The Cup Series heads back to Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend, but Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 will not be the second race of the year at the mile-and-a-half oval. Teams arrived at the track earlier this year, but then came the coronavirus pandemic, and we all know what happened next.
Fast forward a few months, and teams will return to Atlanta, a track know for its worn-out, abrasive surface and multiple grooves. Sunday’s race will now be the fourth of the 2020 season at a mile-and-a-half oval, and while I definitely value the results from the three previous races, I also like to look at historical results at AMS. The tire wear here compared to a majority of the 1.5-mile tracks can be tough on some drivers.
For the most part, I expect to stick to my typical strategy for mile-and-a-half ovals and rely heavily on the big names from the top teams. Of course, we’ve seen the balance of power among those teams shift a bit this year. Kevin Harvick remains fast week in and week out, but Hendrick Motorsports and Team Penske appear to be the strongest teams. Joe Gibbs Racing hasn’t exactly fallen off the map, but JGR isn’t the unstoppable force it was for much of 2019.
We still don’t exactly know the schedule going forward, but in the meantime, we need to remember to be smart about how we allocate our driver starts in Fantasy Live and the Driver Group Game. Having doubleheaders at Darlington and the Charlotte oval likely chewed some of your starts away from the top options, but I still recommend loading up again Sunday and trying to save some starts at Martinsville and Talladega in the coming weeks.
1. Chase Elliott
He has three Top 10s in four starts at Atlanta, including one Top 5, but Elliott’s performance throughout 2020, especially at the 1.5-mile ovals are what have him atop the rankings. He had arguably the best car at Las Vegas in February, and he should have won both races at Charlotte.
2. Kevin Harvick
Since joining Stewart-Haas Racing, Harvick has finished in the Top 10 in five of his six starts at Atlanta, winning here in 2018. He has also led at least 45 laps in all six starts at the track with SHR, leading at least 116 laps five times. He is also one of just two drivers who have finished in the Top 10 in all three races ay 1.5-mile tracks, and he has led the second-most laps in those races.
3. Brad Keselowski
Nobody has delivered better results at Atlanta in recent years than Keselowski. He is the defending winner at the track, and he has two wins and a second-place finishes in his last three starts, leading 20-plus laps in all three races. Keselowski has finished in the Top 10 in all three races at 1.5-mile tracks this year, posting a series-best 5.0 average finish in those starts.
4. Joey Logano
After back-to-back sixth-place finishes at Atlanta in 2017 and 2018, Logano appeared to be headed to a win here last year before cutting a tire while leading late. He picked up a win at Las Vegas in February, and he has scored the most points of any driver in the three races at mile-and-a-half ovals in 2020, leading 20-plus laps in all of them.
5. Ryan Blaney
Blaney hasn’t been able to catch a lot of breaks this year, but he has shown as much week-to-week speed as any driver in the series. He led 19 laps and was leading at Las Vegas when a late caution cost him the win, and he finished third in both races at Charlotte. Blaney also led 41 laps at Atlanta last year until pit road issues derailed his day. He should be on the short list of starters in all fantasy formats.
6. Martin Truex Jr.
Truex has been locked in at Atlanta for a while now, reeling off five straight finishes of eighth or better and posting a 5.6 average finish in that span. He also has back-to-back Top 5s here, including a runner-up effort a year ago. Truex showed plenty of speed at Las Vegas before having a tire issue, and he was one of the top contenders in the Coca-Cola 600.
7. Alex Bowman
He finished 15th at Atlanta last year, but Bowman developed into one of the strongest options at 1.5-mile tracks during the second half of last season. The momentum seems to have carried over into 2020 because Bowman has been a threat to win all three races at mile-and-a-half ovals, leading a series-best 215 laps.
8. Kyle Busch
Since winning here in 2013, Busch has been good, not great, at Atlanta. He has three finishes of seventh or better in his last four starts, but he has managed just one Top 5 in his last five races here. Throw in his up-and-down performance in 2020, and this is probably not the track to use him for the Driver Group Game or Fantasy Live.
9. Kurt Busch
They say Atlanta is a “racer’s” track, so it should be no surprise that a wheelman like Busch has had success here. No driver has scored more points over the last 10 races at AMS, and during that stretch, Busch has posted a series-leading 6.9 average finish. He has also reeled off four straight Top 10s at Atlanta, including a third-place run last year, and he has led 20-plus laps in three of his last five starts here. This is a great spot to use him as a Group B option for the Driver Group Game, and he has sneaky dominator potential at the DFS sites.
10. Denny Hamlin
He has had his share of awful finishes at Atlanta, including three 38th-place finishes in his last seven starts. On the flip side, Hamlin is also a former winner here, and he has finished fourth and 11th in the last two races. He’s a boom-or-bust option, but you have to at least have him on your radar at the DFS sites.
11. Erik Jones
Jones always seems to run in or around the Top 10 at the mile-and-a-half ovals, and Atlanta has been no exception. He has a 10.7 average finish in three career starts, cracking the Top 15 in all of them and finishing seventh here a year ago. Jones should be a solid play in most formats this weekend.
12. Jimmie Johnson
He has been in a slump at Atlanta, finishing outside the Top 15 in three straight starts and outside the Top 20 in his last two. However, this used to be one of his best tracks, and Johnson has shown a lot more speed in 2020 than he has the last couple of seasons. After his Top 5 effort at Las Vegas and strong performances at Charlotte, he at least needs to be on your radar for DFS contests.
13. Clint Bowyer
Bowyer tends to run hot and cold at the 1.5-mile ovals, but he has been dialed in at Atlanta since joining Stewart-Haas Racing. He has a 6.3 average finish in three starts here in the No. 14, finishing 11th or better in all three races and notching back-to-back Top 5s. Bowyer could be a real difference-maker at Fantasy Live or as a Group B option for the DGG this weekend.
