Coop’s Atlanta NASCAR Preview
What a wild ride it was at Daytona last week as we saw Austin Dillon take down his first Daytona 500 win in a race filled with wrecks. Last week I discussed using the strategy of starting drivers 20th on back and being heavy on the drivers starting 30th or worse. That strategy was working very well until with five laps left I lost Matt Dibenedetto and Aric Almirola whom I was well overweight on. Instead of being a very profitable week I broke even. Now we move onto Atlanta and we throw everything we did last week out the window. Due to qualifying we have quite a interesting NASCAR DFS race set up with weather also playing a potential factor.
ATLANTA MOTOR SPEEDWAY
Atlanta Motor Speedway is a 1.5 mile oval track that will play host to the Folds of Honor Quicktrip 500 this weekend. We have a race that will feature 36 cars running 325 laps in three stages of 85/170/325. Last week was all about being able to maintain the draft and have a good handling car. This week it’s all about tires, tires and even more tires. The reason tires are so important this week is because the track surface is old and abrasive. So how quick do tires wear off at Atlanta, if you listen to driver chatter on scanners you will here some drivers complaining about there tires after two laps and all will be complaining after 7-10. Last year the speeedway was going to repave the track after the race but many drivers voiced there opinion to not do this in fear of the speeds this would create along with the boring racing as there would only be one groove which would make it extremely difficult to pass. Fortunately the drivers won out and we will continue to see good old fashioned racing were it is critical to be a great driver to finish well in Atlanta.
HOW IMPORTANT ARE BONUS POINTS THIS WEEK
Last week at Daytona we saw several wrecks which led to quite a bit attrition. This week don’t expect to see many wrecks if any at all and when you do see a wreck it will most likely involve a single car with the most being two to three cars. Last year we saw three cars not complete the race while the year before all cars were running at the end of the race. Last week we focused on place differential while this week we will be focusing on dominators and finish place position with place differential thrown in there. It’s extremely important this week that you have the dominators in your lineup as they will most likely accumulate the most points even with the amount of high quality drivers qualifying in the back. If someone goes out and leads 100+ laps they will most likely be on the winning lineup even if they don’t win the race. So how many dominators will there be, that’s a great question that nobody knows and as you will see below there have been anywhere from one to four dominators over the last three years. I have a idea of how many dominators there could be and I will discuss that later.
Dominator Points Available 81.25
2017 Laps Led
Kevin Harvick 292 equals 73 DK points started 1st
2016 Laps Led
Kevin Harvick 131 32.75 DK points started 6th
Kurt Busch 62 15.5 DK points started 1st
Jimmy Johnson 52 13 DK points started 19th
Matt Kenseth 47 11.75 DK points started 13th
2015 Laps Led
Kevin Harvick 116 29 DK points started 2nd
Jimmy Johnson 92 23 DK points started 37th
Joey Logano 84 21 DK points started 1st
Fastest Laps will be very important this week because as you will see below there are several points available as we typically have few cautions at Atlanta. I wouldn’t expect to see the numbers that we saw in 2016 as that was before stage racing and also involved overtime so additional laps were run. I would expect to see closer to 2017 and 2015 numbers which still provide plenty of points available. We will see many drivers get fastest laps this week because if you pit while others are still on old tires you will be running much faster with your new tires but overall you typically see 6-9 drivers record 15+ fastest laps at Atlanta. We saw Harvick lead 292 laps year but that doesn’t mean they were all fastest laps as he had 59. Actually the guy who had the second most fastest laps last year, Brad Keselowski, had more fast laps than laps led, 40 vs 21. So how to I go about taking advantage of the fastest laps bonus points, let’s try two things. First, don’t pick bottom tier drivers like Jefferey Earnhardt or even mid tier drivers like AJ Allmendinger and expect to get fastest laps. Over the last three years the drivers to record 15+ fastest laps at Atlanta were the big name drivers minus 2016 when Brian Scott recorded 34. Second, make sure you have several potential dominators in your lineup as all but Kurt Busch in 2016 recorded at least 15+ fastest laps.
2017 293 green flag laps 146.5 points
2016 317 green flag laps 158.5
2015 271 green flag laps 135.5
Last week we saw 12 drivers improve there starting position by at least 10 positions at the Daytona 500, hence why we focused so much on place differential last week. This week at Atlanta don’t expect to see near that many drivers improve there starting position by ten plus positions. Is place differential important this week, yes, but it will be more challenging to determine which drivers will accumulate the differential points. In addition the pure number of bonus points available and accumulated is much greater for laps leds and fastest laps than place differential. In 2017 and 2016 we saw six drivers improve by ten positions while in 2015 we saw seven drivers improve by ten positions. Here is were you need to be careful and not fooled by these numbers as eight of the nineteen occurrences over the three years were by elite name drivers who qualified poorly and should be expected to gain ten plus positions over there starting position (hmm.. sounds familiar for this year). It’s very rare to see a driver of Cole Whitt’s stature start 37th and finish 20th like he did last year.
