Fantasy NASCAR preview: Pep Boys Auto 500

by C.J. Radune on September 2, 2009 @ 00:00:00 PDT


Atlanta Motor Speedway is one of the fastest tracks on the Sprint Cup circuit. Qualifying speeds border on 200 mph. Drivers often run wide open, rarely using their brakes. Unlike the superspeedways, though, Atlanta does not necessitate the use of restrictor plates. As a result, engines with greater horsepower will have an advantage, but holding the throttle down and running high RPMs can reduce the life of an engine and open the possibility for failure.

In recent seasons, Atlanta has featured late lap passes and some of NASCAR's closest finishes. Handling will prove to be very important as teams work to find the settings that will allow them to run as wide open as possible in traffic and alone. Teams that are able to have the best handling car at the end could work their way into that last lap pass. Depending on where cautions fall, the race could become a fuel mileage game, but saving fuel is very difficult at a track like Atlanta.

Location: Hampton, Ga.
Shape: Quad-oval
Length: 1.54 miles
Laps: 325
Turns 1-4: 24 degrees
Frontstretch: 5 degrees
Backstretch: 5 degrees

Drivers to keep an eye on

Dale Earnhardt Jr. | No. 88 National Guard/AMP Energy Drink Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports

Earnhardt is on the heels of two straight top-10 finishes. Those finishes mark a huge turnaround from the driver that struggled up to that point without a top-10 since March. Atlanta Motor Speedway is also a top track for Earnhardt. His average finish in his last five Atlanta starts is 12.8 and that includes an accident he endured in the 2007 Pep Boys Auto 500. He only scored one win in his 20 career Atlanta starts, but he did take home eight top-fives and 10 top-10s.

Matt Kenseth | No. 17 R&L Carriers Ford | Roush Fenway Racing

History is on Kenseth's side

Kenseth has claimed the 12th spot in NASCAR Sprint Cup points with a string of steady results in the past few races. His average finish in the last five races is 11.8, which slides him right into that points position. At Atlanta Motor Speedway Kenseth is no slouch, either. His worst finish there in the last five races was 12th. He grabbed three top-fives and one other top-10 in that span, too. Kenseth consistently gets the job done in Atlanta and this weekend should be more of the same given his recent results.

Kevin Harvick | No. 29 Pennzoil/Shell Chevrolet | Richard Childress Racing

While not entirely consistent, Harvick has turned in some good results lately after struggling for the majority of the 2009 season. This weekend Harvick returns to the scene of his first NASCAR Sprint Cup victory. That win in 2001 is still his only victory at the track, but he is a consistent Atlanta finisher. His average finish in the last five Atlanta races is 12.2 and includes a top-five and two top-10 results. If there is any opportunity for Harvick to hit a high in his up-and-down season, it would be this weekend. Harvick is fairly consistent at the track and is working to bring that consistency to the remainder of the 2009 season.

Clint Bowyer | No. 33 BB&T Chevrolet | Richard Childress Racing

Bowyer has done an outstanding job with a new team in 2009. He is 15th in points and has been Richard Childress Racing's leader. Even better news for Bowyer is the fact that the series visits Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend. His record at the track is great. His average finish in seven career starts there is 13.7 with four sixth-place finishes. Bowyer should be a solid contender in the Pep Boys Auto 500 judging by his statistics at the track alone. Add to that the fact he has been a consistent top-15 performer, making him a great fantasy option for Atlanta.

Martin Truex Jr. | No. 1 Guitar Hero Chevrolet | Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing

This season has to be a disappointment for Truex who was hoping to have won at least one race by now. Instead, he only has three top-10 finishes to his credit so far. Atlanta Motor Speedway may present a great opportunity for Truex to score another top-10, though. His average finish in his last five starts there is 17.0 but includes top-10 finishes in the 2007 and 2009 Kobalt Tools 500. If Truex can just do what he did at the track in March, he should have a solid points outing.

Temper your expectations

Mark Martin | No. 5 CARQUEST/Kellogg's Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports

Despite being 10th in points and having one of his best seasons to date, Martin may not be at his best at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Martin, while fast, finished just 31st in March's Kobalt Tools 500. He led five laps after starting first, but he eventually blew a tire which caused his poor finish. That doesn't mean that Martin won't be a good fantasy option this weekend, but it does show that he can be prone to troubles at the fast track. Martin also finished 22nd in both races at Atlanta last year, and he has two accidents at the track in his last six races.

Ryan Newman | No. 39 U.S. Army Chevrolet | Stewart-Haas Racing

Newman had a rough outing in the Kobalt Tools 500 in March. He started the race 12th and finished 22nd. While he led three laps, he certainly wasn't one of the contenders throughout the day. Newman seems to have a better rapport with the team now and results have been coming his way as well. Still, after such a mediocre run in his last visit to Atlanta Motor Speedway fantasy owners should have caution. His average finish in his last five Atlanta starts is just 22.4. Those are numbers that fantasy players should take note of before selecting Newman for their rosters.

Juan Pablo Montoya | No. 42 Target Chevrolet | Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing

Avoid Montoya this weekend

Montoya has endured two disappointing races heading into the Pep Boys Auto 500. Results of 19th and 25th in the last two races aren't what he or the team wants to see while fighting for a spot in the Chase. In five career Atlanta Motor Speedway starts Montoya's average finish is just 24.4. His best finish was in his first try at the track, a fifth-place result in the 2007 Kobalt Tools 500. While Montoya may do enough as the season closes to get that Chase spot, Atlanta may be somewhat of a struggle for the Colombian.

Kasey Kahne | No. 9 Budweiser Dodge | Richard Petty Motorsports

After a good string of top results, Kahne has faltered slightly in the last three races. His average finish in that time is 18.7 compared to 5.0 in the prior three. Kahne's average Atlanta Motor Speedway finish isn't great, either. In his last five starts there his average finish is only 23.2. The prospects for Kahne turning in a top-10 finish might be there, but the numbers don't show it now. Fantasy owners will want to rely on other drivers with better statistics this weekend.

David Reutimann | No. 00 Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota | Michael Waltrip Racing

Reutimann is desperate to prove that his Coca-Cola 600 win in May was not a fluke. He will have to overcome a lot to do that at Atlanta Motor Speedway where his past results have not been good. Reutimann's average finish in four career starts at the track is 30.0. His best Atlanta finish is 20th in the 2008 Kobalt Tools 500. With such poor statistics, Reutimann will have to step up his performance massively if he wants to banish thoughts of a fluke this weekend. Fantasy owners should know better than to base their championship hopes on Reutimann at Atlanta.

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About C.J. Radune

Radune has been a KFFL contributor since January 2008.

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