On the heels of the second road course race of the season, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Michigan International Speedway this weekend. Sunday’s Consumers Energy 400 will be the second race of the year at the D-shaped oval and the third and final race at a two-mile track.
On paper, the reduced-horsepower package being used this season should create some great passing opportunities down the long straightaways of the two-mile ovals. Unfortunately for racing fans, that just hasn’t been the case, and getting around the leader has proven to be particularly difficult. Kyle Busch led 134 laps in his win at Auto Club in March, and Joey Logano led 163 laps when he won at MIS back in June.
With that in mind, I recommend paying close attention to qualifying before locking in your picks for Fantasy Live and the Driver Group Game this weekend. There is a good chance that the big names who qualify up front will be able to stay there and pile up those all-important stage points.
You may also be able to identify some potential sleepers based off qualifying. In the June race at MIS, Daniel Suarez turned a Top 10 qualifying effort into a Top 5 finish. In the same race, Daniel Hemric and Paul Menard both started and finished inside the Top 15.
Ideally, you can use a combination of reliable big names and some savvy sleepers to post strong scores in Sunday’s race while also helping out your long-term driver allocation situation. Don’t forget that the Fantasy Live game ends following the final race of the regular season, so you can afford to be a little more aggressive with your picks because they don’t have to stretch as far as they for the DGG.
1. Joey Logano
He’s been an automatic Top 10 at Michigan since joining Team Penske, posting 12 Top 10 finishes in 13 starts in the No. 22. Logano also has three wins in that span, and one of those wins came back in June when he led 163 of the 203 laps in a dominating performance. He’s a must-play in fantasy contests this weekend.
2. Kyle Busch
His overall numbers at Michigan are pedestrian by his standards, but Busch seems to have figured this place out. He has reeled off five straight Top 10s here, including three straight Top 5s, and he also dominated the field at the other two-mile track on the schedule, Auto Club, earlier this year. Expect a typically impressive performance from the best in the business in right now.
3. Martin Truex Jr.
Truex finished third in the first trip to Michigan, his fourth Top 3 finish at the track since 2015. He has also led laps in five of the last seven races here, leading at least 25 laps in three of the last five races. Truex should be in the mix for the win Sunday, and he has the dominator upside to get you paid at the DFS sites.
4. Kevin Harvick
Harvick had a great long-run car at Michigan in June, but a series of late restarts didn’t help his cause. He settled for seventh after leading 15 laps, but he has still managed seven Top 5s and in 11 starts here with Stewart-Hass Racing, finishing either first or second five times. Harvick is also led a race-high 108 laps in a win here last August, and he should have a similar ceiling this weekend.
5. Brad Keselowski
Team Penske always seems to excel at Michigan, and Keselowski has enjoyed his share of success here. He has cracked the Top 10 in eight of his last 10 starts here, leading laps in seven of those races and finishing sixth or better in three straight starts. Keselowski offers a high floor in all season-long contests.
6. Denny Hamlin
He has been solid at Michigan recently, finishing 12th or better in five of his last six stars here and leading laps in three of the last four races. Hamlin has also been one of the hottest drivers in the series in recent weeks, and I think he will be back in the mix for another Top 5 this weekend.
7. Erik Jones
Jones appeared to be headed for a Top 5 finish at Michigan in June, but a cut tire under green trapped him a lap down and ruined his day. Prior to that problem, he had cracked the Top 5 in his four previous starts at MIS, finishing as high as third. I love him for Fantasy Live and as a Group B option for the Driver Group Game.
8. Kurt Busch
Michigan has been a good track for Busch over the years. He is a three-time winner at the two-mile oval, and he has finished 12th or better in seven straight starts. Busch has actually finished sixth or better in his last three starts at MIS, and he was the runner-up in the June race earlier this year. Keep him in mind for all season-long contests.
9. Ryan Blaney
I think I may have mentioned that Team Penske tends to perform well at Michigan, and since joining the organization, Blaney has cracked the Top 10 in all three of his starts here. He has led laps in two of those three races, cracking the Top 5 in the August race last year. Dial him up at Fantasy Live and the DGG this weekend.
10. Chase Elliott
Elliott had an up-and-down day at Michigan in June, but it ended with a career-worst 20th-place finish at the track. It was actually his first finish outside the Top 10 in seven starts at MIS, and his 7.4 average finish remains the best in the series. Don’t be surprised if he gets back on track at Michigan in a big way Sunday.
11. Kyle Larson
After reeling off three straight wins at Michigan starting in August of 2016, Larson seems to have lost his mojo at the track. He has finished 14th or worse in three starts since that win streak, leading just a single lap. I wouldn’t write him off completely, but Larson will need to show me something in practice and qualifying.
12. Alex Bowman
Bowman posted pedestrian finishes of 16th and 19th at Michigan last year, but he picked up a Top 10 at the track back in June. We’ve seen him evolve into a weekly Top 10 threat, so he should have a shot at matching his performance from a few months ago. He’s worth having on your radar for the season-long contests.
