With the three-race West Coast swing in the books, the NASCAR Cup Series heads to Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend. The mile-and-a-half oval will host Sunday's Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500, the first of three consecutive races that we will be held at 1.5-mile tracks.
We already had our first glimpse of what to expect at a mile-and-a-half track a few weeks back when the series visited Las Vegas, and while I do expect many of the same drivers and teams to have speed this weekend, it is important to note that Atlanta has one of the more abrasive surfaces on the schedule. We saw some comers and goers and over the course of fuel runs at Las Vegas, and long-run speed could play more of a factor this weekend.
This early in the year, we are still getting a feel for which drivers and teams are locked in at these high-speed, intermediate ovals, but with the stretch of tracks ahead, it is imperative that we identify the reliable options as soon as possible. I'll definitely be looking to the Vegas race as a potential preview of what to expect Sunday, but I'll also be looking closely at past results from Atlanta races because of the high tire wear seen at this track compared to the other 1.5-mile ovals.
Overall, I expect to follow my typical strategy for the mile-and-a-half ovals and stick to the big names, or at least drivers from big teams, when building my fantasy lineups. If you prefer an aggressive approach, there are going to be some opportunities to roll the dice on some boom-or-bust options. Personally, I like to play it safer early in the year, but if you are willing to roll the dice a bit, you could find yourself as the early leader in your leagues.
1. 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. Throw in the fact that Harvick led the most laps in the race at Las Vegas, the first 1.5-track event of 2020, and he should pile up plenty of points in any fantasy format this weekend.
2. 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 should be contending for the win Sunday.
3. 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 while leading late. He did pick up the win in the first race of 2020 at a mile-and-a-half oval, leading 54 laps in his victory at Las Vegas. Don't be surprised if he is back in the mix for his third win of 2020 this weekend.
4. Chase Elliott
He has three Top 10s in four starts at Atlanta, including one Top 5, but Elliott's performance at Las Vegas a few weeks ago is what really has me intrigued. While a tire issue eventually ruined his day, Elliott led 70 laps and won both stages before having problems. With the speed he has shown out of the gate in 2020, I expect him to be a major factor Sunday at Atlanta.
5. 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 is definitely in play in Fantasy Live, and he could even be worth a look as a Group A contrarian in the Driver Group Game.
6. 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. Busch always has the potential to deliver a strong performance, but this is probably not the track to use him for the Driver Group Game.
7. 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 led 41 laps at Atlanta last year until pit road issues derailed his day. There's no telling if his bad luck will come to an end, but you can bank on Blaney having Top 5 speed on Sunday.
8. 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 was charging hard for the win at Las Vegas until a late caution jumbled up the running order. At worst, I think he's a Top 10 play this weekend, and I love him as a Group B pick for the DGG.
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 at the track. This is a great spot to use him as a Group B option for the Driver Group Game.
10. Kyle Larson
Larson has been inconsistent at the mile-and-a-half tracks, but he did show a ton of muscle at Atlanta last year when he led 142 laps before a pit road penalty forced him to settle for a 12th-place finish. He has finished in the Top 10 in three of his other five starts here, finishing second in 2017. Larson's carries more risk than some of the other big names, but his upside could make him a great play at the DFS sites and for Fantasy Live.
11. 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.
12. 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 with SHR, finishing 11th or better in all three races and notching back-to-back Top 5s. Bowyer could be a real difference-maker as a Group B option for the DGG this weekend.
13. 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.
14. 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.
15. 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, I'd at least keep him on your radar heading into practice and qualifying.
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. A few weeks back at Las Vegas, he finished sixth and fourth in the first two stages, only to finish 22nd in the race. Byron 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
This might be a little too conservative of a ranking for DiBenedetto, especially after his runner-up effort at Las Vegas. Granted, he stole some spots during the wild finish, but he was battling for a Top 10 most of the afternoon, and his first showing at a 1.5-mile track with Wood Brothers Racing was a huge success. I still want a bigger sample size before I trust him in season-long formats, but he will likely find his way into plenty of my DFS lineups.
18. 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, it looks like his success at the mile-and-a-half ovals could continue. Buescher should be one of the better sources of cap relief at the DFS sites this weekend.
19. Tyler Reddick
We don't have much of a sample size to go on with Reddick, but the rookie has already shown Top 5 potential this year after his run at Phoenix, and he finished 18th at Las Vegas. At the very least, I think he challenges for another Top 20 Sunday, and I think he has as much upside as any of the Group C options in the Driver Group Game.
20. Ross Chastain
It is looking like Ryan Newman could be back sooner rather than later, but in the meantime, I'll continue to pencil Chastain in as the driver of the No. 6. He ended up 27th at Las Vegas a few weeks ago, but he was running in the Top 10 before some bad luck and self-inflicted mistakes derailed the solid effort. Among the Group C options in the DGG, Chastain is one of the few drivers with a legit shot a Top 15.
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. A timely caution allowed him to steal a Top 5 finish at Las Vegas a few weeks ago, but Stenhouse was headed for a mid-pack finish before the race broke in his favor. He finished 18th at Atlanta last year, and I'd expect a similar showing this weekend.
22. Cole Custer
Custer is coming off a Top 10 finish at Phoenix, and more importantly, he showed solid speed throughout the race. He’s also been doing a good job of avoiding mistakes in general, and he has finished in the Top 20 in all three races since Daytona. His mid-pack floor makes him a viable Group C play in the DGG.
23. Austin Dillon
Dillon has had a couple of Top 15 finishes at Atlanta, but he has finished 19th or worse in five of his seven starts, posting a 22.9 average finish overall. If he starts deep in the field, I'll consider him at the DFS sites or Slingshot Fantasy Auto, but I have a tough time trusting him in other formats.
24. Christopher Bell
He dominated the XFINITY race at Atlanta last year, but his rookie season at the Cup level is off to an atrocious start. Bell has a 29.0 average finish after four races, and he has yet to crack the Top 20. He should eventually find his footing and get into a rhythm, but I’d avoid him in season-long contests until he has a couple of good runs.
25. John Hunter Nemechek
All this kid does is soldier out Top 25 finishes, and in seven Cup starts, he has yet to finish worse than 27th. More importantly, he has finished 24th or better in all three of his starts at mile-and-a-half tracks. No, Nemechek doesn’t offer much upside, but his Top 25 floor gives him some potential value at the DFS sites depending on his starting spot.
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 his last two starts here. He could be worth a roll of the dice as a source of cap relief at the DFS sites if he qualifies poorly, but you can't count on more than a Top 25 out of him.
27. Ryan Preece
Preece finally showed some signs of life in 2020 with an 18th-place finish at Phoenix, but I wouldn’t count on the momentum continuing at Atlanta. He finished 35th in his track debut last year, and he struggled at the mile-and-a-half ovals in general as a rookie. Some improvement is to be expected, but I need to see a decent jump in performance before I trust him in any of my fantasy lineups.
28. Bubba Wallace
Wallace hasn't had much success at any of the 1.5-mile ovals, but he has been particularly bad at Atlanta. After finishing 32nd in his track debut in 2018, Wallace finished 27th here a year ago. It is hard to imagine a scenario where he has legitimate fantasy value this weekend.
29. Michael McDowell
McDowell is quietly off to a decent start in 2020, finishing 22nd or better in three of the first four races and finishing 16th or better twice. Granted, he’s never shown much upside or consistency at the 1.5-mile tracks, but if he starts deep in the field, he could be worth a flier as a DFS punt play.
30. Corey LaJoie
He does his best to hang on the lead lap, and as his 16th-place finish at Las Vega suggests, LaJoie is good enough to steal spots in races where there is high attrition or wild finishes. Unfortunately for fantasy owners, it is tough to predict when races will fall his way, limiting his value to that of a shot-in-the-dark punt play at the DFS sites.