By Jordan McAbee
It’s always nice to start off the season with a win, and to those of you who also bet on Denny Hamlin in the Daytona 500 last weekend: congratulations. Now we’re getting into the more predictable stretch of races so it’s not incredibly likely that we’re going to get too many more winners at +1200 or better for a while. You never know, though. This weekend’s QuikTrip Folds of Honor 500 will be at Atlanta Motor Speedway, a worn-out 1.5-mile race track where the fastest line is running right up against the wall. This will also be the first race of 2016 using the new aero rules package. Last year, the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas really shined with this low downforce package, and we saw last weekend that they have plenty of horsepower to start off the 2016 campaign. In case you missed it, you can read my article about how this is Toyota’s year to shine by clicking here.
Kevin Harvick is the favorite heading into the race weekend at +450. Joey Logano follows him at +550, and then Jimmie Johnson is 3rd at +650.
Early Betting Picks for Atlanta
The driver odds in this post are accurate as of 7:00 am ET on February 25, 2016 and came from Bovada.
Kurt Busch (+1600) – Call this a long shot or what have you, there’s a ton of value in putting a little money on Kurt Busch this weekend. And at 16-to-1 odds, it’s well worth the risk. One of the Fantasy NASCAR games that we have here at Fantasy Racing Online is The Showcase, and with that game each driver is assigned a handicap point value for each race. These handicap points are determined using the driver’s finishes in the last six races overall as well as the finishes int he last six races at that particular track. Those are weighted and compared to an overall average to determine which drivers are the best–0 handicap points–to the worst. I’m telling you all of this because Kurt Busch will receive 2 handicap points for Atlanta, which is 2nd-best among all driver (and tied with race favorite Kevin Harvick). Kurt Busch should be 10th according to Bovada’s odds, and that huge difference tells me that taking him at +1600 is a good call. He missed last year’s Atlanta race because of the suspension but “The Outlaw” has finished 6th or better in four of his last six starts at this track, and that includes a win in 2010–one of three Kurt has at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Carl Edwards (+800) – I have a feeling that Carl Edwards is going to be one of the favorites for Sunday’s race once practice in qualifying are over with, so it might be a good idea to lock him in at +800 while you can. Last season when we ran this low downforce package, Carl Edwards was the one that loved it the most, and it showed in his finishes: at Kentucky, Carl ended up 4th, and then he won the race at Darlington. When you pair that with the fact that Atlanta is one of Carl’s favorite tracks on the circuits, there’s no reason to think he won’t have a shot to contend on Sunday. Edwards is a three-time winner here at AMS and owns the 5th-best average finish (14.5) at this track among active drivers.
Kyle Busch (+700) – It’s the same story with Kyle Busch as it is with Carl Edwards: the new aero package should only help the Sprint Cup champion this year. Remember the handicap points in The Showcase that I talked about with Kurt Busch? Well, Kyle Busch is the driver with zero handicap points this week, which in my book makes him the favorite. Now, heading into the race weekend I agree with Bovada and think either Kevin Harvick or Joey Logano is going to win on Sunday, but statistics say Kyle Busch might have the best shot. He won this race back in 2013 and also has a victory at Atlanta in 2008. “Rowdy” is still riding that championship wave of momentum, and the driving style required to run fast at Atlanta is one that suits him well.
BONUS PICK: Kyle Larson (+2200) – A fast, slick race track where running against the wall is the fastest way around the track. Hmm…who does that make you think of? Kyle Larson. NASCAR fans are still waiting for this kid to get his first Sprint Cup win, and after his sophomore slump last season, I’m sure Kyle is more eager than ever as well. We’ve seen first time winners at Atlanta before, so why not this weekend? In 2016 I’m expecting the #42 Chevy to run like it did in 2004, and in the Atlanta race that season, Larson qualified 3rd and ended up finishing 8th. The reason I’d take a shot with Larson this early in the week at +2200 is because I expect the #42 Chevy to qualify up front and look pretty good in practice. That means Kyle will probably settle in the +1800 range on race day, and I’d rather have him at +2200. It’s worth a small bet, in my opinion.