Dan Beaver

Statistically Speaking

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Start or Park: FireKeepers 400

Friday, June 8, 2018


The two-mile tracks are among the most predictable on the circuit, so very little has happened to change a driver’s handicap from the beginning of the week until now. Qualification and practice are important, but for the most part they reinforce the strength already shown by these drivers.

The front row is an exception this week, however. Kurt Busch winning the pole with a speed of 203.361 mph was impressive, as was Brad Keselowski's 203.166 mph lap, but they are not yet recommended because of their modest results last year.

Level One

Start Ryan Blaney
If Ryan Blaney was not already on fantasy owners’ radar screens, he bolted to the top of that list in the first practice session for the FireKeepers Casino 400. His lap of 202.617 mph made him the only driver to top the 202 mark. He was one of only five to go faster than 201 mph. In his career, this has not been one of his better tracks with only one top-10 and two top-15s in six attempts, but he has been much faster overall with Team Penske. He has also been uneven and prone to mistakes or misfortune, so players need to be a little cautious.

Start Kyle Larson
Kyle Larson was unimpressive on Friday, but he will find a more speed as the weekend progresses and should be able to challenge for at least a top-five. Before we go so far as reaffirming his favored status to win, however, he is going to need to show some speed in Saturday’s practice. Larson's poor performance in qualification gave us a little pause. He posted a lap of 198.999 mph and lines up 26th. The last eight races on this track have all been won by drivers starting 12th or better.

Park Clint Bowyer
We’d like to think Clint Bowyer is capable of contending for a top-five, but his recent record at Michigan is a handicap that simply cannot be ignored. While racing the HScott Motorsports car in 2016, he failed to crack the top 20. Unfortunately, when he moved into the faster and more reliable Fords of Stewart-Haas Racing, he still struggled to finish that well. He was the only driver on Friday to post a long run in practice and that could be good for a position or two if weather cancels Saturday’s activity, but he is still likely to finish just outside the top 10.

Level Two

Start Chase Elliott
Friday’s practice resembled a game of “king me” as driver after driver topped the speed chart. That suggests the track picked up speed as the session went on and Chase Elliott’s lap of 201.134 mph might have been a little better if he had gone out again. It’s unlikely he would have gotten all the way up to Blaney or even second-fastest Kyle Busch, but he might easily have posted a third-best time. As it was, he landed fifth on the charts – and while that is insufficient to make him a favorite to win, he three runner-up finishes in four Michigan races makes it easy to anticipate another top-five.

Start Martin Truex Jr.
With his stutter-step record at the start of the season, Martin Truex Jr. does not have a record sufficient in the first 14 races to give fantasy owners unlimited confidence in the likelihood that he will contend for as many victories as Busch or Kevin Harvick. Landing 10th on the speed chart Friday did not help matters any, but he has last week’s win at Pocono Raceway and a second-place finish in August 2017 to recommend him still. When he’s stayed out of trouble this season, he has been virtually guaranteed a top-five and it’s a fair bet he will get another.

Park Daniel Suarez
Daniel Suarez has been a perennial sleeper on nearly every track this year. Joe Gibbs Racing has excelled at Michigan in the past. For some reason, however, the convergence of those stats is lacking with the sophomore driver. Suarez finished 24th and 37th in Michigan’s two races last year. Granted, his worst finish there was the result of an accident on lap 138 of the scheduled 200, but he was deep down the grid in June despite finishing on the lead lap.

Level Three

Start Bubba Wallace
Sometimes drivers take to a certain type of track; that may be the case with Bubba Wallace on the two-milers. While subbing for Aric Almirola last year, he posted a very respectable 19th in the FireKeepers Casino 400. He finished 20th this March in the Auto Club 400. That would not be enough to make him attractive in the top two levels, but the potential of finishing in the front half of the pack at Michigan makes him a good dark horse. If he maintains track position throughout the race, he might even contend for a top-15.

Start Corey LaJoie
Corey LaJoie finished 30th and 31st last year at Michigan. But he has been much better in his limited starts this year. Three of his last four attempts landed between 24th and 26th. Two of these solid runs came at Kansas Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway and could not be attributed to attrition. A top-20 is not likely, but if LaJoie fits the appropriate niche on your roster, he should be started with confidence.

Previous Start or Parks

Auto Club 400 
Coke 600 (Charlotte) 
KC Masterpiece 400 (Kansas) 
O'Reilly 500 (Texas) 

QuikTrip 500 (Atlanta) 



Dan Beaver has been covering fantasy NASCAR for more than 12 years with a little help from his >500,000 record database. He can be found on Twitter @FantasyRace.
Email :Dan Beaver



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