To help guide you through the 2013 Fantasy NASCAR season, Athlon Sports contributor Geoffrey Miller will be offering his best predictions for each race. And because Yahoo's Fantasy Auto Racing game is arguably the most popular, he’ll break down the picks according to its NASCAR driver classes — A-List, B-List, C-List. The main picks are designed to make optimal use of Yahoo!’s 9-start maximum rule over the course of the season. The “also consider” section ranks unmentioned drivers strictly by expected result without consideration of start limitations.
Next up: AdvoCare 500 (Atlanta Motor Speedway)
Race: 500 miles, 325 laps (Track: 1.54-mile oval)
2012 winner: Denny Hamlin
A-List: (Pick two, start one)
With Gordon's seventh-place finish at Bristol last week, his late dash to secure a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup looks a lot like his efforts in 2012. If they continue to match up, Gordon may in position to score some hefty fantasy points at Atlanta. Gordon finished second last year to Denny Hamlin in a nail-biter that saw the No. 24 get outside of Hamlin in the final turn.
Atlanta was also the site of Gordon's third-most recent Cup Series win in 2011. He led 146 laps in that rain-postponed edition and held off Jimmie Johnson in a stirring duel. With the runner-up finish last year, Gordon now has 16 top 5s at the track, and owns the second best average running position (10th) of all drivers in the last 14 races at AMS
A crash knocked Brad Keselowski to a 30th-place finish at Bristol last week when he least needed it. The defending series champion is now in real danger of missing the Chase entirely. Fortunately, Atlanta has been plenty good to Keselowski for two straight seasons. In 2011, he raced to a sixth-place finish. Last year, Keselowski placed third.
Sure, Johnson may be a nice pick — he owns the best average on-track position among all drivers — but Keselowski offers fantasy players a chance to conserve a Johnson start for the Chase. Keselowski desperately needs a top finish. When push came to shove last season, he earned them.
Also consider: Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth
B-List: (Pick four, start two)
Denny Hamlin is mired in a slump that he's called the worst of his career. His Joe Gibbs Racing-prepared cars aren't impressively fast. He's had brutal luck. And he's completely out of the Chase picture thanks to an early season injury. Regardless, Hamlin remains a go-to driver at Atlanta. His 11.1 average recent running position at the 1.5-mile track is third-best in the series, and he's the defending race-winner. Hamlin has also led six of the last seven Atlanta races.
Carl Edwards is often Mr. Positivity when he’s being interviewed, so it’s easy to take his enthusiasm with a grain of salt. But after Bristol, Edwards looked beyond energized with the way his car had responded to changes throughout the weekend — despite exiting the race with engine problems. If those advancements continue at Atlanta, Edwards may just find his second win of the year. He does own three career wins and eight top 5s at the track. Don’t forget about his top-5 effort at Texas earlier this year, either.
Martin Truex Jr.
Truex is an iffy start at Atlanta after it was revealed that he suffered a broken bone in his right hand during a crash at Bristol. It’s the type of injury that could fall either way for a driver in terms of affecting on-track performance. In Truex’s case, it’s safe to say he’ll minimize the distraction if only because of the pressure sitting on his shoulders to secure a Chase bid. He’s currently qualified in a wild card spot, but doesn’t have much room to spare. Fortunately, Truex owns the fifth-best average running position at Atlanta in the series and has been strong on 1.5-mile tracks for the past two seasons.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
A former Atlanta winner, Earnhardt has seen his share of ups and downs at the Georgia track. For Hendrick Motorsports, they’ve mostly been down. Earnhardt nailed down a third-place finish in his HMS debut in 2008 but didn’t record a top 10 for the team until last year when he was seventh. While that doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, remember that Earnhardt was especially strong at Texas Motor Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway this season before mechanical problems struck.
Also consider: Kyle Busch, Greg Biffle
C-List: (Pick two, start one)
AJ AllmendingerDriving the No. 47 again for JTG-Daughtery Racing, Allmendinger is back at a track where he had success before he ever set foot in a Penske Racing car. Allmendinger owns a pair of top-10 finishes at Atlanta from his days at Richard Petty Motorsports in 2010 and ’11. Beyond previous success, Allmendinger should also benefit this weekend from testing at the 1.5-mile track just a few weeks ago. Crew chief Brian Burns said the team made solid progress developing a new front suspension package.
The Georgia native heads home this weekend on the heels of a surprisingly-good 12th-place finish at Bristol last weekend. Ragan is back at Atlanta in the same boat as Allmendinger — he had the chance to test the No. 34 during the Goodyear tire test at the track to confirm the new tire type. That extra information should be critical to a smaller team like Front Row Motorsports, and may translate to a top-20 finish Sunday night. Better yet, Ragan is sponsored this week by a brand of boiled peanuts. Does a C-List feel good story need any more ingredients? Not if boiled peanuts are on the menu.
Also consider: Trevor Bayne, Casey Mears