The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series makes a stop at Indianapolis Motor Speedway this weekend, and the most famous track in motorsports has lived up to its reputation, becoming a proving ground of champions for NASCAR. Sunday’s Big Machine Vodka 400 will be the 26th Cup race held at the Brickyard, and 20 of the previous 25 have been won by drivers who are also series champs.
I am hoping the cream rises to the top again this weekend, especially in the Fantasy Live contest, because I am going to be loading all my Fantasy NASCAR lineups with big names for the regular-season finale. The final race of the regular season is also the final race of the current Fantasy Live contest. Last year, NASCAR.com also ran a playoff contests, and I’m assuming there will be one again this season. For now, I am focused on ending this contest on a high note, and after budgeting my starts all year, it is time to unload one final wave of heavy hitters to try to post a massive point total.
I have one start remaining with Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick, and all five of them will be in my starting lineup Sunday. All five drivers have Cup Series titles to their name, and Busch, Harvick and Keselowski have already kissed the bricks at least once. I’m not leaving any starts on the table from these studs.
For the Driver Group Game, I am also leaning heavily on bigger names. This is in part to the trends we have seen at Indianapolis, but it also has a lot to do with how the point standings sit heading into the final race before the playoffs. In terms of their performance at Indianapolis, I actually really like Clint Bowyer and Ryan Newman as alternatives to some of the elite Group B options.
The problem is that Bowyer and Newman are among the four drivers fighting to point their way into the final couple of spots in the postseason. They will essentially be in a separate race against themselves within the actual race, which means their top priorities might not be securing the best finishes possible as much as making sure they are in the best position to beat the drivers they have to beat to make the 16-car playoff field. Many times, those two goals will be one in the same, but that’s not a guarantee.
In the Slingshot Fantasy Auto game, I started out with a balanced lineup, but I did make some adjustments after Denny Hamlin qualified outside the Top 30. I already had Martin Truex Jr. penciled in, and by pairing him with Hamlin, I have two drivers who could easily gain 20-plus spots. I ended up skewing my final lineup for towards differential points that I originally expected, but I think there are some qualify plays starting outside the Top 25 today.
NASCAR.com Fantasy Live
I’ll use my final start from Busch this week at a track where he has been close to unstoppable recently. Busch kissed the bricks in both 2015 and 2016, and he swept both stages in the 2017 race before crashing while in the lead. He battled multiple pit road issues last year but still managed to finish in the Top 10, lead 27 laps and finish in the Top 5 in Stage 1. He starts seventh, and I have him penciled in for the win today.
Martin Truex Jr.
You can throw out his results from last year’s race when a mechanical failure ruined his entire afternoon, but in 2017, Truex finished second in both stages at Indianapolis before he and Kyle Busch too each other out while battling for the lead. His 27th-place qualifying effort wasn’t ideal, but I still think he offers me the most upside. If you are worried about his starting spot, Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch are two potential pivots.
He always seems to run up front at Indianapolis, and Keselowski was finally able to kiss the bricks here last year after earning points in both stages. He was also the runner-up in the 2017 race, and he has led laps in four straight starts at the track and seven of his nine starts here overall. Expect Keselowski to have a car capable of earning a bunch of stage points and contending for the win.
Harvick has been the most reliable driver at Indianapolis since making the move to Stewart-Haas Racing. In five starts here with SHR, he has never finished outside the Top 10. More importantly, his 5.4 average finish in that span is tops in the series, and he is tied for first with 192 driver points scored. After snagging the pole, pencil him in for a hefty point total.
Since moving to Team Penske in 2013, no driver has scored more points at Indianapolis than Logano. He has a 6.5 average finish at the track in the No. 22, finishing in the Top 10 in five of his six starts. Logano qualified in the Top 5, and a Top 10 finish and a handful of stage points seem like his floor this weekend.
Garage Driver – Erik Jones
With a roster of big names ready to roll, my only question was who to have available in the garage. Jones was on a tear even before his win at Darlington last weekend, and after leading 10 laps in his Brickyard debut in 2017, he was the runner-up here a year ago. It’s not bad to have a weekly Top 5 threat at the ready if needed.
Fantasy Racing Cheat Sheet Driver Group Game
Kyle Busch (A)
Busch has been in a league of his own at Indianapolis recently, so I have a hard time using any other driver my Group A spot. He has won two of the last four races at the track, leading double-digit laps in all four of those starts and winning three straight poles. No driver is more likely to deliver a dominant performance from start to finish in Sunday.
Kurt Busch (B)
I had Denny Hamlin penciled in for this spot, but he crashed on the cool down lap of final practice and will have to start at the rear in a backup. I flipped to Kurt Busch, and while consistency he has been an issue for him at Indy, he appeared to have one of the best cars in practice Saturday, and he qualified in the Top 10. I think he has Top 5 potential and should grab a decent amount of stage points.
Erik Jones (B)
Fresh off his win in the Southern 500, Jones will head to an Indianapolis track where he was the runner-up a year ago. He’s been a piling up Top 5s in general in recent weeks, and while no track is an apples-to-apples comparison to Indianapolis, Pocono is often used as a barometer for what to expect. Jones finished third and second in the two races at Pocono, and I am willing to use up one of his starts when I think he has a legitimate shot at the win.
Daniel Hemric (C)
I think Chris Buescher and Matt DiBenedetto are both excellent plays this weekend, but those two have reached the point that I feel I can get a Top 15 out of them at almost any track. Unfortunately, I can’t start them for all 11 remaining races, and I need to maximize my production out of the other Group C options that I do use. Hemric will make his Brickyard debut this weekend, but if we go back to the Pocono comparison, Hemric finished 13th and seventh in his two starts at the “Tricky Triangle” this year. I’m hoping that success, along with an 11th-place qualifying run, translates to another Top 15 run this weekend.
Fantasy Racing Online Slingshot Fantasy Auto
Denny Hamin ($12,600)
A wreck at the end of final practice put Hamlin in a backup car for qualifying, resulting in an ugly 33rd-place effort. Still, we are talking about one of the hottest teams in the garage, and Hamlin leads all drivers with four Top 5s in the last five races at Indianapolis. Look for him to feast on differential points and deliver a massive point total.
Martin Truex Jr. ($11,900)
His numbers at Indianapolis are a little misleading. A brake issue ended his day early here last year, and he crashed out while battling for the lead in 2017. I fully expect Truex to be a major player for the win Sunday, and after qualifying 27th, he has a ton of differential upside. Plus, the cap savings compared to Kyle Busch or Kevin Harvick allows be to build a much more balanced lineup.
Ryan Newman ($9,000)
Newman focused on race trim throughout practice Saturday, so I am not shocked that he only qualified 22nd. He has a solid record at Indianapolis overall, finishing 12th or better in seven of his last eight starts here and posting a 10.8 average finish in that span. I think he can challenge for a Top 10 while gaining around 10 spots today.
William Byron ($8,900)
After showing solid speed in practice, Byron qualified way back in 29th for today’s race. Between the raw speed of the No. 24 and the savvy calls of crew chief Chad Knaus, I think he works his way at least into the Top 15 when all is said and done. He should be able to capitalize on those differential points to post a big score.
Matt DiBenedetto ($7,500)
DiBenedetto brings a streak of eight straight Top 20 finishes into Indianapolis, and believe it or not, his 10.8 average finish in that stretch ranks fifth in the series. He has finished eighth or better in five of those eight races, and he should offer great value at this price on Sunday, especially with plenty of spots to gain following a 26th-place qualifying effort.