The 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regular season comes to a close this weekend at historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The 2.5-mile, rectangular-shaped oval known as the Brickyard will host Sunday’s Big Machine Vodka 400, and when the checkered flag waves, the 16-driver playoff field will be set.
Kyle Busch has already wrapped up the regular-season title, but the battle at the bottom of the playoff bracket has heated up. Daniel Suarez and Ryan Newman are currently tied for the 16th and final playoff spot, just eight points behind 15th-place Clint Bowyer. You have Jimmie Johnson lurking 18 points back in 17th.
While the drivers battling for the final spots will have their own agendas to worry about, the rest of the field will be focused on picking up a win in one of the biggest races of the year. Last weekend’s Southern 500 is special in its own right, especially in the NASCAR community, but Indianapolis is arguably the most famous track in the history of motorsports. For a Cup Series driver, kissing the bricks at the start/finish line at Indy is right up there with having their name added to the Harley J. Earl Trophy for winning the Daytona 500.
From a fantasy standpoint, history says that Indy is a track where you will want to load up on big names. There have been 24 Cup races held at Indianapolis, and 19 of them have been won by drivers who also have a Cup Series title to their name. In fact, a driver has won at the Brickyard and gone on to win the championship in the same season nine times.
If that wasn’t enough incentive to load up your Fantasy NASCAR lineups with big names, don’t forget that this is the final week of the current Fantasy Live contest at NASCAR.com. There’s no reason to budget any starts and hold anything back this weekend. If you have the big names available, you need to use them this weekend.
Even in the Driver Group Game, I would lean towards being aggressive with your picks. We still have a couple of short track races, Talladega and a road course event remaining, so there are much better opportunities to save starts from the big names without sacrificing as much upside. The cream tends to rise to the top at Indianapolis, and you need to build your fantasy lineups accordingly
1. Kyle Busch
Busch has 11 Top 10s in 14 starts at Indy, including eight in his last nine starts. He won here in both 2015 and 2016, and he has led at least 19 laps in four straight races at the track, leading 185 more laps than any other driver in that span. Busch has also sat on the pole in three straight starts, so even if you don’t start him, you should at least roster him for the potential qualifying points.
2. Denny Hamlin
Is this the year he kisses the bricks? I’m not sure Hamlin has ever been running better than he is right now, and over the last five races at Indianapolis, he owns a series-best four Top 5s. Hamlin led 37 laps and finished third here last season, and I’ll be shocked if he isn’t running for the win Sunday. He should be an elite option in all fantasy formats.
3. Kevin Harvick
In five starts at Indianapolis with Stewart-Haas Racing, Harvick owns a series-best 5.4 average finish and is tied for the series lead with 192 driver points scored. He is the only driver who has finished in the Top 10 in all five races in that stretch, and he ranks second in laps led. Harvick should be one of the safest options to build around in both season-long and DFS contests.
4. Martin Truex Jr.
Don’t read too much into his recent Indy finishes. He battled mechanical issues last year, and he crashed out while battling Kyle Busch for the lead in 2017. Truex has been a staple at the front of the field otherwise, running third or better at some point in each of the last five races and posting a driver rating of over 100 in three of his last four starts. He’s going to have a Top 5 car Sunday.
5. Brad Keselowski
Keselowski is the defending winner at the Brickyard, and he was the runner-up here in 2017. He has now led laps in each of the last four races at the track, leading at least 15 laps three times. Keselowski’s ability to run up front makes him especially valuable in DFS contests and for Fantasy Live.
6. Joey Logano
He is still missing a Brickyard win, but Logano has been one of the most reliable options at the track. He has a 6.2 average finish in the last five races here, logging three Top 5s and four finishes of seventh or better. Logano is also tied for the most driver points scored in that same stretch. I plan to target him at Fantasy Live.
7. Kyle Larson
Larson has found some speed in recent weeks, and I expect it to carry over into Sunday’s race. He has three Top 10s in five career starts at Indy, and he only has one finish outside the Top 15 at the track. Larson is a little outclassed as a Group A option for the Driver Group Game, but he has more than enough upside to use in Fantasy Live.
8. Erik Jones
He has shown some serious upside in both of his starts at Indianapolis, leading 10 laps before being caught up in a late wreck in his track debut in 2017 and finishing second in last year’s race. This could be a great week to use him in Fantasy Live or as a Group B option in the Driver Group Game.
9. Ryan Blaney
Blaney has been building some momentum at Indianapolis. He finished third in both stages here in 2017 before being taken out late in the race, and he finished a career-best 11th at the track last year in his first start here with Team Penske. Blaney could be poised for a breakout performance at Indy this weekend.
10. Kurt Busch
He has run hot and cold at Indianapolis throughout his career, but there is no denying his upside. He led 19 laps and finished sixth in last year’s race, and he will should have a similar ceiling Sunday. Busch should be on your radar in all season-long contests.
11. Chase Elliott
For whatever reason, Elliott just hasn’t found a setup that works for him at Indianapolis yet. He has a lackluster 21.8 average finish in four starts here, and he has never finished better than 15th. Elliott is good enough to make the leap into the Top 10, but he is a riskier play than some other big names this weekend.
