Michigan International Speedway is the next stop on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule, and coming off a bit of a disappointing weekend at Pocono from a fantasy standpoint, I’ll be looking for a rebound performance at the two-mile, D-shaped oval.
Last weekend, I was hoping to save some starts from weekly powerhouses Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. at a track where pit strategy can often jumble things up. Instead, those three drivers absolutely dominated the race, costing me some ground, especially in Fantasy Live.
Despite the frustrating day, it doesn’t change the fact that it is important to budget your starts and pick and chose when to use big names and when to take some chances on some midrange drivers. I’m still going to try to save starts at tracks where I think it makes sense to do so, but that is not the case this weekend.
With its wide racing surface and high speeds, horsepower plays a big role at Michigan, and it’s usually the big names from the big teams who have the power under the hood. Don’t forget that the first time the series visited a two-mile track this season that it was Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Larson and Kyle Busch claiming the first three spots. Kevin Harvick would have also been in the mix, but he wrecked while battling with Larson early in the race.
I expect to see these same four near the front Sunday, along with many of their teammates. I consider Joe Gibbs Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing and Hendrick Motorsports as the top teams in the series with Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Larson also among the elite. At Auto Club in March, those drivers and teams claimed 14 of the spots in the Top 15.
Don’t get too cute with your lineups for Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400.
NASCAR.com Fantasy Live
Martin Truex Jr.
Truex has been binging on stage points at the two-mile tracks, finishing fourth or better in all eight stages over the last two races at Auto Club and Michigan. In fact, Truex has six stage wins in those four races, sweeping both stages in this race one year ago and sweeping both stages and winning at Auto Club in March. I’m not thrilled that he qualified 17th, but he’s been so dominant at the two-mile tracks over the last year that I’ll take my chances.
The two-mile tracks have been Larson’s personal playground, and Larson has earned six straight Top 3 finishes while winning the last three races at Michigan. Equally as important, Larson has earned points in every stage in races at the two-mile tracks since stage points were introduced. Yes, he had a bad qualifying run, but he had one of the best cars in Saturday’s practice. I expect him to get to the front in short order.
He led a race-high 105 laps and finished first and second in the two stages at Michigan last August, and he had one of strongest cars at Auto Club in March, finishing fourth and earning a total of 16 stage points. After claiming a spot on the front row for Sunday’s race, I expect another hefty amount of stage points out of him Sunday.
I had Denny Hamlin slotted here before qualifying, but Logano has shown a bunch of speed this weekend. He is starting in the Top 5 with a car that was near the top of the charts in practice in race trim. Logano has also finished in the Top 10 in nine of the last 10 races art Michigan, winning twice in that stretch. He should stay up front all afternoon.
There isn’t a ton of data here, but Jones has been showing some serious upside at the two-mile tracks. He finished third at Michigan last August while finishing in the Top 5 in both of the stages. He also finished seventh at Auto Club in March, finishing eighth and fifth in the two stages. Starting in the Top 10, I’m expecting another strong showing out of Jones.
Garage Driver – Kevin Harvick
I like to use my garage spot for a sleeper driver with potential or for a big name who I want to have available in case they go off. Harvick has a series-best seven Top 5s in the last 10 races at Michigan, and he seems to have the car to beat again this weekend. I can’t use him every week, but if he is sitting on 16-plus stage points going into the final Stage 3, I want to have the option to plug him in.
Fantasy Racing Cheat Sheet Driver Group Game
Martin Truex Jr.
Neither Truex or Kyle Larson had the qualifying effort I was hoping for, but I have to use one of them as my Group A pick. It’s not all bad. Truex has been rolling at the two-mile tracks, and in two starts at Michigan last year, he finished sixth and second while leading more than 50 laps in both races. He also dominated the field at Auto Club earlier this year. I’ve got five starts left from both Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick, so I’ll save a start from them and hopefully not lose much performance wise.
Jones has Top 5 upside at almost any track, but he has been particularly strong at two-mile ovals. He finished 13th in his Michigan debut last June, and he finished third in the August race. Jones also finished 12th in his Auto Club debut last year and ran seventh at the track back in March. After a Top 10 qualifying effort, I think he will add to his solid resume at the two-mile ovals this weekend.
I was hoping to use Chase Elliott this weekend, but despite his impressive 3.5 average finish at Michigan, I just haven’t seen the speed out of him this weekend that I was hoping for. Instead, I’ll use Almirola as a reliable fallback option. He has finished in the Top 15 in 12 of the 14 races this year, including a 12th-place run at Auto Club, and he qualified sixth for Sunday’s race. I will take a solid finish from Almirola and bank on Elliott and the rest of the Chevy teams continuing to improve.
I wanted to use Darrell Wallace Jr., who has a pair of Top 20s in two Cup starts at two-mile ovals, but I can’t justify the pick based on the speed he has shown this weekend. Instead, I’ll go with Byron. Yes, he has been struggling with wrecks in recent weeks, but he finished in the Top 15 at Auto Club in March and qualified in the Top 15 for Sunday’s race. He also cracked the Top 10 in practice.