The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series travels to Hampton, Georgia this week for the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500. The race can be seen Sunday at 2:30 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1. Be sure to test your knowledge of NASCAR by competing in the Fox Sports Fantasy Auto Racing game.
The Super Bowl of Racing is now in the books and NASCAR teams can get down to business. The racing this week at Atlanta Motor Speedway will be a lot different from what fans saw at Daytona. No more drafting, no more bump and run. The race this week will come down to tires and which drivers can maneuver a loose car through traffic.
Atlanta eats tires like no other track on the circuit. You will not see drivers make pit stops for two tires this week. Four Mr. Feel Goods will be the call each and every time because the falloff between old and new tires is so drastic at this track.
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The word of the day Sunday will be “short pit.” Many drivers will try to come into the pits early to get new tires so when they return to the track they are running laps three seconds faster than the leader. This strategy won Jimmie Johnson the race last year and it should come into play even more this week with the new Stage format racing.
Starting position at Atlanta will not be as important as it is on other 1.5-mile tracks. Last year Jimmie Johnson won from the 19th starting position, Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished second from the 16th starting position and Kyle Busch finished third from the 39th starting position.
The scoring system for Fox Sports Fantasy Auto Racing game rewards drivers who improve their position in the race more than the drivers who lead the most laps. Each driver earns one point for every position gained in the race, while drivers only earn one point per lap led and one more point for leading the most last. Selecting drivers who start outside the top 10 will be the best strategy this week.
Pick to Win
Jimmie Johnson($11,100) has won the last two races at Atlanta and he should be the favorite to visit Victory Lane again this week. Johnson has a series-best average finishing position, the second-best driver rating and the second-most laps led the last two seasons at Atlanta. What makes Johnson an even better driver for the Fox Sports Fantasy Auto Racing game is that his average starting position is 28th and his average finishing position is first in the last two races at the track. Do not worry about Johnson if he qualifies poorly, the No. 48 car will still have a good chance to win Sunday.
Kevin Harvick($11,900) dominated most of this race last year. He led 131 of the 330 laps, but the No. 4 team’s slow pit stops had a lot to do with why he did not win the race. This seems to be a reoccurring theme for the No. 4 team. They often dominate the race and have problems in the pits. Hopefully Stewart-Haas Racing fixed these problems during the offseason. Harvick has a series-best driver rating and has led the most laps in the last two races at Atlanta. No driver runs the bottom of the track better than Harvick.
Kurt Busch ($11,400) won the Daytona 500 and he has a good chance at making it back-to-back wins to start the 2017 season. The last driver to win the first two races of the season was Matt Kenseth in 2009 (Daytona and California). Atlanta has been a good track for Busch. Last year he started on the pole and finished fourth. He has been to Victory Lane three times at the track and it would not be a surprise to see the No. 41 car put the Cup Series on notice with another win Sunday.
Kyle Busch ($11,400) will be tough to beat this week. Last year he won the pole at Atlanta but had to start last because the car failed post qualifying inspection. Rowdy quickly made his way to the front and finished third in the race.
The new Stage format racing should make Busch a serious threat to win Sunday. At the end of each Stage there will be a restart. No driver is better than Busch at picking up spots on the restarts. Once he gets the lead he is very hard to pass. He won this race in 2013 and could be taking a bow again after the race Sunday.
Matt Kenseth ($11,300) was winning this race last year until he came into the pits and received a penalty for improper fueling of the car. The gasman was making a wedge adjustment while fueling the car. That is illegal and it sent Kenseth back in the field.
Kenseth is the safest pick for your team this week. He may not win the race but the chances of him finishing in the top 10 are extremely high. Kenseth has an average finishing position of 7.8 in his last 17 races at Atlanta. That is very consistent. If you feel like playing it safe this week, Kenseth is your driver.
Value Picks (Drivers under $8,000)
Clint Bowyer ($7,400) does not have the best statistics at Atlanta but he is severely underpriced this week. Bowyer ran well at Atlanta when he drove for Richard Childress Racing. His performances at the track began to decline when he moved to Michael Waltrip Racing and HScott Motorsports. This had more to do with his car than his talent. Bowyer will be in the best car of his career this week, so I expect another good run from the No. 14 team.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. ($7,200) could get back to Victory Lane Sunday. Atlanta has been his best track in recent years. Earnhardt finished second last year and third in 2015. He is very good at managing his tires at this track. Earnhardt is another driver who qualifies poorly but finishes up front at Atlanta. His average starting position is 12.5 and his average finishing position is 2.5 in the last two races at the track. That is the kind of driver you need for your team this week.
Ty Dillon ($5,100) is a rookie but he has more experience in the Cup Series at Atlanta than any other track. Dillon ran two of the last three races in the premier series at Atlanta and finished 25th in 2014 and 17th last season. Casey Mears was able to drive the No. 13 Germain Racing Chevy to a 14th place finish at Atlanta. I would expect similar results from Dillon this week.
Erik Jones ($5,000) has never competed in the Cup Series at Atlanta but he has two Xfinity Series races at the track on his resume. Jones qualified on the front row and finished third in the Xfinity Series at Atlanta last year. His Toyota teammates are very good and they should be able to help the young driver this weekend. Jones is a good value pick this week.
Here are my pre-qualifying picks for the QuikTrip 500: