Fantasy NASCAR preview: Kobalt Tools 500

by C.J. Radune on March 2, 2009 @ 01:00:01 PDT

 


Atlanta Motor Speedway is known as the fastest track on the Sprint Cup circuit - bar none. Speeds at other tracks are approaching Atlanta's, even Las Vegas Motor Speedway saw a marked increase in speeds last weekend, but Atlanta still reigns supreme. Qualifying speeds border on 200 mph. Drivers often run wide open, never using the brakes. Typically that kind of bravado is left to the restrictor-plate tracks, but is all the more impressive at Atlanta where the track is one mile shorter in length. Horsepower is a must to have a chance to win, but holding the throttle down and running high RPMs can be hard on engines. The first three races this season have seen a number of engine failures so everyone must be a bit nervous before the Kobalt Tools 500. In recent seasons, Atlanta has featured late lap passes and some of NASCAR's closest finishes.

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

Drivers to keep an eye on

Matt Kenseth | No. 17 DeWalt Ford | Roush Fenway Racing

After winning the first two races of the season, Kenseth was brought back down to earth in Las Vegas. He slipped to third in the points after suffering an engine failure just six laps in and finished 43rd. Kenseth has an amazing record at Atlanta Motor Speedway, though. In his last five races at the track, he has an average finish of 4.6, which includes four top-fives and five top-10s. If Kenseth's engine can hold together throughout the demanding 500 miles, he could find himself near the front of the pack. We feel he has an excellent opportunity to move past a disappointing Las Vegas race last weekend.

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

In six career starts at Atlanta Motor Speedway Bowyer has earned three top-10 finishes. His average finish in that time is 15th with an average qualifying effort of 14.5. Bowyer took home three straight sixth-place finishes at the track between March 2007 and 2008. After having such a strong run in the Shelby 427 last weekend it would be surprising not to see Bowyer strong again at Atlanta. The speeds in Las Vegas were approaching those of Atlanta and the Richard Childress Racing cars rose to the top. Bowyer should be a threat again this weekend in Atlanta.

Brian Vickers | No. 83 Red Bull Toyota | Red Bull Racing

Vickers picked up two top-10 finishes in the last two races; that is a good turnaround after being taken out of the Daytona 500 despite having a very strong car. The No. 83 Red Bull car seems to have the power to run near the front at fast tracks and Atlanta is the fastest of them all. In the past five Atlanta races, Vickers picked up two top-10 results. However, he also has had two finishes outside of the top 20, though. A strong run in this week's race could be a sign Vickers will be a season-long threat. The Sprint season is made up of a lot of intermediate tracks and Vickers is looking strong on them so far.

A.J. Allmendinger | No. 44 LifeLock Dodge | Richard Petty Motorsports

Allmendinger sits 21st in points and has had some strong qualifying efforts and races as well. If he can keep that pace up for two more races, he will make the top 35 in points and guarantee himself a starting spot in the forthcoming races. While his finishes haven't been all spectacular, they've been solid enough to put him in the top 35. Atlanta is also not a bad track for Allmendinger, historically. He has a top-15 and a top-20 there in his two tries. One has to think that if he can stay in the top 35 for the next two races that sponsorship will materialize to make sure Allmendinger can continue the 2009 season. Look for a respectable finish from the Californian.

David Ragan | No. 6 UPS Ford | Roush Fenway Racing

Ragan's ride suffered one of the season's many engine failures last weekend. He has earned a lot of hype this season based on some close finishes in the past, but through the first three races he seems to be falling short. His last visit to Atlanta Motor Speedway resulted in a top-10 finish, which was a turnaround from his prior results at the track that were all outside of the top 20. Question marks now surround the Roush Fenway Racing engines, but if Ragan can keep the car underneath him he may end up surprising some people this weekend. Ragan needs to start living up to the hype surrounding him soon.

Temper your expectations

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

Kahne has languished outside of the top 10 for the first three races of the season. He came close with finishes of 12th and 11th the last two weekends, but he will need to step up as the team leader soon. Early in his career, Kahne was great at Atlanta. He racked up four top-five finishes, including a win, in his first five starts at the track. Lately it has been a different story, though. With just one top-10 in his last five starts at the track, his average finish is 29.4 in that time. Based on his recent record, especially at Atlanta, Kahne may be one to view with a touch of trepidation before relying on him going forward.

Kevin Harvick | No. 29 Reese's Chevrolet | Richard Childress Racing

With limited prior success at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Harvick was another of the Childress drivers to find some success last weekend. He finished the very tough race in 12th position after running in and around the top 10 for most of the day. Atlanta holds a special place in Harvick's heart. He won his first NASCAR Sprint Cup race there after filling in for the late Dale Earnhardt. His record since hasn't been that great, though. His last five starts there only produced one top-10 and an average finish of 18.2. Childress seems to be hanging on to the competition, but you may want to see some hard success before getting on board with Harvick.

Ryan Newman | No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet | Stewart-HAAS Racing

Newman qualified strong at Las Vegas, but didn't finish very well. In fact, he hasn't had a top-20 finish yet this season. To compound that statistic, Newman doesn't have a great record at Atlanta Motor Speedway, either. His average finish in the last five starts there is 24.0. He has scored an incredible seven poles in 14 races at the track but his finishes have just not been up to par. Coupling that with his poor 2009 finishes implies that Newman may be a driver to avoid for the time being. Look for Newman to make some hard progress before resting your hopes on him.

Elliott Sadler | No. 19 Best Buy Dodge | Richard Petty Motorsports

Sadler finished well in the Daytona 500, starting the season off with a top-five result. The past two races have been somewhat disappointing, though, without even a top-20 finish to the trophy case. Unfortunately, Sadler hasn't historically been too strong at Atlanta Motor Speedway, either. He hasn't earned any top-10 finishes there since the 2005 Bass Pro Shops MBNA 500. In total he earned just three top-10s in 20 tries at the track. Sadler has another "new lease on life" in 2009, but really needs to grab hold of the opportunity soon if he wants to survive. Look at Sadler as a man on a mission, but he'll need to deliver the goods before he's worth a shot.

Bobby Labonte | No. 96 Ask.com Ford | Hall of Fame-Yates Racing

Labonte ran a very strong race in the Shelby 427 and took home a top-five result for his new team. He ranks an impressive 10th in Cup points, too. Labonte hasn't scored a top-five or top-10 at Atlanta since the fall 2004 Bass Pro Shops MBNA 500. His average finish in the last five tries there is 21.4. Most fantasy owners will want to see more strong results from Labonte and his new team before relying on him regularly. Atlanta might not be the best place for him to back up last week's top-five result. Until you see just a bit more consistency from Labonte he will remain somewhat of a wild card.

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About C.J. Radune

Radune has been a KFFL contributor since January 2008.

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