Fantasy NASCAR race preview: AdvoCare 500

by Eric McClung on August 31, 2011 @ 17:22:20 PDT

 


On the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule, there are three 1.5-mile tracks with 24 degrees of corner banking. Texas Motor Speedway was the first stop in April and will host a second event deep in the Chase schedule. Charlotte Motor Speedway hosted its first race in May and also gets a postseason date. As of this year, Atlanta Motor Speedway has been reduced to just this single date. For fantasy mangers, the data from these tracks translate pretty well and make for excellent comparisons as the season unfolds.

Owners facing prequalifying deadlines will get the benefit of a Friday night practice session prior to final practice and qualifying on Saturday. Checking these results is a huge benefit in order to see what drivers have unloaded with an early edge and are most likely to score a prime starting position.

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 Crown Royal Ford | Roush Fenway Racing

With a dozen consecutive finishes of 13th or better at Atlanta, including six top-fives, it's pretty clear Kenseth is a pretty safe bet this week. It's also comforting to know he doesn't need to qualify well to compete here, having started outside of top 20 six times in that span. Although the fact Kenseth has qualified second and third for the last two races is perfectly fine for the perspective backer of the No. 17. The dominating win at Texas in April, where Kenseth held an average running position of second and led 169 of 334 laps, doesn't hurt either.

Jeff Gordon | No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports

With finishes 18th and 13th, respectively, consider 2010 an off-year at Atlanta for Gordon given his otherwise impressive resume here. Among all drivers at Atlanta, Gordon's career average running position of 10.8 is second best. From October of 2005 through 2009, Gordon never ran worse than 10th while averaging run of fifth or better on five occasions. This season, Gordon owns nine straight finishes of 13th or better with two runner-up performances and a near-win last week at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Kurt Busch | No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Dodge | Penske Championship Racing

When hes got a good car, there may not be a better driver on the 1.5-mile cookie-cutter tracks than the elder Busch brother. Since 2009, he has won twice at Atlanta and one race each at Texas and Charlotte. In just the AMS victories, Busch held average running positions of second with 234 laps led and third with 129 laps led. Earlier in the season, Busch finished 10th at Texas and fourth at Charlotte.

Brad Keselowski | No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge | Penske Championship Racing

If you've been paying attention this month, you already have Keselowski in your lineup. Wise move. Over the last four races, the Blue Deuce has jumped from 21st to 11th in points thanks to two wins, a runner-up finish and a third-place result despite a driver operating with a broken ankle. Keselowski has yet to record a finish better than 12th at Atlanta, Charlotte or Texas but there's no reason to hold it against the hottest driver in the series.

Martin Truex Jr.

Martin Truex Jr. | No. 56 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota | Michael Waltrip Racing

Average running position is the reason Truex was highlighted here last week. He delivered indeed. Truex captured a career-best second-place finish at Bristol and could very well have something left for Atlanta. Among all drivers at the site, Truex is fifth overall in average running position, running at a 12.3 clip. Despite running 10th or better in three of the last five at the site, Truex has only one top-10 finish to show for it. He's not the safest pick but Truex can get it done when the car and team are working well around him.

David Ragan | No. 6 UPS "We Love Logistics" Ford | Roush Fenway Racing

With a seventh-place result at Texas and a runner-up performance at Charlotte, Ragan deserves come attention this week. Last September saw Ragan qualify a career-best ninth at AMS where he went on to finish 19th. His Roush teammates have each performed well here and with his early-season success on similar cookie-cutter tracks, Ragan is the best choice among bottom-tier drivers.

Marcos Ambrose | No. 9 Kwikset Ford | Richard Petty Motorsports

Although Ambrose is known for his prowess on the road courses, he has made steady progress on cookie-cutter tracks. Last year at Atlanta, the Australian finished 11th and 10th, respectively. In addition, Ambrose has finished 17th or better in four straight at Texas. Earlier in the year, he finished a career-best sixth at both Texas and Charlotte. Be sure to review practice times but Ambrose is emerging as a well-rounded driver and worth a shot.

Temper your expectations

Tony Stewart | No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet | Stewart-Haas Racing

Even though Stewart has won at Atlanta three times, including the most recent race last September, he carries a lot of risk. After an awful performance at Bristol, Smoke is highly vulnerable 10th in points by a slim margin and without a win to fall back for a Chase wild card spot. Also, Stewart is on pace to set career lows in both top-fives and top-10s. Many of the elite drivers are running much better than Stewart, who may go winless for the first time in his 13-year-career of Cup series driving.

Kasey Kahne | No. 4 Red Bull Toyota | Red Bull Racing

Despite owning a total of six wins on the three cookie-cutter tracks, it's been hard to know what to expect from Kahne this season. Kahne struggled at Texas and Charlotte, finishing outside the top 20 in each race, although he nearly stole the latter on fuel mileage. There have been some starts where the No. 4 qualifies well but struggles to make adjustments and fades away. Practice sessions may offer some clarity, but don't start Kahne based on reputation alone.

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About Eric McClung

Eric McClung has been profiled by the FSWA for covering the fantasy sports spectrum and is a three-time award finalist. Over the years, he's 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. He's also captured the fantasy football championship in the KFFL staff league twice.

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