Fantasy NASCAR Picks: Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta
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Forget last week. Daytona will not help you at Atlanta. The real season begins this week at an intermediate track. Daytona is fantasy NBA if you added weapons and 10 point shots. It’s Rock n’ Jock meets Bill Laimbeer’s Combat Basketball (a disgracefully underrated SNES game). Atlanta is real racing. If your driver or your drivers’ car suck, then they’re going laps down and your race is over before we hit the halfway mark. Go enjoy your Sunday or do some chores.
We need to pick the Hogs (lap leaders and fast lappers), but they’re expensive. In order to fit two to three hog picks, then we have to find value picks. There are three categories of value.
- The place differential homerun: A driver starting around 30th that is typically a 20th place driver or they put together decent laps in practice. This is the sexy, popular play, but it’s not a guarantee. Drivers do not courteously concede positions. The place differential drivers must work their way through traffic. Meanwhile, the lap leader is breathing down their necks. With long green flag runs, the place differential drivers get lapped and the dream dies.
- The hold: A value driver that starts around the 20th spot, and simply holds position throughout the race. Maybe they catch a break at the end and sneak into the top 15, or they just score enough points. It’s not a sexy play, but if the place differential picks get put a lap down, then you’re looking good. Negative place differential is a killer with this style of pick, but they are more likely to remain on the lead lap.
- The punt: This is strictly for savings. If you pick a 40th place driver and several cars wreck, just through attrition the punt can finish near 30th. Punts are common plays when top tier drivers are starting deep in the field. In order to afford multiple hogs and a top tier place differential play, then DFS players must roster a punt and even sometimes, the glorious “double punt.”
Kevin Harvick: Track history is not the most predictive statistic, but it can be employed in specific situations. Some tracks have character, and some drivers understand the nuances of these tracks. Kevin Harvick led 292 laps at Atlanta last year. He is often out front at this old, worn out intermediate track. He closed last season as a consistent hog at the intermediate tracks. A word of caution, as mentioned in the daily fantasy NASCAR podcast, Harvick never lays down blazing fast practice times in Atlanta. It’s just smoke and mirrors before the race.
Martin Truex, Jr.: He’s been the fastest thing around for the last two seasons. His intermediate track hog stats not only sit alone atop of the leaderboard, but they double the second place hog. For whatever reason, his only average race last season was Atlanta. That is a slight cause for concern, but he scored score 35 hog points in the 2017 Atlanta race. Last year’s Atlanta race was more about Harvick’s greatness than Truex’s disappointment.
Kyle Busch: All or nothing, Kyle or nothing. If you’re name is Kyle, you drive all out. You pile up hog points or you slam into the wall. Rowdy struggled at Atlanta last year, but that was because the JGR Toyotas took awhile to get the 2017 setup correctly (2017 was the first year for the current Toyota Camry body). If Kyle had his summer setup at Atlanta, he would have finished with a top 5 DFS score.
Kyle Larson: All or nothing, Kyle or nothing. If you’re name is Kyle, you drive all out. You pile up hog points or you slam into the wall. Larson has been fine at Atlanta in the past. He hasn’t had a breakout performance, but that can be said of a lot of tracks for the young drivers. Also, don’t worry about track history so much. Larson got faster every week last season, and probably should have won the championship if it wasn’t for some of the worst luck in history (a pit crew mistake and two engine failures in the playoffs).
Other Hogs: It’s the first race of the season, some unlikely contenders may emerge. It’s possible that one team has discovered something aerodynamically. We don’t know yet. If a driver is blazing fast in practice, then they’ll be added to the hog discussion. Also, we’ve got to consider fast cars starting on the front row.
Without qualifying and practice data, this becomes an exercise in futility. What I am hoping to do here is highlight some drivers. After practice and qualifying, if they fit the value criteria above, then they’ll become a part of our small pool of drivers to select from. Some drivers that are not mentioned below will find their way into the pool. It’s too early to say, but we’ll go over that in the FanVice slack chat and cheat sheet. (note: As I proofread this, I realize that I got out of control and pretty much wrote everyone up.)
Erik Jones (8600): He’s priced right in terms of skill, but he cannot return value in fantasy. Hog points aren’t happening. He needs finishing position points and place differential points. He’ll qualify near the top 10, so place differential goes out the window. Last summer, despite qualifying near the front, Jones averaged 50 fantasy points per race in 4 of 5 intermediate track races. That’s good, but not amazing at his price tag. In the 10 other intermediate track races, he averaged 27 points, and that’s terrible at his price. He’s probably somewhere in between this weekend, and not in play unless he qualifies near 20th (doubtful).
Ryan Blaney (8400): In the same boat as Jones. Throw out the two races where Blaney scored hog points starting from the front row and the race where he started dead last, and Blaney averaged 27 points at intermediate tracks.
