The Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 is this weekend and will provide fantasy racers with the first glimpse in 2015 of who’s going to be strong on the intermediate race tracks. Hendrick Motorsports showed off their horsepower at Daytona last weekend and I expect much of the same to happen in Atlanta this week. There are, however, some other drivers to pay attention to other than Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and Kasey Kahne. This is the first time the Sprint Cup Series will visit Atlanta Motor Speedway this early in a season since 2010. From 2011 – 2014, we only stopped here once, and that was in the fall.
Fantasy Favorites for Atlanta
Kevin Harvick – Well, this is the week that we’ll really get to see if Kevin Harvick and this #4 team can continue right where they left off in 2014. Yeah, he finished 2nd last weekend in The Great American Race, but luck plays a lot into restrictor plate track finishes. As far as here at Atlanta, Harvick wound up finishing 19th here last August, but I’m willing to bet he will end up better than that this Sunday in the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500. Keep in mind that the #4 Chevrolet was probably the best car in the field in August–as was the case with many, many races last season. A late-race incident on a green-white-checkered restart relegated “The Closer” to a 19th-place finish in that event but he led 195 of the 335 laps from the pole in last fall’s race here and had a 2nd-place average running position over the whole race. Even with that disappointing finish, though, Kevin has six top 10s in the last eight Sprint Cup events at this venue. He does have one victory at Atlanta Motor Speedway but that was back in his rookie campaign (2001, when he moved up to Cup after the death of Dale Earnhardt). Harvick will no doubt be one of the favorites this weekend and will look to punch his ticket to this year’s Chase early on in 2015. In The Showcase, “Happy” has a handicap of 3 points this weekend, which is decent value when you considering how dominant his Chevrolet has the potential to be. I expect him to be one of the most-picked All Star Drivers on Sunday.
Jeff Gordon – Jeff Gordon and teammate Jimmie Johnson own the best average finishes here at Atlanta Motor Speedway, with each coming in under 12th. Jeff has made 41 career starts at this 1.54-mile race track and has visited victory lane five different times, the most recent in the September 2011 race. In the event here last year, the #24 Chevrolet was one of the few cars who could potentially keep up with Kevin Harvick, but Gordon got into the wall after blowing a tire in the middle part of the race. He ended up finishing 17th. What’s amazing, however, if that the #24 Chevrolet had the 4th-best driver rating in that race despite that wreck. Yeah, Gordon’s car was that good. Sunday will be a good test for the #24 team to see if they still have the rest of the field beat on the long runs–which I think we will have a lot of. Gordon has 11 top 10 finishes in the last 15 Sprint Cup events and should make it 12-for-16 this weekend. In The Showcase, the driver of the #24 Chevrolet will get 4 handicap points this week, which is great value when you consider his potential for a top 5 finish…or even a win. Expect Gordon to be on plenty Showcase teams this weekend.
Matt Kenseth – I fully expect Matt Kenseth to get back to 2013 form this year–when he won 7 times–and that will all start here at Atlanta on Sunday. Although he’s never won at this race track, Matt did finish runner-up to Kasey Kahne here back in August and hasn’t posted a result worse than 13th at Atlanta since the 2005 season. Yeah, talk about consistent. Looking at Charlotte, which is pretty comparable to Atlanta, Kenseth finished 3rd in the 2014 Coca-Cola 600–which is pretty good considering last season was somewhat of a “down year” for this #20 team. Look for Matt to rebound from a bad Daytona 500 and score a top 5–and possibly even a win–in this weekend’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500. In The Showcase, Matt Kenseth gets just 1 handicap point for Atlanta which may deter some people from picking him. Personally, I think there is more value in taking other drivers this week–especially as your All Star Driver–although if Kenseth has a car that can win the race, disregard that statement. Remember, in this game, the race winner gets 5 bonus points.