13. Aric Almirola
He finished 11th and seventh in the two races at Michigan last year, his first two starts at the track with Stewart-Haas Racing. Almirola appeared to be headed for another strong run at MIS in June, but after finishing in the Top 5 in both stages, questionable pit strategy resulted in a 17th-place finish. He should be a safe Group B option in the DGG, and he could be a sneaky play in Fantasy Live.
14. Clint Bowyer
Although he won the June race at MIS last year and finished 12th in the August race, it is hard to completely trust Bowyer this weekend. Despite qualifying fifth here in June, he had a miserable race, eventually crashing out and finishing 35th. He still has Top 10 upside, but Bowyer is a high-risk, high-reward option.
15. William Byron
Byron is still searching for consistency at Michigan, but Byron has cracked the Top 20 in two of his three starts at the track. He’s also been showing Top 10 upside the last couple of months, and he has had a knack for grabbing stage points. His stage point upside makes him a sleeper candidate in the season-long contests.
16. Ryan Newman
He had a long afternoon at Watkins Glen, but Newman should get back on track at Michigan. He finished eighth here in June, and he has four Top 15s in the last five races at the track. If you need to save starts from the top Group B options in the DGG, Newman should have a save alternative.
17. Daniel Suarez
After finishing outside the Top 20 in his first three Cup stars at Michigan, Suarez finished 11th at the track last August and delivered a fourth-place finish here in June. As poorly as he has been running in recent weeks, it is hard to imagine him cracking the Top 5 Sunday. That being said, the upside could make him worth a roll of the dice in GPP contests at the DFS sites.
18. Jimmie Johnson
While he hasn’t been terrible at Michigan, Johnson hasn’t managed many inspiring finishes either. He has an 18.1 average finish in the last 10 races here, and he doesn’t have a single Top 5 finish in that stretch. Johnson has also finished 15th or worse in his last four starts at MIS. A mid-pack finish is likely on tap.
19. Paul Menard
Menard has always been decent at the two-mile ovals, and that continues to be the case at Michigan. He has finished fifth, 16th and 13th in three starts at the track with Wood Brothers Racing, and his Top 15 potential could make him a great sleeper at the DFS sites.
20. Chris Buescher
He had a solid run at Michigan back in June, climbing from 31st to 16th by the end of the race. It was his third Top 20 finish in the last four starts at the track and fourth in seven career starts. If you have the starts to spare in the Driver Group Game, Buescher is your best bet as a Group C option.
21. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Stenhouse doesn’t have much of a ceiling, but he has snuck into the Top 20 in four of his last five starts at Michigan. He finished 19th in the June race earlier this year, and another Top 20 is probably the best-case scenario this weekend. Stenhouse will need a ton of place differential upside before he has much fantasy value.
22. Matt DiBenedetto
He finished 21st at Michigan back in June, and DiBenedetto has really been locked in the last few weeks. He has finished 17th or better in each of the last five races, finishing eighth or better three times in that stretch. With DiBenedetto knocking on the door of the Top 15 on a routine basis, he has become one of the top Group C options.
23. Austin Dillon
He has a solid overall resume at Michigan, but Dillon finished a forgettable 26th in the June race at the track, and he has been mired in a slump for a couple of months. With limited upside in general, there is no reason to take a chance on him this weekend.
24. Daniel Hemric
Hemric had a strong debut at Michigan back in June, qualifying 11th and finishing 12th. One start isn’t a lot to go, but after showing Top 15 potential in the first trip to the track, Hemric should definitely be on your radar as a Group C option in the DGG.
25. Ty Dillon
He has finished 20th or worse in six straight starts at Michigan, but he has only finished outside the Top 25 in one of those starts. The lack of upside makes him a stretch in most season-long formats, but if he qualifies outside the Top 30, he could be a serviceable punt in DFS contests.
26. Bubba Wallace
Since opening his career with back-to-back Top 20s at MIS, Wallace has been trending in the wring direction at the track. He finished 23rd in the August race last year, and he finished 28th back in June. At best, he is a desperation Group C option in the DGG, but he’s betters suited as a DFS lottery ticket.
27. Ryan Preece
Preece made his first Cup start at Michigan back in June, and it was a lackluster debut, at best. He ran in towards the back most of the afternoon, and he eventually finished 25th. Another Top-25 is probably the best-case scenario this weekend.
28. Corey LaJoie
We don’t have much of a sample size, but LaJoie held his own at Michigan in June in his first start at the track in the No. 32. He started back in 32nd, but he was able to finish 23rd. If he starts way in the back again this weekend, he could be worth a flier as a DFS punt play.
29. David Ragan
He is normally able to salvage Top 25 finishes at most tracks, but Michigan has been an Achilles’ heel for Ragan. He has finished 27th or better in each of his last six starts at MIS, making it hard to trust him in all types of fantasy contests.
30. Matt Tifft
Tifft made his first Cup start at Michigan earlier this year, and he was able to come away with a 24th-place finish. You have to figure he at least has a shot at another Top 25 in the return trip to the track, and Tifft could be worth a roll of the dice as a DFS punt play for GPP contests.
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