By Jordan McAbee
Now that we have Daytona out of the way, we can get into the early chunk of the 2016 Sprint Cup schedule that is a lot more predictable. Like many others, Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s woes helped ruin my Yahoo! roster last week, but always remember that this is a marathon, not a sprint. Cliché, I know, but it’s true. We have 35 races left, and one bad one isn’t going to break you.
This week we’re at Atlanta Motor Speedway, a 1.54-mile quad oval track that is quite worn out. We should the rough racing surface go through a transition from green to checkered on Sunday so those who start out fast might not finish fast. Another thing to consider is the fact that this is the earliest in the season that we’ve raced at Atlanta for as long as I can remember. Luckily, the weather forecast looks great, getting progressively warmer from Friday to Sunday. They’re projecting a high of 64 degrees on race day.
Yahoo! A Group Picks for Atlanta
Kevin Harvick (9 starts remaining) – I’m going for maximum points this weekend and that means putting the guy who’s been absolutely dominant at this track on my roster. This will be the first real glance of the new low downforce package that we’ll see in 2016, and my theory is that it isn’t going to affect Kevin Harvick very much. With that being said, I do believe that it is going to bring the rest of the field a little closer in speed to this #4 Chevrolet. Now, since we’re in week 2 and teams are still getting acclimated to the new season, I’m going to stick with who I know will be fast, and that’s Kevin Harvick. “The Closer” has an insane 131.8 average driver rating over the last two races at Atlanta and probably should have won each as well. He finished 2nd in last year’s event and should be a contender for the win (and the pole) again this weekend.
Joey Logano (9 starts remaining) – Again, I’m sticking with the drivers that I know are going to be fast since we’re this early in the season. To put it simply, Joey Logano and this #22 team were pretty much fantasy locks every single time we stopped at an intermediate race track in 2015. I’m expecting them to have a bunch of speed once again this season, and I think the new rules package might actually help them a little bit. Logano won the pole for last year’s Atlanta race and led 84 laps before finishing 4th. He also ran 2nd here in 2013, his career-best finish at this track. It should be noted that those two races are Logano’s only top 10 results in his 9 career starts at Atlanta, but don’t let that keep you from picking the #22.
Yahoo! B Group Picks for Atlanta
Carl Edwards (9 starts remaining) – I wrote after Denny Hamlin’s Daytona 500 victory on Sunday that it was a statement win not only for the #11 team, but for Toyota as a whole. I’m sticking to my guns that the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas are going to continue to have a lot of speed on the intermediate tracks this season, and that includes Carl Edwards’ #19 machine. Atlanta Motor Speedway was the home of Carl’s first ever Sprint Cup win and he’s gone to victory lane a total of three times in his 18 career starts here. Last year, which was his first season with JGR, Carl started 5th and finished 12th in this race, but let’s not forget that that was when the Gibbs cars were lacking speed. He has the 5th-best average finish at Atlanta for a reason, and should be at least a top 10 threat on Sunday.
Martin Truex, Jr. (9 starts remaining) – One thing that I’ve noticed over the years is that when a team switches manufacturers, there tends to be a bit of a transition period in the beginning of the new season until they really get rolling. However, if Sunday’s Daytona 500 was any indication, this #78 team is picking up right where they left off last year. In 2015, Truex was consistently one of the best drivers on the intermediate race tracks and he has a solid race here at Atlanta, finishing 6th after starting 14th. That makes three finishes of 6th or better in the last four Atlanta races for Truex. As I said before, I think this new rules package is going to benefit Joe Gibbs Racing a lot, and don’t forget that Furniture Row Racing formed an alliance with JGR when they announced the switch to Toyota last year.
Kyle Larson (9 starts remaining) – Atlanta Motor Speedway is a track that really plays to Kyle Larson’s strengths. This track lacks grip and the fastest way around is typically the high line. And Larson loves riding right up against the wall. In Kyle’s first career start here at Atlanta, he qualified 3rd and ending up finishing an impressive 8th; last season, he started 6th but wound up 26th. Now, we all know how disappointing the 2015 year was for Larson, and right now I’m chalking it up as a sophomore slump. I’m a little bit cautious putting him on my roster this week but at the same time I know the potential that Larson has.
Ryan Newman (9 starts remaining) – This is my “safe” pick of the B Group. I know what I’m getting with Ryan Newman: a top 10 finish. He’s not the flashiest driver in the series but he is very consistent, and sometimes that is a good strategy in the fantasy racing world. Now, chances are Newman isn’t going to see my starting lineup on Sunday, but he’s there in case I think any of the above three are too risky. Plus, Newman might net us some qualifying points; in the last seven Sprint Cup races at Atlanta, “The Rocketman” has qualified inside the top 10 for five of them. Newman is also on a three-race streak of top 10 finishes at this track.
For the record, I love Aric Almirola as a sleeper pick this weekend, and I almost put Kasey Kahne on my B Group list. The latter is just far too inconsistent for me, although Kasey did win the 2014 Atlanta race.
Yahoo! C Group Picks for Atlanta
This is where things get interesting. The no-brainer two choices for the C Group would be Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney, but chances are we’re going to have Ty Dillon in the #14 Chevrolet this weekend, and part of me wants to save Elliott and Blaney for later on in the season. Another guy who many might not be thinking about this weekend is Brian Scott, who had some very impressive intermediate track performances in 2015 while driving the #33 Circle Sport Chevrolet–specifically finishing 12th at Kansas and 14th at Texas last October and November, respectively. I’d personally like to think that Scott’s #44 Ford is a tick better than the #33 he drove last year, so there’s some potential there.
If Ty Dillon is in the #14 this weekend, I don’t think you can pass on that opportunity to potentially save a start, so the question becomes who do you pair him with? Right now I’m leaning toward Ty Dillon and Brian Scott being my two C Group drivers for Atlanta, but that could change as the week goes on.