After a pair of races at Pocono last weekend, the Cup Series head to another 2.5-mile, low-banked track, Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Of course, the Brickyard also happens to one of the most famous venues in all of motorsports, and Sunday’s Big Machine Hand Sanitizer 400 ranks alongside the Southern 500 and Coca-Cola 600 in terms of races every driver wants to win.
With so much at stake, combined with the layout of the track, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the top drivers in NASCAR have enjoyed the most success at Indianapolis over the years. The Cup Series has run here 26 times, and 21 of the races have been won by drivers who have also won Cup titles. Paul Menard and Jamie McMurray are the only drivers to win at the Brickyard who don’t have double-digit Cup wins to their name.
Plain and simple, a car has to handle down the long straightaways for a driver to be competitive at Indianapolis. Yes, being able to maintain speed coming out of the flat, sweeping corners is also important, but at the end of the day, clean air and muscle under the hood usually rule the day at Indy.
My only concern this weekend is that the onus to win at Indianapolis has led to some higher attrition in the past, and with no practice this weekend, there could be more wrecks than normal. Restarts could be particularly chaotic as drivers do whatever it takes to grab track position.
I used a combination of strategies this weekend, and while I stuck mainly to bigger names in Fantasy Live, I played it a little more conservative in the Driver Group Game and utilized some of my favorite midrange options. With more races and fewer starts allowed per driver in the DGG compared to Fantasy Live, I wanted to hedge my bets a bit in case wrecks do start piling up.
For Slingshot, I tried to take advantage of any driver with Top 5 upside who also happened to have a little place differential potential. I potentially left some easy differential points on the table, but at Indianapolis, I think a big name starting in the middle of the pack or just outside the Top 10 is going to trump a mid-pack to Top 15 who driver starting deep in the field.
NASCAR.com Fantasy Live
Harvick dominated at Indianapolis a year ago, leading 118 laps and collecting 18 stage points on his way to the win and a race-high 58 total points. He has a 4.7 average finish here with Stewart-Haas Racing overall, finishing eighth or better in all six starts. After flexing a ton of muscle at Pocono last weekend, back-to-back Brickyard wins could be on tap for Harvick.
He is coming off two strong showings at Pocono last weekend, and Blaney has had one of the fastest cars in the series all year. He also had a breakout performance at Indianapolis last year, leading 19 laps and accumulating 15 stage points before finishing seventh. His 45 points scored in the race were the third most of any driver. I expect Blaney to log double-digit stage points again Sunday while battling for the win.
Logano has been a stud at Indy since moving to Team Penske. He has never finished outside the Top 15 in seven starts here in the No. 22, finishing eighth or better six times and notching four Top 5s. Last year, Logano finished first and fourth in the two stages and was the runner-up in the race. He and Kevin Harvick were the only driver to eclipse 50 total points in the 2019 event, and after drawing the pole, Logano is in prime position to finish as one of the top scorers once again.
He probably had the fastest car in both races at Pocono, and Hamlin’s flat track magic should continue Sunday. Hamlin has finished sixth or better in five of his last six starts at Indianapolis, and he is scheduled to start sixth this weekend. I’m expecting him to hang in the Top 5 all afternoon and compete for the win.
Almirola has been good, not spectacular, at Indianapolis since joining Stewart-Haas Racing, but he really impressed me last weekend at Pocono when he picked up Top 5 finishes in both races and piled up stage points. After he drew a Top 5 starting spot for Sunday, I’m going to take a chance that Almirola’s speed carries over to the Brickyard.
Garage Driver – Ryan Newman
Newman won’t always wow you with his upside, but he sure has been reliable at Indianapolis. He has finished 12th or better in eight of his last nine starts here, reeling off three straight Top 10s. Last season, Newman logged an eighth-place finish while also picking up six stage points. He should be a solid safety net if one of my starters has issues, and if he grabs some stage points, I’ll swap him in to save a start from a bigger name. If you want to be more aggressive with your bench option, Alex Bowman and Jimmie Johnson both drew Top 5 starting spots.
