Atlanta Motor Speedway is next up. Known for being fast, despite being an intermediate track, it has a few more notable elements. It has a worn out, older racing surface these days. It does have a high line, something many Nascar tracks don’t have, which is significant in that there are a handful of drivers that excel in a high racing groove. Finally, and probably more importantly, it’s known for eating up tires. It’s not the same type of attrition that plate races bring to the table, but flat tires in between pit cycles can have a dramatic effect on the outcome of a race.
The new rules package involves tapered spacers, aero ducts, and increased splitter/spoiler sizes as the focus of the changes. Not all tracks will use all of the changes. Atlanta is one of them that doesn’t use them all. The changes are designed to reduce HP from 750 all the way down to 550, and make for close quarters racing to the benefit of fans everywhere. The results thus far are that the cars are slower, but not nearly as slow as expected. Average qualifying times are only a half second slower than the older package.
Qualifying threw some interesting twists at us this week. There a handful of top drivers starting back in the field presenting us with great value (except one that I will mostly avoid), but there also remains several very fast favorites up front. Do we go with the guys up front that could dominate the race, albeit at the expense of positional points? Or do we go after those frontrunners starting farther back in the field? There is no shortage of big name value to pick from, and trying to squeeze as many of those drivers in as possible, could cost you at the other end of your lines. Draftkings has done their homework on pricing this week.
As always, my articles are directed at DK gpp formats, but I will be around in chat to discuss FD options and cash plays if anyone is interested. Let’s get to it.
Kevin Harvick (12200) – Harvick is THE premier Atlanta driver. He’s the defending winner here, and has led the most laps over the last five races combined. Since 2014 he’s had the best combined driver rating, and has led the most laps (915) by a comfortable margin. His 2.8 average running position here over that time frame is the best in Nascar. Last year at Atlanta, he completely dominated every aspect of the race, leading the most laps, winning stage 1, nearly winning stage 2, and most importantly, he won the race. Atlanta is the first of many 1.5 mile tracks on the tour this season. Last year at 1.5 mile tracks, Harvick was arguably the best driver in the series. He won 4 races and finished in the top five in 8 of the 11 races. To top things off, he’s starting a little further back than we expected. I don’t think that changes our outlook on him at all. The fact he can also give us positional points is just a bonus. It won’t be easy to make room for him at this salary however.
Joey Logano (11700) – The defending series champion, Logano will be a driver to beat at Atlanta. He’s a strong perfomer on tracks with extreme tire wear, such as Atlanta. In 4 of the last 6 races here, he’s finished in the top 6. He struggled in qualifying, but that just gives us a great opportunity to grab another race favorite and get positional points for our lines.
Brad Keselowski (11100) – Keselowski is a recent winner at Atlanta who is always a contender. While Harvick has dominated here, Keselowski has paced the rest of the field. In the last two Atlanta races he has a 1.5 average finish, and a 4.0 average running position. Last year on tracks where tire wear is extreme, he had a 5.0 average finishing position. He, like Harvick and Logano, struggled in qualifying giving us yet another great option for garnering positional points.
(Edit : Keselowski is battling the flu as of Saturday morning. His status for Sunday is up in the air, though Penske racing remains optimistic. Nascar is a physically punishing sport with drivers losing a lot of weight via perspiration during races. Having the flu, and needing liquids will make it difficult for him on Sunday even if he attempts to drive. As a result, I’ve drastically lowered my expectations for him this week.)
Kyle Busch (10500) – Busch is considered by many to be the most talented driver in all of Nascar. Last year at these track types, he had a 3.8 average finish. He starts up front, so he’s a risky pick as far as positional points go, but he’s one of the favorites to win on Sunday. A new rules package is coming into play at Atlanta, and all Busch does is win races when rules packages are changed. Some firsts he’s won…..
The first COT race.
The first race at Indy with the high-down force package.
The first race at Kentucky in 2015 when the new down force package made its debut.
(Edit : Busch wrecked in final practice, will go to the back now, yet still be scored from his original starting position of sixth. He’s officially off of my radar.)
Chase Elliott (9700) – Elliott, a 2nd generation driver, learned from one of the best and knows how to pace himself on tracks with extreme tire wear. At Atlanta, he’s finished in the top ten in all 3 of his races here. Last year he started in the back in 27th but still managed a 10th place finish. Chase made the second round of qualifying but finished at the tail end of it and will start 22nd. That’s another great value pick. He, like Harvick, Keselowski, and Logano, are premium values this week. Get at least one of these four drivers in each of your lines, two is even better.
