Rough start to the year for yours truly with my best placing driver finishing twenty-sixth. The good news is that there are thirty-five more races left in the season for me to climb my way back up in the standings and there are only three restrictor plate races left.
Other than the bad news for me the finish of the race was pretty exciting. Kind of boring the last half of the race when the Gibbs teammates and affiliates had it figured out and just stayed in line knowing the outside line couldn’t catch them, but strategy is a big part of racing each and every week and you can’t fault teams for doing what works and within the rules.
FOLDS OF HONOR QUIKTRIP 500
The series is right back at it next weekend as the drivers head to Atlanta Motor Speedway for the running of the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500. There were no real engine troubles at Daytona last week, which is a good sign for all of the teams heading into another 500-mile race albeit this week there will be no restrictor plates on the cars.
This will be the first race on a fast mile-and-a-half track this year and it will tell us a lot about which teams have improved, which have remained about the same and who has fallen a bit behind. I’m really interested to see if the Roush/Fenway teams have improved over last season. They looked like they were more competitive at Daytona, so maybe they have there aero package figured out this year. We will see next Sunday.
Jimmie Johnson: With four wins, and thirteen top five finishes at Atlanta in twenty-four starts, Jimmie is the driver to beat this week. Jimmie won this race last season and I think this team will be back at the top of their game early this season. Every driver wants to get the win that will qualify them for the Chase early in the season and this team usually gets that job done.
Kevin Harvick: Kevin won the first race he ever ran at Atlanta, but he hasn’t won a race here since. That really doesn’t mean much to me because of the way Kevin has driven over the past two seasons. He has one of the fastest and best handling cars every week and he just needs a few breaks to go his way during a race and he will find himself back in victory lane here again.
Matt Kenseth: Matt has never won a race at this track which came as a surprise to me as I was doing some research for this article. Matt has always been good on this type of track and his average finish at Atlanta is very good. He has ten top five finishes in twenty-seven start which is a great average to have and any driver would be happy with those results, but they all want to win every week and at least once at every track.
Carl Edwards: Carl has won three times at Atlanta in only eighteen starts and has finished in the top five in half of those races. In his second season at Joe Gibbs Racing, Carl should be much improved over last season in which he qualified for the Chase, but wasn’t really a contender. This season this team looks to compete for a championship during the Chase.
Kasey Kahne: Kasey has won three races at this track during his career and has finished in the top ten in nine of his nineteen starts here. All in all, Kasey hasn’t lived up to the expectations he or Rick Hendrick had when he signed with them back in 2012. In his fifth year with the team, Kasey needs to run more consistent, win a few races, and compete for a championship he is longing to win.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: After a disappointing result at Daytona last weekend, this team looks to rebound this week at Atlanta. Dale has one win under his belt at this track and has finished in the top ten in thirteen of his twenty-eight starts here. Watching his interview after getting out of the infield care center after his crash at Daytona, I noticed that Dale didn’t look real disappointed with what happened like he is sometimes. This tells me this team is very confident this season and last week was just a mishap not to worry about.
Brian Vickers: Brian ran well until the end of the Daytona 500 which tells me he feels comfortable behind the wheel once again. He has always run well at Atlanta having finished in the top ten in eight of his seventeen starts there. He also has great equipment under him as he fills in for Tony Stewart while Smoke recovers from back surgery. The question will be, can he do what Tony couldn’t do in this car? We’re going to find out this week.
Kyle Busch: The reigning NASCAR champion missed the race at Atlanta last year as he recovered from injuries suffered the week before at Daytona. Kyle has won twice at Atlanta in the past and has led a lot of laps in his seventeen starts. Kyle did what a teammate is supposed to do at Daytona last week, but this week when you don’t need drafting help it is going to be every driver for themselves.
Kurt Busch: Kurt has won three races in Atlanta and has led more laps than any other driver that will be competing here next week. Another of the Stewart-Haas drivers, Kurt has the equipment to compete every week no matter what type of track he is racing on. Kurt missed this race last season like his brother because he was suspended by NASCAR while he was involved in a legal matter that was under investigation. Kurt was cleared of any wrong doing and was reinstated by NASCAR, and qualified for the Chase and made a good run for the championship. I think this year he will be even better.
Denny Hamlin: Let’s not forget this year’s Daytona 500 winner! Congratulations to Denny Hamlin who was the class of the field all week at Daytona and gave us another exciting finish to a NASCAR race. I don’t think there has been a better finish since Ricky Craven beat Kurt Busch at Darlington in 2003 or the Watkins Glen finish in 2011 between Marcos Ambrose, Brad Keselowski, and Kyle Busch. With a win and six top ten finishes in sixteen races it might not be his best track, but he is relaxed because he is in the Chase, but also hungry for more wins.
I am going to take Dale Earnhardt Jr. as my Big 18 driver this week. Even though I think Jimmie will win this race I am going to use him at both of the Dover raves where he has ten wins in twenty-eight starts. I also want to save Kevin Harvick because he is good just about every week.
YAHOO! FANTASY NASCAR PICKS FOR ATLANTA MOTOR SPEEDWAY
Yahoo Driver Group A
- Jimmie Johnson
- Kevin Harvick
Yahoo Driver Group B
- Carl Edwards
- Kasey Kahne
- Martin Truex Jr.
- AJ Allmendinger
Yahoo Driver Group C
- Ty Dillon
- Ryan Blaney
MY TOP-5 OVERALL AT ATLANTA MOTOR SPEEDWAY
- Jimmie Johnson
- Kevin Harvick
- Dale Earnhardt Jr.
- Matt Kenseth
- Kyle Busch
Dark Horse: Ty Dillon
Stay Away From: Greg Biffle
Big 18: Dale Earnhardt Jr.