Another Daytona 500 is the rearview mirror, and in year’s past, I would say that this weekend’s trip to Atlanta Motor Speedway would be our first real chance to figure out which drivers and teams are going to have the edge through the first few months of the 2019 season.
Ultimately, that might still be the case, but things are a little trickier this year thanks to NASCAR’s new rules package that is designed decrease air flow to the engine and drop about 200 horsepower. There will also be tracks that use air ducts in addition to the reduced horsepower, but Atlanta isn’t one of them. The overall goal is to manufacture closer racing, and while I absolutely hate the idea in principle, it could definitely shake things up in fantasy circles.
Will the top drivers and top teams still have a significant edge at the mile-and-a-half tracks like Atlanta? Will the middle-tier teams suddenly be able to compete for Top 10s? Will these races turn into crash-filled disasters in the closing laps like we saw at Daytona last weekend and have been seeing at the restrictor-plate tracks for years?
These are all questions we will hopefully start to get answers to this weekend in the coming weeks. In the meantime, fantasy owners have to try to weather the storm for the first few races while we try to figure out what to expect and which drivers to trust.
In most season-long leagues, sticking to the household names this weekend at Atlanta and over the next couple of races is the safest strategy. Even if we don’t end up with a “Big 3” like we saw last year, the odds of guys like Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch going from elite to toiling in the middle of the pack are almost zero. At the very least, you should come out of Atlanta with decent point totals, and you can make adjustments from there.
Kevin Harvick, Jimmy Johns/Busch Beer
Will the new rules package end Harvick’s dominance at Atlanta? I’m not sure, but I do know he has led at least 116 laps in all five starts here with Stewart-Haas Racing, including 181 in last year’s win. I’ll take my chances.
Brad Keselowski, Miller Lite/Discount Tires
Keselowski has put together a strong resume at Atlanta the last few years. He is one of three drivers with four Top 10s in the last five races here, and he has led laps in four of those five starts. Keselowski won the 2017 race at the track and followed the win up with a runner-up finish last season.
Joey Logano, Shell-Pennzoil
He was one of the steadiest performers at the 1.5-mile ovals in 2018, and Logano has been rock solid at Atlanta for years. He has six straight Top 15 finishes here, including back-to-back sixth-place efforts. Logano’s 7.3 average finish during that span is the second-best mark in the series.
Chase Elliott, NAPA Auto Parts
Elliott has made three Cup starts at Atlanta, and he has never finished outside the Top 10. He has a 7.7 average finish over those three starts, picking up a Top 5 in the 2017 race. After his strong finish to 2018, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him have his best performance to date at AMS this weekend.
Martin Truex, Jr., Bass Pro Shops
Atlanta hasn’t been his best mile-and-a-half track, but that’s only because Truex has been so strong at the 1.5-mile ovals. He still has four straight finishes of eighth or better here, including a Top 5 run last season.
Kyle Busch, M&M’s
Busch has posted a couple of wins at Atlanta, but consistency has been a bit of an issue here. In 20 starts, he only has five Top 5s and seven Top 10s, and he has led just 11 laps combined in his last four starts. He’s always capable of a strong performance, but this might not be the best track to use one of his starts in most season-long contests.
Kurt Busch, Monster Energy
Atlanta has been one of his best tracks throughout his career. Busch is a three-time winner here, and he has reeled off nine straight Top 15s, including three straight Top 10s. He has also led more than 50 laps in two of his last three starts here. I’ll be targeting Busch in season-long and DFS formats this weekend.
Kyle Larson, CreditOne
He nearly won the 2017 race at Atlanta, and Larson followed the runner-up performance with a Top 10 run in last year’s race. He showed a Top 10 floor with Top 5 upside at the 1.5-mile tracks throughout last season, and I’m not sure that will change much in 2019. Still, I’ll probably shy away from him this week in season-long contests because I’m a little concerned that the new rules package could hurt him more than most because of his love of the high line. It’s hard to make time up top when nobody has to lift off the throttle.
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