Mike Forbes examines the QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway!!
The NASCAR quick trip out West wrapped up last week when Martin Truex Jr. won in Phoenix and secured his spot in the playoffs later this year. That makes five different winners in five different races so far this season. For fans of the sport, having different winners at each race to start the season has been exciting, but for us Fantasy players, it has caused us to re-evaluate our strategy as drivers have not really shown us any definable trends.
Don’t get me wrong. Some drivers seem to be a step ahead of others, but some of these winners this year have been teams and drivers who have historically struggled at the tracks they end up winning at.
As we look back on what we saw at Phoenix, it is clear that Joe Gibbs Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, and Penske Racing are the teams to beat so far this year. The Hendrick cars had to overcome some terrible, all be it self-inflicted violations to come from the back and run towards the top ten.
Penske was strong, which is what we were predicting, but in the end, nobody could beat the 19 of Martin Truex Jr. The one driver who is struggling more than anyone in these top teams is Kyle Busch. It seems like, for almost a full year now, I have been hyping him in these articles, and he is constantly finding trouble. At some point, you have to start to believe what you are seeing in front of you, and that is Kyle and his team are struggling without practice. Maybe that has nothing to do with it, but ever since NASCAR returned from the Covid break last year, we have just not seen the best of Kyle Busch.
The thing is, you look at Kyle’s stats at each of these tracks, and he is constantly in the top five and often the top three in average finish. The same goes for Atlanta, where he ranks third in average career finish among active drivers, and he is in the top five in the past three races with an average finish of fifth. Kyle will be starting 19th due to his poor finish in Phoenix, so once again, he is screaming value at us. The question is, do we have enough moxie to ignore what we have seen for the past year and once again use him this week?
Like Kyle, there is another driver who hasn’t performed up to their expectations, and that is Kevin Harvick. The first couple races of the season were ok for the 4 team, but then he has had some issues. Other teams would love the season that Harvick is putting together, but this season has been a letdown based on Kevin’s large expectations coming into this season. The good news for Harvick is he has won two of the past three races here in Atlanta. His other finish was fourth in that time period, so it is safe to say he has been on fire here.
Kevin will be rolling off seventh this week, and he has only led 17 laps this season. This is another driver we have to decide if we think he can turn it around in Atlanta or if they still have more work to do before it clicks.
Last week’s winner Martin Truex Jr. has had three straight top 5’s in Atlanta and six straight top 10’s. Overall in his career, he hasn’t been great on the mile-and-a-half track, but his recent success makes him an interesting target this weekend. It would be something to see us go from having five different winners to having back-to-back winners, but that is certainly a possibility this weekend.
Brad Keselowski is the only other driver to win in Atlanta in the past three years. His win in 2019 is part of a similar run of six straight top 10’s like Martin Truex Jr. I have liked what I’ve seen from Brad this season even though he does not have a win to show for it. Looking back at Las Vegas, which is the most similar track the series has run on this year, he finished second behind Kyle Larson. The Penske cars have been getting better, and I believe Brad will be the first driver from that stable to capture a victory this season. It could be this weekend in Atlanta.
Speaking of Kyle Larson, these next two weeks are peak Larson usage. He has been strong at Atlanta in the past, racking up stage points in lesser equipment. Now that he is in Hendrick cars, I look for him to just keep improving his averages each week. I will give him about two extra spots each race with the new equipment, and that is huge in Atlanta. Combine that with the fact that he won on the last mile-and-a-half track, and he has to be a favorite to be the first two-time winner this season.
Kyle’s teammate, Chase Elliott, returns to his hometown track as the champion for the first time. His career average finish of 10th is tops in the field, but he has not been all that dominant here. He only has five races at the track, and his best finish is fifth. But on the flip side, his worst finish is only 19th. The Hendrick cars have been one of the most improved groups on the track this year, so we could see Chase Elliott improve on his best finish this weekend.
Next, I want to go over the starting lineup and look for drivers who are starting in the back who we feel we can use this week.
Much like the Truck series where we have Ross Chastain starting in the last starting spot, the cup series has a driver in the back who should move up quickly. Austin Cindric will be starting 39th in the field Sunday. Although I do not expect anything close to a top five from the 33 team, I think it is reasonable to see him improve his position by 15 spots or more.
Tyler Reddick is another driver in the back who can move up quickly. Starting 29th, Tyler has shown some speed at mile-and-a-half tracks in his career. He wasn’t great at Vegas, but his 16th place run last year as a rookie gives us hope he can improve his finishing spot in this year’s race.