14. Tyler Reddick
The rookie has been a revelation, showing Top 10 upside on a weekly basis, and finishing eighth and 14th in the two races at Charlotte. Reddick has been the top Group C option in the Driver Group Game, and I don’t see that changing this weekend.
15. Aric Almirola
He has cracked the Top 15 in both of his starts at Atlanta with Stewart-Haas Racing and in five of his last six starts at the track overall. Last year, he led 36 laps on his way to an eighth-place finish. I wouldn’t count on Almirola leading any laps Sunday, but he should land in the Top 15. He’s a safe option to have at your disposal for the DGG.
16. William Byron
Byron has finished 18th and 17th in two starts at Atlanta, but the issue for him continues to be failing to make his results match his speed. Back in February at Las Vegas, he finished sixth and fourth in the first two stages, only to finish 22nd in the race. Byron had a similar outcome in the Coca-Cola 600. He will have Top 10 potential this weekend, but I like him more at the DFS sites than I do in season-long formats.
17. Matt DiBenedetto
The move to Woods Brothers Racing has paid off in a big way for DiBenedetto, and he is now able to flirt with Top 10s on a routine basis, even at the mile-and-a-half ovals. He should at least challenge for a Top 15 at Atlanta, and this might even be a little too conservative of a ranking for DiBenedetto.
18. Ryan Newman
You have to admire his ability to deliver decent finishes almost every week. Outside of a battery issue in the Coca-Cola 600, Newman hasn’t finished worse than 17th all season. Granted, he doesn’t have the upside of the other midrange options, but you can bank on him challenging for a Top 15.
19. Austin Dillon
He is quietly having himself a solid start to 2020 at the mile-and-a-half tracks, notching two Top 10s and an 8.7 average finish in the three races. Granted, Dillon has struggled at Atlanta, finishing 19th or worse in five of his seven starts and posting a 22.9 average finish overall. Still, he has shown enough this year that I would roll the dice on him for DFS contests or Slingshot Fantasy Auto if he starts deeper in the field Sunday.
20. Chris Buescher
Buescher delivered a ninth-place finish at Atlanta last year, and he went on to have a solid season at the 1.5-mile tracks. He switched teams in the offseason, but after a Top 15 effort at Las Vegas and a Top 10 in the Coca-Cola 600, it looks like his success at the mile-and-a-half ovals wasn’t a one-year thing. Buescher should be one of the better sources of cap relief at the DFS sites this weekend.
21. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Stenhouse has been decent at Atlanta in his career, posting an 18.4 average finish and cracking the Top 20 in six of his seven starts. He has also one of just three drivers who have notched Top 5 finishes in two of the three races at 1.5-mile ovals in 2020. Trusting Stenhouse is always risky, but he could win you a lot of money at the DFS sites if you are willing to roll the dice.
22. Christopher Bell
Bell dominated the XFINITY race at Atlanta last year, and after a rough start to his rookie year, he has been popping up in and around the Top 10 the last few races. Among the Group C option in the DGG, Bell has one of the highest ceilings.
23. Cole Custer
While Custer has yet to have a statement performance in his rookie season, he has been able to find his way into the Top 20 most weeks, and he has a 16.3 average finish in the three races at 1.5-mile tracks. If you want to save a start from Tyler Reddick in the Driver Group Game C, his mid-pack floor makes him one of the safest alternatives.
24. Matt Kenseth
Whether it is his driving style with this rules package or just bad luck, Kenseth’s returned to the Cup Series has been plagued by tire issues. He owns a 21.0 average finish after five starts, and he finished 26th and 23rd in the two races at Charlotte. I will be looking elsewhere for Group C options for the Driver Group Game until he delivers some better results.
25. John Hunter Nemechek
I hope some bigger teams are paying attention because what Nemechek has been doing in Front Row Motorsports equipment has been impressive. Finishing in the Top 25 consistently would have been elevating this organization, and he is challenging for Top 15s somewhat regularly. Nemechek has a 17.7 average finish in the three races at 1.5-mile tracks, and he will be a viable Group C option in the DGG this weekend.
26. Ty Dillon
The 1.5-mile tracks typically aren’t his strong suit, and Dillon has posted a 21.6 average finish in five starts at Atlanta, finishing 26th and 25th in the last two races here. After two lackluster runs at Charlotte, he is little more than a DFS punt option heading into Sunday’s race.
27. Bubba Wallace
Wallace has shown some legitimate Top 15 speed at times this year, and he had a Top 10 run going in the second race at Charlotte. Unfortunately, mechanical issues have been common, and Wallace himself criticized the team for not being able to afford parts. If he starts deep in the field, he can be a high-risk, high-reward source of cap relief for Slingshot or DFS contests, but there is no reliability here.
28. Ryan Preece
He struggled at the 1.5-mile tracks as a rookie, and while Preece has shown a little more speed at times in 2020, he still struggles to crack the Top 20 most weeks. He needs to start outside the Top 30 to have any value, and even then, his upside is limited.
29. Corey LaJoie
LaJoie does the best with what he has to work with, and he delivered to respectable efforts at the 1.5-mile ovals, posting a 19.3 average finish. His fantasy value is qualifying dependent, but his price tag at the DFS sites is usually next to nothing. There is some punt play potential in the right circumstances.
30. Michael McDowell
He has had some Top 20 performances in 2020, but even with an 18th-place finish in the Coca-Cola 600, McDowell still owns a 26.3 average finish in the three races at 1.5-mile tracks this year. Maybe he sneaks into the Top 25, but you should be able to find better sources of cap relief this weekend.