The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is visiting Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend for the first race of the year without restrictor plates and the first of many races at a 1.5-mile oval.
Since Daytona is such a wild-card race, Sunday's Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 is the first chance we'll have to see which drivers and teams really have the edge early in the year. Win or lose, this race should provide a good foundation of data to build off going forward, but I prefer winning.
As is usually the case, you need to start your lineup with a dominator or two. With more than 300 laps on tap, there are a lot of points available in the laps led and fastest laps run categories. Plus, 1.5-mile tracks like Atlanta tend to see drivers check out for stretches and lead chunks of laps at a time. I fully expect one driver to lead well over 100 laps Sunday.
Building a lineup this weekend will be a little more complicated because there are multiple big names starting deep in the field. Fitting Martin Truex Jr. into your lineup will be particularly tricky. He has a huge salary, but he has so much upside through place differential that you need to have him in a majority of your lineups.
Pairing Truex with multiple dominators will take up a bulk of your cap room, but I still think it could be the winning strategy. This early in the season, there are still a few drivers who are undervalued that can help you fill out your lineup.
Check out all my top plays for the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta, and get your lineups set at DraftKings. If you have any other questions, reach out to me at @BPolking or at email@example.com.
Must Own Drivers
Martin Truex Jr. ($10,400)
Truex's team had issues in tech inspection and didn't make a qualifying run, putting the most dominant driver at the 1.5-mile ovals starting 35th. He won seven of the 11 races last year, leading 1,132 laps and posting a 2.5 average finish. Even if he doesn't earn a single dominator point, Truex could finish as a Top 3 scorer based on place differential points alone. Needless to say, you need to make room on your rosters for Truex.
Kevin Harvick ($10,100)
He is going to be highly owned this weekend, but you need to have plenty of exposure. Harvick has led more than 100 laps in all four of his starts at Atlanta with Stewart-Haas Racing, leading 292 of the 325 laps last year. Starting third with a car he loved in practice, Harvick could be at the front in short order and on his way to another massive point total at AMS.
Kyle Busch ($9,700)
Busch has been hit and miss at Atlanta, but he's been strong at the 1.5-mile tracks overall and will start from the pole. Busch led laps in each of the final eight races at mile-and-half ovals, leading 40-plus laps six times. At the very least, I think he leads a chunk of laps early, and he is more than capable of winning the dominator categories and finishing as the top scorer.
Ryan Blaney ($8,400)
He missed the setup in qualifying and will have to start 26th, but Blaney was one of the best in the business at 1.5-mile tracks last year, finishing 11th or better in five of the last six races and leading the fourth-most laps. He also popped up in the Top 10 in final practice. You just can't pass up his upside at this price.
Joey Logano ($9,000)
Starting just outside the Top 15, Logano has decent differential upside for a guy who has three straight Top 10s at Atlanta. He might not have have a car capable of winning Sunday, but he ranked fifth in Happy Hour and looks more than capable of delivering a Top 10.
Jimmie Johnson ($8,800)
I'm skeptical that Johnson will ever regain the dominant form he showed during his run of titles, but he is a five-time winner at Atlanta and has strong upside in the differential category after qualifying 22nd. He also posted competitive speeds in final practice. For less than $9,000, Johnson's high floor is pretty enticing in cash games.
Austin Dillon ($7,100)
I'm not expecting Dillon to show up in the Top 10 this weekend, but he doesn't need to at this price. He starts 25th, and if he doesn't wreck, he typically lands in the Top 20 at 1.5-mile tracks. A mid-pack finish and a shot at 30 fantasy points isn't a bad return on investment.
Darrell Wallace Jr. ($6,300)
If you don't want to go with an outright punt play, Wallace is your best bet at cap relief. He starts 19th, and he cracked the Top 10 in both practices this weekend. He finished 11th in his only Cup start at a 1.5-mile track to date, and I think a Top 15 finish and around 30 fantasy points are well within reach.
Kyle Larson ($10,000)
Larson was the runner-up at Atlanta last year, and he ended up finishing with seven finishes of sixth or better in the 11 races at 1.5-mile tracks, having dominant cars at Texas and Homestead to close the year. He has been happy with his car this weekend, and if you want to go with an alternative dominator, I think Larson is your best bet.
Chase Elliott ($9,500)
This is a lot to pay for someone who is going to have their work cut out to earn any dominator points, but Elliott has upside through place differential after qualifying 27th. Granted, he hasn't been happy with his car, but he has finished eighth and fifth in two starts at Atlanta, and he was a Top 5 machine at the 1.5-mile tracks at the end of last year. He could figure things out during the race and end up posting a strong score.
William Byron ($7,300)
Byron is a bit of an unknown as he makes his first Cup start at a 1.5-mile oval, but last year's XFINITY champ has plenty of talent, and he also has excellent equipment. He starts 23rd and was mediocre in practice, but from everything I saw from him in the lower series, he will take care of his stuff. I think he can end up challenging for a Top 15, and you might be able to get a jump on the competition that doesn't know who this kid is just yet.
Kasey Kahne ($6,200)
He is starting higher in the field than I'd like, but on the plus side, it should scare off other players a bit. Kahne has a solid record at Atlanta, and the No. 95 team is more than capable of finishing in the top half of the field. He starts 14th and also showed Top 15 speed in race trim. As long as Kahne can finish around where he starts, he'll be well worth the money.
Chris Buescher ($5,900)
It was a surprise to see Buescher show up seventh in final practice, and anyone showing that much speed at such a low price deserves your attention. He starts 24th, but he was usually able to finish in the top half of the field at the 1.5-mile tracks last year. Even if he can't back up his speed in practice, Buescher should be able to gain a few spots and finish in the Top 20.
Matt DiBenedetto ($5,400)
If you are looking for a true punt play this weekend, I recommend going with DiBenedetto. His price tag will help you afford a dominator or two as well as one of the bigger names starting outside the Top 25. He was able to crack the Top 25 at the 1.5-mile tracks at the end of last season, so from the 30th starting spot, he could end up with around 20 fantasy points.
Driver to Fade
Ryan Newman ($6,900)
Had he won the pole, I might have considered Newman because of his price tag and the potential to lead some laps early, but starting second to Kyle Busch, I'm not sure many dominator points are in the cards. Meanwhile, he really struggled at the 1.5-mile tracks last year, so I'm expecting to fade a bit once the race begins. I think a negative place differential is a given, and he has the potential to kill your lineup if he has serious issues.
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