The NASCAR Cup Series heads to Hotlanta today for what promises to be a wild and unpredictable race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Since its reconfiguration at the start of 2022, Atlanta has been transformed into a somewhat mini Daytona. But, with the way races played out here last year, we can expect full sized Daytona-sized chaos. While we may have an idea of who will perform well, who survives and ends up in position at the end for a good finish will be anyone’s guess. As a spectator, it’ll be an exciting day of racing, but as a DFS player, hitting the optimal lineup might feel a lot like hitting the lottery. However, with the right strategy we can still set ourselves up for a good chance at profit and a potential big score from this unpredictable race. Let’s dive into my analysis of the drivers and strategy to help you build that winning lineup.
Since its repave, I pin Atlanta Motor Speedway with the “mini Daytona” moniker for several reasons. Firstly, the draft plays a significant factor. NASCAR has teams running the super speedway package here which, means less horsepower and wide-open throttle in the corners. The result is cars running bunched up, inches from each other, just like wee see at Daytona and Talladega. However, the tighter turns at Atlanta and smaller track size makes handling a factor, making Daytona a better comparison. As a result, we should lean towards drivers and teams who have had success at Daytona over it’s Super Speedway counterpart of Talladega for this race.
The other similarity Atlanta shares with Daytona is the chaos. The two races held here last year had a total of 24 cautions, which led to over 20% of both races being ran under caution. Additionally, there were 11 and 12 cars that did not finish each race, with 25 and 27 cars involved in some sort of incident. Surviving the CHAOS will be key to your drivers having a good day today. The size of incidents at Atlanta do tend to be smaller than the other super speedways as the pack is a little bit more spread out allowing drivers time to react. But as we saw in last nights Xfinity race, when these cars ARE bunched up and the checker flag is on the line, big wrecks can still happen.
DFS players should approach this slate with the same strategy they would deploy at Daytona, concentrating on position differential upside and high floors, or “STACK THE BACK”. Looking at the starting range for Top 10 scorers on DK from the last two Atlanta races, it looks similar to the last three Daytona races, with 60% or more of their Top 10 Scorers coming from drivers starting 21st or worse.
Top 10 Scorers by Starting Range
One difference though is Daytona had a larger share of drivers starting from 30th on back end up as a top scorer. I believe that is because Atlanta had more cars finish each race, which limited the upside of the back markers in those races. I feel like the size and severity of incidents can be fluky, so it’s very possible to see a handful more cars in the garage at the end of this one than we saw in 2022, resulting in more upside out of those guys who survive from the back. However, my approach today is focus on quality drivers and equipment for PD, and leave the back markers for true Daytona.
Dominator points are also a topic that needs to be discussed ahead of today’s race. Last year’s races here saw the winning driver lead close to 100 laps, resulting in optimal line ups that represent the importance of hitting that lap leader.
However, we’re looking at a small sample here, and last year’s result may put more ownership towards the front of the field than we would see on a normal super speedway weekend. Last year’s race saw Chase Elliott 22% owned FROM THE POLE!? We saw a ton of speed out of Ford and Team Penske in qualifying and I expect a lot of ownership to go to the front of the field chasing those dominator points today. I don’t want any part of ANY driver starting inside the Top 10 today that could carry 22% ownership, let alone the pole sitter who needs so much to go right to pay off. While we saw both drivers who dominate make it to the finish in last year’s races, there are no guarantees that will happen this year.
Top Dominator Scores at Atlanta in 2022
Dominator points today are basically only referring to laps led as fast laps gets spread out. So, we are only looking at around 20-25 dominator points as far as upside. That can easily disappear if that leader finds trouble late in a race when things get dicey. For that reason, I’m not too concerned with chasing dominator points today. Instead, I’m going to focus on building around position differential and let the field chase those guys. It might not be the strategy that ends up with a big GPP takedown, but I’m going to be more focused on cash, SE, and 3 max today.
Avoiding those guys starting towards the front though does not mean you are forgoing dominator points completely. There are some drivers who offer both PD and dominator upside that are more ideal to target in this style of racing. Ford may have shown the speed in qualifying, but handling will matter after a handful of laps, and that’s when we will see who really has the cars that can control the race.
Below is my cheat sheet for today’s race at Atlanta. I have included driver data from the last 5 Cup Series races at Daytona and Atlanta. Stats in blue are team averages for drivers with 0 starts from the sample. Drivers in green are guys I like today. DO NOT WORRY ABOUT USING ALL OF YOUR SALARY TODAY.
Back to Back winner Willy Byron is in play once again this week. This team has been lighting fast to start the season and Super Speedways have always been kind to Byron, including this race last year where he led 100+ laps in route to the win. Starts 11th so offers some PD upside, but will need to lead laps at this price, which makes him high risk, high reward.
