Big Names Starting in the Rear on Sunday
There were lots of big names that had issues during the practice sessions on Saturday, so if you missed Ryan’s Notes posts on each, be sure to check them out. You can view the 2nd practice notes by clicking here and the one for Happy Hour by clicking here. Also, be sure to look at the Average Practice Speeds post I put up earlier today. Mark Martin won the pole for Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400 and the full starting lineup can be found by clicking here. This track has had one groove for much of the weekend but that is expected to change because of the truck race on Saturday, so starting position isn’t quite as important as you might think.
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My Probable Yahoo! Roster: Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle, Clint Bowyer, Trevor Bayne
My Probable Yahoo! Bench: Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Marcos Ambrose, Aric Almirola
Final Top Fifteen Ranking For The Pure Michigan 400:
1. Jimmie Johnson – Starts 43rd (engine change) – Yahoo! A Group
**Risk Factor: Medium Risk**
He’s going to start the Pure Michigan 400 from the rear or the field because of the engine change in practice, but I’m not worried about that one bit. Johnson did the same thing here back in June and ended up 5th. Despite never winning here, the #48 should still challenge for the lead early on Sunday, and a top 5 with a shot at the win is definitely possible out of Johnson, which shouldn’t be surprising considering how dominant Five Time has been on the intermediate tracks this season (chart here). Jimmie only got a few laps in the first Saturday practice session on Saturday and used those to scuff tires, but went on to post the second-fastest lap in Happy Hour later. He had the best average speed in that final practice session as well and was one of the few “favorites” to not report something wrong with his car in Happy Hour, and because of that I’m giving him the nod over them, albeit by a very slight margin.
2. Matt Kenseth – Starts 4th – Yahoo! A Group
**Risk Factor: Low Risk**
I don’t remember anything being wrong with Matt Kenseth’s Ford during practice, so that’s a good thing. It is a little concerning that both of his teammates had issues, though. You can’t predict mechanical failures, though, so keep that in mind. We all know the story with Kenseth: when he qualifies up front, he has a great car. His rank on the average speed chart was lacking (15th), but then again this is Michigan and this is Matt Kenseth. In twenty-six career starts here, he has collected two victories along with seventeen top 10s and an average finish of 9.3. What’s most impressive (to me) is that Matt has just one lone finish outside of the top 20 at this track. He has four straight top 10s at this track (three of which are top 5s) and should easily make that five straight on Sunday. Kenseth has top 10s in each of the last six intermediate track races (chart here).
3. Greg Biffle – Starts 13th – Yahoo! B Group
**Risk Factor: Medium Risk**
The Biff paced both practice sessions on Saturday, which I guess makes up for his qualifying effort on Friday. Obviously 13th starting position isn’t bad, I just expected something more out of the #16. On the intermediate tracks in 2012, Greg Biffle has been almost there with Jimmie Johnson both in average finish (chart here) and average driver rating (chart here). This is Roush’s playground and it’s never a good idea to go against a Ford at Michigan. In nineteen career starts here, Biffle has an average finish of 12.4 and has collected two wins. He finished 4th here back in June and has led at least 18 laps in each of the last three events at this track. Despite finishes of 15th and 20th here in 2011, Biffle still had driver ratings of 121.5 and 112.5 (respectively) in those races, but we all know how his luck went last season. The #16 was 4th on the overall average speed chart and should be good for a top 5 on Sunday. The only thing that I’m worried about is the vibration that the car had on Saturday, and that is the sole reason I bumped Biffle up to Medium Risk this week. As I said before, you can’t predict mechanical failures, and Ryan reported that the team changed the drive shaft before Happy Hour (link here).
Those To Avoid For The Pure Michigan 400:
Jeff Gordon - I don’t know what this team was doing in practice on Saturday, but the #24 was super slow. As in Travis Kvapil and Landon Cassill ranked higher than Gordon on the average speed chart this weekend. He is starting 11th on Sunday, though, and this team has some momentum despite their 21st-place effort last weekend in Watkins Glen. This isn’t an “avoid like the plague” ranking for Jeff Gordon, I just think that there are much better picks than the #24 this weekend, and it would surprise me if he finished inside the top 10.
Kevin Harvick - Harvick has actually been pretty good on the intermediate tracks this season (chart here), but this team just seems a little off to me lately, especially speed-wise. Harvick has just two top 10s in the last nine Sprint Cup races. I think he could challenge for a top 15 on Sunday, but not much more. His rank on the average speed chart wasn’t very good and Kevin will roll off the grid in 20th. He has just eight top 10s in twenty-three career starts at Michigan, and I really see no reason to pick him this weekend.