Who will succeed in Atlanta?
If your daily fantasy experience for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series’ first race of the 2018 season at Daytona was anything like mine, you couldn’t wait for it to be over. We saw multiple favorites exit the race far too early. As a result, lineups flew out the window as top contenders left the 500 with their cars looking more like trash.
But now, NASCAR heads to Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend for the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500. The second race weekend of the year allows us to turn over a new leaf. Intermediate tracks are where the most precise strategy is needed. The factors that go into building a winning fantasy lineup are much different than those at a superspeedway.
First off, it is important to find at least one dominator, a driver who leads a chunk of laps and records the most “fastest laps" in a given race. DraftKings awards .25 points per lap led and .5 points per fastest lap. In a 325-lap event, those points can add up quickly. For example, Kevin Harvick started on the pole in last season’s race in Atlanta and led 292 circuits. On top of that, he had 59 of the fastest laps. Those two statistics alone earned him 102 points. Add on his bonus for finishing the race in ninth and he earned 137 positive points, by far the most of the race.
Atlanta also is a track where practice times translate well to race results. Drivers who rank towards the top in long-run times tend to run at the front of the pack during the race and finish towards the top part of the field. There also isn’t a high accident rate at this track. That means lower-tiered drivers who run slow times will have a tough time earning positive position differential points.
ELITE TIER: $9,500 and up
Martin Truex Jr. ($10,400)
Atlanta: 19 starts, two top fives, seven top 10s
Average finish at Atlanta: 18.3
The defending series champion has been the king of 1.5-mile tracks the past two seasons. In 2017, seven of his eight wins were at this type of track. While Atlanta is not yet on that list, Truex has had success there the past few seasons.
He also has five top-10 finishes in the past six races at Atlanta. In 2017, he finished eighth after starting ninth and in 2016, he ran seventh and led 34 laps. Add in the position differential points here after failing pre-qualifying inspection (he'll start 35th) and Truex could be a fantasy gold mine.
Kevin Harvick ($10,100)
Atlanta: 27 starts, one win, six top fives, 12 top 10s
Average finish at Atlanta: 17.3
With how dominant Harvick has been the past four years at Atlanta, it is surprising that he hasn’t ended up in Victory Lane.
As previously mentioned, Harvick stole the show in 2017 only to wind up ninth. In 2016, he led 131 laps, 116 the year prior, and 195 in 2014. Since the swap to Stewart-Haas Racing, he has been the driver to beat.
As of right now, Harvick is a lock for this weekend’s lineups.
Chase Elliott ($9,500)
Atlanta: Two starts, one top five, two top 10s
Average finish at Atlanta: 6.5
In Elliott's short career in the Cup Series, he seems to have figured out Atlanta. In the youngster's 2016 debut, he started 24th and climbed to eighth. Then, in 2017, he started 11th and finished fifth.
It’s easy to predict another top-10 finish for Elliott again this weekend. His hometown track is an early favorite to produce his first career win.
ALL-STAR TIER: $8,000 - $9,400
Brad Keselowski ($9,200)
Atlanta: Nine starts, one win, two top fives, five top 10s
Average finish at Atlanta: 18.1
Keselowski won this race last season, playing spoiler and locking himself into the playoffs. In that race, he led 21 laps and recorded 40 fastest laps to beat Harvick.
Keselowski now has three straight Atlanta top 10s. He finished ninth in both 2015 and 2016, recording positive position differential in each race.
Jimmie Johnson ($8,800)
Atlanta: 26 starts, five wins, 14 top fives, 16 top 10s
Average finish at Atlanta: 11.0
Johnson’s price this week makes him incredibly valuable. That may be a result of his disappointing and wreck-filled Daytona Speedweeks or the lackluster end to his 2017 season. Regardless, Johnson is phenomenal at Atlanta.
The seven-time champion has five wins at the track, two of them back-to-back in 2015 and 2016. In 2015, he qualified 37th and charged to the front. With an assist from a greatly-called race from crew chief Chad Knaus, he led 92 laps and coasted to victory. In 2016, he started 19th and led another 52 circuits.
On top of an average finish of 7.0 since this race was moved to the spring, Johnson has amassed a great amount of positive position differential points. Through those three races, he has an average qualifying position of 24.6. (Johnson starts 22nd Sunday).
Kurt Busch ($8,200)
Atlanta: 26 starts, three wins, six top fives, 12 top 10s
Average finish at Atlanta: 15.6
Like teammate Harvick, the switch to Stewart-Haas Racing has been beneficial for the 2004 Cup champion. In three races behind the wheel of the No. 41 car, Busch has runs of 13th, fourth and seventh. The only race Busch didn’t end up with positive differential points was the fourth-place result in 2016 after starting on the pole.
This veteran may be on the downswing of his career (no wins since the 2017 Daytona 500). However, Atlanta is still one track he remains competitive to win year-in and year-out.
BARGAIN TIER: $7,900 and below
Trevor Bayne ($6,700)
Atlanta: Four starts, one top 15, three top 20s
Average finish at Atlanta: 17.2
If you’re looking to pair up on elite-tiered drivers, you’ll have to find a bargain on the back end. The first candidate for this strategy is Bayne.
The 2011 Daytona 500 winner has competed in four races at Atlanta, earning an average finish position of 17.2. In his first season with Roush Fenway Racing in 2015, Bayne started 29th and finished 19th. In 2016, he lit up the speed charts and qualified third, but fell to a 22nd-place finish. Last season, he qualified 15th and ran 12th.
The ceiling for Bayne would be a finish around 15th. With a $6,700 price tag, that is plenty good enough. Starting 20th makes him a driver to look at.
Ty Dillon ($6,500)
Atlanta: Three starts, one top 15, two top 20s
Average finish at Atlanta: 19.0
Dillon has run three races at Atlanta for three different teams. Regardless of affiliation, though he has never finished outside the top 25. Most recently, in the equipment he will be running this weekend, the young driver finished 15th from 26th starting spot.
Much like Bayne, Dillon will need to start outside the top 20. If that happens, jump on board.
Pre-Qualifying Optimal Lineup Example: