The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series travels to Speedway, Indiana this week for the Crown Royal Presents the Combat Wounded Coalition 400. The Brickyard is the most famous racetrack in the United States and the race Sunday is one of the most prestigious on the NASCAR schedule. Be sure to test your knowledge of NASCAR by competing in the Fox Sports Fantasy Auto Racing.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway is one of the more challenging tracks that the Sprint Cup cars compete on. The track was not designed for large cars carrying so much speed into the flat corners. The strategy for NASCAR teams is to try to make it to the end of the race while making the fewest pit stops. Fuel Strategy is always the secret to winning at the Brickyard.
If NASCAR teams were playing poker, this would be the race where every team shows their hand. Winning at the Brickyard is high on every team’s priority list. The best cars in the team shop will be loaded onto the haulers for the race this week. I consider this race to be a good preview of what fantasy teams can expect in the Chase. The cars that run well Sunday should be the cars competing for the championship at Homestead.
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There were a dozen teams who tested at Indianapolis last week. The list includes Jimmie Johnson (Hendrick Motorsports No. 48), Kevin Harvick (Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4), Joey Logano (Team Penske No. 22), Matt Kenseth (Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20) Martin Truex Jr. (Furniture Row Racing No. 78), Paul Menard (Richard Childress Racing No. 27), Ryan Blaney (Wood Brothers Racing No. 21), Kyle Larson (Chip Ganassi Racing No. 42), Trevor Bayne (Roush Fenway Racing No. 6), Brian Scott (Richard Petty Motorsports No. 44), Clint Bowyer (HScott Motorsports No. 15) and Chris Buescher (Front Row Motorsports No. 34). All of these teams should have an advantage over the competition when the cars are unloaded Friday.
It is hard to compare Indianapolis Motor Speedway to any other tracks, but if there is one track where the setups are similar it is Pocono. Both tracks are 2.5-mile tracks with flat corners. The drivers who performed well at Pocono usually run well at the Brickyard. Here are the top-10 finishers in the race last month at Pocono…
2016 Axalta "We Paint Winners" 400 Results
Before I get into the best strategy for your fantasy team this week, let me address the elephant in the room. Dale Earnhardt Jr. missed the race last week at New Hampshire because of concussion-like symptoms. There is a good chance he could miss the race again this week. If Earnhardt is unable to drive, Jeff Gordon will pilot the No. 88 Chevy. No driver has won more races at the Brickyard than Gordon (five). His last win came in 2014. The No. 88 car tested at Indianapolis and finished second at Pocono. Gordon will be a great fantasy option if he does enter the race Sunday.
Track position is very important at the Brickyard and the best way to get it is by gambling in the pits. The best strategy this week is to take a combination of the fast cars that start in the top 10 and some of the cars from larger organizations who start deeper in the field. The scoring system for Fox Sports Fantasy Auto Racing game rewards drivers who improve their position in the race more than the drivers who lead the most laps. Fantasy teams must capitalize on the bonus points for position differential in order to finish at the top of their league standings.
Pick to Win
Matt Kenseth($12,500) is my pick to make it back-to-back wins this week. Everything lines up for the No. 20 car to take home the trophy Sunday. Kenseth tested at the Brickyard last week, had the car to beat at Pocono and he has momentum after winning the race in New Hampshire. Kenseth has never won at Indianapolis but he has two runner-up finishes and has finished the last three races at the track in the top seven. Joe Gibbs Racing has been the top team this year and the cream usually rises to the top in this race. Fantasy teams should expect to see Kenseth in Victory Lane Sunday.
Kevin Harvick ($13,600) should be on every fantasy team’s short list this week. He tested at the Brickyard last week and he has a series-best driver ranking and fourth-best average finishing position in the last two seasons at the track. Harvick ran well at Pocono and that should translate into another solid finish Sunday. Few drivers are able to maneuver around flat tracks as well as Harvick. Pencil him in for a top-five finish this week.
Brad Keselowski ($12,000) will be one of the drivers to watch Sunday. It is no secret that Team Penske has a win at the Brickyard at the top of their "to do" list. The team has 16 victories in the Indianapolis 500, but none in the Brickyard 400. A win this Sunday would be a huge accomplishment for the team. Keselowski has a good chance to get the job done. He finished third at Pocono and he won two of the last three races. Keselowski is a big time driver for big time races. It does not get much bigger than the race Sunday.
Kurt Busch($11,500) has not been great at the races in Indianapolis, but his win this year at Pocono suggest he should be one of the favorites Sunday. Busch has always been good at getting around flat race tracks. His problem at the Brickyard has always come down to speed. Stewart-Haas Racing found speed in their cars this year and Busch should score his 16th finish in the top 10 this week at the Indianapolis.
Kyle Busch($10,500) is the pick to win Sunday if fantasy teams want to go strictly off of past performance at Indianapolis. Busch is the defending champion of the Brickyard 400 and he has finished three of the last four races at the track in the top two. Busch has a series-best average finishing position and the second-best driver rating in the last two seasons at the track. He is definitely worth a spot on your team this week.
Joey Logano ($10,200) has been running well this year and he will be one of the favorites to get to Victory Lane Sunday. Logano has finished four of the last five races in the top five so he will have some momentum entering the race. Logano also tested at the Brickyard last week and he finished fifth at Pocono. The No. 22 car should finish in the top five Sunday.
Value Picks (Drivers under $9,000)
Chase Elliott ($8,800) competed in the Brickyard 400 last year and had good results. He started 28th and finished 18th. Elliott should be a lot better in the race this season. Elliott had the car to beat at Pocono. He led a series-high 51 laps and finished fourth. Do not be surprised to see Elliott win his first race on one of the biggest stages in the sport.
Tony Stewart ($8,700) will be the star of the show Sunday if Jeff Gordon does not race. This will be Smoke’s last race at his home track and finishing his career with a win at the Brickyard will make the 2016 season a huge success for the team. Stewart has not been running well, but he has figured out how to get to the front at the end of the races. That is all that matters. Stewart has two career wins at the Brickyard on his resume. Count me in as one of the fans who will be cheering on Smoke this week.
Denny Hamlin ($8,600) is another driver who excels on flat racetracks. The No. 11 car has not always been one of the favorites at Indianapolis, but Hamlin has figured out the track the last two seasons. He finished third in 2014 and backed it up with a fifth-place finish last year. Hamlin is a great value pick this week.
Jimmie Johnson ($8,600) has not scored a top-10 finish in the last six races, but that is good news for fantasy teams. He is the best value driver in the field this week. The No. 48 team usually does not show up at tracks that are not in the Chase. The only track that was in the Chase in the last six races was New Hampshire and Johnson won the pole and just missed a top 10 in that race. The Brickyard 400 is important for Hendrick Motorsports so I think Johnson will run well Sunday. He tested at the track last week and he has four wins in the Brickyard 400.