Some other drivers we should look out for starting 20th or worse include Cole Custer starting 27th, Erik Jones starting 22nd, and Matt DiBenedetto starting 20th.
In the 10th-19th starting positions, I love Kyle Busch. I know I highlighted the struggles this team has had this season, but I would not expect Kyle to finish in the teens this weekend. He may not be a threat to win, but he should be a top ten or even top five driver. Aric Almirola starting 16th and Alex Bowman starting 14th round out the drivers who should provide value in this group.
Here are my full field rankings for Sunday’s QuikTrip 500!
- Martin Truex Jr. ($9,600)
- Brad Keselowski ($10,200)
- Kevin Harvick ($11,000)
- Kyle Larson ($10,400)
- Denny Hamlin ($10,000)
- Chase Elliott ($9,800)
- Kyle Busch ($10,700)
- William Byron ($9,000)
- Joey Logano ($9,400)
- Christopher Bell ($7,800)
- Ryan Blaney ($9,200)
- Alex Bowman ($8,800)
- Kurt Busch ($8,300)
- Aric Almirola ($8,000)
- Austin Dillon ($7,300)
- Matt DiBenedetto ($8,100)
- Tyler Reddick ($8,400)
- Erik Jones ($7,000)
- Bubba Wallace ($7,400)
- Ross Chastain ($6,600)
- Chase Briscoe ($6,800)
- Michael McDowell ($6,100)
- Cole Custer ($7,600)
- Austin Cindric ($8,600)
- Chris Buescher ($6,000)
- Ryan Newman ($7,100)
- Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ($6,300)
- Daniel Suarez ($6,500)
- Anthony Alfredo ($5,500)
- Ryan Preece ($5,800)
- Corey LaJoie ($5,300)
- Justin Haley ($5,600)
- Timmy Hill ($4,900)
- Joey Gase ($5,000)
- Quin Houff ($4,700)
- James Davison ($5,100)
- BJ McLeod ($4,600)
- Josh Bilicki ($4,800)
- Cody Ware ($4,500)
Now, as we work on lineup construction, I want to start with the first two spots. I love Denny Hamlin this week at $10,000. Denny has been extremely consistent this year. He is starting from the pole position, but I believe this could be the week he breaks through with a victory. His teammate, Martin Truex Jr. starting second, is another driver I love. His salary is $9,600, which is a bargain at the top of our lineup. Both of these guys have to finish in the top three to pay dividends, so I would not use them together, but I would not hesitate to put one of them at the top of my lineup.
Other drivers in the $9,500 and above price point that I think should be at the top of our lineups include Kyle Larson at $10,400, Kyle Busch at $10,700 and Brad Keselowski at $10,200.
In the middle part of our lineup, we have a larger salary spread to work with. Here I look for guys $7,500 to $9,000. In this group, I like William Byron at $9,000 a lot. Now, if you top-load your lineup, he may not fit. In terms of how much I like the 24 team this week, I would consider him for the number two spot in our lineups.
Austin Cindric starting 39th is another driver I am willing to pay for. I never thought his salary would be above $8,000, but even at $8,600, he brings some value to our lineups if he can move forward as we know he can.
Rounding out the middle-tier drivers this week, I will also give consideration to Christopher Bell, who I actually love at his $7,800 price. Also, Aric Almirola and Erik Jones both have potential to be value selections in the middle of our lineup. Tyler Reddick gets special consideration based on his starting position this week.
Towards the bottom, where we need to fill out our rosters, there are a few drivers who are worth consideration and carry a salary of less than $7,000. Michael McDowell at $6,100 isn’t terrible as he is starting 18th, but he has kind of come back to earth a little bit after his blazing start to the season. If he can stay where he is in the field, his price is worth it.
Chris Buescher is another guy who, at $6,000, I can see giving us nice value. With these drivers starting in the middle of the field at this price, we just need them to hold steady throughout the race.
Rounding out the bottom tier of drivers I like are Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Ryan Preece, and Daniel Suarez.
My ideal lineup will look something like this.
- Kyle Larson
- Martin Truex Jr.
- Aric Almirola
- Christopher Bell
- Tyler Reddick
- Ryan Preece
If you notice, I paid up for three middle-tier drivers because of Tyler Reddick’s starting position.
Finally, let’s talk about who we can bet on to win the race in Atlanta.
For my favorite this week, I am going with Brad Keselowski at 7.5/1. It was really between him and Kyle Larson at 6.5/1, but in the end, I like Brad just a little more this weekend.
My mid-pack driver is going to be William Byron at 20/1. This team is strong this year, and I can see them picking up their second victory this weekend.
My longshot for this race is Byron’s teammate Alex Bowman at 33/1.