Fantasy NASCAR race preview: Kobalt Tools 500

by Eric McClung on March 3, 2010 @ 10:00:00 PDT

 


On the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule, there are three 1.5-mile tracks with 24-degree corner banking, Atlanta Motor Speedway happens to be the first of such stops. Each of these "cookie cutter" tracks holds two races a piece. Four other 1.5-mile tracks with lesser banking hold one contest per season, including last week's venue, Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The steeper banking at Atlanta allows for higher speeds, but many of the lessons learned at Vegas will carry over into this race. In all, there are 10 races on 1.5-mile courses, so success on these intermediate tracks is vital to staying relevant in the standings.

Location: Hampton, Ga.
Shape: Quad-oval
Length: 1.54 miles
Laps: 325
Turns 1-4: 24 degrees
Front stretch: 5 degrees
Back stretch: 5 degrees

Drivers to keep an eye on

Matt Kenseth | No. 17 Valvoline Ford | Roush Fenway Racing

Last year at Atlanta, Kenseth finished in 12th in both races - an "off year" by the high standards he has set here. It marked the first time he failed to record a top-10 at AMS since 2001. Over the last five years (10 races), Kenseth is one of only three drivers to compile five top-fives without a win. Over the last two weeks, Kenseth has improved on laps in the top 15 from 72.0 percent to 87.6 percent and a 94.0 driver rating to 115.9. Heading into this race, very few possess a better combination of momentum and consistent history at AMS.

Clint Bowyer | No. 33 BB&T Chevrolet | Richard Childress Racing

As one of only four drivers with top-10s in all three races this season, Bowyer currently sits second in the driver standings. His history in the March races at Atlanta has been strangely consistent, finishing in the sixth position in each of the past three years. He owns another sixth-place result from an October race in 2007 but finished 20th and 29th in the last two late-season AMS events. Still, Bowyer's hot start and love for the Peach State in March is too good to ignore.

Joey Logano | No. 20 Home Depot Toyota | Joe Gibbs Racing

Joey Logano, Joe Gibbs Racing
Ignore his past in the A

In his first two career at Atlanta in Cup car, Logano qualified 42nd in March and 34th in September of last year. In the fall race, Logan ran as high as sixth, spending nearly a quarter of his laps in the top 15 before a tire went down. The shaky finishes at Atlanta as a rookie can be forgotten. This season, Logano is sitting eighth in the driver standings, owning finishes of fifth and sixth in the last two races.

David Reutimann | No. 00 Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota | Michael Waltrip Racing

Last year's edition of the Kobalt Tools 500 was the only race at a 1.5-mile track in which Reutimann finished worse than 16th. After finishing no better than 20th in four prior starts at Atlanta, Reutimann scored a top-five in the fall race. While hoping for another top-five is a stretch, Reutimann is coming off finishes of 15th and 13th in the last two races. The double zero is a great fallback option in allocation games with limited starts.

Paul Menard | No. 98 Menards/CertainTeed Ford | Richard Petty Motorsports

Menard has finishes ranging from 13th to 18th to start 2010. Last year at Atlanta, Menard finished 15th in the fall race and spent nearly a quarter of the race inside the top 15. Other than a 13th-place finish in the early season race at Texas Motor Speedway, Menard came up flat on every other intermediate track in 2009. He is certainly a risky start but a very stealthy one in deep formats.

Temper your expectations

Kyle Busch | No. 18 M&M's Toyota | Joe Gibbs Racing

In 2008, the younger Busch brother won the Kobalt Tools 500 and finished fifth in the fall race. Perhaps it's unwise to pick against him, but we'll give it a try. In 2009, despite qualifying ninth and fifth, Busch finished 18th and 13th at Atlanta coupled with otherwise fair results at other intermediate tracks. Although average running position has been improved over all three races this season, but Busch only has two finishes of 14th and a 15th thus far to show for it. Issues with a slippery pit box and a speeding penalty on pit road were among the issues last week for Busch. Until he's able to put together an error-free race, Rowdy is a very risky start.

Denny Hamlin | No. 11 FedEx Office Toyota | Joe Gibbs Racing

Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing
A slow starter

The knock on Hamlin has been his inconsistent results on intermediate tracks. His results over the last two seasons at Atlanta are proof of that. In March races, Hamlin has finishes of 15th and 13th. In the fall races, during his late-season surges, Hamlin took third and sixth. With no top-15s to his credit in 2010, Hamlin appears to be in the same pattern. He is lethal on flat tracks and nearly everywhere late in the season, but Hamlin is rarely a favorite in early-season intermediate races.

Jamie McMurray | No. 1 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet | Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing

The luster of the Daytona 500 victory is quickly wearing, as McMurray faded from the pole to finish 17th at Auto Club Speedway. Wrecking teammate Juan Pablo Montoya and finishing 34th last week at Vegas didn't help matters. In 2009, McMurray finished 15th in the March race, aided by qualifying third, and 28th in the fall. After winning at Daytona very little has gone right for Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing, it may be wise to wait for things to settle down before starting either driver.

Ryan Newman | No. 39 Tornados Chevrolet | Stewart-Haas Racing

From 2003 to 2005, Newman won a remarkable six straight poles at Atlanta. Unfortunately that's about the only good thing that Newman has to show there with only five top-10 finishes in 16 career starts. Last season, Newman managed to lead three laps in March, finishing 22nd. He led a single lap in September, finishing ninth, but only held an average running position of 18th. With two DNFs and an 18th-place finish in 2010, Newman is a lame option for this week.

Brian Vickers | No. 83 Red Bull Toyota | Red Bull Racing

With an average starting position of 25.3, the speed Vickers displayed in abundance in 2009 appears to be missing. He was a total non-factor last week starting and finishing 31st, never reaching higher than the 27th position. In this part of the schedule last year, Vickers was very strong on intermediate tracks so that kind of a performance is a major alarm. Vickers is likely to be overvalued this week because of fifth- and seventh-place finishes at Atlanta last year.

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About Eric McClung

Eric McClung has been profiled by the FSWA for covering the fantasy sports spectrum and is a two-time award finalist. He's also made several appearances in print and on radio. McClung began contributing to KFFL in 2008 and currently serves as one of KFFL's featured fantasy NASCAR experts.

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