PRACTICE THIS WEEK
Unlike last week it will be important to pay attention to practice and what is happening. Unfortunately we only have one practice after qualifying this week and that is on Saturday at noon. Don’t pay any attention to one lap times this week as they are meaningless as it will be the 10 lap times you will want to look at. As equally important as the times will be the chatter in the garage as to who has the best cars this week and who hates there car. Paying attention to practice this week may provide you with the edge that is needed. As you will see in my notes below it will be important to pay attention to this one practice on Saturday.
THIS WILL DETERMINE THE WINNER OF THE RACE THIS WEEK
Yes it is the Daytona 500 and yes it carries a lot of pressure but the pit stops last week were absolutely horrendous under the easiest circumstances possible. What I mean by that is last week we saw pit stops with gas only, two tires and usually under caution. During many of the stops it appeared as if many people were moving in slow motion with no rhythm while the drivers were not helping out by pitting out of box and speeding. I mentioned last week in my blog how critical pit stops would be early in the year due to new some of the new rules and this week we are going to see who is at that top of there game. As I mentioned earlier tires will be in high demand and every single pit stop this week will be four tires, something we saw very little of at Daytona. If there is a caution after completing five laps don’t be surprised to see everyone pit. Gas will not be an issue this week because everyone will want fresh tires well before they run out of gas. Last year we saw 9-10 pit stops on average which means there will be plenty of opportunities for the drivers and there pit teams to make mistakes. Speeding penalties were out in full force last year at Atlanta as we saw 12 speeding penalties. The other important aspect of the pit stop to be looking at is how long they take since only four people can change tires and make adjustments. Last year we saw pit stops at 11-12 seconds for four tires. Unfortunately there were few four tire stops at Daytona so we have no idea how long they will take this year but I know they will be slower than 11-12 seconds. If you can get out of the pits 1-3 seconds faster than your peers you are going to gain a bunch of time on the track and if it happens to be the driver in the lead we could see many cars go one lap down quickly. I see the new rules providing a huge advantage for the premier teams as there pit crews are far superior than the bottom tier teams and better than the mid tier. In my opinion the driver that has the least mistakes on pit road and can perform fast pit stops will win this week.
I see this race playing out one of a couple ways. First, like last year were we have the dominant car start up front and completely control the race. For me this would be Kevin Harvick and he most certainly has the ability to do this so I will have some lineups with Harvick as the only dominator. Second, we see several issues on pit road which leads to multiple leaders and 2-3 cars being the dominant lap leaders while a car that hasn’t led many or any laps takes advantage of late race pit stop miscues by the leaders and wins the race. I feel confident that a big name driver will win the race and the majority of my ownership will focus on these big name drivers. Finally, pay attention to the weather as this race could end up being shortened due to weather or may not start until Monday. If they get halfway and the rains end the race then the place differential drivers will end up more important than the dominators. For this reason I will have a mix of lineups containing 1-2 dominators with the rest being place differential and few if any lineups with three dominators.
POTENTIAL DOMINATORS THIS WEEK
Kevin Harvick has to be at the top of your player pool this week as he has dominated this track. Harvick has led over 100 laps in five of the last six Atlanta races with a average finish of 8.3. Harvick would have won last year but he had a pit penalty on the last stop. As mentioned before it is all about tires this week and Harvick is the best driver in NASCAR when it comes to managing your tires and being able to know when to push the limits and when to hold back. Harvick is starting third this week which I am very happy about. If Harvick had started first he would have been extremely popular but now I think people will somehow overlook Harvick lowering his ownership. So how does Harvick get overlooked you may ask, first Kyle Busch is on pole which will lower his ownership, second people may still be in the mindset of place differential and load up on people starting in the back.
Kyle Busch won the pole which is good because it will draw ownership on him were as if Ryan Newman would have won he would have likely drawn low ownership for a pole sitter. Busch dropped a fast lap but I am not sure he has what it takes to maintain the lead over a long period of time. I will be paying attention to Busch tomorrow at practice to see what his times are and if he can keep his car low on the yellow line. If he does well with both I will be more inclined to play him, if he doesn’t then he will be a fade or very low owned for me.
