It has now been 22 years since the first race at Atlanta Motor Speedway under its current D-shaped 1.54 mile-oval configuration.
While the format of the track is similar in layout to Speedway Motorsports Inc. sister tracks Charlotte Motor Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway, the biggest difference Atlanta has over those two tracks is the pavement. The asphalt of Atlanta has been largely untouched in those 22 years, turning the track into a huge tire grinder.
Atlanta is one of the few tracks on the NASCAR schedule where the tire falloff is so great that there’s a tire window, not a fuel window. After about 40-50 laps green flag laps, the tires fall off so badly in the NASCAR Cup Series that it’s just not worth it to stay out an extra 20 laps until needing fuel.
Another big thing drivers will have to contend with this week is just how hot the track is going to be. In recent years, Atlanta has been the second stop on the schedule, hosting races in late February/early March. This season, due to the COVID-19 break, the race will be held in the first weekend of June. Georgia summers are miserable, and a hot, slick racetrack is going to make tire wear even worse. And the reality is that all teams, due to no track time prior to the race, will not have much to go off as far as when the exact tire window will be at until at least the end of the first stage.
FanDuel has put more emphasis on finishing position than other DFS sites. For this reason, it allows you to look at the entire field instead of just dominators and big movers.
Also, with only 0.1 points awarded for each lap led by a driver, the need for a dominator is less important when building a winning lineup. The 325-lap race will have a total of 32.5 points up for grabs in this category. Take note when building your roster and focus on mid-pack competitors who can climb up toward the front on race day.
Here is my lineup for Sunday afternoon’s race.
ELITE TIER: $10,000 and up
Kevin Harvick ($14,000)
Career at Atlanta: 29 starts, 2 wins, 8 top fives, 14 top 10s
Average Finish at Atlanta: 16.3
Harvick has been pretty happy since joining Stewart Haas Racing in 2014, but he definitely seems to have an extra pep in his step at Atlanta.
In six starts at Atlanta with the No. 4 team, Harvick has led 960 laps, scored five top 10 finishes and won the 2018 race. It was the second win for Harvick at Atlanta; his other win was the first of his career, a memorable photo-finish with Jeff Gordon in 2001 just a month after the death of Dale Earnhardt Sr., who Harvick succeeded at Richard Childress Racing.
What’s more is that Harvick, as the points leader, is well on pace to have a great season. After nine starts in 2020, Harvick has eight top-10 finishes, putting him on pace for 32 overall on the year. That kind of consistency and ability to finish races makes him a must-have in daily fantasy at a track he’s this good at.
Martin Truex Jr. ($12,200)
Career at Atlanta: 21 starts, 0 wins, 4 top fives, 9 top 10s
Average Finish at Atlanta: 16.9
Strangely, Atlanta is one of just two 1.5-mile ovals on the calendar that Truex has not won at, with the other being Texas. Truex has performed well at Atlanta, finishing second last year to Brad Keselowski. But he hasn’t been quite as bulletproof at Atlanta as he’s been at other mile-and-a-halves over the years. Still, I went with Truex this week for the simple reason that Truex is great at tough races, and stamina is a key component when it comes to surviving a 500-mile race in near 90-degree weather.
Denny Hamlin ($12,000)
Career at Atlanta: 20 starts, 1 win, 4 top fives, 7 top 10s
Average Finish at Atlanta: 17.9
If the term “tire falloff” is used in the opening paragraph in this column, Hamlin is going to be an automatic add to my lineup. Hamlin is probably the best driver on the grid when it comes to tire management and maximizing tire efficiency near the end of a long run. A great example of this was the Wednesday night race a couple of weeks ago at Charlotte, where Hamlin zoomed through the field in the closing laps of a full fuel run to finish second. Tires will be the key to any driver having a great run this week.
ALL-STAR TIER: $6,000 – $9,999
Tyler Reddick ($7,800)
Career at Atlanta: 0 starts, 0 wins, 0 top fives, 0 top 10s
Average Finish at Atlanta: N/A
Every race, Reddick is a bit of a gamble to take as a rookie with no Cup track time at the bulk of these racetracks. Still, it hasn’t mattered, as he’s been able to outrun his veteran teammate Austin Dillon at times this season. There’s definitely a lot of potential in the No. 8 team, and they can have a good race any week.
BARGAIN TIER: $5,999 and below
Michael McDowell ($4,000)
Career at Atlanta: 9 starts, 0 wins, 0 top fives, 0 top 10s
Average Finish at Atlanta: 34.9
I know that stat line looks bad, but the trick here is McDowell’s starting spot of 36th after the modified random draw on Thursday (June 4). The Front Row Motorsport Fords have looked pretty feisty the past few weeks, and while much attention has been made of the No. 38 team and rookie John Hunter Nemechek, McDowell has also been able to sneak in some decent runs here and there. After finishing 14th at Bristol Motor Speedway last week, McDowell is on pace for his best season on record with a 20.6 average finish, which makes this pick a pretty great value for the price.