Following Joey Logano‘s second win of 2020, NASCAR’s trip out west ends. For the next few months, the Cup Series will meander up the East Coast and around the midwest. Not until mid-June will NASCAR venture west of the Rocky Mountains again. As for this weekend, it’s back to Georgia. Sunday will see 325 laps run around Atlanta Motor Speedway for the Folds of Honor 500.
Spoiler warning; this week’s NASCAR DFS preview will end up being shorter than usual. Atlanta is such an odd duck because of its track package used last season, so it’s hard to make an apples-to-apples comparison. Thus, instead of just filling space with words, I want to focus on what I truly believe transfers from race to race.
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Atlanta Motor Speedway
Atlanta is one of the predecessors of what we now know as intermediate tracks. Racing began at Atlanta in 1960, a time when 1.5-mile tracks were the exception and not the rule. There’s nothing really special about Atlanta racing-wise. It’s just another D-shaped oval. However, the track tends to produce competitive racing. A result of really one thing: Atlanta’s abrasive surface.
Officials at Atlanta have been wanting to repave the surface for about four years. However, the drivers keep begging them not to. It’s the sandpaper-esque surface that makes Atlanta a true driver’s track. Tire fall-off is so sharp and quick at Atlanta that racing truly becomes a matter of how well a driver can maintain his equipment. The last time Atlanta saw a fresh layer of pavement was 1997. Thus, don’t be surprised to see racers come in for four fresh tires after any set of laps should a yellow flag wave.
Reducing racing down to just one factor, managing tire wear, seems odd at best. Yet, drivers love it. If you give a group of drivers racing conditions they actually enjoy, it should produce a great television product.
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The Odd Duck of 2019 at Atlanta
This is generally where we dive into the laps led numbers from the Race Sheets. However, we have a wrench thrown into the Folds of Honor 500.
To begin with, Atlanta only hosts one race per year. Thus, we have a small data set as we dealt with at Auto Club Speedway. Second, this race has usually taken place immediately following Daytona. So we’re gauging results in the second race of the season. Some teams are still figuring things out mechanically and we don’t get a true perspective of their team as of yet.
The third and final wrench is the 550-horsepower package. Yet, it is not the package we saw at intermediate tracks last season. The one key component missing was no aero ducts going from the bumper to the brakes. Combine this one-off package where drivers tried to draft in qualifying and we had a quirky race. If you want to read my article from last season to get an idea of this, go here.
Drawing Mirky Conclusions
Trying to draw a conclusion from Atlanta-19 is tough because you can’t compare it squarely to past Atlanta races nor other intermediate tracks in 2019. After using this package at Atlanta, NASCAR scrapped it and ran aero ducts at every other track utilizing the 550-horsepower package.
So can we look at anything from last season’s race? Well, we can actually look two things, I believe, two things that remain static at Atlanta regardless of package.
First, clean air is king. Aric Almirola sailed off with the lead before giving up the lead on pit road. Several of us faded the polesitter, believing him to be incapable of holding the lead. Truth be told, if not for that caution, Almirola probably would have led the entire first segment, if not more. However, it wasn’t just Almirola. Any driver who got out in front after a green flag was able to sail away. The only mitigating factor was our second issue: tire wear.
As long as this track fails to get repaved, tire wear will always be an underlying issue. In fact, two of our final leaders had to pit under the green flag (Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney) because they wore out their tires racing to the lead.
I’ll dive into this more with my NASCAR DFS picks article on Saturday, but my top plays are going to be drivers who can manage their equipment better than others.
NASCAR DFS Expectations for the Folds of Honor 500
This is where the murky glass gets even muddier. We could look at past optimals for not just last year’s race but prior Atlanta events and draw different conclusions each time.
- 2019’s race looks like a single dominator (Kyle Larson) build paired with two semi-dominators. Had Logano and Blaney not worn out their tires, the optimal would have been pure place differential.
- 2018’s race was a single dominator heavy lineup (Kevin Harvick) paired with just one partial lap leader.
- 2017’s race was a single dominator (Harvick) paired with place differential across the board.
Regardless of how the race pans out, we know we’ll see at least one dominator.
Should things remain static, we can count on seeing a second and third driver lead 10% of the race as well. It’s happened in all but one race since 2013 at Atlanta.
However, the question of building lineups with a second or third dominator comes down to viability. If these drivers do what those drivers have done in 2018 and 2019, it may be hard to justify spending top dollar on a driver who only gains 40-50 laps led. Because of this, I believe once again you’re looking at single dominator lineups on FanDuel. As per DraftKings, it’ll be a matter of place differential that makes these drivers live as a dominator.
So much of this weekend is going to come down to how driver’s fare in long-run practice speed as well as qualifying order. Be sure to come back Saturday as we take these factors and address my top NASCAR DFS plays for Sunday’s Folds of Honor 500.
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