order to keep up with the competition. Not to mention the fact that sustaining such high speeds over the course of a long run can be difficult, and since MIS is known for long green flag stretches, cars that don’t fall off after a few laps can usually put themselves in position to win. At the end of the day, finding a balance between high-end speed early and consistent lap times later in runs is every team’s goal, and those that come closest to achieving it are going to have the best chance at success this weekend. With that in mind, here is a closer look at a few drivers that popped off the charts in practice at Michigan Saturday and showed the type of balance it takes to run well on race day.
1. Kurt Busch: It’s tough to have a better day at the track than Busch did Saturday at Michigan. After topping the charts in the first session, he ran the fastest lap in Happy Hour, as well. The speeds alone make Busch an intriguing pick, and the fact that he is a two-time winner at Michigan bodes well for his chances at sealing the Sunday. It is also worth noting that Busch has finished in the top 15 in the four races leading up to Sunday’s Quicken Loans 400 so he definitely appears to be hitting his stride with his new team. Busch should be considered a strong fantasy option in all formats, and this could be a perfect weekend to use him in survival-type formats.
2. Carl Edwards: Edwards won the pole Friday, and he didn’t slow down much in practice at Michigan Saturday afternoon. He posted the second-fastest lap of the opening session, and he was back in the top five during Happy Hour. Of course, fast times are nothing new for Edwards at MIS. He is a two-time winner at the track, and his 8.2 average finish is the best among active drivers. In 17 starts at the track, he has 12 finishes of seventh or better and has only finished outside the top 12 twice. Fantasy owners won’t find a better combination of reliability and upside, and Edwards deserves universal consideration regardless of the format. 3. Kasey Kahne: After an impressive showing on both short and long runs during the practice sessions at Michigan Saturday, Kahne deserves to be on any fantasy owner’s short list. After posting the sixth-fastest lap in the opening practice, he jumped to second in Happy Hour. Meanwhile, Kahne logged the best 10-lap average speed in both practices. He has also finished in the top five at MIS seven times in his career, including a win and three runner-up efforts. If his car is as balanced as the practice times indicate, Kahne could be adding to his win total at the track this weekend.
4. Jimmie Johnson: Shockingly, Johnson has never won a race at Michigan, but he appears to have a car capable of changing that this weekend. Johnson posted the third-fastest lap in the first practice Saturday and was fourth in Happy Hour. Perhaps more importantly, he had the second-best 10-lap average speed in both sessions. Despite the winless drought at MIS, Johnson does have two top-five finishes in his last three starts, and he has actually led the most laps on several occasions and has even run out fuel while leading on the final lap twice. In other words, Johnson should still provide the top-five value that fantasy owners have become accustom to.
5. Mark Martin: Martin flexed plenty of muscle in Saturday’s practice sessions at Michigan. After posting the fifth-fastest lap in the opening session, he jumped to third on the charts in Happy Hour. He also recorded the third-best 10-lap average speed in the final practice. With five wins at Michigan in his career, the veteran is no stranger to running up front at the 2.0-mile track, and he almost added to his win total last August before oil on the track caused him to wreck while leading the race. Martin appears to have a car capable of contending for victory No. 6 at MIS once again this weekend, and at the very least, he should make a solid addition to fantasy rosters.
6. Greg Biffle: While he didn’t post a top-five practice times during the two sessions at Michigan Saturday, Biffle did showcase plenty of consistency. He cracked the top 10 in both practice sessions, and he has shown throughout his career that he knows how to run at the front at MIS. He finished fourth in the June race at the track last year, and he won the August event. The victory was the third of his career at Michigan, and Biffle also owns the second-best point total of any driver in the last four races at 2.0-mile tracks. Biffle definitely has top-five potential this weekend, and at worst, he should deliver a top-10 run for fantasy owners.
7. Brad Keselowski: Keselowski had a solid afternoon at Michigan Saturday, ranking 10th and 11th in the two practice sessions. He also said during an interview that he was very confident with his car, which is an excellent sign when it comes from a driver that has posted a 6.0 average finish in his last three starts at the 2.0-mile oval. Keselowski’s practice times suggest a top-10 finish could be in the cards, and when the defending series champ says he has his car where it needs to be, fantasy owners should probably pay attention.
8. Paul Menard: His 22.1 average finish at Michigan in his career isn’t impressive by any means, but Menard’s practice times at the track Saturday sure were. He posted the fourth-fastest lap in the opening session and followed it up with the seventh-fastest lap in Happy Hour. Not to mention the fact that despite the poor overall numbers at MIS, Menard does have two top-10s in his last four starts at the track. He will start in the top five tomorrow with a car that seems to have plenty of speed. Menard could be a sneaky source for a top-15 or even a top-10 finish this weekend.
9. Austin Dillon: Fantasy owners looking for a sleeper in deeper leagues may want to consider Dillon. He ranked outside the top 20 in the opening session at Michigan Saturday, but he jumped to 13th in the charts during Happy Hour. Dillon also qualified seventh for Sunday’s race so he won’t have to worry about battling a lot of traffic or getting lapped early on, which should help alleviate some of the pressure for a young, talented driver making just his seventh start at the Cup level. Dillon is definitely a wild card, but a top-20 finish isn’t out of the question given his starting spot and practice speeds.