Kyle Larson and Brad Keselowski are the only other two drivers I can see being dominators this week. They will both have to overcome Busch and Harvick which will not be easy. If either leads laps it is most likely due to cautions coupled with strategy they used or poor pit performance from Busch and Harvick. I am more keen to play Keselowski as he appeared to have a better car than Larson plus I feel he is a better fit for the driving conditions than Larson at Atlanta. Larson is a driver who will wear his tires out quickly at this stage of his career due to his aggressive driving.
HIGH OWNED DRIVERS PLAYING FOR PLACE DIFFERENTIAL
Due to qualifying we have several drivers who are in position to claim solid place differential points. While it is possible they could lead laps it will most likely be minimal and if it does happen will be due to race strategy and or come at the end of the race as they have placed themselves in a position to win. Will all of these drivers work out, most likely no, but the potential is there. What helps is there are several which will spread ownership. This will be the other key portion of practice I will monitor as minus Martin Truex they qualified in the back because there time was not strong. I would imagine for one to two of these drivers it will carry over to the actual race and they end up being a lap down which minimizes there ability to accumulate place differential points.
I expect Jimmie Johnson to bounce back this week as he has been strong at Atlanta over his career and he has played the proper strategy recently leading him to two wins. Johnson starts 22nd and it will be interesting to see if his ownership comes in lower than the drivers starting mid twenties. If I see that it will I will be overweight on Johnson as long as he practices well. Johnson is also more expensive than the drivers starting behind him and will have to finish higher to accumulate more points but at Atlanta I will take his experience as it will be valuable. If Johnson finishes T10 he will accumulate 46 points while a T5 will get him 56 points and potentially in a winning lineup.
Martin Truex Jr has been dominant at 1.5 mile tracks over the last two years BUT Atlanta has just been average for him. Yes I said average for a guy that has posted three T10 finishes over the last three years. When you look at his final position plus starting position to go along with laps led and fastest laps he has not produced the DK points needed for his price vs other drivers. Truex ended up not qualifying and will start 35th as he was not able to pass inspection. You will need to pay attention tomorrow as Truex will have to pass inspection before practice and will most likely have limited practice time as he will be penalized for his not passing inspection. Truex should draw the highest ownership because all he needs is a T10 to accumulate 59 points
Chase Elliot, Ryan Blaney and Austin Dillon struggled during qualifying and will start 27th, 26th and 25th. It should be noted that Elliot said his car is not great right now. Elliot is someone you will need to pay close attention to in practice to see if his team can get the car were they want it. Elliot will draw high ownership starting in the back and being Chase Elliot but he could easily not have a good car and finish 17th or worse. The same could be said about Blaney as he will most likely draw the next highest ownership between the three while Dillon will be the lowest owned of the three. Dillon and Blaney have the fortune of getting set ups and notes from there teammates who qualified in the T5 and I feel they will most likely start out better than Elliot as neither of his teammates qualified well. I would not be surprised to see two of these drivers end up not having great cars and losing a lap early in the race which will limit there point differential.
LOW OWNED GPP PLAYS, ONE OF THESE FIVE DRIVERS WILL BE IN THE WINNING LINEUP
Joey Logano has the ability to win someone a GPP this weekend. Logano starts 16th and will most likely see low ownership due to all the big name drivers starting behind him. Logano has the potential to lead laps, get fastest laps, win and accumulate place differential points. For all that to happen everything will have to play out perfectly but the potential is there. Logano needs a T5 to accumulate 50 DK points so you can see the risk that is carried with him but he has the potential to achieve this at a low ownership.
William Byron is someone who is riskier than Logano in my opinion and he should draw lower ownership. Everyone should be playing the drivers I listed above leaving Byron low owned while starting 23rd. We know Byron is driving good equipment but I am not sure he has the experience needed at Atlanta. The one thing I do like about Byron is he appears to be someone who will listen to his peers and team and try to manage his car verse push it which could be good. These are the reasons why I feel he is riskier than Logano even though starting farther back. Byron’s teammate Alex Bowman is also in a great position to be low owned while having the ability to finish T5.
Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones are in bad spots starting 11th and 10th and basically need to win in order to pay off. Both will be low owned with Hamlin drawing higher ownership while Jones should be very low. Take the words I used to describe Logano and you have Hamlin but at a much riskier play. The one thing that intrigues me about Jones is the number 20 car has good history at Atlanta and nobody will be playing Darrell Waltrip’s favorite driver.
It appears that Bubba Wallace is the new shiny toy after his second place finish at Daytona last week. I am sure Wallace will be popular this week as he is a salary saver that is needed to fit high priced drivers in your lineups. As mentioned before experience is needed at Atlanta to finish well and I will be taking my chances that the lack there of for Wallace this week pays off in fading him.
Hopefully everyone was able to learn some valuable info this week pertaining to NASCAR DFS and I wish everyone the best of luck. Thanks