This article is part of our Weekly Preview series.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a rectangular oval with very flat banking all the way around. The straights are completely flat, and the four corners have banking that varies from 9 to 12 degrees. The track is very temperature sensitive, so constant adjustments to the race car are a must in order to keep up with the changing handling conditions throughout the event. Over the last few seasons Goodyear has been able to develop a great tire for stock cars at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, so we expect solid racing and for tire wear not to be an issue this Sunday afternoon. The long green flag runs that
Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a rectangular oval with very flat banking all the way around. The straights are completely flat, and the four corners have banking that varies from 9 to 12 degrees. The track is very temperature sensitive, so constant adjustments to the race car are a must in order to keep up with the changing handling conditions throughout the event. Over the last few seasons Goodyear has been able to develop a great tire for stock cars at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, so we expect solid racing and for tire wear not to be an issue this Sunday afternoon. The long green flag runs that are commonplace at Indy could bring the fuel-mileage factor into the strategy for this 400-mile event, so we'll need to keep that detail in the back of our minds when making our driver list this week. The rectangular oval has hosted 24 Monster Energy Cup Series events to this point, so we have some very extensive data on how the drivers perform at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway is perhaps the most unique track that the series visits each year. No other track on the circuit has enough comparable characteristics to draw even a modest comparison. The racing we experienced just a few weeks ago at the flat one-mile oval of New Hampshire Motor Speedway is probably the most recent and closest set of data to consider. Those drivers that dominated at Loudon are likely to keep the momentum rolling this weekend at Indianapolis. Let's take a quick look at the loop stats for the last 13 NASCAR races at Indy. Since the Monster Energy Cup Series only races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway once a season, this span will cover the last 13 years and should give us a good statistical tool to evaluate the drivers for this weekend's Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard. Indy's results are really our best information to evaluate driver performance, so this chart will have some added emphasis in our prognostications this week. The following table has the loop stats from the last 13 years or 13 races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
|DRIVER||AVG FINISH||QUALITY PASSES||FASTEST LAPS||LAPS LED||LAPS IN TOP 15||RATING|
|Martin Truex Jr.||19.5||251||36||11||1,011||81.0|
History has shown us that Chevrolet has had almost a complete stranglehold on this historic venue. Until Kyle Busch's win in a Toyota three seasons ago, the previous 12 victories at Indy had gone to Chevrolet drivers of various camps. Busch would go onto win the 2016 installment at the Brickyard, making two in a row for manufacturer Toyota, and Joe Gibbs Racing. However, it would be the unlikeliest of heroes, Kasey Kahne, that would take Chevrolet back to victory lane last season at Indianapolis. It was Kahne's final win for former boss Rick Hendrick, and it snapped Toyota and Busch's two-race win streak at the Brickyard. Chevy faces a tall order to keep the bowtie brand atop the heap at Indy. Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray would be two names to immediately come to mind. McMurray is a one-time Brickyard winner, and Larson's performances have been very strong at this facility in a limited number of starts. Both are a threat to win this Sunday afternoon.
Even though Chevy drivers dominated this track for more than a decade, we still can't overlook the top contenders from Ford and Toyota. Busch's twin victories here in 2015 and 2016 are a big reminder of this fact. Busch has hit a bit of a rough patch the last month, and this would be the perfect venue to get the No. 18 JGR Toyota team back into the win column. We can't overlook Ford's opportunity to upstage everyone this weekend. Drivers like Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano are more than capable of pulling the upset in this Sunday's Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard. We'll take a look at the top contenders and the streaking drivers in the Monster Energy Cup Series, along with historical data in order to give you the drivers you need this weekend to dominate the Brickyard and your fantasy racing league.
