Dan Beaver

Statistically Speaking

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2014 Oral-B USA 500 Stats

Thursday, August 28, 2014

This week’s race: Irwin Tools Night Race
Traditional Name: Dixie 500
Other Notable Names: AdvoCare 500, Pep Boys Auto 500, Bass Pro Shops MBNA 500, NAPA 500, Hooters 500, Atlanta Journal 500

If a fantasy player is not excited about this week’s race, they just do not like desert. It has been eight weeks since NASCAR visited one of the so-called "cookie-cutter" tracks and the appetite for a sweet confection—a.k.a. predictable outcome—has gone unsated for quite some time.

This week fantasy owners will hear a lot about how every track is unique, and that is certainly true. The drivers will tell you that the transitions into the corners are diverse at Atlanta Motor Speedway compared to Kentucky Speedway. But, while they can tell the dissimilarity, players have more difficulty.

To us, it is a distinction without a difference.

Players only need to know who runs well on the similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks of Atlanta, Charlotte Motor Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Kansas Speedway, Chicagoland Speedway, and Kentucky. The drivers who have swept the top 15 in the first five races on this track type will be the favorites for the Oral-B USA 500. Everyone else is a dark horse.

10 best drivers at Atlanta

Over the past three races, these drivers have the best average finish.

1. Jeff Gordon
Last three races average finish at Atlanta: 3.00
Career avg. finish at Atlanta: 11.8 in 40 attempts

It is not as if Gordon ever really went away. He qualified for every Chase except one since the playoff-style format was instituted in 2004, but his results softened for a while. One place he never seemed to lose ground was Atlanta, however. He won the fall 2003 race there and scored 12 top-10s in the next 17 races. He grabbed his fifth win there in 2011, which put him in a three-way tie with for fifth on the all-time winner’s list on this track. He nearly added another in 2012 and should be considered one of this week’s favorites.

2. Kurt Busch (tied with Harvick and Truex)
Last three races average finish at Atlanta: 7.00
Career avg. finish at Atlanta: 16.3 in 23 attempts

Busch lost his job at Penske at the end of 2011 and it seemed like he poisonous to most owners. James Finch took a gamble on the volatile driver in 2012 and he landed a ride with Barney Visser in 2013, but his overall success in those rides was limited to their resources for most of those seasons. Atlanta is one of the tracks on which drivers with limited horsepower are not supposed to succeed, but Busch used his skill to finish 13th in 2012 and fourth last year. He is in even better equipment this week, so he should easily contend for another top-five unless he or the team makes a mistake.

2. Kevin Harvick (tied with Ku Busch and Truex)
Last three races average finish at Atlanta: 7.00
Career avg. finish at Atlanta: 18.7 in 23 attempts

A lot of fans still belief Dale Earnhardt Sr. was riding with Harvick in 2001 when he scored an emotional victory in the Cracker Barrel Old Country Store 500. He finished inches ahead of Jeff Gordon only a few weeks after the legendary former driver of this car died at the end of the Daytona 500. Harvick came back to finish third that fall, but he was forced to wait seven years before earning another top-10. His last three efforts have been stellar, however, with a sweep of the top 10 and a best of fifth in 2012.

2. Martin Truex Jr. (tied with Ku Busch and Harvick)
Last three races average finish at Atlanta: 7.00
Career avg. finish at Atlanta: 20.3 in 15 attempts

There have been various tests for Truex and his new team. They have not passed them all and the ones they have passed resulted in mostly “C” efforts, but Atlanta gives them one more opportunity to improve their Grade Point Average. There is no doubt that Truex can run well on this track; he has top-fives in his last two efforts there. The team scored a top-five last year as well, so the combination of the two sets of skill should produce another result in that same range. If they cannot finish at least among the top 10, that is a clue that something else is wrong with this team and fantasy owners will have a difficult time starting them for the remainder of the year.

5. Matt Kenseth (tied with Ky Busch)
Last three races average finish at Atlanta: 10.00
Career avg. finish at Atlanta: 12.7 in 25 attempts

That Kenseth will be a solid choice to finish in the top 15 is unquestioned this week. His last 14 attempts on this track ended in results of 14th or better with an average of 7.7. That he will challenge for a victory is far less certain, however. Only a handful of those 14 races ended in top-fives with the latest coming in the spring 2010 event. Kenseth does not need to win to secure his position in the Chase and he is likely to run a conservative race this week. That will make him a good option in games where he is priced right, but fantasy owners should not think of him as a potential winner.

