Pep Boys Auto 500 fantasy NASCAR preview

by C.J. Radune on October 20, 2008 @ 00:00:00 PDT


Atlanta Motor Speedway is the fastest track on the Sprint Cup circuit - bar none. Qualifying speeds border on 200 mph. Drivers often run "wide open," never using the brakes. Horsepower is a must to have a chance to win, but holding the throttle down and running high at rpm levels can be hard on engines. In recent seasons, Atlanta has featured late-lap passes and some of NASCAR's closest finishes. Drivers will need their equipment to stay under them while also not putting too much wear on what have been fragile Goodyear tires. Handling will be a premium, and the teams that can nail down a good setup that allows the driver to stay flat through the entire lap, while also testing the different grooves, will have a very good shot at the win.

Location: Hampton, Ga.
Length: 1.54 miles
Shape: Tri-oval
Laps: 325
Banking: 24-degree corners; 5-degree straightaways

Table: Do not bench

Kyle Busch Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Jimmie Johnson Tony Stewart
Matt Kenseth Jeff Gordon
Kevin Harvick Denny Hamlin
Carl Edwards Jeff Burton

Leading the pack

Greg Biffle | No. 16 DISH Network turbo HD Ford | Roush Fenway Racing

Biffle finished fourth in the Kobalt Tools 500 in the spring. After starting the Chase off with back-to-back wins and then a third-place at Kansas Speedway, Biffle looked like a favorite for the Cup. His results have since trailed off a bit, but they haven't been overly disappointing. He finished 12th in the TUMS QuikPak 500, but prior to that added a top-10 to his resume at Lowe's Motor Speedway. In order to keep pace with Jimmie Johnson, Biffle will need to start turning in wins and top-fives again. He should be at the sharp end of the field this weekend in Atlanta as he tries to make a serious charge at Johnson.

Clint Bowyer | No. 07 Jack Daniel's Chevrolet | Richard Childress Racing

Bowyer hasn't finished lower than 12th since the Chase began. His average finish in the six Chase races so far is 9.7 with one top-five and three top-10s. Bowyer has been a very consistent driver lately, and his last visit to Atlanta turned out to be a top-10 finish. In the last three Atlanta races Bowyer finished sixth. His Atlanta streak, coupled with his current run of consistency, makes him a strong contender for a top-10 result in the Pep Boys Auto 500 this weekend. Bowyer should be a very safe choice for anyone's fantasy roster.

Mark Martin | No. 8 U.S. Army Chevrolet | Dale Earnhardt Inc.

Martin didn't do too well in the Kobalt Tools 500 earlier this season. In fact, his average finish in the last five Atlanta starts is only 22.6. His past successes at the track include two wins, 13 top-fives and 20 top-10s in 37 career starts. He hasn't finished in the top 10 in Atlanta for the past two starts, but his history is strong and he has had a great 2008 season. Look for Martin to overcome the past two disappointing Atlanta starts and be near the front of the field in the Pep Boys Auto 500.

Martin Truex Jr. | No. 1 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Chevrolet | Dale Earnhardt Inc.

Truex's results have improved since back-to-back DNFs in the Camping World RV 400 and the AMP Energy 500. He finished 14th in the Bank of America 500 and then 10th in the TUMS QuikPak 500. He endured some slow patches this season, but when he isn't hit with bad luck he generally finishes in the top 20. He has three top-fives and nine top-10s so far this season. Truex's Atlanta results haven't been particularly good. Eighth in the 2007 Kobalt Tools 500 is his best finish in seven starts at the track with an average finish of 27.6. Look to see if Truex can establish himself as the team leader as this season closes with Martin moving on next season.

Kasey Kahne | No. 9 Budweiser Dodge | Gillett Evernham Motorsports

After not having a DNF all season, Kahne has tallied four in the last 10 races. That span of races also only holds one top-five and two top-10 results, compared to two top-fives and nine top-10s the rest of the season. Kahne's history at Atlanta is somewhat similar. His average finish in nine career starts is 18.1 with a win, four top-fives and five top-10s in addition to two DNFs. If Kahne can avoid a DNF and other troubles in the Pep Boys Auto 500, he should be gunning for another top-10 result. The car and team have definitely improved this season, but now need to improve their reliability.

Drivers to keep an eye on

Kurt Busch | No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge | Penske Racing

Busch hasn't finished outside of the top 15 in his last four Atlanta starts. Unfortunately, he backed up his third-place result in the Bank of America 500 with a 36th-place finish in the TUMS QuikPak 500. Busch has been hot and cold this season to say the least. He picked up one win with only a handful of top-fives and top-10s. He will be one to watch in Atlanta to see if he can bounce back after the disappointment of the last race while also knowing that his teammate Ryan Newman is leaving Penske at the end of the season. Busch will be the de facto team leader, and he'll need to prove that he is up to the challenge.

Juan Pablo Montoya | No. 42 Texaco/Havoline Dodge | Chip Ganassi Racing

Montoya suffered a miserable stretch of races since his Watkins Glen top-five. In the 10 races, since then his best finish is 14th, which came just last week. The success Chip Ganassi Racing experienced in the other series they compete in this season has really cast a shadow over the unsettled Cup program. Montoya has two decent results in his three race career at Atlanta, but just one top-10 finish doesn't make him a star. If he can back up his 14th-place result from last week with another top-15 you might consider him to be on the turnaround. If he does it, he may be a more stable fantasy option as the season closes.

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

Vickers may be getting back to his old form. In the past four races he finished in the top 20 three times, inching ever closer to the top 10 with an 11th-place result last week at Martinsville Speedway. His last two starts at Atlanta Motor Speedway both resulted in top-10s, which indicates that Vickers might be poised to take his first top-10 finish in nine races. Vickers is definitely a driver to watch this weekend. His crew chief has been suspended, and he has been docked points from failing a post-race inspection last week. Vickers will want to respond to this challenge and force his way into the top 10.

Reed Sorenson | No. 41 Target/Lysol Dodge | Chip Ganassi Racing

Sorenson scored just one top-20 result in the past 10 races. That was 15th in the Bank of America 500. In the Kobalt Tools 500, he managed a finish of only 31st. He has been quite respectable in his career at Atlanta outside of that finish though, one top-five and three top-10s in six starts. That means he might be able to notch his fourth top-10 of the season this weekend. It is no secret that Chip Ganassi Racing has struggled this season, and Sorenson has certainly suffered because of it. To prove Gillett Evernham Motorsports made a wise choice in signing him as a driver in 2009, Sorenson will be striving to turn in some top-10s as the season closes.

Jamie McMurray | No. 26 Crown Royal Ford | Roush Fenway Racing

After being wrecked in the TUMS QuikPak 500, McMurray lost a good chance for a top finish. He led 37 laps in the race before being caught in an accident. McMurray led more laps in the last five races than he has led all the rest of the season combined. His best finish of the year came two races ago in the Bank of America 500. Certainly, McMurray and team are showing signs of new life. How that life will translate on the track in Atlanta is another question, though. With five starts since his last top-10 result at Atlanta and a 40th-place finish in the Kobalt Tools 500, he has definitely has a mountain to climb.

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About C.J. Radune

Radune has been a KFFL contributor since January 2008.

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