Fantasy NASCAR preview: Emory Healthcare 500
On the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule, there are three 1.5 mile tracks with 24 degrees of corner banking. Atlanta Motor Speedway is the first stop of those three and also the first of them to hold a second event. Although the March date will be taken away next year, the Labor Day weekend race will stay put. The two other cookie-cutter tracks, Texas Motor Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway, will hold their second races during the Chase for the Sprint Cup. With so many races to pull data from, fantasy owners must make the most of these intermediate tracks.
Location: Hampton, GA
Drivers to keep an eye on
The easiest pick for this weekend is the Blue Deuce. The older Busch brother has won two of the last three events at Atlanta with an average of 181.5 laps led in those victories. His other dominating win of this season came at Charlotte where he led 252 of 400 laps. With a fourth-place finish at Texas, Busch is the only driver to finish in the top five in all three races held on 1.5-mile intermediate tracks with 24 degrees of corner banking. Busch is a must-start in all formats for this race and the return trips to the aforementioned sites.
Another driver that should be an automatic start on these tracks is Kahne. He is the defending winner of the Labor Day weekend event at Atlanta, but actually ran better in terms of loop data in his fourth-place finish there this past March. In last year's Atlanta, the second of his career, Kahne held an average running position of fifth with 60 laps led. In March, he improved with an average running position of third and led a race-high 144 laps. After four straight finishes outside of the top 10, Kahne finished fifth at Bristol Motor Speedway the last time out. Historically, short tracks have not been his strong suit. Allocation owners will want to plan their remaining Kahne starts around this week, Charlotte and Texas.
An overheating issue caused Reutimann to exit March's race at Atlanta early while running in seventh. Another equipment failure would cause another DNF at Texas, but he would recover for a fifth-place finish at Charlotte. Last year, the Double Zero was among the most consistent driver on intermediate tracks and makes for a safe play. In last year's Labor Day weekend event, Reutimann finished a career-best fourth at Atlanta and is primed for a similar result this weekend.
After winning on the road course at Watkins Glen International earlier this month, Montoya has finished in seventh-place in each of his last two starts. At Atlanta, the Columbian has finished third in two straight and could be the high-risk, high-reward pick that desperate owners could capitalize on. Over the last eight races, Montoya has started 10th or better on seven occasions with two poles. Assuming he gets a prime starting position and manages to drive another clean race, Montoya could help you to cut down the margin in your league.
Most fantasy racing formats require you to start at least one low-end driver - this week Menard is that guy. Last year, Menard started 41st but managed to finish 15th. In March, he qualified 23rd and finished fifth with an average running position of 15th. Menard crashed at Texas, but finished eighth at Charlotte with an average running position of 12th. A late wreck allowed Menard to sneak into the top-five, but he had a decent run regardless and is among the better sleeper picks this weekend.
Temper your expectations
Over the last four starts at Atlanta, Stewart has one top-10 and has not held an average running position better than 13th. He won the pole at Texas but crashed after leading 74 laps. At Charlotte, Stewart finished 15th. Following that race, Smoke would compile nine top-10 finishes over the next 10 races until suffering damage at Bristol. While Stewart has certainly looked much better over the last several weeks, he has yet to record a strong run on this type of track this season or at this site in recent years. Keep your remaining Stewart starts in reserve for more favorable venues.
Back in 2007, Burton finished in the top five for both Atlanta starts. Things haven't been very smooth at the site since. Over the last five starts, Burton has just one top-10 and has not held an average running position better than 14th. Burton finished 12th at Texas earlier this year and has two 25th-place finishes at Charlotte in the last three races. That and his recent finishes at Atlanta have to make you leery of starting him.
Things have gone one of two ways at Atlanta for Bowyer: a sixth-place finish or 20th or worse. In March, Bowyer had a chance to steal a win but late contact with Jamie McMurray caused damage to his car and collected several other drivers behind them. Earlier in the season, Bowyer wrecked at Texas and finished seventh at Charlotte. History at this site and the mixed events that have happened this season leave Bowyer as a risky start. He'll need to run a safe race to keep his bubble spot in the Chase. Considering Bowyer many not force the issue, he's not an ideal selection.
Over the last three events at Atlanta, McMurray has yet to spend more than 33 percent of his laps running in the top 15. In March, after using a two-tire stop to get to the front, McMurray caused a late-race incident that wiped out half of the top-10 cars running at the time. This season has shown that McMurray can rise to the occasion at any time. As the runner-up at Charlotte don't be surprised if McMurray performs well, but there are plenty of safer options available.
Early in his career, Newman won six straight poles at Atlanta. Yet he was only able to convert one of those into a top-five finish. In fact, that result from March of 2004 remains Newman's lone top-five at the site. Not known as a top driver on intermediate tracks, Newman has helped buck that trend with an 11th-place finish at Texas and a top-10 at Charlotte. After starting seventh but finishing 17th earlier this season at Atlanta, Newman needs to prove he can finally capitalize on the good starting spots with a complete performance.
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. Follow @EricMcClung
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