The Contenders - Drivers in the hunt for the win
Kyle Busch - The Joe Gibbs Racing star is a two-time winner at the rectangular oval coming into this weekend's Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard. Busch has two victories and two runner-up finishes in the last six races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The Brickyard has held a lot of success for him over the years. Despite crashing out of last season's 400-mile contest, Busch's No. 18 Toyota was the dominant machine for the first 110 laps of that race. He led 87 laps before succumbing to a Martin Truex mistake after a restart. Were it not for that mishap, Busch could have likely won three in a row at the Brickyard. Busch is the driver to beat in Sunday's Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard.
Kevin Harvick - Another great veteran driver to rely on this weekend would be Stewart Haas Racing star Harvick. The No. 4 Ford team is a weekly Top-5 contender as he showed at Darlington this past week. Victories seem to be coming once every three or four races for this driver and team, so Harvick is due to visit victory lane again. Indianapolis has been a very good track for Harvick, with one victory, five Top 5s and 11 Top 10s in 17-career starts. Harvick has led close to 200-career laps at Indianapolis Motor Speedway so he knows all too well what it takes to get to the front and stay there at this rectangular oval. Harvick's 30 laps led and fourth-place finish at the similar oval in Pocono a few short weeks ago is a good barometer of what to expect this Sunday afternoon.
Kyle Larson - The Chip Ganassi Racing driver has shown up with very fast race cars the last month. It's a big reason why Larson has been coming on strong in the point standings of late. He's had very good success at Indy in just the handful of starts he's made here to this point in his career. Larson's four-career starts at the Brickyard have netted seventh-, ninth-, fifth- and 28th-place finishes. Outside of last season's wreck-fest, the driver of the No. 42 Chevrolet has looked sharp in his prior Brickyard outings. Larson has been stellar the last two races, with a runner-up finish at Bristol and dominant 284 laps led and third-place finish this past weekend at Darlington. The CGR star is peaking at the right time in the schedule. We would not be surprised to see him upstage the big three this weekend at Indianapolis.
Brad Keselowski - Keselowski's breakthrough win at Darlington this past week will go a long way towards boosting the confidence and morale of both this driver and team. The first win of 2018 was a long time coming, but now he should be very sharp for the upcoming playoffs. The driver of the No. 2 Ford has only eight-career starts at Indianapolis. Those have yielded four Top-10 finishes but 99 laps led. Coming off the big win at Darlington we expect the veteran driver to show up with a fast car this weekend at the Brickyard. Keselowski finished an Indianapolis career-best runner-up in last season's Brickyard 400, so you can bet he'll remember that outing well this weekend.
Solid Plays - Drivers who are near locks for the top 10 with an outside shot at winning
Martin Truex Jr. - Truex has been experiencing some tough luck and obstacles of late, so he slides into the solid plays list week. The Furniture Row Racing star only has three Top 10s in 13-career starts at the historic speedway, but the Top-10 finishes have come in just his last six starts. Truex was not many laps from tasting the possible thrill of victory at the Brickyard last season. The No. 78 Toyota and Kyle Busch's No. 18 Toyota were the class of the field. Unfortunately, Truex misjudged turn 1 on the restart and it led to a two-car crash taking out both he and Busch. The veteran FRR driver won't likely be vying for the win this Sunday, but he should be one of the faces among the Top 10 in this 400-mile battle.
Joey Logano - Logano has fantastic Indianapolis numbers. He has six total Top-10 finishes in nine starts at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He also rides a five-race Indy Top-10 streak into Sunday's event. Logano is coming off an impressive runner-up finish this past weekend at Darlington, and that's a good sign coming to Indiana this week. The Penske Racing star has been gradually improving after a tough July and August. Logano has strung a three-race Top-10 streak together that includes a pair of Top 5s and 113 laps led the last two races. We're coming to the perfect oval for the driver of the No. 22 Ford to keep his Top-10 streak alive and improve his standing for the upcoming Chase for the Cup.