Fantasy Racing Cheat Sheet Driver Group Game
Denny Hamlin (A)
Honestly, I think you are splitting hairs with Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin on Sunday, and while Harvick does have the better overall numbers at Indy, Hamlin has five finishes of sixth or better in the last six races here. He also starts six positions better and looked a little faster overall at Pocono last weekend. Throw in the fact that I have used more starts from Harvick this season, and I decided to go with Hamlin.
Aric Almirola (B)
I really wanted to play Ryan Blaney, but the truth is that Blaney has been a Top 5 threat at just about every track. Finding maximum value out of Almirola is a little trickier, but I like his chances this weekend, especially after drawing a Top 5 starting spot. He is coming off two strong showings at Pocono where he delivered a pair of Top 5s and piled up 28 total stage points. He also had a good run at Indianapolis last year, finishing in the Top 15 while ranking fifth in average running position and ninth in green flag speed.
Ryan Newman (B)
Newman has been the model of consistency at Indianapolis, finishing 12th or better in eight of his last nine starts. In fact, he has finished in the Top 10 in the last three races here. Drawing the 14th starting spot gives Newman solid track position, and he is one of the best in the business at holding on to it. I think he has a Top 15 floor with the potential for a Top 10. I’ll use Newman at one of his best tracks and save myself a start from one of the elite Group B plays. If you are looking for a sleeper, I like what I saw from Matt DiBenedetto last weekend at Pocono.
Bubba Wallace (C)
Wallace finished third at the Brickyard last year, and while that finish was boosted by attrition and some late cautions, he had a solid car regardless. He ranked 12th in average running position, and he also posted the eighth-best green flag speed for the race. Not to mention that since back-to-back mechanical issues at the Charlotte races, Wallace has posted a 15.86 average finish over seven races. He is set to roll off 17th Sunday, and I think a Top 15 finish is a real possibility.
Fantasy Racing Online Slingshot Fantasy Auto
Kevin Harvick ($13,000)
Harvick smashed the field at Indianapolis last year, and in six starts here with Stewart-Haas Racing, he has a 4.7 average finish. He’s also been on a tear since the series returned to action, and he was excellent in both Pocono races last weekend. Harvick has to be on the short list of favorites for Sunday, and 10-plus stage points seem like a given. Throw in the fact that he starts 11th and also has some place differential upside, and he was an easy chouce.
Ryan Blaney ($10,800)
He has had one of the fastest cars all year, and Blaney showed a ton of muscle at Indianapolis last season, posting the second-best average running position and second-best green flag speed among drivers who ran all the laps. I’m expecting a Top 5 finish and double-digit stage points, and after drawing the No. 12 starting spot, he even has a chance at double-digit differential points. Blaney should be the total package in this scoring system.
Erik Jones ($10,700)
Jones has sandwiched a runner-up finish between two wrecks in three career starts at Indianapolis, but high-end speed has been a constant for him. He led 10 laps in his track debut and was running in the Top 10 at the time of his incident last year. It wouldn’t surprise me if he has a Top 5 car this weekend, and 30-plus place differential points are definitely on the table since he is starting 23rd. I’m taking a chance on his 100-point upside.
Clint Bowyer ($8,900)
I considered Christopher Bell for this spot and would have paired him with Ryan Preece as my final driver, but I opted for the higher ceiling of Bowyer. He starts 22nd, but he has cracked the Top 5 in the last two races at Indy, and he finished seventh and eighth in the two Pocono races last weekend. I think he can deliver a Top 10 finish and 100-plus points.
Corey LaJoie ($6,300)
I’m accepting the fact that I could be punting my final spot, but LaJoie isn’t completely devoid of potential. He gained 11 spots and finished 19th at Indianapolis last year, and he has a 22.9 average finish in 2020, cracking the Top 25 in both races at Pocono last weekend. Rolling off 31st, I think he can at least gain a handful of spots and deliver a positive point total.