On the heels of one of NASCAR’s crown jewel races – the Southern 500 – the series heads to another of its marquee events: the Brickyard 400.
The Brickyard 400 is the final regular season race of the 2018 season, which means there is only one more opportunity to win and get into the playoffs – and that may be one of the biggest factors in who should be on a fantasy roster. This race has been won by some surprising contenders in the past, including Kasey Kahne last year and Paul Menard in 2011 when he employed a fuel mileage strategy.
The entire field is ready to roll the dice and take some risks. That could make for one of the most interesting and chaotic finishes of 2018 and it is going to keep fantasy owners second-guessing the makeup of their NASCAR America Fantasy Live roster until the checkered flag waves.
1. Joey Logano (three-year average: 4.33)
Logano was happy to finish second at Darlington last week for more than one reason. That strong run gives him momentum entering a track on which he’s finished eighth or better in each of the last five years. He has not yet won at Indy, but a second-place finish to Kyle Busch in 2015 proves that he has a feel for the track.
2. Matt Kenseth (three-year average: 4.67)
Kenseth has been unable to back up his previous numbers on any track since he re-entered the Cup series, but strong records typically predict a result in the teens. He enters this week with four top fives and a seventh in his last five starts at Indy. Depending on which game one is playing, Kenseth could be a great value.
3. Kevin Harvick (three-year average: 5.00)
For the past three weeks, Harvick has been the top performing driver among the Big 3. Even so, he has not shown the same dominant form that he had earlier in the year. He could be in a similar situation this week where a finish just outside the top five allows him to earn a lot of points without challenging for the victory. At Indy, he’s finished in the top 10 in the last four races, but has only one top five.
4. Denny Hamlin (three-year average: 8.67)
Hamlin was a victim of the general chaos that defined last year’s Brickyard 400 when he crashed on the final lap and finished 17th. Prior to that, he had three consecutive top fives plus a sixth in 2012. The trick for this team is going to be in managing a smart race without making any mistakes. If that happens, they should be right back among the top five.
5. Brad Keselowski (three-year average: 9.67)
Keselowski’s win last week came at an opportune time. Team Penske has been as strong as any organization without at Big 3 member, but that has been obscured by the supremacy of The Dominators. By finishing 1-2 last week in the Southern 500, Keselowski and Logano have become part of the conversation when it matters – as they are trying to create and maintain momentum.
6. Chris Buescher (three-year average: 11.50 in two starts)
Like Pocono, Indy is a rhythm track. Buescher’s victory on the Tricky Triangle was aided by strategy, but he has had other strong runs there as well. The same is true of the Brickyard where he has a perfect record of top 15s in two starts. If one is looking for a solid dark horse, the No. 37 fits the bill.
7. Kyle Busch (three-year average: 12.00)
Busch’s numbers are not at all indicative of how he will run this week. He was racing Truex for the lead last year when he crashed and failed to finish. Before that, he had back-to-back wins in 2015/2016 plus runner-up finishes in 2014 and 2012. He is the best opportunity for the Big 3 to get back into victory lane after getting shutout in consecutive races at Bristol and Darlington.
8. Paul Menard (three-year average: 13.33)
Seven years ago, Menard’s crew chief made a great call and helped the driver win the 2011 Brickyard 400 on fuel mileage. That was Menard’s second top 15 in five starts on this track. He has not earned another top five since, but he has been perennially in the top half of the field with five results of 10th through 16th in the past six races.
9. Kyle Larson (three-year average: 14.00)
Larson was another strong contender last year who ran into trouble. He finished 28th, which was the first time in four Indy starts that he failed to crack the top 10. Last week’s dominant performance in the Southern 500 will give him a lot of confidence. It should even help him earn a third straight top five for the first time since last October.
10. Kasey Kahne (three-year average: 14.33)
Kahne survived the carnage marking last year’s Brickyard 400 and got a great restart during a green-white-checkered attempt to beat Keselowski to the overtime line as Hamlin crashed behind him. While that was a surprise, astute fantasy players would note that he started his Indy career with back-to-back top fives and had a third-place finish as recently as 2013.
Pole Winner: Prior to last year’s Brickyard 400, five consecutive Brickyard 400s were won from a top 10 starting position. On three occasions, the race was won from the front row with Ryan Newman winning from the pole in 2013 and Kyle Busch doing so in 2016. Jeff Gordon won from the outside pole in 2014. Kyle Busch won the last two poles on this track, but that does not necessarily mean he’s a favorite because the previous 12 editions were all won by a different driver.
Segment Winners: Kyle Busch won both segments of last year’s Brickyard 400. Truex finished second in both with Ryan Blaney third in each. If not for accidents, they would almost certainly have been among the top five at the end of the race. If one wants to disregard last year’s Indy results because the multitude of accidents that altered the finish, the top segment points earners at Pocono in the past two years have been Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, and Chase Elliott.