Denny Hamlin - Hamlin has a series of ups-and-downs in his resume at the Brickyard, but he's come on very strong the last few seasons. After recording only two Top-10 finishes in his first six starts at Indianapolis, the driver of the No. 11 Toyota has collected three Top-5 and four Top-10 finishes in his last six starts at the rectangular oval. Over that six-race span Hamlin has led a noteworthy 49 laps. That shows that he's not just riding in line, but getting to the front and leading laps. Flat tracks have always played to Hamlin's strength as his dominance at Martinsville Speedway has shown over his career. Coming off three poles and two Top 10s in the last four races, the Joe Gibbs Racing star is poised to crack the Top 10 at the Brickyard.
Chase Elliott - With a six-race Top-10 streak in tow, Elliott comes to Indianapolis 11th overall in the championship standings and performing as one of the hottest drivers in the series. He's put some of his struggles of the early spring well behind him. The Hendrick Motorsports driver will be making his fourth-career start at the Brickyard this Sunday afternoon. Those prior three starts have been nothing noteworthy, with just one Top-15 finish to his credit. Elliott will look to turn in his career-best Brickyard performance on Sunday. Given how well he's performed the last seven weeks, including great finishes at Pocono, Loudon and Michigan, we expect big things for the No. 9 Chevrolet team in the Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard.
Sleepers - Drivers with good history at Indianapolis who can provide a solid finish
Erik Jones - The driver of the No. 20 Toyota comes to the Brickyard as one of the hottest drivers in the series the last 6 weeks. Jones has four Top-10 finishes during that span, and rides a two-race Top-10 streak into Indianapolis. The Joe Gibbs Racing youngster will be making his second-career start at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but he does have two-career Xfinity Series starts at the historic oval. That experience will come in handy this weekend. Jones led 10 laps and looked very impressive before he crashed out of last season's Brickyard 400. This young driver is poised to turn in another Top-10 performance this Sunday afternoon.
Kurt Busch - The Indianapolis resume has been a mixed bag for the driver of the No. 41 Ford. Busch's five Top-10 finishes in 17 starts wouldn't normally inspire much confidence entering this weekend. However, it's been the body of work this season that makes this Stewart Haas Racing driver a steady play at the Brickyard. Coming off last weekend's sixth-place finish at Darlington, the veteran driver rides a strong seven-race Top-10 streak into IMS. Busch's last two Brickyard finishes have been nothing to write home about, but he did register an impressive eighth-place finish in the 2015 installment of the Brickyard 400. In the end analysis many fantasy racing players won't pick on Busch this weekend because of his spotty history at this track, but his current level of performance warrants a fantasy start this weekend.
Ryan Blaney - The driver of the No. 12 Ford will be happy to see another large oval this weekend. The intermediate and larger ovals have been his best tracks by far during his brief Monster Energy Cup Series career. Blaney will be making his fourth-career start at Indianapolis Motor Speedway this weekend. The young driver had a stellar 12th-place finish in his Brickyard debut three years ago, but his last two efforts haven't gone as well. He crashed and finished 23rd here last season. Considering half the field crashed in last season's Brickyard 400, that's hardly a damming action. There's good reason to expect a rebound this Sunday afternoon. Blaney has an average finish of 9.7 over his last six races, and he's been the fifth-highest point getter in the series during that span. The No. 12 team is in good shape coming to Indianapolis.
Jamie McMurray - The No. 1 Chevrolet team is pulling up hard to improve performance going into the closing stages of the season. The Chase for the Cup is out of the question, so he won't be playoff racing the next 10 weeks. However, he's posted two Top 10s in the last four races, so the urgency to improve seems to be there for this driver and team. As far as Indianapolis is concerned, this is a sweet spot for McMurray. He's a one-time winner at the oval (2010), and he's logged five Top-10 finishes in 15-career starts. That places his average finish at this tricky oval at a very respectable 15.0. McMurray has only finished off the lead lap once in those 15 prior starts, and that's the assurance that fantasy racing players need at this time in the season.
Ryan Newman - In staying with the hot hand theme, we have to keep the No. 31 Chevrolet team circled this week on the sleepers list. Newman has been racing well in July and August, and he has two Top-10 and four Top-15 finishes in the last six races. There's no reason to expect this driver and team to cool off this Sunday afternoon at the Brickyard. His effort in this event one year ago yielded a brilliant third-place finish for Richard Childress Racing. That effort goes nicely with his Indianapolis win in 2013. Since the 2011 season Newman has the one win, two Top-5, three Top-10 and six Top-15 finishes. That works out to a strong 10.9 average finish at Indy over the last seven seasons. Newman shouldn't disappoint in Sunday's Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard.
Kasey Kahne - Kahne may be on the verge of retirement, but he'll surely be looking forward to one more start at Indianapolis. Last season's surprise winner of the Brickyard 400 comes back to the scene of his last victory. While the No. 95 Leavine Family Racing team won't likely give him a car to defend his race crown, he should show well at a track that clearly appeals to him. Kahne has one win and seven Top-10 finishes in his 14-career starts at the Brickyard. That works out to a very respectable 13.6 average finish. The veteran driver recently registered a 15th-place finish at Bristol, which is another favorite oval of Kahne's. We wouldn't be surprised to see Kahne challenge the Top 15 again in his final start at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Slow Down - Drivers to avoid this week
Jimmie Johnson - Johnson's poor performances of late gives us some major pause coming to Indianapolis, but the No. 48 team's career-long excellence here is almost too good to ignore. The seven-time champion has won four-career victories at this oval, with the last coming in 2012. However, since that win he's been on a steady decline at the Brickyard. The driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet has only posted two Top 10s in the five starts at Indy since that victory. Last season's effort resulted in a crash and 27th-place finish in the Brickyard 400. There are many question marks surrounding Johnson and his team right now, and frankly the recent performances at Indianapolis don't inspire much confidence at all.
Clint Bowyer - Bad luck just seems to find Bowyer and the No. 14 team. It did once again this past weekend at Darlington. He'll attempt to shake it off again this week at the Brickyard. The Stewart Haas Racing veteran has 12-career starts at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and he has only three Top-10 finishes for a 25-percent average. Bowyer's last two Brickyard 400 starts have been the poorest results of his career at this historic oval. Finishes of 21st- and 30th-place the last two seasons, aren't a ringing fantasy racing endorsement. Bowyer is looking to get his team into shape for the upcoming playoffs as they are safely in the Chase field with the two wins. This is likely a better weekend to keep Bowyer benched, and deploy him in your lineups during the Chase on a more favorable oval.
Darrell Wallace Jr. - His last six weeks show no Top-20 finishes, and two finishes outside the Top-30. That works out to a lowly 28.2 average finish for the No. 43 Chevrolet team. Things have been tough for the young Wallace of late. This will be his first-career Cup Series start at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. This is not an oval for inexperienced drivers. Although Wallace does have two-career Xfinity Series starts at the Brickyard, those results were far from desirable. Those finishes were 23rd- and 14th-place efforts in 2015 and 2016. While that experience was valuable, it's likely far too little to be of help this Sunday. Wallace's recent crash and 33rd-place finish at the similar oval in Pocono is likely a good indicator of what to expect this Sunday.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. - Despite last weekend's respectable 12th-place finish at Darlington, we have to downgrade Stenhouse this week. Up until that Top-15 finish at the Track Too Tough to Tame, the No. 17 team had been all over the map the last six weeks with finishes inside and outside the Top 20. The six-week average is around 20.3, which is pretty much where he's been for most of the season. Stenhouse has a rough record at Indianapolis. In five prior starts the Roush Fenway Racing driver has one Top-15 finish and three finishes outside the Top-25. That Brickyard average is coming in around 26.2. Stenhouse was in good company when he crashed out of this event one year ago, but it did nothing to improve his career averages at this facility. Stenhouse is a risky fantasy racing play for the Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard.