Fantasy NASCAR Preview: Atlanta – AdvoCare 500
by Jordan McAbee, Special To NASCAR news, fantasy racing advice and statistics On Pit Row
I am a fantasy NASCAR junkie. In addition to my preview articles on OnPitRow, I also post weekly practice breakdown and race prediction articles at www.ifantasyrace.com . Follow me on Twitter: @FanNASCARPredicAugust 28, 2012 12:06 am UTC 1 Comment
We’re to our yearly stop at Atlanta Motor Speedway this week. From 2002 to 2010, there were always two events at this track, but that changed in 2011 (I think to make a spot for the race at Kentucky Speedway, although I may be wrong). Atlanta is a 1.5-mile race track and what many people consider one of the typical “cookie cutters” on the circuit. The others include: Charlotte, Chicago, Kansas, Kentucky, Las Vegas, and Texas.
During The Last Race At Atlanta…It was Jeff Gordon who started 5th and pretty much dominated most of the race, leading 146 of the 325 laps en route to his third (and ultimately last) win of the 2011 season. His teammate, Jimmie Johnson, finished runner-up with Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch, and Carl Edwards rounding out the top 5. Kasey Kahne won the pole for 2011′s race but had engine problems and finished 34th.
Practice Schedule…This is what I like to call a “normal” weekend, but people that play Yahoo! Auto Racing have a bit of a disadvantage because rosters lock before the cars get any track time. On Friday, there will be one practice session and then qualifying, at 2:30 pm and 6:00 pm, respectively. Then on Saturday, the drivers will get even more track time, with another practice starting at 2:30 pm and Happy Hour set to begin at 5:30 pm. The AdvoCare 500 should start around 7:30 pm on Sunday night. All times are in Eastern.
Top Fifteen Ranking Entering The Advocare 500:
1. Jimmie Johnson – I’m still dumbfounded as to how someone can start in the rear at Bristol and finish 2nd, all while looking average at best during all of the practice sessions that weekend. This team is just that good, and should be the most recent winner on the intermediate tracks. As long as their engine stays together on Sunday, however, there’s no doubt in my mind that Johnson will be contending for the win when it’s all said and done. He does have the best average finish here in the series (10th). Jimmie finished 2nd here last season, as I said before, and since driver rating has started to be kept (in 2005), he’s only had two races at Atlanta under 90.0. The #48 is just about as close to a lock for a top 5 this weekend as you can get. They’re just that good right now, and if it continues into the Chase, they’ll be holding the trophy in Homestead (or even before then).
2. Kasey Kahne – Kasey has finished 2nd and 3rd in the last two intermediate track events and, although this isn’t one of his best tracks, should be in contention on Sunday night. He’s in more reliable equipment than he was last year when he sat on the pole, and there’s no doubt that Hendrick has more power than Red Bull as well. Kasey has two wins here (in 2006 and 2009), and going with that little trend of three years apart, this could be his year as well. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit, I’ll say that, and would lock him into the Chase. Kahne has almost as many bad finishes here as good ones, but many of the bad ones weren’t exactly his fault (wrecks, mechanical issues, etc.). When you take those out of the mix, Kasey’s average finish jumps up to 4.4 at Atlanta. Barring any kind of issue like that, the #5 should be up front early and often on Sunday.
3. Greg Biffle – The Biff has never won at Atlanta but he is coming off that impressive victory at Michigan and should be a contender come Sunday. In seventeen career starts here, Greg has averaged a finish of 16.1 and has recorded nine top 10s. When you go simply off of that, he really doesn’t deserve this ranking. But when you consider how solid this team has been on the intermediates this season, that should change your mind. Just check out this chart. In allocation leagues like Yahoo!, it would take the #16 looking like a dominating, race-winning car in practice to use him this weekend. This isn’t his best track, and I’m sure you’re like me and only have a small amount of starts left. Still, Biffle should at least be good for a top 10 on Sunday night, if not a top 5. Right now I’m not seeing a win out of them, but that could change.
4. Denny Hamlin – Denny Hamlin won at Kansas and recently finished 2nd at Charlotte and 3rd at Kentucky, so it is possible that we see back-to-back wins out of this team. Overall, Atlanta hasn’t been a very good track for Denny, but he tends to run well. In the last four races here, he has led a total of 135 laps, but has just two top 10s to show for it. What I caution you about in taking the #11 this weekend is how inconsistent this team has been on the intermediate tracks in 2012. It seems like they’re either a top 5 car or one that finishes 11th or much worse. There’s no in between, just check out this chart. Hamlin finished 3rd here in 2008 and won the pole for this event two years ago. Don’t let his 17.5 average finish here scare you away, Hamlin should be good once again this weekend.
5. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – This team has been a top 10 machine on the intermediate tracks this season (chart here) and that shouldn’t change this weekend in Atlanta. This is actually Junior’s third-best track on the circuit, believe it or not. In twenty-four career starts here, Earnhardt has recorded ten top 10 finishes and just five outside of the top 20. When you average it all out, he usually ends up around 12th or 13th. Junior even won here back in 2004, and although he hasn’t finished inside the top 10 in the last six events here, that should change on Sunday. He had six straight finishes of 7th or better at Atlanta from 2001 to 2004, and this team is as strong as ever this year.
6. Brad Keselowski – Penske Racing as a whole have been very good at Atlanta Motor Speedway, and they actually have a better average finish than the Roush-Fenway bunch here since the start of the 2010 season, believe it or not. Keselowski wasn’t too good in his first two starts here (finishing 36th and 25th) but turned it around last season and ended up with a solid 6th-place finish after starting 14th and leading two laps. This team had a bad day last Saturday in Bristol but I don’t think that should affect them too much right now. They’re still one of the strongest teams in the garage right now (in my mind) and should bounce back. Remember, Brad won at Kentucky and finished 2nd at Michigan a couple weeks ago, and if this race comes down to fuel mileage, I’d pick Paul Wolfe over pretty much anyone else. Kurt Busch won the first 2010 race at Atlanta in the Blue Deuce and finished 6th in the second event that year.
7. Carl Edwards – This is where Cousin Carl needs to win. Plain and simple, he doesn’t make the Chase this year unless he’s in victory lane at the end of the 500 miles on Sunday. He’s won here three separate times so it’s definitely possible. When you look at Carl’s record at Atlanta, it’s a whole bunch of good runs mixed in with some bad ones, which bring down his average finish of 13.6. When you take away the terrible finishes (four that have been 37th or worse), however, his average finish jumps to an incredible 3.2. Seriously. Edwards hasn’t finished worse than 7th at this track except for the races I mentioned earlier (one he got parked, one was an engine problem). If there’s been any bright spot in this team’s 2012 season, it has been their performance on the intermediate race tracks–just check out this chart here.
8. Matt Kenseth – Throughout the entire season, Matt Kenseth has generally been a lock for a top 5 ranking at tracks like Atlanta. However, I’m seriously starting to question what’s going on with this team. Has the announcement of Kenseth leaving Roush-Fenway after this season finally done some damage to them? In the six races since Daytona in July, where he finished 3rd, Matt has posted just one top 10 (a very surprising one at Watkins Glen) and has averaged a finish of 20.2. He’s pretty much locked into the Chase, so will Kenseth “take it easy” for the next couple races? And will his new feud with Tony Stewart cause trouble on Sunday night? Everything I pointed out are just things to keep in mind this weekend. At Atlanta, Kenseth owns an average finish of 12.9 in twenty-three career starts, and although he has never won here, he does have twelve straight finishes of 13th or better at this track.
9. Martin Truex, Jr. – Atlanta has been a nice track for Truex over the past two years and with the way that this team is firing on all cylinders this season, that should equal a good run for him on Sunday. Last year, Martin brought his Toyota home in 14th after leading 3 laps and starting 8th. In 2010, Truex had a very solid driver rating of 104.6 throughout the race and ended up finishing 12th. He loves running the high line on the intermediate tracks and that should work very well here at Atlanta this weekend. Believe it or not, Truex has the fifth-best average finish (8.9) on these types of tracks this season, which is better than drivers like Kasey Kahne and Matt Kenseth (chart here). Anything other than a top 10 out of the #56 on Sunday would be surprising to me.
10. Jeff Gordon – The #24 Chevy will, in all reality, probably be contending for a top 5 on Sunday, but I want to see some practice before I jump to that conclusion. As I said before, Gordon was the best car here last time around and has a pretty good record at Atlanta throughout his career. In thirty-eight career starts here, Jeff has amassed twenty-four top 10s, fifteen top 5s, and has visited victory lane five separate times. His average finish of 12.2 here is third-best in the series right behind Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart. A statistic that I like to see is consistency, and Jeff Gordon has that at Atlanta: he hasn’t finished outside the top 20 here since 2005 (twelve races) and has recorded nine top 10s during that span as well. He finished 5th most recently at Kentucky, another 1.5-mile race track.
11. Kyle Busch – Rowdy has had some good cars here at Atlanta recently, but I still think he’s in somewhat of a defeated mindset. Yes, he’s in the second wildcard spot, but that could easily change. Personally, I’d like to pick a driver this weekend with some more desire, as well as one that has been stronger on the intermediates this season (Kyle’s average finish is 12th–chart here). In the last five Sprint Cup events at AMS, Busch has qualified in the top 10 in all of them and led at least 19 laps in three of them. Do you know what he has to show for them, though? Pretty much nothing: one top 10 and an average finish of 16.8. He won here in 2008, so it’s not like he’s completely clueless at this track. Kyle finished 10th and 13th recently at Kentucky and Michigan, which are two tracks that I mentioned earlier that are similar to Atlanta.