Martin Truex Jr. (9500) – Truex, thought by many to be the King of 1.5 mile racing, has surprisingly never won here, but in 6 of the last 7 races has finished between 3rd and 8th. Truex is about as good of a bet to finish near the top of the field as any other driver at Atlanta. Whether he gets that first Atlanta win or not, he’s a solid play for a top ten finish, and that means reasonable value starting in the fifth row.
Erik Jones (8100) – Jones is on that same Joe Gibbs team as Kyle Busch. A team which has a knack for picking up new rules packages and excelling with them quickly.
(Edit : Jones had steering system issues in happy hour. That’s not normally serious, but I felt it worthy to report as it severely limited his happy hour lap total.)
Matt DiBenedetto (7600) – I had DiBenedetto as a dark horse last week in a few of my lines, and nearly rode him to a top ten gpp finish until the ‘big one’ with ten laps to go. His team’s partnership with Gibbs has already served notice to the rest of Nascar. He’s not in the same equipment as the Gibbs drivers, but it’s similar, and far better than he’s been in at any other time. He’s a very talented driver, who showed flashes of that last year, and I’m betting it will continue throughout the season. Depending on starting position, and salary in the early weeks of the season, I’m going to be using DiBenedetto early and often in my lines. His history isn’t great at Atlanta, but he’s on a new team, with better equipment, and in a new rules package. Good drivers rise to the top in those situations. Think of him as a working class Kyle Busch in that regard.
Alex Bowman (7300) – Bowman is another young driver who does well on tracks with a high line. He’s not on the same level as Larson, but he’s not far behind either. He’s had some trouble at Atlanta, and is definitely a long shot, but he’s in great equipment, always qualifies well, and finds a way to get into the top ten when he can avoid mishaps.
Ryan Newman (6900) – Newman breathed new life into the #6 Roush Racing team at Daytona. He’s as veteran as it gets in Nascar these days. This team has been very bad in recent years however, and while Newman did well at the last plate race in Nascar, this is something completely different where all that plate experience is no longer a factor. If anyone can keep this team headed in the right direction, it’s Newman, who has a solid history at Atlanta. This team doesn’t share that history. Proceed with caution.
Daniel Hemric (6800) – There’s no history for Hemric in this series at Atlanta. The RCR team has been respectable here in the past, however, and that bodes well for a very talented young driver such as Hemric. He will be a great dark horse pick. My pick for rookie of the year, he was very fast in happy hour.
Drivers with marginal value that are FADES for me this week…Larson (elite on high groove tracks but starts up front and his aggressive style could give him tire issues), Blaney (just not his track, and despite the starting position, I don’t expect much as he’s struggled yet again this year with his setup all week), SHR drivers minus Harvick (they’re all great, team is great, but they’re all starting up front. Feel free to pick any of them to win, but I’m looking for DFS value picks further back such as Harvick),
Denny Hamlin is fresh off of his Daytona 500 victory, and will look to keep it going at Atlanta. He won’t be in my lines, but I wanted to give him a mention. He doesn’t have a great history here, but sometimes a big win can get a team pointed in the right direction, and a streak of success follows. Other times, the pomp and circumstance can be a huge distraction. unfortunately, Hamlin doesn’t give us much value from his starting spot. The opportunities at Atlanta have been there for Hamlin, but mishaps and mistakes have cost him success, and possible wins.
One other driver I want to mention who has an almost unbeilevable stat line at Atlanta is Jimmie Johnson. He’s a five time winner at Atlanta. He has an incredible stat of having finished in the top 5 at Atlanta in greater than 50% of his career races there. Those are truly amazing numbers. He had a nice one week resurgence last week at Daytona, and will look to continue that on one of the most successful tracks of his career. I most likely won’t be rostering him this week, but I won’t fault anyone who does.
My pick to win the race is Harvick. I like odds. Harvick is the odds on favorite and that’s good enough for me. All he does is dominate at Atlanta and despite the new rules package, he has too much going for him in the way of experience, he’s in a Ford, and he’s the top driver on the best team in Nascar today. My long shot to win would be Almirola from the pole. He’s been as consistent as anyone else in Nascar dating back to last season. He’s been fast here all week, and sooner or later he’s going to avoid those late race wrecks and get it done.
You can find me in chat on Sunday as I’ll keep an eye out through the weekend for starting lineup changes and relevant news. Let’s see if we can duplicate all of those great Daytona results again this week!Random FTA articles