NASCAR’s Big 3 have dominated every track type this season. Martin Truex Jr. won both stages of the Auto Club 400 en route to victory; Kevin Harvick won Segment 2 of the spring Michigan race and would likely have taken the checkers if the race had not been shortened by rain.
Kyle Busch has top-five finishes in both races on 2-mile tracks this year and a victory at Auto Club as recently as 2014. There is no reason to believe they will not dominate again and all three should be on this week’s NASCAR America Fantasy Live roster – even though Truex is ranked ninth in regard to his three-season average and Busch is all the way down in 16th (with an average of 16.0).
There will be some interesting challengers, however, and players looking to gain an advantage over the competition have a lot of choices.
1. Chase Elliott (three-year average: 4.60)
In five career races at Michigan, Elliott has a perfect record of top 10 finishes. His first three attempts ended in runner-up finishes and if not for some missteps on restarts, he would almost certainly have scored that first Cup victory in his rookie season. Coming off last week’s victory at Watkins Glen, he now knows how to win.
2. Kyle Larson (three-year average: 6.80)
Larson was Truex’s closest competition this spring at Auto Club. When the series came to Michigan in June, many believed he would challenge the Big 3 for the win. He might have been a bigger factor in the finish if he had not spun while trying a little too hard. He swept victory lane in 2017 as part of a three-race winning streak and should be part of this week’s battle for the top spot.
3. Kevin Harvick (three-year average: 7.80)
There are several reasons to expect Harvick to win this week, but perhaps the most compelling is that he is tired of finishing second at Michigan. When he crossed under the checkers behind Bowyer this spring, it was the sixth time in the last 11 races that he was the runner-up, so players can expect Harvick to do whatever it takes to get that final spot.
4. Jamie McMurray (three-year average: 8.20)
If a player is confident in his or her core roster, McMurray makes an excellent garage pick in this week’s NASCAR America Fantasy Live game. He is in the midst of an anemic season, but managed to finish 10th in this spring’s Michigan race. That was his fifth consecutive top 10 there and that makes him a safe pick in case one of the superstars experiences trouble in the first two segments.
5. Brad Keselowski (three-year average: 9.20)
In fantasy NASCAR, players constantly have to decide if a driver’s track record or his recent momentum during the season carries more weight. Keselowski has been struggling in recent weeks, but Michigan is a track on which he’s been nearly perfect in the past five seasons with seven top 10s in nine races.
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6. Kurt Busch (three-year average: 9.60)
Busch has a reputation for consistency on most tracks. Michigan is no exception with a current streak of five consecutive top-12 finishes to his credit. Only one of these was better than 10th, but he was one of the game’s best values this spring with a third-place finish.
7. Joey Logano (three-year average: 9.80)
Like his teammate Keselowski, Logano needs to be watched closely in practice. At the start of the year, Team Penske was expected to challenge the leaders on a regular basis and while its three drivers have swept the top 10 three times in the last nine races, they have only three top fives in 27 starts. None of those belong to Logano
8. Erik Jones (three-year average: 10.33 in 3 starts)
The season began with expectations that the young guns would challenge the old guard. Harvick, Busch and Truex insured that didn’t happen, but with recent wins by Jones at Daytona and Elliott at the Glen, they have begun to make a lot more noise. It remains to be seen if they can challenge on an unrestricted, intermediate speedway, however.
9. Martin Truex Jr. (three-year average: 11.60)
For all the talk about the Big 3, Truex was a little late to the party. He did not run all that well at Michigan this spring and finished 18th. If not for a sweep of the top 10 last year, he wouldn’t make the list. In the last four seasons, he has either finished in the top 10 in both races or outside that mark twice.
10. Ryan Newman (three-year average: 13.80)
Newman deserves some special attention this week in games other than NASCAR Fantasy Live. His consistency at Michigan has been among the best with top-20 finishes in every race for seven years leading up to this spring’s Firekeepers Casino 400. He slipped to 22nd in June but should be able to rebound and score another result in the teens.
10. Ryan Blaney (three-year average: 13.80)
Handicapping Blaney this week requires looking at his Auto Club effort as well as his success at Michigan. He finished eighth in the Auto Club 400 and again at Michigan. He also has a fourth-place finish in the second Michigan race of 2016, so he should be on the radar if he practices and qualifies well.
Pole Winner: The last three poles at Michigan were won by different drivers. Kurt Busch grabbed the top spot this spring with Larson and Keselowski showing success in 2017. Logano swept the pole in 2016, however, and there is a strong possibility that the driver of the No. 41 can do it this year. Kurt’s closest competitor may be his brother Kyle because they both have three poles so far in 2018.
Segment Winners: Martin Truex Jr. has won three of the five segments run at Michigan in the past two years and if he shows speed in practice, he should be this week’s selection for those bonus points. He failed to earn any bonus points in Segment 2 in June, however. Harvick, Larson, Keselowski and Kyle Busch have been in the top 10 at the end of every Michigan stage and they should also be considered.
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