12. Ryan Newman
The former Brickyard winner has remained one of the steadiest performers at the track. Newman has finished 11th or better in four of his last five starts here, logging a Top 10 finish last year. With his safe floor, I especially like him as a Group B option in the DGG.
13. Clint Bowyer
If you are looking to swing for the fences a bit to gain some ground in your fantasy leagues, you may want to target Bowyer this weekend. He has two finishes of sixth or better in his last four starts at Indy, leading 37 laps and finishing fifth here a year ago.
14. Alex Bowman
Bowman finished 33rd at Indy last year in his first start at the track with Hendrick Motorsports, but he has become a much better driver since then. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him jump into the Top 10 this weekend, but with more proven options available, I’ll probably take a wait-and-see approach with Bowman.
15. William Byron
He snuck into the Top 20 in his Indianapolis debut last year, and Byron has made huge strides in his second season. Having Chad Knaus atop his pit box should also help from both a strategy and setup standpoint. Byron is a sleeper in all formats this weekend.
16. Aric Almirola
Almirola hasn’t had a lot to cheer about at Indianapolis, and even in his first start here with Stewart-Haas Racing, he only managed a 23rd-place finish. I think he is capable of challenging for a Top 15, but you should be able to find better mid-tier drivers to use this weekend.
17. Daniel Suarez
He has finished seventh and 18th in his first two starts at Indianapolis, and while Stewart-Haas Racing has been stout at this track as a whole, Suarez has been a boom-or-bust fantasy play all year. If you are willing to roll the dice, he could deliver a Top 10 finish. I like him for GPP contests at the DFS sites.
18. Matt DiBenedetto
DiBenedetto has shown borderline Top 10 speed more often than not these last few weeks. It remains to be seen if he can continue that trend at a track like Indianapolis, but if you have the starts to spare, I think he offers the highest ceiling of all the Group C options in the DGG.
19. Paul Menard
He once stole a win at Indianapolis using fuel mileage, but Menard has actually been decent at the track in general. He has finished 16th or better in each of the last four races here, notching a ninth-place finish last season. Menard is a longshot Group B list candidate, but I really like him as a cash option for the DFS sites.
20. Jimmie Johnson
Johnson has kissed the bricks on more than one occasion, but he has just one Top 10 in the last five races here and back-to-back finishes outside the Top 15. I’ve seen nothing out of Johnson this year to make me think he will be more than a mid-pack performer this weekend.
21. Chris Buescher
He’s been able to stay out of trouble and log solid results at Indy, logging Top 15s in two of his three starts and a 16.0 average finish overall. Buescher should once again be one of the best Group C options in the DGG and a safer source of cap relief at the DFS sites.
22. Austin Dillon
Indianapolis has been an all-or-nothing track for Dillon. In his last five starts, he has a pair of Top 10s to go with three finishes outside the Top 20. Based on his results this year, a finish outside the Top 20 is probably on tap this weekend. He’s a DFS lottery ticket, at best.
23. Daniel Hemric
Hemric will make his Indianapolis debut this weekend, and while he remains inconsistent, the peaks have been higher. Top 20s have become somewhat common, and he is starting to deliver Top 15s. He has a potential as a Group C sleeper in the DGG, and he’s a cheap option for GPP contests at the DFS sites.
24. Ty Dillon
The sample size is small, but Dillon has been decent in both of his starts at Indy, especially at the DFS sites. He finished 19th in his track debut in 2017, and he finished 21st in last year’s race. More importantly, he gained at least nine spots in both of those races. He could also be a sleeper Group C option in the DGG.
25. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
The Brickyard hasn’t been kind to Stenhouse. He has a 28.0 average finish in the last five races here, finishing outside the Top 30 three times. It’s hard to see him having much value in any format this weekend.
26. Ryan Preece
Preece is still crashing out of too many races, but when he does stay clean, Top 25 efforts are starting to become Top 20s. He can be a shot-in-the-dark GPP play at the DFS sites if he starts deep enough in the field.
27. Michael McDowell
Believe it or not, McDowell has managed some decent results at Indy recently. He has finished 23rd or better in each of his last three starts here, posting back-to-back Top 20s. He could be a sneaky source of cap relief at the DFS sites.
28. Bubba Wallace
Wallace made his Indianapolis debut last year, and it ended early with a wreck and a 38th-place finish. He should be able to improve on that just by staying out of trouble, but a Top 25 is still the best-case scenario, and even that may be a reach.
29. David Ragan
Normally one of the more consistent performers among the smaller teams and a decent DFS play, Ragan has had some issues at Indianapolis. He did sneak into the Top 25 here last year, but he has three finishes outside the Top 30 and a 31.0 average finish in his last five starts overall. The price and starting spot will have to be right before I consider taking a flier on Ragan.
30. Landon Cassill
The Brickyard 400 tends to be one of those races where drivers push hard for the win, leading to some added attrition. Cassill does a good job of avoiding trouble, and it has resulted in two finishes of 22nd or better in the last three races at Indy.