The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series makes its annual trip to Indianapolis Motor Speedway this weekend, and while Sunday’s Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard is one of the crown jewel events of the sport, the race could prove to be a boom-or-bust affair for fantasy owners.
On one hand, Indianapolis has been a proving ground for the best drivers in the sport, and 19 of the 24 winners at the Brickyard are also series champions. On the flip side, last year’s race spiraled into chaos as a series of wild restarts decimated the field and left just 19 cars running at the finish.
History says that trusting the top drivers is your best bet, and with rain pounding the track and forcing NASCAR to set the field by points, all the top drivers are starting up front. If you do decide to fade the big names, you could gain a lot of ground in your leagues if the we end up with another wreck-filled fiasco.
Since this is the final week of the Fantasy Live regular season game, it will be a little easier to chose which strategy to use in this contest. If you are at the top of your standings, play it safe with the most reliable options you have left. If you have nothing to lose, swing for the fences with a lineup full of sleeper plays.
A more balanced approach could be the way to go in the Driver Group Game. Since this game runs the entire 36 races, budgeting starts remains important. I’d be hesitant to gamble on all sleepers, but going with one established option and one sleeper for your Group B picks could be a happy medium.
Check out all of my season-long Fantasy NASCAR picks for the Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard, and make sure to lock in your starting lineups before the new start time at 1 p.m. ET Sunday.
NASCAR.com Fantasy Live
Busch has been the dominant force at Indianapolis the last few years, finishing either first or second in four of the last six races. He nearly pulled off a three-peat at the track last year, winning Stage 1 and Stage 2 and leading 87 of the first 110 laps before he was taken out while leading a on restart. After inheriting the pole, he has the inside track to a couple more stage wins this weekend.
Harvick keeps clicking off strong finishes at Indianapolis, and he has yet to finish outside the Top 10 here since joining Stewart-Haas Racing. Last year, he logged Top 5 finishes in both stages and ended up sixth. Rolling off from the front row, Harvick is in perfect position for even more stage points Sunday.
Jones crashed out in his Indianapolis debut last year, but he also led 10 laps and finished fourth in Stage 2. He heads into his second start at the track in the middle of the best stretch of his career, and over the last 10 races, only Kevin Harvick has a better average finish. Starting 13th, he has a little work to do in order to earn points in Stage 1, but Jones is running so well right now that I’m not too worried.
Blaney ended up 23rd at Indianapolis last year, but not before he led six laps and finished third in both Stage 1 and Stage 2. He has been inconsistent at times this year, but Blaney has routinely shown Top 5 speed. He will start inside the Top 10 thanks to the qualifying washout, giving Blaney great track position to start the race. At worst, he should run in the Top 10 and earn a few stage points, and his ceiling goes up from there.
He has been the model of consistency at Indianapolis, finishing in the Top 10 in all five starts with Team Penske while compiling a 5.2 average finish. Logano has three Top 5s in that span, including a fourth-place run last year when he also finished seventh and fifth in the two stages. He will get to start in the Top 5 after qualifying was rained out, which should only help his chances of piling up stage points this weekend.
Garage Driver – Martin Truex Jr.
Although he hasn’t had a dominating run at the Brickyard just yet, Truex did finish second in both stages here last year. His race ended when he and Kyle Busch got together on a restart, but before that happened, Truex was cruising to a Top 3 finish. Failing inspection four times drops him from third to the rear of the field, but as fast as he has been this year, I don’t think it is a bad idea to have him on my bench.
Fantasy Racing Cheat Sheet Driver Group Game
Kevin Harvick (A)
I think Kyle Busch is the best Group A play if you have the starts to spare, but I want to save him for Martinsville. Plus, it’s not like Harvick is a bad fallback option. He will join Busch on the front row Sunday, and he hasn’t finished worse than eighth at Indianapolis since joining Stewart-Haas Racing.
Erik Jones (B)
His Brickyard debut last year eventually ended with a wreck, but Jones led some laps and appeared to be on his way to a Top 5 finish. With eight Top 10s in the 10 races leading up to Sunday’s race, I’m looking to ride Jones’ momentum to another strong finish.
Chase Elliott (B)
Elliott is still looking for his first Top 10 at Indianapolis, but I think it comes this weekend. He will start 11th, and few drivers have been better in recent weeks. Elliott has six straight Top 10s entering Indianapolis, and he has four Top 5s and a 6.0 average finish in that span. I want to try to capitalize on his Top 5 upside.
Chris Buescher (C)
I can’t pick the right time to use Alex Bowman to save my life, so with my starts from him dwindling, I will turn to Buescher. The sample size is small, but Buescher has finished 14th and ninth in two Cup starts at Indianapolis. Yes, those races featured some attrition, but a Top 20 finish doesn’t seem out of the question.