Stewart-Haas Racing’s Aric Almirola will start from the pole position for Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway (2 p.m. ET on FOX, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) but does that merit a spot in your lineup? We’ve dissected the numbers to offer a suggested lineup worthy of your Fantasy Live consideration as you make roster decisions.
Remember that the garage locks at the end of Stage 2. Once the final stage starts, your roster is locked in.
RJ Kraft’s Fantasy Live lineup for race-day at Atlanta:
1. Clint Bowyer
2. Aric Almirola
3. Kurt Busch
4. Kyle Larson
5. Martin Truex Jr.
Garage: Kevin Harvick
Cars to the rear: Kyle Busch (backup car)
Competition caution: Lap 35
By and large, I’m flipping my original lineup on its head for Sunday. I’m sticking with Kurt Busch and Truex but changing nearly everything else. The 2004 champ’s solid history here — three Cup wins and, more recently, seven top 10s in his last nine starts — and Truex was third on the 10-lap board in final practice and even with a new rules package, I trust in him on 1.5-mile range tracks.
Bowyer topped both practices and finished third here last year. He’s also going to line up third so I’m hoping to get some stage points there. For another slot, I’ll stick with SHR and select his teammate Almirola. The driver of the No. 10 Ford will start on the pole and always seemed to grab stage points when he qualified well last year. My last active spot came down to Larson and another SHR driver — Daniel Suarez. I’m giving the spot to Larson based on his better 10-lap average in final practice — Larson was second, while Suarez was 18th and more than 1.5 seconds behind the Ganassi driver in that category. An added factor for me is that Atlanta tends to favor veteran drivers with a tougher surface that calls for managing tire wear in a way that experience tends to lend itself to.
For the garage, I went back and fourth between Kyle Busch and Harvick. Busch has the much better practice times and 10-lap average in final practice as he topped the board there. However, he has to go to a backup car and the rear of the field after a wreck in final practice. Harvick has been so strong at this track since coming to SHR that it’s hard to look away from that. He had power steering issues in Friday’s practice and qualifying sessions, but those seem to be corrected based on his 10-lap average time that ranked fourth in final practice. Before the final practice incident for Busch, I was going to keep Harvick out, but now I am giving a slight nod to the 2014 champ. That said, I plan on being pretty judicious with “Happy.” If Harvick is not in the top six at the end of Stage 2, if I have no issues elsewhere in my lineup, I will leave him out. As for Kyle Busch, the 2015 champion will factor into my bonus picks.
When it comes to stage winners, I like Bowyer to take Stage 1 with Harvick in Stage 2 and Kyle Busch to bring it home as the winner. Since I came close to plugging him in my lineup, I’d like to try and get some points out of him if his backup car is as strong as his primary was in practice.
Each week in this space, we’ll also highlight two Props Challenge items for players.
1. Chevy had five drivers in the top 10 at Daytona last week. Over/under of 4.5 this week? I am taking the under here. Only three Chevrolets qualified in the top 10 and only four in the top 15 so the manufacturer seems a little off on speed at Atlanta. Plus, in the last two Atlanta races, Chevrolet has had four drivers in the top 10 in 2017 and just two in last year’s race. With how the Fords and Toyota have placed on the speed charts, I’m inclined to think those camps will take up two-thirds of the top 10 — and all you need are six non-Chevrolets in the top 10 and the under is covered.
2. Last two winners at Atlanta have started inside the top five. Will that trend continue? I’m going no on this one for a number of reasons. First, Kyle Larson, Kurt Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch (even in a backup) and Kevin Harvick — as off as he looked on Friday — are among the cars outside the top five and I feel pretty good about the notion that one of them ends up in Victory Lane. Factoring in that outside of Denny Hamlin (starting fourth), the rest of top five in the lineup (Almirola, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Bowyer and Suarez) have just one win at 1.5-mile range track (Bowyer in 2012 at Charlotte), Hamlin has only one Atlanta win (in 2012) and I like the odds in favor of drivers outside the top five.