The NASCAR season kicked off with Daytona speedweeks followed by the 61st running of the Great American Race last weekend and it sure did not disappoint. Television ratings were up 8% as a whole over last year and individual markets such as Boston & Washington D.C. were up 35% at some points. It’s nice to see new fans of the sport tuning in and as a long-time New England native Motorsports supporter, I am excited to see the sport continue to grow and the influence from Barstool Sports is terrific. I will attempt to launch a race preview each week now where I give a little race preview, the betting odds, DraftKings advice and tell you who my money is on.
Depending on the track schedule, my preview may not launch until Sunday morning at times after qualifying & practice, but hopefully with strong readership numbers, there’s incentive for me to pump that out. Quick aside, I banked on a Daytona 500 bet at the SportsBook locking in Denny Hamlin at 14/1. I also bet on Paul Menard (30/1) & Jimmie Johnson (18/1) since it was such a big race and we know the chaos that can, and did, ensue at the restrictor plate race. I also enter into weekly DK pools for money and I will give you my opinion of who to go with. Last weekend Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch & Denny Hamlin all found their way into my lineups and I was rewarded with their final finish and place differential.
You can pretty much throw everything you thought you knew out the window heading into Atlanta with the new NASCAR rules package. A modified spoiler, 2-inch longer splitter, tapered spacer in the engine. This race will be less about managing tire-wear and fall off with the new modifications and we will see more sliding around the track from the cars rather than running one line, the field should be a lot closer and there will be much more drafting than we typically see on the mile-and-a-half tracks. The end result? NASCAR is hoping to achieve a more exciting and enticing product rather than one single driver having it tuned and mastered off the truck then stomping the field all afternoon.
Last year we saw Kevin Harvick & Rodney Childers own the intermediate tracks and although they have transitioned to a new body in the Ford Mustang, they still remain the car to beat this weekend at Atlanta after winning the race last year. They open with the best odds to win the race out of Vegas at 4/1 and have ripped off four straight top ten’s while amassing 915 laps led over the last five races. Yes, he’s led nearly 1,000 laps at Atlanta over the last five years. New rules package or not, Harvick is must own this weekend in any fantasy format you play.
Jimmie Johnson leads all active drivers with five career wins at Atlanta Motor Speedway winning the race in consecutive years in ’15 & ’16. You have to keep your eye on how the 48 looks speed-wise as the new rules package should certainly help Jimmie snap that long points-race drought and he showcased he’s very much still got it with his win in the Clash at Daytona and persevering for a top ten in the 500. Staying in the Hendrick Motorsports Camp, Georgia native Chase Elliott has the best average finish in the field at Atlanta at 7.67 and has three top ten’s in his only three career Cup races at the track.
Qualifying takeaways: The SHR Ford’s ate fast. Clint Bowyer topped the charts in opening practice and the first two rounds of qualifying before teammate Aric Almirola took the pole. Daniel Suarez even has a top 5 starting spot as well.
Betting Odds (courtesy Bovada as of Friday February 22nd):
-Kevin Harvick +400
-Kyle Busch +600
-Joey Logano +600
-Martin Truex Jr. +800
-Kyle Larson +800
-Brad Keselowski +800
-Chase Elliott +1200
-Denny Hamlin +1600
-Ryan Blaney +2200
-Jimmie Johnson +2500
Other odds: Clint Bowyer +1600, Erik Jones +2200, Kurt Busch +2200, Aric Almirola +2000, Austin Dillon +5500
Kevin Harvick ($12,200): Harvick’s starting spot is 18th after some power steering issues in practice and qualifying cost him a shot at the pole. The team is hoping they made some changes to get the car right. He’s dominated Atlanta in the past, but with the current status of his car at that salary there’s a risk, but I’ll put my faith in Childers & “The Closer” to run up front and lead some laps with how he gets around that race track.
Joey Logano ($11,700) or Ryan Blaney ($8,900): Both Penske teammates failed to make it out of the first round in qualifying. If you’re looking for place differential, these two are solid bets to make up ground. Logano is more expensive so if you want him and Harvick, you’ll have trouble filling out the bottom of your lineup, but both these guys should contend for a top 10 finish.
Chase Elliott ($9,700): As mentioned above, Georgia native Elliott has three top tens in his only three Cup races at the track. Couple that with the fact he’s starting 22nd and Hendrick Motorsports has won 4 of the last 8 races at Atlanta, I need the 9 car in my lineup on Sunday.
Jimmie Johnson: ($8,100): A 7-time Cup Series champion should never be priced this low, especially at a track he’s dominated his entire career. He’s won back-to-back races at Atlanta on two separate occasions and has a fast 48 starting in 11th. After he survived Daytona with a top ten in that race car and won the Clash, this team has confidence and I can see him finishing at the front, maybe even contending for the win.
Austin Dillon ($7,700): I like Austin Dillon this weekend in Atlanta. He ran top 5 speeds at both practices and qualified inside the top 10. With a new Crew Chief in Danny Stockman, that whole No. 3 team will have an added confidence on race day. Good value mid-tier pick.
Sleepers: Daniel Hemric ($6,800), Ty Dillon ($5,600), Ryan Preece ($6,500): Hemric struggled in qualifying but he’s got the same set-up and engine as Dillon and his teammate is fast. Starting 28th, he’ll likely contend for a top 15 finish. Ty Dillon was inside the top 15’s for speed in both practices and rolls off 21st, at that price I like him to lock up a top 20 result easily, likely higher with that RCR engine. Lastly, there’s Ryan Preece who was bumped out of round two at that last minute and should improve on that 25th starting spot. He finished top ten last week at Daytona and is a great race car driver who worked hard to get where he is now. This week could be another good opportunity for him.
Race Winner Prediction:
Kevin Harvick: My big bank roll this week is on the 4 car. I trust they hit the set up right and he’ll make up the deficit on the race track pretty quickly. Harvick was top 5 in 10-lap average in final practice, so that’s all I needed to see to have confidence in this pick. They own Atlanta and new rules package and all, to win the race you have to get through Happy Harvick.
If you’re feeling adventurous and looking for a few dark horses to hit a big payday for you, I’ve got you covered there too.
-5-time Atlanta winner Jimmie Johnson has a 25/1 payout in some places. He’s got a good car and the confidence, I’d put a few dollars on him.
–Austin Dillon is 60/1 in some places and he’s got an outside shot to win this race. It’s a long-shot, but if you’re buying in on the 3 car, why not?
Hope you enjoyed my preview. Not let’s get ready to go racing boys! Boogity.