5. Kyle Busch (tied with Kenseth)
Last three races average finish at Atlanta: 10.00
Career avg. finish at Atlanta: 15.9 in 16 attempts

Fantasy players who are tired of hearing that Busch is an all-or-nothing driver need to wait for a different set of circumstances. This is another track on which Busch seems to either finish in the top five or well down the order. His 16 races on the 1.5-mile track produced five top-six finishes of which two were victories. He has also finished 20th or worse on six occasions, but the lion’s share of his success has come in recent years. Three of his strong runs came in the past four seasons, including last year’s victory in the Atlanta AdvoCare 500.

7. Brian Vickers
Last three races average finish at Atlanta: 10.50 (2 starts)
Career avg. finish at Atlanta: 16.0 in 16 attempts

Vickers missed two of the last four Atlanta races due to medical issues and a lost ride. The odds are good that he would have finished in the top 10 if he had made those shows, however, because he finished worse than 11th only once since the fall 2007 event. In that span of races he earned only one top-five, but has an average finish of 10th, which makes him a good value at his salary cap in most games. The biggest concern is that he had a similar record at Bristol and Dover earlier in the year and that did not insure a good result on those tracks.

8. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Last three races average finish at Atlanta: 11.33
Career avg. finish at Atlanta: 12.3 in 26 attempts

Earnhardt has not scored a top-five at Atlanta since spring 2008. Eight races have passed since then and even top-10s have become rare, but he has a chance to change that statistic if he can stay out of trouble. Three of his five attempts on similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks this year ended in top-fives. Unfortunately, the other two were outside the top 15, so Junior has an almost equal opportunity to struggle.

9. AJ Allmendinger
Last three races average finish at Atlanta: 12.00 (2 starts)
Career avg. finish at Atlanta: 18.4 in 9 attempts

Allmendinger may not get the respect he deserves at Atlanta, but this is his second-best track in terms of average finishes. Watkins Glen International tops his personal chart, but a perfect record of top-20 finishes in every race he started there gives him an average of 14.3 in eight starts—his 18.4 in nine attempts is skewed heavily by a failure to qualify in his first attempt in 2007 when 51 cars showed up for time trials.

10. Tony Stewart
Last three races average finish at Atlanta: 12.50 (2 starts)
Career avg. finish at Atlanta: 11.7 in 26 attempts

Stewart missed this race last year because of an injury and if fans consider his latest three races, he would be much higher on the list. Stewart won the 2010 Emory Healthcare 500 after starting fifth, which would give him a three-race average of 8.67 and place him fifth on this chart. Stewart also won the pole for the 2012 Atlanta AdvoCare 500, so he knows a thing or two about going fast on the 1.5-mile doglegged oval.

Others of Note

11. Greg Biffle
Last three races average finish at Atlanta: 14.00
Career avg. finish at Atlanta: 17.5 in 20 attempts

Fantasy players in need of a solid run by a mid-cap driver will want to take notice of Biffle. His last three attempts at Atlanta all ended in top-15 finishes, although the latest two were barely inside that mark at 15th. Widen the scope a little and four of the previous six races ended in top-10s and the only two races in which he finished poorly came as the result of crash damage.

12. Brad Keselowski (tied with Logano)
Last three races average finish at Atlanta: 14.67
Career avg. finish at Atlanta: 21.0 in 5 attempts

If not for a blown engine last year, Keselowski would certainly be among the top 10 this week. A sixth-place finish in 2011 and a third in 2012 had him heading in the right direction. That DNF (Did Not Finish) will plague him for a couple of years, but fantasy owners need to rely on his current momentum and he won the most recent race on this track type at Kentucky.

