The Cup Series heads to Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend, and thanks to the tire wear caused by the older, abrasive surface, the track is one of the most popular on the schedule, especially among the mile-and-a-half ovals.
When it comes to building NASCAR DFS lineups for Sunday's Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500, the strategy isn't significantly different from the one used at the other 1.5-mile ovals we have visited thus far Homestead and Las Vegas. However, this is a long, 500-mile race, which puts even more value on the dominator categories.
At both Homestead and Las Vegas, we saw one driver lead over 100 laps while at least one additional driver led 40+. I expect that trend to continue this weekend, and I wouldn't be surprised to see two drivers approach triple-digit laps led. In other words, nailing the top dominator options is an absolute must this weekend.
I also think there are enough dominator points available that some midrange drivers will get in on the action and boost their point totals. The tire wear I mentioned all but ensures that a variety of drivers will earn some fastest laps points as pit stops cycle through.
In GPP contests, in particular, you may want to pass on some of the obvious place differential-based options and try to target some drivers starting closer to the front who can contend for top-10s and top-15s while also chipping in some dominator points.
Kevin Harvick ($11,000)
Harvick's dominance at Atlanta is the stuff of legends, and in seven starts here for Stewart-Haas Racing, he has never led fewer than 45 laps or logged less than 38 fastest laps. He has led at least 116 laps six times, leading 151 in a win here last year.
Martin Truex Jr. ($9,600)
He has been on a tear at Atlanta, reeling off six straight finishes of eighth or better and three straight top-5s. Truex has finished second and third in his two Atlanta starts with Joe Gibbs Racing, and last year, he swept both stages while leading 65 laps and notching a race-high 53 laps. Starting from the front row, he is my favorite value among the top dominator candidates.
Brad Keselowski ($10,400)
Keselowski has been the model of consistency at Atlanta, and over the last four races alone, he has two wins and a second-place finish. He has led laps in all four starts in that span, leading 20+ laps three times, and he has logged at least 19 fastest laps in all of those races. Rolling off from Row 2, Keselowski should be a safe bet for a chunk of dominator points and a strong finish.
Kyle Busch ($10,700)
We haven't seen Busch provide his typical bulk of dominator points over the last season and a half, but starting in Row 10, he can take the place differential path to a strong point total. Busch has finished seventh or better in his last three Atlanta starts, and he was the runner-up here last year, finishing in the top 3 in both stages.
Austin Cindric ($8,600)
It's true that Cindric only has one Cup start under his belt, and he has never raced at a 1.5-mile oval in the series. However, he starts dead last in 39th in a Team Penske entry, and if he stays on the track, his equipment should carry him to a top-25. With nothing but upside in the place differential category, Cindric offers the safe floor you want in a cash option.
Kurt Busch ($8,300)
He doesn't have many differential points to gain, but Busch is one of the most dependable performers at Atlanta and is available for a midrange price. He has reeled off 11 straight top-15s here, and he has five straight top-10s, including finishes of third and sixth in his two starts with Chip Ganassi Racing. Busch should finish with 30+ fantasy points on finishing position alone.
Tyler Reddick ($8,400)
Reddick drove to a 16th-place finish at Atlanta as a rookie and emerged as a routine top-15 contender at the 1.5-mile ovals in his first season. A track with high tire wear like Atlanta is particularly suited for a driver like Reddick, who loves to run the high line. He is positioned to exploit the differential category from the 29th starting spot.
Cole Custer ($7,600)
It has been a rough start to Custer's sophomore season, but he was at his best at the 1.5-mile ovals in his rookie year, and he gained 12 spots and finished 19th in his Atlanta debut. He will start 27th on Sunday, and I think his floor is a top-20 finish and a place differential of around +10.
Ryan Newman ($7,100)
Although the 1.5-mile tracks aren't necessarily his strong suit, he has opened 2021 with finishes of seventh and 18th at Homestead and Vegas, respectively. He has also cracked the top 15 in both starts at Atlanta in the No. 6 Ford. Rolling off from back in 28th, Newman just needs a top-20 to be a decent addition to cash lineups.
Anthony Alfredo ($5,500)
He doesn't offer a ton of upside, but Alfredo comes with little risk for a low price, thanks to his 32nd starting spot. The rookie finished 24th at both Homestead and Las Vegas, so I think he can at least gain a few spots and challenge for a top-25 this weekend.
Denny Hamlin ($10,000)
Hamlin isn't my favorite dominator candidate, but if you are looking to fade the popular options, he makes a lot of sense as an alternative. While he doesn't have a win in 2021, he does have a 5.2 average finish through five races. Hamlin will likely finish in or around the top 5, and starting on the pole, he has an easy path to some dominator points with the potential to lead a large chunk of the race.
Ryan Blaney ($9,200)
It has been a bumpy start to the year for Blaney, but he picked up a top-5 at Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago, and he has been solid in his last two Atlanta starts. He led 41 laps and recorded 17 fastest laps at the track in 2019, and he logged 21 fastest laps in a fourth-place effort here last season. With the chance to contend for a top-5 and chip in some dominator points, Blaney could be a great pivot to the high-priced favorites.
William Byron ($9,000)
This is a high price tag for a driver who has never cracked the top 15 at Atlanta, but Byron's results at the 1.5-mile tracks this year intrigued me. He led 102 laps and posted 33 fastest laps in his win at Homestead, and he finished with 25 laps led and 31 fastest laps in a top-10 run at Vegas. Byron could be a sneaky dominator play this weekend.
Erik Jones ($7,000)
I expect most people to gravitate towards Cole Custer, Ryan Newman, and Chase Briscoe in this price range, making Jones a potential gem as a contrarian. Yes, he is at an equipment disadvantage, but he wheeled the No. 43 machine to a top-10 at Vegas, and he has had some of his best performances at tracks with higher tire wear. I think he can gain around 10 spots and finish in the top 15.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ($6,300)
Trusting Stenhouse is always a risky proposition, especially from Row 6, but he finished 13th at Atlanta last year and has a 14.0 average finish in his last five starts here. He boasts a 14.4 average finish in 2021, and he has three straight finishes of 13th or better during a stretch that has featured two races at mile-and-a-half ovals. Stenhouse could flirt with 30 fantasy points on finishing position alone while freeing up plenty of cap space.
Chris Buescher ($6,000)
Buescher is a bit of a shot-in-the-dark play this weekend, but he did have a top-10 finish at Atlanta in 2019, and he has shown some surprising upside at the 1.5-mile ovals in 2021. He led 57 laps and logged 39 fastest laps before fading down the stretch at Homestead, and he came back the next week and finished 14th at Las Vegas. I wouldn't count on dominator points out of Buescher Sunday, but you are paying a back-marker price for a guy who can gain a few spots and finish in the top 15.
NASCAR guru Brian Polking has been committed to producing Fantasy NASCAR coverage for nearly a decade and written countless articles for his devoted audience who swear by his advice year after year.