Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway
It took until the fifth race of the season, but a former NASCAR Cup Series champion finally won a race when Martin Truex Jr. took a trip to victory lane out in the desert last weekend.
Surprisingly, Truex has now matched his 2020 win total of one, after picking up a victory last season at Martinsville for his only win of the season. Truex supplied the season’s fifth different winner in five races by winning in Phoenix as he has lately become one of NASCAR’s best short track racers. Keep that in mind for later in the season.
This week teams return south as they take on Atlanta Motor Speedway. Atlanta is one of the oldest surfaces that the series currently races on, as it hasn’t been repaved since 1997. Due to this, tire wear will be crucial. Drivers of cars with the greatest mechanical grip are going to thrive. Slipping and sliding around are the norm at Atlanta, as the course track surface eats away tires seemingly immediately. Any number of laps run on a set of tires will warrant a four-tire change when the caution flag flies. Two-tire stops and staying out on old tires won’t be a viable option. This track profiles similarly to Homestead as a track where tire management is key, but Atlanta is a D-shaped oval where Homestead is a symmetrical oval.
The Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 is a 500-mile race around a 1.5-mile Atlanta Motor Speedway. The race will consist of 325 laps. Starting in 2011, Atlanta was run just once per season, typically in the early going. This year the track is scheduled to host a second race for the first time since 2010. Over the past four seasons, Kevin Harvick (2018 and 2020) and Brad Keselowski (2017 and 2019) have picked up two victories apiece. Other active drivers that have won at Atlanta in the past ten seasons include Kyle Busch (2013) and Denny Hamlin (2012).
Read below who else could make an impact this week.
Drivers I Like
Kevin Harvick leads off the list again this week as he is arguably the best active driver at Atlanta. Harvick has three career victories at the track and has led over 1,300 career laps. Harvick has won two of the last three races at Atlanta and has led a series' high 377 laps over that span. Harvick hasn’t finished outside the top-ten at Atlanta since 2014 and just finished fifth at Homestead a few short weeks ago. Stewart-Haas has struggled as a whole this season, but Harvick is good enough to overcome those struggles. He should be a lock for a top-ten this week with an outside chance to win. He may even open as the favorite at sportsbooks this week.
Martin Truex Jr. comes off a win at Phoenix and rolls right into a track where he has shown recent success. Truex has never won in 22 career Atlanta starts, but he has the second-best average finish over the last three races behind Harvick (3.33.) Truex has finished in the top-five in three straight Atlanta races and has top-ten finishes in eight of his last nine Atlanta races. Truex is looking like the second-best Gibbs car right now (behind Denny Hamlin) and is the second Gibbs driver to pick up a win this season (along with Christopher Bell.) He’s in good form and has got a good shot at going back-to-back this weekend.
Brad Keselowski makes the list as a previous Atlanta winner, having won two of the last four races at the track. Keselowski has carded six consecutive top-ten finishes at Atlanta and has been top-ten in eight of 12 career races at the track. Keselowski rarely dominates at the track but finds a way to stick around at the end. His most laps led in a single Atlanta race is 38 which came back in 2018 when he finished runner up to Harvick. Penske drivers are yet to find victory lane this season, but Brad has clicked off three top-five finishes in five races this season. He seems ready to strike and a win should be coming soon for this vet, maybe even this weekend.
Kurt Busch has found victory lane at Atlanta Motor Speedway on three separate occasions, however the most recent of these victories came all the way back in the spring of 2010. His three wins ties Harvick as most among active drivers, and despite not finding victory lane for over ten years, Busch has still strung together some solid finishes at the track. Since his last win, Busch has finished top-ten in eight-of-ten races at Atlanta and has led 148 laps. Busch also carded one of his two top-tens on the season at the similar track of Homestead where he came home eighth.
Let me know if you’ve heard this one before, but Kyle Larson is on my list of top options this week. Larson has led the second-most laps over the last three races at Atlanta behind only Harvick, having led 142 laps in that span. Of all active drivers in Sunday’s upcoming race, Larson has the second highest career average finish at Atlanta (13.83 in six career races.) Larson is on a current streak of three-straight top-tens which includes a win at Las Vegas. Larson’s three career top-ten’s in six races at Atlanta and his 2021 success have him as candidate for a nice run this weekend.
Drivers I’m Avoiding
Aric Almirola had his best run of the season at Phoenix when he came home 11th, but in all he has struggled this season. Atlanta may not be a prime location for him to get back into the groove he was in last season where he pointed himself into the playoffs and advanced to the round-of-12. In ten career races at Atlanta, Almirola has never cracked the top-five and has only finished in the top-ten on two occasions, with only one of those coming in the last three races. Almirola has led only 36 career laps at Atlanta in ten races. He crashed out of the race in Homestead this season while battling for position with Ryan Blaney outside the top-ten. He’ll have a decent starting position due to his 11th place finish last week, so he does not appeal even appeal to me in DraftKings lineups.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has been having a solid season as he sits just inside the playoff bubble despite not earning a single stage point yet this season. However, Stenhouse’s history at Atlanta is not that great. In eight career races, Stenhouse has never finished better than tenth, which is his only top-ten performance at the track. His tenth place finish came back in 2016 when he raced for Roush-Fenway. His best finish since switching to the Chevrolet powered JTG-Daugherty Racing is 13th. I could see Stenhouse and his crew using a strategy call to get up front at some point in the race, but I doubt he’ll hold track position or be a real factor in this one.
