The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series returns to Michigan International Speedway this weekend for the second race of the season at the two-mile oval. Big, horsepower-dependent tracks like MIS tend to favor the top teams in the series, which is why I won’t mind being aggressive with many of Fantasy NASCAR picks this weekend.
Of course, it is important to keep in mind the differences between Fantasy Live and the Driver Group Game at this point in the season. Fantasy Live only spans the first 26 races, which means there are just four races left in the season. If you have four or more starts remaining with any of the elite drivers, you should absolutely use them this weekend to try to maximize your stage points.
On the other hand, the Driver Group Game lasts all 36 races of the season, so you still have to have more of a long-term philosophy when making your selections. Yes, Michigan is a good track to lean on some of the big names, don’t be afraid to try to advantage of an appealing mid-level play.
For Slingshot Fantasy Auto, I’ll be leaning on the place differential category. There are several quality drivers who are starting in the middle of the pack that should be able to challenge for Top 5 finishes. You also have Daniel Suarez starting dead last after a qualifying wreck, but he posted excellent practice times Saturday and could gain 30-plus spots Sunday. He looks like a no-brainer play no matter how you construct the rest of your lineup.
Check out all of my season-long Fantasy NASCAR picks for the Consumers Energy 400 at Michigan, and make sure to get all your lineups locked in before the green flag Sunday.
NASCAR.com Fantasy Live
Harvick has been the model of consistency at Michigan, logging a series-best seven Top 5s in the last 10 races here. In fact, he has finished second five times in that stretch. He has also been piling up stage points, finishing second and third in the two stages of the August race last year and fourth and first in the two stages of the June race this year. Starting third with a car that was great on long runs, Harvick is positioned for another strong performance at one of his best tracks.
His career numbers at Michigan aren’t overwhelming, but Busch earned points in both stages here last fall on his way to a Top 10 finish, and he finished fourth in the June race here this year. Busch is also in the middle of an excellent stretch, and he has notched Top 5 finishes in nine of the last 10 races. After claiming a spot on the front row, I don’t expect him to slow down at all Sunday.
I was originally considering Chase Elliott for one of my spots, but despite his recent hot streak, he just didn’t show the speed I was looking for in practice. On the flip side, Bowyer showed excellent long-run speed, and he picked up the win at Michigan back in June while finishing third and second in the two stages. I think he has a Top 5-caliber car again for Sunday’s race.
He had an excellent run at Michigan last August, notching a third-place finish while cracking the Top 5 in both stages. He enters Sunday’s race with a ton of momentum, he starts in the Top 5, and he was stout in practice. Jones has a great chance at repeating his performance from last August.
Although he settled for an eighth-place finish, Blaney actually had one of the strongest cars in the June race at Michigan, winning Stage 1 and finishing sixth in Stage 2. He started ninth in that race, and after securing another Top 10 starting spot for Sunday’s race and showing muscle in practice, Blaney offers plenty of upside again this weekend.
Garage Driver – Kyle Larson
Larson starts back in 17th weekend, but he showed plenty of speed in practice Saturday and has already shown he can get to the front in a hurry at Michigan. He started back in 26th in the June race this year and still managed to finish second in Stage 1. Larson has also won three of the last four races at MIS. I’ll start him on the bench in case he has trouble getting to the front for Stage 1 points, but I won’t hesitate to swap him into my lineup if he charges to the front.
Fantasy Racing Cheat Sheet Driver Group Game
He is starting third this weekend, and Harvick appeared to have the best car on longer runs Saturday. He also had the car to beat in the June race at Michigan and has seven Top 5s in the last 10 races here. Harvick is my pick to win Sunday, so I certainly don’t mind using up one of his starts.
Running low on starts from the Stewart-Haas Racing guys, I turned to McMurray at Watkins Glen last weekend, and he delivered a Top 10 finish. I’m going back to the well again this weekend at Michigan where McMurray has five straight Top 10s and hasn’t finished worse than 16th since 2013. After a Top 15 qualifying effort, I think McMurray can deliver another solid finish while letting me save a start from the higher-end Group B options
Jones has been on a tear in recent weeks, finishing seventh or better in six of the last seven races. He also has a solid 10.3 average finish in three starts at Michigan, and he finished third in the August race at the track last year. Starting fourth, I think he has a shot at another Top 5 this weekend.
If you have a lot of starts left with Alex Bowman, I think he is the best option in this group. However, I’m down to my final two with Bowman, and I think tracks like Martinsville and Phoenix present even better opportunities. Instead, I will use Byron, who finished in the Top 15 at Michigan back in June and has three straight Top 15s heading into Sunday’s race. He also cracked the Top 10 in both practice sessions Saturday.