Kyle Busch was 2 laps away from potentially winning the Daytona 500 a few weeks ago before late race cautions. Both RCR cars were fast and in contention at the end of that race. I expect RCR to put another good piece under Kyle today as intermediates and Super Speedways are this team’s strength, and this track is both. Starts 18th and provides solid PD with race leading and race winning upside.
I’m off both Blaney and Logano here, not playing the front. I get it, I know it worked last year, but so much has to go right and these guys will carry ownership. They will be owned for a reason though, Fords looked fast just like they did at Daytona. Penske did have great qualifying efforts in last years Atlanta races as well, but only totaled 37 laps led between the trio of them in both races.
You all know I love me some Watermelon man Ross Chastain on Super Speedways. Ross finished 2nd in BOTH races here last season, including in the Spring when he wrecked and came back from 2 laps down! He’s a beast on these tracks and will have no problem working his way through the field in this fast Trackhouse #1.
Denny Hamlin has had a terrible stretch of luck in finishing on these Super Speedways recently. He is due to bring it home in one piece for a solid finish. He is one of the best in the game at this type of racing and there is no doubt he will find his way to the front at some point today, but can he stay there and for how long? Great price here though with some decent PD. Likely won’t be heavily owned either with some of the other options on the slate.
Martin Truex is going to be super chalky today from P29 for this price. He was much better on Super Speedways in 2022 than he had historically been in his career. He was seemingly always running towards the front which led to him having the best Avg position in the 5 race sample above and the 2nd best avg finish. Truex finished 8th and 11th in last year’s Atlanta races and he led 27 laps in race #2.
Bubba Wallace is another legit race winning contender starting mid-pack, making him another great DFS option today. He went 5/5 for Top 20 finishes at Daytona and Atlanta since the start of last season which gives him the 4th best Avg finish in that sample. He has won at Dega and has been close a few times at Daytona, Bubba has a nose for the front of the field when it comes to Super Speedways.
Chastain has not been the only benefiter of the speed at Team Trackhouse, Daniel Suarez’s Super Speedway results has also benefited. He finished Top 6 in both races here last season while leading 13 laps in the Spring. He also closed for a 7th place finish in this year’s Daytona 500. That gives him the 3rd best Avg finish in our sample and sets him for a potentially big scoring day from P25.
Erik Jones broke a lot of hearts with his early exit as chalk in the Daytona 500, but you have to go right back to the well here. Jones was great on this track type last season despite what his average finish might indicated. He often ran better than he finished due to late race mistakes. His avg running position was a full 5 positions better than his average finish! He showed his upside potential though in race #2 here last year where he finished 4th while leading 10 laps.
Ryan Preece could go overlooked here today in this spot and he provides some great upside from P24. He is an underrated Super Speedway driver and had a great run going at Daytona this year before his late race accident. Fords and SHR looked fast, but Preece is the only one that has that brings some position differential upside to the table.
Ol’ Ricky Stenhouse is likely going to carry a little more ownership today than we saw at the 500 after he went out and reminded everyone how good he can be at this style of racing with his Daytona 500 win. Chalk Ricky is always concerning as it tends to never work out. Proving his inconsistency, he had 4 finishes of 22nd or worse in our 5 race sample before his Daytona 500 win. Boom or Bust.
I loved Allmendinger at this price and starting position at Daytona, so naturally, I’m going to be on him again today. Veteran who knows how to keep his car clean to find the finish with a car capable of racing his way there. Finished 6th from P29 at the 500.
Corey Lajoie is also another solid option for PD down in this range. He is another driver who knows how to ride and survive in these carnage races, but also has the ability to drive to the front if needed. He finished 5th in this race last here and almost won when we returned for race 2, he led 19 laps in that race before wrecking while racing Chase Elliott for the lead. May not be too high owned either with all the options in this range.
Speaking of options in this range, Ty Gibbs is also in play all the way back from P35. Ty got into the wall in his warm up lap in qualifying so he put up a turd lap. He’s a rookie and has not had that breakout performance yet but you can’t ignore his upside here. The car and team alone should be worth a Top 20 if Ty just keeps it clean. He finished 13th at Daytona in the Spring.
Last on my list is Harrison Burton. Harrison has burnt some people as of late and with the other options in this range I imagine Burton will come in relatively low owned considering where he is starting and the upside potential he has. All the Penske cars are fast which means this car should be somewhat competitive. He finished 10th here in race #2 last year while leading 9 laps. He also led 9 laps at Daytona this year. I think it’s hard for him to get there though without some attrition or somehow gaining track position via strategy.