12. Clint Bowyer – Clint is generally hit or miss when the series comes to Atlanta, so keep that in mind if you pick him this weekend. Or, in other words, make sure that #15 looks speedy in practice. In eleven career starts at this track, Bowyer owns an average finish of 17.4 and five top 10s. On the flip side, the other six starts have ended with him in 20th or worse. Like I said, hit or miss. It’s been somewhat of the same story for this team on the intermediate tracks this season as well (chart here). Keep in mind, however, that Bowyer has been one of the hottest drivers in the garage over the last two months, with five top 10s in the last six Sprint Cup races. The other race was his 15th-place effort at Indianapolis. Bowyer has a lot more going for him this weekend than he does going against him, I’ll say that.
13. Kevin Harvick – Happy Harvick is getting a rank on here this weekend simply because of his recent performance at Atlanta. I still think this team is off in some way, but maybe the crew chief change will turn things around. It’s certainly possible, but until that happens I would consider going with someone other than Harvick. In allocation leagues especially, there are better options. Anyway, in the last seven races at this track, Kevin has recorded five top 10s and has an average driver rating of 96.3. He’s been good for a finish between 10th and 15th on the intermediate tracks all season and that shouldn’t change on Sunday. He’s finished 15th or 16th in each of the last four Sprint Cup series races.
14. Paul Menard – This team could lose Slugger Labbe this weekend, which would knock them down a few spots in my book, but I’m still thinking that Paul Menard is good for a solid top 15 on Sunday. He has finished inside the top 20 in all but one of the intermediate track races this season and has an average finish of 14.8 (chart here). He finished 18th at Atlanta last season and had a career-best 5th-place finish here in 2010 while driver for Petty. What I really like is this team’s momentum, however. With his 10th-place finish last week, Menard has now finished 14th or better in all but one of the last eight Sprint Cup races, and that lone exception was a 17th-place effort at New Hampshire. Be sure to keep an eye on the crew chief suspension story this week.
15. Marcos Ambrose – Well look what we have here: a playoff push from Marcos Ambrose. This team now has four straight top 10s in Sprint Cup action–three of which have been top 5s–and are in striking distance (albeit still quite far away) from the second wildcard birth. The Tasmanian has had some good runs on the intermediate tracks in his career and is definitely someone you should keep an eye on this week with the way this team has been running. At Atlanta specifically, Marcos has made six career starts, and although his average finish of 22nd is a bit scary, in two of the last three events here he has finished 10th and 11th. In the last five intermediate track races, Ambrose has three top 10s and just one finish worse than 13th (chart here).
Those To Avoid Entering The Advocare 500:
Tony Stewart - It’s really odd how hit-or-miss this team has been on the intermediate tracks in 2012. As you can tell from this chart (click here), Smoke has four top 5s on them as well as four finishes outside of the top 20 entirely. This team lacks consistency and that’s not something that I like go with in fantasy racing, especially this late in the season. What Stewart does have on his side this weekend is his record here at Atlanta; in twenty-five career starts at this track, Smoke averages a finish of 11.2 and has won three times. I wouldn’t blame you for picking him this weekend, but if you do, make sure you have a backup plan.
Mark Martin - I’m starting to think that Mark Martin is getting a “free pass” from people as of late. The point of the matter is this: he has one lone top 10 in his last eight Sprint Cup starts. That’s it. Also, thus far in 2012, Martin has managed the exact same number of single-digit finishes as he has DNFs. Obviously most weren’t his fault, but I personally like to keep a low level of risk in fantasy racing during weeks like these. This is the AdvoCare 500, and I stress the “500″ part of that. We’re going to be going at least 500 miles on Sunday night, and with three practice sessions scheduled throughout Friday and Saturday it wouldn’t surprise me one bit to see the engine in that #55 blow…once again. Until this team starts limiting the amount of laps that Mark runs each weekend–thus keeping the workload on the motor light–I won’t be picking him.
Joey Logano – Sliced Bread is making one final leap of faith to get into this year’s Chase, but it’s simply not going to work this weekend unless something drastic happens. This is Logano’s worst track on the circuit, and an extra “push” by the team isn’t going to fix his problems here. In five career starts here, Joey has an average finish of 27.6 and has never ended up better than 22nd. Among those with a better average finish than Logano in as many (if not more) starts here at Atlanta: David Gilliland, J.J. Yeley, and David Stremme.