Fantasy NASCAR: Firekeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway Quick Picks
We've got a busy weekend of racing, and the Cup Series has a pair of races on tap at Michigan International Speedway. Saturday's Firekeepers Casino 400 will kick things off, and while you can definitely have Fantasy NASCAR success at two-mile tracks like Michigan by loading up on big names, the weekend format creates opportunities to steal some starts from other options.
For starters, there are only a couple of two-mile ovals on the schedule, Michigan and Auto Club Speedway, so we don't have a ton of data to work with, especially with this rules package. More importantly, we essentially have a chance to scout ahead for Sunday's second race during Saturday's event.
For Fantasy Live and the Driver Group Game, I like the idea of skewing my lineups more towards the big names in the first race while I try to identify potential mid-tier and sleeper options to use in the second leg of the doubleheader on Sunday. This way, you should be able to have a couple of successful races at Michigan while also helping to budget your driver allocations a bit.
The format could also create the opportunity to post a big score in the Slingshot contest on Sunday. Instead of the field being set by owner point tiers, the Top 20 finishers on Saturday will be inverted while the rest of the drivers start Sunday's race where they finished in the first event. In other words, we could actually see some big names have serious place differential upside instead of all of them starting towards the front.
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He has been the most consistent driver in the series all year, and Harvick has cracked the Top 10 in all four races at two-mile ovals with the new rules package, posting a 5.2 average finish and winning at Michigan last August. After drawing the No. 3 starting spot, Harvick should run in the Top 5 all afternoon and will likely contend for the win.
With just a couple of starts remaining, I was toying with the idea of saving Logano for another week. That changed when he ended up on the pole for Saturday's race. He led 163 of the 203 laps in a win at Michigan last June, and he led 52 more laps in the August event, finishing fourth in both stages. It could be a clean sweep for Logano in the first leg of the MIS doubleheader.
Although his speed has dipped a bit in recent weeks, Elliott's record at Michigan speaks for itself. He has seven Top 10s in eight starts here, posting a 7.6 average finish. Elliott also notched a Top 5 at Auto Club earlier this year. A Top 10 starting spot only bolsters his already high floor.
I am burning through starts from Almirola, but while I am getting Top 10 production from an unexpected source, I am going to continue to take advantage. He has reeled off nine straight Top 10s heading into Michigan, posting a 5.6 average finish. Almirola has scored the third-most points in the series in that span, sitting just three points behind top-scorer Kevin Harvick.
Busch is a former winner a both Auto Club and Michigan, and the veteran has still been getting the job done at the two-mile ovals. He has three finishes of sixth or better in the four races since the start of 2019, picking up a third-place finish at Auto Club earlier this season. Rolling off in the Top 10, Busch is set up for a solid finish and a chunk of stage points.
Garage Driver – Alex Bowman
The finishes haven't been there for Bowman, who has developed a bad habit of fading later in races. However, he logged Top 10s in both Michigan races in 2019, and he clobbered the field at Auto Club back in March. Not only did Bowman win at Auto Club, but he led 110 laps and piled up 19 stage points. Starting sixth, I want him available in case the speed he showed at Auto Club carries over to MIS, the other two-mile oval on the schedule.
Fantasy Racing Cheat Sheet Driver Group Game
Joey Logano (A)
He put on a pair of impressive performances at Michigan last year, leading 163 laps in a win in the June race and leading 52 laps in the August event. Logano picked up double-digit stage points in both starts, and after drawing the pole Saturday, another dominating showing seems likely.
Alex Bowman (B)
Bowman has been struggling later in races for a while now, but he picked up Top 10s in both races at Michigan last year, and he dominated the Auto Club race in March. He led a race-high 110 laps, finishing first and second in the two stages on his way to the win. Starting sixth, I am going to roll the dice on his upside and hope that Bowman's success at the two-mile ovals continues. If you want a safer play, Kurt Busch has a solid history at the 2.0-mile tracks.
Matt DiBenedetto (B)
Ryan Blaney is my top play in this group, but I only have a few starts left from him the rest of the way. I am going to try to steal some exposure to Team Penske equipment by going with DiBenedetto, who is essentially driving a fourth Penske car. He finished 13th at Auto Club earlier this year, and I think he will challenge for a Top 10 Saturday.
Cole Custer (C)
I think Tyler Reddick will be a Top 10 contender, but I am low on starts from him, and I want to keep him for the mile-and-a-half ovals. Instead, I will go with the surging Custer. He has four Top 10s in the last five races, and he finished 18th at Auto Club back in March. At worst, he should deliver another Top 20, and a Top 15 run is a real possibility.
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Martin Truex Jr. ($12,200)
Truex has enjoyed plenty of success at the 2.0-mile tracks in recent years, and since the start of last season, he ranks fourth in points scored in the four races. He finished third and fourth in the two Michigan races last year, and after drawing the worst starting spot among the Top 12 drivers in points, he gives me the potential for 20-plus place differential points along with a shot at the win.
Ryan Blaney ($11,200)
He has been fast at the two-mile ovals since joining Team Penske, and Blaney had one of the cars to beat at Auto Club in March, leading 54 laps and gaining 19 stage points. Starting 11th, he has more differential upside than most of the big names, pushing his ceiling even higher. Blaney should be a threat for the win and an all-around fantasy stud.
Erik Jones ($10,300)
Jones is now auditioning for a ride in 2021, and while he has had some bad luck this year, he is still capable of delivering a Top 10 on any given day. Back at Auto Club in March, he gained 19 spots and finished 10th. Jones will start 23rd Saturday, giving him similar upside.
Christopher Bell ($9,200)
He actually had a good qualifying draw by his standards, but he is still rolling off from way back in 29th Saturday. Bell remains a bit of a boom-or-bust play, but I have a tough time passing up someone with Top 10 upside who has the potential to earn 40-plus differential points.
Ty Dillon ($6,600)
You have several potential options for cheaper plays, including Corey LaJoie, Daniel Suarez and John Hunter Nemechek, but I decided to go with Dillon. He has the place differential category working in his favor after drawing the 34th starting spot, and Richard Childress Racing equipment has shown speed at Michigan in the past. Last Year, Dillon finished 11th and 22nd in the two races at MIS, and if he can just crack the Top 25 Saturday, I'll be happy.