NASCAR Fantasy Blog


NASCAR Fantasy Preview: Atlanta

August 27, 2013, Dan Beaver, NASCAR.com

Despite wrist injury, Truex is a good driver for Atlanta Motor Speedway

In the past four weeks, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has visited four distinct tracks. The flat 2.5-mile Pocono Raceway gave way to the road course of Watkins Glen International. The unrestricted, intermediate Michigan International Speedway preceded the bullring of Bristol Motor Speedway, and now the series heads to the similarly-configured, 1.54-mile Atlanta Motor Speedway.

The similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks of Atlanta, Charlotte Motor Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Kansas Speedway, Chicagoland Speedway, and Kentucky Speedway are all subtly different, but the skill set required to go fast on one is transferable to the others. These tracks dominate the circuit, but the last time NASCAR visited one was eight weeks ago in June. A lot has happened since the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky and the notebook may need to be re-written.

Drivers rely on momentum and with such a wide variety of tracks to challenge their skill during the past two months, it has been difficult to sustain. This has particularly affected the drivers on the cusp of making or missing the Chase for the Championship and it is increasingly obvious that the list of contenders will not be known until the final lap is run at Richmond International Raceway next week.

The Chase is important not only because the top 12 drivers are the only ones with an opportunity to win the championship, but because it is going to elevate the performance of a number of them and several will be showcased this week as favorites or dark horses.

Rank

Driver

Power Avg.

1.

Matt Kenseth

7.07

2.

Jimmie Johnson

7.08

3.

Carl Edwards

9.32

4.

Greg Biffle

9.79

5.

Kevin Harvick

10.34

6.

Kyle Busch

10.81

7.

Denny Hamlin

11.88

8.

Kasey Kahne

12.29

9.

Martin Truex Jr.

12.88

10.

Jeff Gordon

12.94

11.

Brad Keselowski

14.85

12.

Clint Bowyer

15.05

13.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

15.60

14.

Kurt Busch

15.84

15.

Paul Menard

17.50

16.

Mark Martin

17.60

17.

Ryan Newman

17.82

18.

Marcos Ambrose

18.49

19.

Jamie McMurray

18.91

20.

AJ Allmendinger

20.04

21.

Joey Logano

20.06

22.

Aric Almirola

20.30

23.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

20.70

24.

Juan Pablo Montoya

20.81

25.

David Ragan

22.93

26.

Brian Vickers

23.00

27.

Jeff Burton

23.67

28.

Austin Dillon

26.88

29.

David Reutimann

27.09

30.

Danica Patrick

31.61

31.

Bobby Labonte

33.31

32.

Casey Mears

33.49

33.

David Gilliland

33.55

34.

Landon Cassill

33.59

35.

Travis Kvapil

34.56

36.

Scott Speed

34.80

37.

Dave Blaney

36.89

38.

Mike Bliss

37.31

39.

Timmy Hill

37.61

40.

JJ Yeley

37.65

41.

David Stremme

37.71

42.

Michael McDowell

39.11

43.

Josh Wise

39.43

44.

Joe Nemechek

40.54

The Favorites

Only one driver has been perfect this year on similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks and he is not necessarily the first one who comes to mind. So far in 2013, Martin Truex Jr. has backed up one top-10 finish with another on only three occasions and that inconsistency has kept his salary cap from ballooning out of control like Jimmie Johnson or Kevin Harvick. While he has struggled on other track types, he has been perfect in regard to top-10s at Vegas, Texas, Kansas, Charlotte, and Kentucky.

Truex snapped his long winless streak at Sonoma, but it appeared he would do so on this track type much earlier in the season and now that he has tasted victory, another win could follow. Truex will score a lot of fantasy points as well; in the most recent three Atlanta races, he has averaged 57.7 quality passes per race, which places him third behind AJ Allmendinger and Jeff Gordon. Truex will be driving hurt this week after suffering a fractured and sprained wrist, but that should not impact his ability to finish with the leaders on an unrestricted, intermediate speedway. He might be a driver to avoid next week on the short track, however.