Kurt Busch (8200): He is cheap enough that 3-5 place differential points will be enough. The Stewart-Haas Racing A-Team (aka Harvick and Kurt, aka Team Haas) is always the better pair, and at Atlanta they have been very strong. Harvick says his team figured something out at a tire test in Atlanta in 2008, and nothing has changed since then. Kurt has a top 10 DFS score in every Atlanta race since 2011, except for one (he scored the 13th most points for a small team, Phoenix Racing). He looks good on paper, so he’ll be chalky.
Clint Bowyer (8100): He’s the B-Team Kurt Busch. The Tony Stewart version. If Kurt is the Flash, then Bowyer is Quicksilver. That analogy probably doesn’t work. I don’t understand comic book movies anymore. The Marvel Universe really is a universe. It’s not a planet or a solar system. It’s takes a Stephen Hawking to understand the convoluted anthology of magical gemstones. It also requires the fat wallet of Bill Hutchinson to front the ticket prices. Ceteris paribus, I’d rather have Kurt.
Alex Bowman (7900): He’s a good race car driver that is finally in good equipment, but he’s the definition of a hot lapper. He spent all of last season as Hendrick’s simulation driver. He’ll practice in the sim for Atlanta. There is no doubt in my mind that he’ll qualify inside the top 10, but I don’t not believe he can run 10th place laps for 500 miles. In 2016, Bowman got plenty of seat time in the 88 car when Jr. had a concussion. His average start was 12th and his average finish was 20th.
Jamie McMurray (7600): A 10th to 10th place run is 34 points.That’s a 4.5 fppk, and not a bad return for cash. Of course, his starting position would freak you out in cash, but he was one of the most consistent drivers last season. He’ll go overlooked starting around 10th for that exact same reason, so he works in GPPs. Plus, other players are going to be attracted to the young guns in this price range.
Daniel Suarez (7400): He found himself in several optimal lineups last year. He has the equipment to do better than hang on to the lead lap. He was a rookie in great equipment. He would fall to the back of the lead lap, and run there throughout the race, and eventually he would figure it out and finish with a top 10 or he wouldn’t. His crew chief Dave Rogers, Carl Edwards old crew chief, quit on him half way through the year, but Suarez did not improve. He’s a 15th to 20th place driver in a 5th to 10th place car.
William Byron (7300): I try not to inject personal pronouns into any NASCAR writing, and it’s easy. I do not have favorite drivers and generally hate them all. If I was a fan of any driver, it would be William Byron. I’m a sucker for iRacing stars. That’s why I liked Dale Earnhardt, Jr. I believe this kid is the real deal and will be exceptional. Go to his racing reference page. He’s won in every series, and it’s always been as a rookie (K&N, Trucks, and Xfinity). He’s smart and he’s in good equipment. He does not inherit Kasey Kahne’s junk ride. Hendrick Motorsports merged all of the teams and all of their resources at the end of 2017 in order to develop their three young drivers.
Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. (7200): He ran inside the top 10 for most of the race last year, but from there, he wasn’t going anywhere. Stenhouse needs to skip a pit to get inside the top 5, and you cannot skip a pitstop at Atalanta. The track surface is a cheese grater. Drivers need to take four times every time. The tire fall off at Atlanta is the worst on the NASCAR circuit. New tires are 3 seconds faster than old tires. That means a car that pits can catch a car that does not in just 10 laps. Look at this way, a car with fresh tires will lap a car with old tires in just 10 laps.
Austin Dillon (7100): RCR had good cars at Atlanta last year, but all three cars suffered a battery issue. Dillon has a tough task ahead of him. When you win the Daytona 500, you go on a week long media tour. This puts RCR even further behind the 8 ball. Maybe next week at Las Vegas, RCR can work their usual pit road strategy magic, but that’s not likely at Atlanta. I’m only part serious. RCR hired some gambling/math expert last year.
They won two races via strategy calls at Phoenix and Charlotte, so they touted themselves as “The Moneyball of NASCAR.” I’m not making this up. Apparently Richard Childress is poor and the only way he can win is by hiring Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting. The reality is they lost 34 races last year, and they weren’t even close to winning any of those races. How do you like them apples?
Ryan Newman (6900): A cheaper Austin Dillon without the baggage. Place differential will heavily determine whether Nemwn is in play or not. He was so-so at intermediate tracks last year, but he’s been better at Atlanta. His running position is 11th over the last 7 years at Atlanta. Undoubtedly, he learned something during his time at Stewart-Haas Racing.
