The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads back to Michigan International Speedway this weekend, and while Sunday’s Consumers Energy 400 will be the second trip to the 2.0-mile, D-shaped oval in less than two months, there is no guarantee that this weekend’s race will play out the same as the June race.
For one, the June race was a rain-shortened event that was called after 133 of the 200 laps. This shook up the running order to a degree, but for the most part, the race was dominated by the Stewart-Haas Racing trio of Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer and Kurt Busch. In that same race, Martin Truex Jr. was surprisingly uncompetitive, and Kyle Larson crashed late as he tried for a four-peat at the track.
Since then, Truex has re-established his dominant form, and more importantly, some new contenders have emerged in recent weeks. Chase Elliott has found another gear and is now challenging for wins on a weekly basis. Meanwhile, youngsters Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez, Alex Bowman and Williams Byron are all running as well as they ever have.
Yes, there is a good chance that the SHR cars will be fast once again, but you can’t just look at the finishing order from the June race at Michigan and expect to build dominant lineups. Truex isn’t likely to have another off day, and Larson probably won’t wreck. Throw in the fact that several drivers are much improved from a couple of months ago, and the June race results are just one small piece of a much bigger puzzle.
FANTASY NASCAR RANKINGS
1. Kevin Harvick, #4 Jimmy Johns/Busch Beer, Stewart-Haas Racing
The rain probably cost him a win at Michigan in June, but Harvick still led a race-high 49 laps and finished second. He now has a series-best seven Top 5 finishes in the last 10 races at MIS, including five second-place finishes. Harvick continues to contend for wins almost every week and should be an excellent play across the board this weekend.
2. Kyle Busch, #18 M&M’s, Joe Gibbs Racing
Michigan doesn’t rank as Busch’s best track, and he only has one Top 5 in the last 10 races here. However, that Top 5 was a fourth-place finish here back in June, and his only finish outside the Top 5 in the last 10 races came at Daytona. Busch should be a strong option in any format Sunday.
3. Martin Truex, Jr., #78 Furniture Row, Furniture Row Racing
Surprisingly, Truex struggled a bit at Michigan in June, and he never really had the speed to run in the Top 5. That being said, he was the runner-up here last August and led more than 50 laps in both races at the track in 2017. I think June’s performance was a fluke, but it was still enough for me to rank him third of the Big 3.
4. Kyle Larson, #42 CreditOne/DC Solar, Chip Ganassi Racing
Larson wrecked late in the June race at Michigan while battling Kyle Busch for a spot in the Top 10, snapping his three-race winning streak at MIS. I’m not sure he will return to victory lane Sunday, but Larson should have a great shot at a Top 5. If you are trying to save a start from the Big 3 in the Driver Group Game, Larson is my top alternative.
5. Chase Elliott, #9 NAPA Auto Parts, Hendrick Motorsports
He’s coming off a huge win at Watkins Glen, and Elliott has clearly found some speed in recent weeks, leading double-digit laps in the last three races. He’s also been excellent at Michigan, cracking the Top 10 in all five starts and notching three second-place finishes. Heading to one of his best tracks, I suggest riding Elliott’s hot hand in the Driver Group Game and Fantasy Live.