Ryan Newman had a terrible showing last week at Phoenix, a track where I expected to see him thrive. Short and flat tracks are usually Newman’s forte, as his most recent win in the Cup Series came at Phoenix. Nevertheless, he had a bad run and now heads to Atlanta where he has not recorded a top-ten finish since 2015. There is a glimmer of hope for Newman after he recorded a seventh-place finish at Homestead, but I’m not sure he is the most reliable option this week. Perhaps he offers some good DraftKings value, as he’ll be starting 28th and should be able to at least improve on that position for some place-differential points.
Alex Bowman and his tough start to the season may get even tougher this weekend as he takes on a track where he is yet to record a top-ten finish. In five career attempts at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Bowman’s best finish is 12th. Bowman has never led a lap at Atlanta and has a career average finish of 21.00 at the track. Bowman did finish a season-high ninth at Homestead earlier this season, so the potential is there for him to prove me wrong this weekend, but I want Bowman to get hot before I use him, which he is sure to do before the season ends.
I feel like I’ve been picking on the same guys over and over here, but Matt DiBenedetto has an awful history with Atlanta Motor Speedway. In five career starts at the track, DiBenedetto has never qualified better than 20th or finished better than 25th. Pair that with the fact that Wood Brothers Racing has had a rough start to the 2021 season and it spells disaster for the driver looking to secure a ride for next season. I’m avoiding Matty D in all formats this week.
($50,000 budget, 6 driver lineup)
We eked out a sliver of money last week when the DraftKings lineup barely placed in the contest I entered, but a small win is still a win and we’ll take it. After a pre-race penalty dropped Kyle Larson to the back of the field, I decided to sub him out of my lineup for Brad Keselowski which actually ended up costing me a few points. Larson ended up with 52.95, while Brad scored me 48.50. Aric Almirola ended up as my top scoring driver with 53.00 points while I got 38.80 from Bubba Wallace, 38.45 from Alex Bowman, 35.45 from Matt DiBenedetto and 24.00 from Corey Lajoie. This week I was able to find some value in the lower dollar amounts that allowed me to grab two drivers from the $10K plus range. I’m taking the two guys that have won the last four races at Atlanta and then grabbing a few guys that struggled last week that should improve on their starting position this week. Tyler Reddick blew a tire late last week and will start from the 29th position this week. He is an intriguing option this week due to his success at Homestead and this being a similar track. Reddick finished 16th at Atlanta last season. Cole Custer also had some misfortune last week after Bubba Wallace turned him into the fence. He will start from the 27th position this week and finished 19th at Atlanta last season. Ryan Newman had an awful day last week and will start from 28th on Sunday. He had a solid run at Homestead a few weeks ago and hasn’t finished worse than 14th at Atlanta since switching to Roush-Fenway Racing. Perhaps the most mispriced of all may be Anthony Alfredo. He was taken out by a back-marker last week and starts from 32nd position Sunday. Alfredo has never run Atlanta in a cup car, but finished tenth in last season’s Xfinity race.
Last week: 238.20 pts.
1. Kevin Harvick ($11,000)
2. Brad Keselowski ($10,200)
3. Tyler Reddick ($8,400)
4. Cole Custer ($7,600)
5. Ryan Newman ($7,100)
6. Anthony Alfredo ($5,500)
Remaining Budget: $200
We had a rough week in Phoenix as a few key guys I was banking on let us down, namely Kyle Busch. We hit on just one prop as Aric Almirola was able to top Matt DiBenedetto, but that only won us back a few units. We lost 7.2 units on the week, but we’re still up 11.6 units on the entire season. Let’s try to place some smart bets this week and earn some profits.
Kevin Harvick Top-5 (-115, 1 unit)
Kurt Busch Top-10 (-115, 1 unit)
Christopher Bell over William Byron (-115, 1 unit)
Aric Almirola over Austin Dillon (-115, 1 unit)
Kurt Busch over Alex Bowman (-115, 1 units)
Martin Truex Jr. Top Toyota (+170, 1 unit)
Brad Keselowski to win Group B (+230, 0.35 unit)
Car number of race winner UNDER 9.5 (+108, 1 unit)
Brad Keselowski to win (+750, 2 units)
Kurt Busch to win (+2200, 0.65 unit)
One and Done
*Rules for One and Done: Each driver can only be picked one time over the course of the season, unless you pick the race winner, then that driver can be picked again. Driver’s finishing position is the number of “points” you score each week. Goal: Finish with as few points as possible. Feel free to play along!
Kyle Busch had a trash performance at one of his historically better tracks last weekend and it really cost us. Busch was clearly the worst of the Joe Gibbs cars even before his day was ruined after multiple incidents. A pit road penalty for an uncontrolled tire put Busch a lap down and he never recovered. A strategy call to leave Busch out on the track as long as possible before pitting backfired when the caution came out shortly after he was forced to pit which put him out of the free pass position. Once he worked his way back to the free pass position, he got dumped by Ross Chastain to bring out a caution with 30 laps remaining. The caution never came back out again for Busch to get back on the lead lap and he wound up finishing 25th as the first car one lap down.
This week: Kurt Busch
I’m sticking with the Busch brothers this week and taking a chance with the elder of the two. As I wrote above, Busch has won three times at Atlanta, and although none of those wins have come recently, he is currently riding a streak of five consecutive top-eight finishes at Atlanta. Busch has led 54 laps over the past three races with an average finish of 5.67 in that span. In his 29 career races at Atlanta, he has led 803 laps, second-most over that span to Kevin Harvick. A win would be great, but anything in the top-ten is all I’m aiming for this week. Just something to stop the downward spiral we’ve been on the last two weeks.
Race Driver Finish
Daytona 500 Jamie McMurray 8th
Daytona RC A.J. Allmendinger 7th
Homestead Tyler Reddick 2nd
Las Vegas Kevin Harvick 20th
Phoenix Kyle Busch 25th