Crunching numbers for Michigan

June, 11, 2009

The other day, I was playing the hypothetical game, as I'm apt to do. The question was, "If you were starting your own NASCAR team, who would you want as the driver(s)?"

Now, of course, you have to put some limits on it. Obviously, you're not going to be able to hire Jimmie Johnson away from Hendrick or lure Tony Stewart away from his own team. But who's out there now or a potential free agent whom you think you could drop in your car, be it a Chevy, Ford, Dodge or Toyota? Or a Studebaker -- let's race Studebakers.

With news that Brian Vickers is now off the market for the 2009 offseason after signing a new deal with the Red Bull Racing Team, he's no longer available. But I liked him second on the free-agent list right behind Martin Truex Jr.

But Truex has hinted he's already made his decision and will reveal it when he's darn good and ready. So who all is out there and could get my team some wins?

  • Boris Said: Not just because he's one of our NASCAR Now analysts. Boris immediately puts even an average team in a position to win twice a year on the road courses, and I don't mind putting a veteran in the car when Mark Martin's already won twice this season. Plus, the man would sell some merchandise, like Bo-Said 'fros.
  • Justin Allgaier: If I could swipe him away from Penske, that is. Give me a driver who wins the last 3 ARCA races of the season to win a championship, and I want that guy in my seat.
  • Ricky Carmichael: Another guy I'd have to steal away, this time from Kevin Harvick Inc., and although he needs more seat time in a vehicle with four tires, I like what he could offer a couple years down the road.
  • Regan Smith: Let's not forget the defending NSCS Rookie of the Year. In 49 career starts, he's never failed to finish a race. He's never had a top-10, but was a yellow line shy of winning at Talladega in 2008.
  • James Buescher: He's obviously still a little on the inexperienced side, but I've liked what I've seen of him so far in the Nationwide Series.

Thoughts? Opinions? Hit me up. But now, let's look ahead to Michigan.

Flipping out

Carl Edwards didn't win last week in Pocono, but he made a statement. He's ready to run at the front of the pack and be the championship contender we all thought he would be before the season.

And what better place to head this week than Michigan? Edwards won at Michigan the last time the Sprint Cup Series ran at the track. Furthermore, a Roush Fenway Racing car has won at Michigan in each of the past seven seasons, with Edwards picking up the win in the past two.

Edwards has finished seventh or better at Michigan in seven of the eight races at the track dating back to 2005. He also ranks first in a multitude of loop data categories:

Carl Edwards, past four seasons at Michigan
Category -- Statistic -- Rank
Driver rating -- 7.0 -- 1st
Avg. run position -- 115.7 -- 1st
Fastest laps run -- 134 -- 1st
Quality passes -- 410 -- 1st

He also ranks first with an average green-flag speed of 174.229. I'll give everybody a few minutes to go change their fantasy lineups for this week (taps foot and checks watch).

What's the Roush?

I mentioned that a Roush Fenway Racing car had won one of the Michigan races in each of the past seven seasons. That adds up, and with just one more win, Roush Fenway will break their tie with the famed Wood Brothers team for the most wins at Michigan with 11.

The last NSCS race at Michigan was not only won by Edwards, but all the Roush Fenway cars finished in the top 5: David Ragan (third), Greg Biffle (fourth), Matt Kenseth (fifth) and Jamie McMurray (10th).

Four of the five were in the top 10 in the spring race: Kenseth (third), Edwards (seventh), Ragan (eighth) and McMurray (10th).

The best obviously is Edwards, but your other best bets at Roush Fenway will be Kenseth and Biffle, both of whom have won at Michigan twice before. Check out their ranks in some key categories:

Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth ranks at Michigan since 2005
Category -- Biffle -- Kenseth
Driver rating -- 4th -- 5th
Avg. run position -- 2nd -- 5th
Fastest laps run -- 3rd -- 6th
Quality passes -- 2nd -- 4th

But let's not forget about Ragan, who could use a good finish. Ragan ranks 12th in his time at Michigan in green-flag speed and 14th in driver rating.

Well, who else?

Wait, you mean somebody else could win, despite the objections of my blog? I suppose you're right, anything can happen.

Well, some drivers who suffered through some disappointment at Pocono last week could be in for redemption at Michigan.

Carl Edwards tied for the lead among all drivers with a plus-26 green-flag pass differential last year on his way to victory at Michigan. That simply means he passed drivers 26 more times than he was passed under green-flag conditions.

Michael Waltrip, who spun a pair of times heading to his pit stall Sunday, was the driver who tied with him at plus-26. Among other drivers at the top of the list: A.J. Allmendinger, who had a top-five car before running out of fuel, Denny Hamlin, who brought out two cautions and fell many fell many laps down when his car simply didn't run off the start and Mark Martin, whose strong car was shuffled back due to pit strategy and fuel mileage.

Best green-flag pass differential, most recent NSCS race at Michigan
Carl Edwards -- plus-26
Michael Waltrip -- plus-26
Ryan Newman -- plus-23
A.J. Allmendinger -- plus-22
Denny Hamlin -- plus-20
Mark Martin -- plus-18

That's all for me, friends. You all stay classy.

Matt Willis | email

ESPN Staff Writer
Matt Willis has been a studio researcher at ESPN since 2006, working on "NASCAR Now" and "SportsCenter," among other shows. He graduated from Ithaca College in 2006 with a degree in journalism. While there, he worked on ICTV, on shows such as "Ya Think You Know Sports?" and "Sports Final." He also was a member of the IC Comedy Club and figures about half of the jokes he makes in his column are actually funny.



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