Bryan Davis Keith and Mike Neff · Wednesday March 4, 2009
After a re-energizing weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the Cup Series heads to its fastest track for a 500-miler, driving on asphalt that rivals even that of Darlington in terms of abrasiveness. Atlanta Motor Speedway is a unique intermediate circuit, one that is largely dependent on handling and a driver willing to move all over the race track. With differing characteristics than Las Vegas and Fontana, it’s a quad oval quagmire that forces you to make some major changes to your 1.5-mile lineup. But players, don’t despair — Frontstretch’s Fantasy Insiders are going to give you the lowdown on who to choose and who to chastise, avoiding those pesky engine woes in the process to help you rim-ride to a fantasy W this weekend.
By the Numbers
Best Average Finish at Atlanta (since 2005, active drivers)
Jimmie Johnson, 8 starts, 5.4
Matt Kenseth, 8 starts, 9.0
Tony Stewart, 8 starts, 10.4
Jeff Gordon, 8 starts, 10.5
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., 8 starts, 10.9
2008 Kobalt Tools 500 top 5 Finishers
Kyle Busch 173 laps led
Tony Stewart 0 laps led
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. 62 laps led
Greg Biffle 1 lap led
Jeff Gordon 1 lap led
Carl Edwards looked like he was getting ready to win his third race in a row last season at Atlanta, charging to the front until his engine went south in the final stages and dropped him to 42nd. Last week, Edwards was running towards the front of the pack when his engine soured on the last lap, dropping him to 17th by the checkered flag. With a wreck and a mechanical problem already dotting his resume for 2009, Cousin Carl may have gotten his bad luck out of the way this year — which would mean he’s prepared for a strong run at one of his most successful tracks on the circuit. Edwards’ average finish at Atlanta is 11.6, and he won the most recent race held at the track last Fall. Roush’s top driver has run strong at Atlanta since his first visit there, and there’s no reason to think anything will change this weekend. Mike
Jeff Gordon is due for a win, and is coming into a stretch of race tracks in Atlanta, Bristol, and Martinsville where he knows exactly how to get to Victory Lane. Leading the points for the first time in well over a year thanks to solid consistency on the circuit’s first two intermediate ovals, there is no reason to think the No. 24 isn’t going to be among the class of the field on Sunday. With four wins at AMS on his resume and an average finish of a top 10 at the track since 2005, Gordon may well be the favorite this weekend. Bryan
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has always run well in Atlanta. He won this race in 2004, coming home third in 2006 and 2008. Leading 62 laps in this race last year, Junior has an average finish at the track of 11.7, making him better here than almost any other track on the circuit. While the start of Junior’s season hasn’t set the world on fire, he is coming off a 10th place finish in Vegas and appears to be gaining momentum as the season progresses. Expect more good things from the No. 88 team this weekend as they level out and start moving up the Sprint Cup points ladder. Mike
Sure, Tony Stewart finished outside the top 25 this past weekend at Las Vegas, his first finish outside the top 10 with the No. 14 team. But that did not indicate how well his car ran during the race, where he was a fixture in the top 10 again with his new squad. If a flat tire didn’t leave Smoke caught two laps down by a caution flag during a cycle of pit stops, we very well could have been talking about the No. 14 Smoking the field en route to Victory Lane. Regardless, Stewart the owner seems to have the intermediates figured out so far, and despite Atlanta’s slightly different configuration, that should bode well for this car. Stewart the driver has averaged a top 10 at AMS since 2005, and that’s got to make Stewart the owner highly confident heading into Sunday. Bryan
Look for the stars to align for Scott Speed, giving him a chance for a career run this weekend at Atlanta. Speed is driving the former No. 84 machine that A.J. Allmendinger drove to a 16th place finish in his only start at AMS with the team, one of his best runs in a two-year stint with Red Bull Racing. Plus, don’t forget that AMS has been very kind to inexperienced open-wheelers. In the Nationwide Series ranks, both Michel Jourdain, Jr. and Sam Hornish, Jr. have scored their career-best stock car finishes on the gritty Georgia oval. And remember also Juan Pablo Montoya’s stellar top 5 run at AMS as a rookie, his best finish on an oval in his first year of Cup competition. Look for Speed to crack the top 20 this weekend, too. Bryan
Bobby Labonte has run well in Atlanta for most of his career, and leads all drivers with five wins since the track was reconfigured in 1997. Even when the veteran was not very competitive in Petty equipment at most tracks over the last few years, he was still able to post finishes in the teens when the circuit came to this track. Labonte is coming off a fifth place finish at Las Vegas, a momentum-building performance which was his best run since Fall of 2006 at Martinsville. The move to Hall of Fame Racing appears to be paying off handsomely for the 44-year-old, and a race on one of his best tracks is just what the doctor ordered for a strong result for fantasy gamers this weekend. Mike
Results of our experts in the Frontstretch Games
Game of Tomorrow
Hat Dance Dynasty
NASCAR Knockout (Average Finish)
In order to help the readers track how well our experts are doing, we’ll keep track of the cumulative points scored by all three drivers every week, as well as our total for the season.
Last Week 182
Last Week 390
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