The Fantasy NASCAR season continues this weekend with a trip to Atlanta Motor Speedway. Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 is the first race of the year at a mile-and-a-half oval, but thanks to the track’s old, abrasive surface and NASCAR new rules package, we are entering uncharted territory.
Normally, the mile-and-a-half tracks tend to be the most predictable on the schedule, and I try to take advantage by loading my lineups with big names. I’m still going to be leaning on a lot of the usual suspects, especially in Fantasy Live, but I’m also trusting the practice sheets when filling out my lineups.
It’s the first race with a new package, so it only make sense that certain drivers and teams will figure things out a little quicker than others. I won’t be afraid to try to take advantage of a sleeper or two if they stood out on the practice sheets.
I also won’t hesitate to take advantage of some of the bigger names who had some issues in qualifying when making my Slingshot Fantasy Auto lineups. Drivers with 15-plus differential points available who also have a solid chance of providing stage points and a Top 5 finish are invaluable in this format, and there are several out there this weekend.
Check out all my season-long Fantasy NASCAR picks for Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta.
NASCAR.com Fantasy Live
His strength at Atlanta has been the long runs, so I’m not too concerned about his 18th-place qualifying effort. Harvick said he ironed out the steering issues he had earlier in the weekend, and he posted the fourth-best 10-lap average speed in final practice. I’m expecting a typical Atlanta showing from Harvick.
Larson has been a steady Top 10 performer at Atlanta, and last year, he finished seventh in both stages on his way to a ninth-place finish. After the long run speed he showed in final practice, Larson appears to have one of the cars to beat this weekend. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Larson win a stage and end up in victory lane.
Martin Truex Jr.
When in doubt, why not have the driver who has dominated the 1.5-mile tracks for the last two years at my disposal. Truex had nine Top 5 finishes in the 11 races at mile-and-a-half tracks last year, including a fifth-place run at Atlanta. He qualified in the Top 10 and showed Top 5 muscle in practice. He’s a safe bet for a big point total.
Busch has been one of the masters at Atlanta, piling up nine straight Top 15s and three straight Top 10s. In last year’s race, he finished eighth and second in the two stages and led 52 laps, and he has led 20-plus laps in three of his last four starts here. Busch starts in the Top 10 and ranked sixth on the charts in final practice. He should be able to run near the front all day and pile up some stage points.
No one is sure how the racing will play out Sunday, but I don’t think it’s a bad idea to roster the pole winner. At the very least, he should be positioned well for some early stage points, and Almirola was excellent at the 1.5-mile tracks down the stretch last year, reeling off five straight Top 10s.
Garage Driver – Kyle Busch
Busch was in a league of his own on longer runs in Happy Hour, but then he crashed his primary car late in the session. I expect his backup car to have just as much speed, but since he has to start at the rear of the field, a Top 5 finish in Stage 1 isn’t a given. That being said, I want him available if he flies through the field and ends up dominating the race.
Fantasy Racing Cheat Sheet Driver Group Game
Kevin Harvick (A)
I entered the weekend with Harvick and Brad Keselowski as my two Group A options, and while both drivers are starting outside the Top 15, Keselowski is also dealing with flu-like symptoms. I’ll go with the healthy guy, who also happens to be the same guy who crushed the competition here last year and has been untouchable on long runs at AMS for years.
Kurt Busch (B)
Busch has the blend of consistency at upside at Atlanta that I try to target in this format. He has finished in the Top 15 in his last nine starts here, and he has reeled off three straight Top 10s. Busch led 52 laps in last year’s race, and he has led more than 20 laps in three of his last for Atlanta starts. With plenty of unknowns this weekend, I’m hoping his long history of success at AMS and his Top 10 starting spot pay dividends.
Denny Hamlin (B)
Hamlin has been boom or bust at Atlanta, but he is a Top 5-caliber driver with a Top 5 starting spot. With my other options, Ryan Blaney and Erik Jones, both starting 15th or worse, I’ll gamble on Hamlin’s high ceiling.
Matt DiBenedetto (C)
Leavine Family Racing’s new partnership with Joe Gibbs Racing already paid dividends for DiBenedetto when he led the most laps in the Daytona 500. I’m not expecting that type of performance Sunday, but he qualified 20th and showed Top 15 speed in final practice. I think he can at least finish in the Top 20, and I’ll take that from my Group C option any day.
Fantasy Racing Online Slingshot Fantasy Auto
Kevin Harvick ($12,400)
He’s the most expensive option on the board, but after some steering issues resulted in an 18th-place qualifying effort, Harvick should be worth every penny. He’s been dominant at Atlanta with Stewart-Haas Racing, and after showing his typical long-run speed in final practice, I expect him to power towards the front in short order on Sunday.
Joey Logano ($12,100)
Logano had himself a moment in qualifying, and while he kept it off the wall, he will have to start way back in 27th. As far as I’m concerned, the poor starting spot just means he has a bunch of differential points to gain, and I expect him to take advantage. Logano logged 10 Top 10s in the 11 races at 1.5-mile ovals last year, including a sixth-place finish at Atlanta.
Kyle Larson ($11,000)
He has a solid resume at Atlanta, and Larson and Kyle Busch appeared to have the cars to beat on longer runs. With Busch going to the back in a backup car, I like Larson’s chances running up front all afternoon and picking up the win.
Daniel Hemric ($6,900)
Hemric is a bit of an unknown at the Cup level, but he showed excellent speed in Happy Hour, turning the eighth-fastest lap and posting the fifth-best 10-lap average speed. Starting back in 28th, Hemric will put up a huge score if he comes close to backing up those times.
Chris Buescher ($6,300)
With several big names starting deeper in the field, Buescher’s price tag is a definite plus. He also has a safe floor through the place differential category after qualifying 30th. Buescher has back-to-back Top 25 finishes at Atlanta, and he had nine Top 25s in the 11 races at mile-and-a-half tracks last year. Top 20 times in final practice point to another decent run.