Paul Menard (6800): Too cheap. Very Chalky. Let’s try not to get too excited about Menard moving into the Wood Brothers’ car. In recent years, the Wood Brothers have had a strong technical alliance with Penske. That was when Ryan Blaney (the future of Penske) was in the car. Be careful assuming that Menard will be treated the same way. He’s running Xfinity races for Penske and his dad’s sponsorship is on the cars. Let’s see how practice goes before we “save big money at Menard’s!”
Ty Dillon (6500): The chalk cash play every week last year. It’s basically an RCR car. He came through in some GPPs. Here’s the story from last year. He never practiced well, and was learning the Cup car at every track throughout the season. His average start was 26th and his average finish was 21st. That’s 28 fantasy points every week. If he’s under $7,000, then you can play him cash.
Darrell Wallace, Jr. (6300): Never jump on a bandwagon after a plate race. Gray Gaulding earned a top 10 at Talladega last year. We didn’t see the emergence of Gray-Grays (his super fans – that’s made up, please don’t use that) because when he took his jalopy to Kansas the next week he finished 8 laps down. The 43 car ain’t what it used to be. Honestly, the 43 car never was what it used to be. Richard Petty had money and equipment during an era of NASCAR when no one else did. The 43 car piled up 200 wins and became a legend. At the end of his career, when the playing field leveled, he couldn’t win.
Bill Gates isn’t the greatest computer wiz of all time. He was born at the right time. Read Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers.” Happenstance is a major factor in determining success. Let me break the bad news to the new Bubba fans. First of all, I like Bubba, but this isn’t the ride for him. This is going to end up like last year, when his team shutdown halfway through the season because they didn’t have funding. Richard Petty has been on the record about begging for money from sponsors. His son Kyle Petty have been outspoken about his refusal to take over the team because he does not want to live that life. It was last reported that the 43 car had sponsorship for 13 races.
When Aric Almirola signed with Stewart-Haas, Smithfield’s sponsorship followed him. Richard Petty threatened to sue Smithfield because they had a handshake agreement like it’s 1960. Either way Smithfield agreed, but …they refuse to put their logo on the car. They will pay the sponsorship money, but they do not want to be associated with Richard Petty Motorsports. This week Bubba is sponsored by “The NASCAR Driving Experience” formerly known as “The Richard Petty Driving Experience.” This isn’t as bad as a self sponsor, but it appears that Petty liquidate this asset because he needs to fund RPM. It’s likely that the race sponsorship was thrown into that deal. “The NASCAR Driving Experience” sponsorship is probably money that has already been spent. Richard Petty Motorsports is subletting a space in the RCR garage this season. I don’t know who has it worse. Petty renting a space, or RCR being force to rent out a space.
How about some more negativity? Although the NASCAR bubble believes last week was exciting and great news for Bubba, myself included – I live in the epicenter of that bubble, just look at my slack chat presence – no one watched the Daytona 500. It earned its lowest TV rating ever. You read that right, EVER!!!! With all of the being said, this Aric Almirola 2.0. Bubba will finish around the 20s each week, and intermediate tracks will be the toughest on this small team.
Again, I’ve always been a Bubba Wallace fan. I still kick myself for leaving Martinsville in 2014. The weather was terrible (50 mph winds, rain, and freezing temps, then it snowed), and we camped through it. The truck race followed the Cup race on Sunday. Bubba won, but we left after the Cup race.
Kasey Kahne (6200): The price is alluring, but let’s see how practice and qualifying shake out. A lot of the time last season, McDowell qualified to close to 20th in the 95 car.
A.J. Allmendinger (6000): This is too cheap. JTG Daugherty is improving every year. This price does not accurately reflect the strides that the team has made. A.J. and Buescher were average at intermediate tracks last season (that’s good for this price), but they’ve been below average at Atlanta for the last two years. Last year A.J. was crushed by a green flag pit penalty.
Chris Buescher (5900): He didn’t have speed in the last two years of practice at Atlanta, so he didn’t have speed in the race. This is only his second year at JTG Daugherty, he should improve this season. Watch his practice times.
Michael McDowell (5700): He joins Front Row motorsports, and is no longer the same McDowell. He has permanently moved to Puntsville.
David Ragan (5600): He’s playable in the 30s.
Matt DiBenedetto (5400): His average finish at intermediate tracks last season was 28th. His average finish at Atlanta is 28th. That’s what we’ll get this weekend. If he drives from 32nd to 28th, that’s 20 fantasy points. I’ll take that as a GPP punt. If he starts any closer to the front, then I’ll look elsewhere for my punts.
Cole Whitt (4900): He took wave arounds, skipped pit stops, and drove on old tires to 20th place at Atlanta in 2017. It was his best race of the season. If he did it once, why can’t he do it again? There wasn’t a flukey event or an absurd amount of cautions. There were enough cautions in stage 3, but it was not ridiculous.
See you in the Slack Chat.
Good Luck! ~ Pearce