The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is back at Michigan International Speedway this weekend, and while there is never a guarantee that two races at the same track will play out the same way, it is hard to ignore the similarities with how qualifying played out for the June race here and for Consumers Energy 400.
Earlier this year, Team Penske and Stewart-Haas Racing flexed their muscles in qualifying at Michigan while Joe Gibbs Racing sacrificed qualifying speed for better handling in the race. Looking at the starting lineup for Sunday’s race, we see the exact same trend. The one major difference was the performance of the Hendrick Motorsports cars. The HMS gang didn’t have much qualifying speed the first time around, but that was not the case Friday.
The important question for fantasy owners now becomes whether or not Sunday’s race will continue to follow the pattern we saw at MIS in June. I expect that it will, although I think the Hendrick drivers are going to be more of a factor this time around than they were in June.
For Fantasy Live, I am loading up with bigger names starting up front. Including this weekend’s event, there are just four races left in this contest. You absolutely do not want to leave any starts on the table from the elite drivers, and with just a few races left, it is easy to budget your remaining starts from these studs. Be aggressive and finish the season on a high note.
Unfortunately, you can’t take the same aggressive approach in the Driver Group Game because this contest runs the entire 36-race season, not just the regular season like Fantasy Live. You still need to be careful about how you allocate your starts, especially in the Group B tier.
For the Slingshot game, I plan to take advantage of Joe Gibbs Racing’s strategy of prioritizing speed in the race over speed in qualifying. All four JGR cars are starting outside the Top 15, and I am going to fit at least a couple of them into my lineup.
I also plan to take advantage of both Richard Childress Racing entries. Austin Dillon and Daniel Hemric both qualified in the Top 12 initially, but they will now be scored from the rear after having their times disallowed because of an illegal alternators. In general, I am going to focus on place differential points this weekend. There are several strong options starting in the middle of the pack of worse, and I think these drivers are my best bet for posting a big point total.
Check out all my season-long Fantasy NASCAR picks for the Consumers Energy 400 at Michigan International Speedway.
NASCAR.com Fantasy Live
Logano smashed the competition at Michigan back in June, starting on the pole, winning Stage 1, leading the most laps and winning the race. He won’t start on the pole this time, but he will roll off inside the Top 10. With 12 Top 10s in 13 starts at Michigan with Team Penske, including three wins, Logano seems like a lock to stay near the front all afternoon and pile up more stage points.
He has finished in the Top 10 in all three of his starts at Michigan since joining Team Penske, and Blaney finished sixth or better in all four stages between the two races here a year ago, finishing third or better in three of them. With four starts left from him and four races remaining, it is an easy decision to use a driver with a Top 10 floor and Top 5 upside, especially after a Top 10 qualifying effort Friday.
I will complete the Team Penske stack by using my penultimate start from Keselowski. Back in June, Joey Logano started on the pole and clobbered the field ay Michigan. Keselowski won the pole this time around, and it looks like it is his turn to put a beatdown on the field. Even if he doesn’t win, a strong showing seems inevitable. Keselowski has eight Top 10s in the last 10 races at MIS, finishing sixth or better in each of his last three starts.
I considered his teammates, Chase Elliott and William Byron, but I decided to go with Bowman. Not only has he been strong at the high-speed, intermediate ovals this year, but he had a solid showing at Michigan in June. Bowman started back in 20th in that race but finished second and ninth in the two stages on his way to a Top 10 finish. He will start fourth this time around, which should only raise his ceiling.
I only have two starts left from Harvick, but with just four races remaining, I don’t mind burning one up at one of his best tracks. He is the defending winner of this weekend’s race, and he has seven Top 5s in 11 starts at MIS with Stewart-Haas Racing, finishing either first or second five times. Starting on the front row, I expect Harvick to pile up stage points and challenge Brad Keselowski for the win.
Garage Driver – Erik Jones
A tire issue resulted in a 31st-place finish for Jones at Michigan earlier this year, but prior to the problem, he had finished third in Stage 1 and appeared to have one of the cars to beat. He heads back to MIS this weekend riding a streak of four straight finishes of fourth or better, and although I will start him on my bench since he starts back in 16th, I won’t hesitate to plug him into my starting lineup if he surges to the front.
Fantasy Racing Cheat Sheet Driver Group Game
Joey Logano (A)
He put a beatdown on the field in the June race at Michigan, but that victory merely added to an already impressive resume at the track. Logano has now finished in the Top 10 in 12 of his 13 starts at MIS with Team Penske, winning three times. Starting in the Top 10, I’m not sure there is a safer play available.
William Byron (B)
I was all set to use Kurt Busch as one of my Group B picks this weekend, but then Byron went and qualified third. He has been able to turn strong qualifying runs into Top 10 finishes and stage points this year, and I am hoping the trend continues this weekend. Busch can provide a solid finish at plenty of tracks still to come, so I don’t mind saving him. I need to take advantage of Byron when his ceiling is at its highest.
Alex Bowman (B)
Bowman has become one of the top performers at the intermediate ovals this season, and in the June race at Michigan, he logged a 10th-place finish while finishing second in Stage 1 and ninth in Stage 2. After a Top 5 qualifying effort, Bowman should have similar stage point potential this weekend.
Daniel Hemric (C)
I liked this pick a lot better before his qualifying time was disallowed, but I went into qualifying with Ty Dillon as my other option, and I’d rather have Hemric from dead last than Dillon from 21st. Hemric finished 12th in his Michigan debut back in June, and while I’m not sure he can match that result given the current circumstances, I do think he can drive up into the Top 20.
Fantasy Racing Online Slingshot Fantasy Auto
Kyle Busch ($13,000)
Just like in the June race, the Joe Gibbs Racing cars didn’t have much speed in qualifying at Michigan. However, the JGR cars showed good speed during that race, and I am hoping for more of the same Sunday. Busch starts way back in 24th, but he has five straight Top 10s and three straight Top 5s at MIS, and he is always a threat to challenge for the win. The possibility of 40-plus place differential points alone is enough to pay the hefty price tag.
Erik Jones ($11,000)
Add Jones to list of JGR drivers starting in the middle of the pack, but I don’t think he will hang back in 18th too long. He started 14th in the June race here but had climbed to third by the end of Stage 1 before a tire issue ruined his day. Jones heads back to Michigan as one of the hottest drivers in the series, and I think he can extend his run of Top 5 finishes to five races and post a big point total in the process.
Kyle Larson ($10,700)
Larson qualified in 19th for Sunday’s race, giving the three-time Michigan winner plenty of points to gain in the place differential category. He gained eight spots and finished 14th in the June race here, finishing seventh in Stage 1. Larson has been running his best in recent weeks, picking up three of his four Top 5s this season in the last six races, so an even stronger performance should be on tap Sunday.
Austin Dillon ($8,000)
I was going to go with Chris Buescher for this spot, but after Dillon had his qualifying time disallowed, I just can’t pass on the differential upside. I know he has been slumping, really slumping, but he is starting 37th. We are talking about 20-plus bonus points just for cracking the Top 25. Plus, Dillon has actually been decent at Michigan. He has a 14.8 average finish in his last 10 starts here, finishing 16th or better six times in that stretch.
Daniel Hemric ($7,100)
Matt DiBenedetto was my initial plan, but the penalties levied on the RCR drivers caused a change of plans. Hemric now starts dead last, giving him maximum upside in the place differential category. His 12th-place finish in his Michigan debut back in June is encouraging, but the reality is that Hemric just needs to challenge for a Top 20 to post a huge score.