2018 Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 Preview

Congratulations to Austin Dillon and the #3 team from Richard Childress Racing on their Daytona 500 victory – the “lucky penny” endures! Google it, I have a lot to write here…

For any fan, I think there was something special about seeing that #3 car ripping donuts in the same infield, 20 years after the late Dale Earnhardt finally captured his elusive Harley J. Earl Trophy (the first and only of Earnhardt’s illustrious career). As with most restrictor-plate races, the Daytona 500 tends to be feast or famine for fantasy owners – especially those who live or die with 1 driver. Rest assured, my disheartened friends, ’tis but one race. The real season begins now…


Atlanta Motor Speedway is a 1.54 mile intermediate track with 24 degrees of banking in the turns and 5 degrees in the straightaways. At 43%, intermediate ovals comprise the core nucleus of the NASCAR schedule, and this will be our first indicator which teams are actually on point, and which have room for improvement. Atlanta is commonly sub-categorized as “cookie cutter”, and while I personally contend no two tracks are truly alike from a driving perspective, Atlanta most closely resembles Texas and Charlotte in their shapes and configurations. Regarded as one of the fastest tracks on the circuit, Atlanta is a favorite stop for many drivers because of the speed and character of its surface. It was last repaved 20 years ago, and drivers will be slipping, sliding, and bouncing around the track this weekend. Many of the more experienced drivers tend to favor these adverse conditions, as knowledge of the fastest line, and corner-entry approach with a loose race car, can take years to perfect. Enjoy it, as Speedway Motorsports, Inc. has plans to repave the surface after this race.


This section is less about prognostication, and more about highlighting drivers catching my eye at a given moment. We all play in different formats and have different strategies, but hopefully this adds some value to your results. Good luck!


Kevin Harvick (Pit Stall Rating 140.67, 3rd) – I finally get to talk about Kevin Harvick. Kevin has finished 6 of 7 races at Atlanta in the Top-10 since 2011. A disappointing result at Daytona demands a rebound, and I think you’ll be seeing the #4 car in victory lane this weekend. Phoenix, Bristol, and Kansas all technically rank higher statistically for Kevin in the first dozen races, so there’s definitely no shame in waiting to use him, but this is a great spot.

Chase Elliott (Pit Stall Rating 161.85, 1st) – Speaking of rebounds, I know some of you were probably bothered by my fading of Chase Elliott in the 500, but he certainly justified it with a 33rd place finish. Please realize, it was anything but hating on the #9. In fact, it was actually me saying this kid is so talented, why not utilize him where it makes better sense? Well, it’s a couple days later, and here we are again: is Chase Elliott at Atlanta better than Chase Elliott somewhere else? He has only run this race twice, but has finished 8th and 5th respectively. With another season of experience under his belt, I think anything outside the top-5 would be a disappointment this weekend considering his 33% career top-5 percentage at intermediates.

Joey Logano (Pit Stall Rating 146.97, 2nd) – The #22 team fought adversity all day long at Daytona, and prevailed in my opinion. A tire rub from contact with Kyle Larson caused them to pit prematurely in stage 1, forfeiting any chance at stage points. They kept grinding away and wound up finishing 3rd in Stage 2. After a late penalty, and some good luck hammering the brakes to avoid a wreck in the closing laps, they brought home an honorable 4th place finish the hard way. Though it doesn’t show up on a score sheet, these seemingly insignificant victories build team confidence, and I think this team is eager to go to work again because of it. My concern with the #22 team is they run well here, but they are hot and cold in terms of closing the race out. 2nd, 14th, 4th, 12th, 6th. Not bad, but consistently inconsistent if we’re nit picking. If you are debating a single usage for the #22, this week and next week (Las Vegas) are excellent spots to consider.

Kurt Busch (Pit Stall Rating 139.00, 4th) – Since 2011, Kurt’s worst finish at Atlanta is 13th, and we’d have to go all the way back to 2009 to find a race where he didn’t complete 100% of the laps (to be fair, he won the other Atlanta race that year). He brings an average finish of 7th to the table over the last 5 races, and a loop rating of 97.3 (6th). As I alluded to last week, Kurt is on the cusp between a B-level and A-level driver, which for some, creates very limited and specific opportunities to plug him into your lineup over other options. I consider Atlanta another excellent place for Kurt to thrive, and I would give him very strong consideration in formats where strategically saving other drivers is prudent.

Martin Truex Jr. (Pit Stall Rating 105.11, 5th) – Throw out the numbers (which are still compelling, regardless). Martin Truex Jr. is the reigning king of 1.5 mile intermediates, and any analyst would be remiss to leave out the #78 team from their selections. We don’t exactly know how or why they consistently perform so well in this format, and we don’t really care. All we know is they do, and do, and do, and do. However, obviously most of us cannot use the #78 every week, so I listed several viable alternatives above.


Ryan Newman (Pit Stall Rating 57.28, 9th) – I really wanted to write about Jimmie Johnson here, and I probably could’ve given his start to 2018 so far, but he’s won this race 5 times and everybody knows he’s running out of fingers to count his championships on. Instead, let’s focus on a guy with a not-so-evident upside. Ryan has run 88.7% of his laps at Atlanta in the Top-15 since 2011, and has 3 Top-10 finishes over his last 5 races. His average starting position of 6.8 during that span is best among active drivers, which tells me the #31 team knows how to dial in that car, at least for qualifying anyway. I think a hard-fought top-12 and some stage points are in the forecast.


Denny Hamlin (Pit Stall Rating 29.62, 22nd) – Denny has only completed the requisite laps in 1 of his last 5 races at Atlanta. He has run 55.9% of those laps in the top-15 positions, which is incredibly poor by the 11’s standards. He has an average finish of 26.6 over the same time period, and a pedestrian loop average of 78.8. Now, a lot of this is simply bad luck, but when the legitimate debate is whether someone will finish better than Trevor Bayne, it’s best to find another option.

AVERAGE FINISH POSITION @ ATLANTA (all races since 2011)

6.5, #9 Chase Elliott
7.5, #41 Kurt Busch
8.1, #4 Kevin Harvick
9.3, #78 Martin Truex Jr.
10.8, #18 Kyle Busch

AVERAGE LOOP RATING @ ATLANTA (last 5 overall races)

126.6, #4 Kevin Harvick
111.7, #22 Joey Logano
105.2, #9 Chase Elliott
99.4, #2 Brad Keselowski
98.8, #78 Martin Truex Jr.

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