The Penske Racing South organization has come on strong recently and Brad Keselowski is determined to make the Chase and defend his championship. It has been a difficult road to this point and he stumbled a time or two on similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks, but he got off to a strong start at the beginning of the year with three consecutive top-10s at Vegas, Texas, and Kansas. He has been strong at Atlanta in the past two years as well, so this team should have a good set of notes from which to work.

Jimmie Johnson is an accepted master of this track type and he rarely stumbles. In his career on the similarly-configured, 1.5-mile courses, he has amassed 17 victories in 105 starts, which works out to a winning ratio of 17 percent. When he misses, it is often by the narrowest of margins and he has earned top-fives in nearly half of his starts at Atlanta, Charlotte, Texas, Vegas, Kansas, Chicagoland, and Kentucky. In the NASCAR Fantasy Live game, a driver does not have to win to score major points and Johnson currently has the second-most fastest laps run during the past 17 races at Atlanta according to NASCAR Statistical Services.

Dark Horses

It would be easy to make Jeff Gordon a favorite if not for all the trouble he has experienced in 2013. Every time it appears he has some momentum on his side, a mistake on the track, in the pits, or with the setup handicaps his effort. When everything clicks for him, however, he is as good as anyone in the field. Gordon entered the last two editions of the Atlanta AdvoCare 500 in similar circumstances of needing a strong run to keep his Chase hopes alive and that is precisely what he got. He won in 2011 and finished second last year. Better still, he has earned major points for fantasy players in the past three years with 61.3 quality passes, 27.7 fastest laps, and 76 laps led on average.

Now that Joey Logano has tasted victory in the form of his Pure Michigan 400 win, he is primed for more. He developed chemistry with his current team immediately and might have several more trophies on his mantle if not for some bad luck and misfortune. On the similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks, he has hit more often than he has missed, however, with top-five finishes at Texas, Charlotte, and Kentucky. That has added significance because the best he could manage last year on this track type with Joe Gibbs Racing was a pair of top-10s and a best of seventh. Logano could win, but even if he misses and finishes in the top 10 for the 11th time in 14 races, he is going to be one of the best values in the game.

Underdogs

Mark Martin is going to be very important to the Stewart-Haas Racing program, but his effect may not be seen in the results of the No. 14 car immediately. His depth of experience will add to the already copious notes provided by Tony Stewart and by the end of the year, this team could be contending for top-10s on a weekly basis. He will also free up Stewart to assume more of the ownership role, which should improve the results for Danica Patrick and Ryan Newman, but that falls into the realm of speculation at the moment. Neither Stewart nor Martin has set the similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks on fire this year. Between them, they have only two top-10s in nine combined starts and at this stage of the season, players need more productivity from their roster.

Roush-Fenway Racing makes a ton of horsepower and that is apparent in their record on the two-mile tracks of Michigan and Auto Club Speedway. Teammate Carl Edwards once dominated Atlanta as well, but Greg Biffle has struggled in recent seasons. Biffle has not earned a top-five on this track since 2008 and in the seven races that followed, he has only three top-10s. His last two efforts on this track ended in top-15s, which gives his fans a little encouragement, but Biffle enters the weekend with back-to-back 30-something results at Charlotte and Kentucky and that is far more significant in regard to his odds for a strong showing in the Atlanta AdvoCare 500.

Author's note: The Power Average (on the left) is the average finish during the last three years, plus the number of laps spent in the lead, in the top five, and in the top 10 expressed as if they were finishing results. For example a driver who has led the most laps receives a hypothetical first-place finish, the driver who leads the second most laps receives a hypothetical second-place finish, and so on. This rewards drivers who competed at the front of the pack for the majority of the race, even if an unfortunate event takes them out of contention at the very end of the race. A driver's recent record in the support series is also factored in, as is his average running position as provided by NASCAR Statistical Services. Failures to qualify are credited to the driver as if they were a finishing position (i.e. the first non-qualifier is assigned a 44th-place finish). The similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks are Atlanta, Charlotte, Texas, Las Vegas, Kansas, Chicagoland, and Kentucky.