12. Joey Logano (tied with Keselowski)
Last three races average finish at Atlanta: 14.67
Career avg. finish at Atlanta: 22.6 in 7 attempts

While teammate Keselowski blew an engine last year and momentarily stalled his momentum, Logano scored his first top-15 of his career at Atlanta. He finished second to Kyle Busch, which was the fifth consecutive race in which he finished better than the one before and now there is only one position left to improve. Logano already has one victory on a similarly-configured, 1.5-mile track this year at Texas and a perfect record of top-12 finishes.

14. Denny Hamlin
Last three races average finish at Atlanta: 15.67
Career avg. finish at Atlanta: 17.8 in 14 attempts

Hamlin suffered the same fate as Keselowski last year. His blown engine came earlier in the race than that for the No. 2 and was exacerbated by crash damage, so the result was a little worse. Otherwise he has also shown a lot of strength in the past three years with an eighth in 2011 and a victory in 2012. The only troubling matter is the two races before that when he blew another engine in fall 2010 and crashed that same spring.

18. Carl Edwards
Last three races average finish at Atlanta: 19.67
Career avg. finish at Atlanta: 15.3 in 16 attempts

Edwards was not perfect at Atlanta before 2012, but he was one of the best values in every race he finished without incident. The problem was that he had several incidents including a couple of blown engines, accidents, and one occasion when he was black flagged and parked for retaliating against Keselowski for an earlier accident. When he finds the right setup he is hard to beat, however, with top-fives in half his starts and another pair of seventh-place finishes.

20. Ryan Newman
Last three races average finish at Atlanta: 20.00
Career avg. finish at Atlanta: 17.7 in 21 attempts

Newman is often considered a strong contender at Atlanta, but that perception is clouded by his qualification attempts. He earned seven poles and three more outside front row starts in 21 attempts, but most of those came early in his career. He has finished worse than he started in 86 percent of his races, but there is a little good news. Last year he qualified 17th, but marched through the field to finish fifth.

21. Jimmie Johnson
Last three races average finish at Atlanta: 21.33
Career avg. finish at Atlanta: 11.9 in 22 attempts

Johnson has been a streaky driver at Atlanta. From 2003 through 2005 he scored four consecutive top-fives including one win. He took a race off to finish 16th and then finished sixth or better in the next four races, which ended in back-to-back victories in 2007. Since then, his streaks have mostly come in pairs and at the moment his is on a negative swing with back-to-back crash-induced results outside the top 25.

23. Aric Almirola
Last three races average finish at Atlanta: 26.00 (2 starts)
Career avg. finish at Atlanta: 29.3 in 4 attempts

Almirola has hovered around being a decent value at Atlanta with a 20th-place finish last year and a 21st in his inaugural attempt in 2009. Now that he has a victory and is in Chase contention, however, much more is expected of the No. 43. He could outperform his recent average and live up to that expectation because three of his five similarly-configured, 1.5-mile track results this year were 12th or better.

32. Clint Bowyer
Last three races average finish at Atlanta: 34.00
Career avg. finish at Atlanta: 19.8 in 13 attempts

Bowyer’s average finish during the past three years is bad, but it does not tell the entire story of his efforts at Atlanta. An accident in 2011 and blown engine last year were preceded by five top-10s in eight races. None of these were top-fives, but he came close in three consecutive races with sixth-place results. Fantasy owners would be hard pressed to place him on their roster before qualification and practice, but he deserves some attention.

Driver: 3-Yr Avg. / Starts

1. Jeff Gordon: 3.00 / 3
2. Kevin Harvick: 7.00 / 3
2. Kurt Busch: 7.00 / 3
2. Martin Truex Jr.. 7.00 / 3
5. Kyle Busch: 10.00 / 3
5. Matt Kenseth: 10.00 / 3
7. Brian Vickers: 10.50 / 2
8. Dale Earnhardt Jr. : 11.33 / 3
9. AJ Allmendinger: 12.00 / 2
10. Tony Stewart: 12.50 / 2
11. Greg Biffle: 14.00 / 3
12. Brad Keselowski: 14.67 / 3
12. Joey Logano: 14.67 / 3
14. Denny Hamlin: 15.67 / 3
15. Paul Menard: 16.67 / 3
16. Marcos Ambrose: 17.00 / 3
16. Jamie McMurray: 17.00 / 3
18. Carl Edwards: 19.67 / 3
18. Jeff Burton: 19.67 / 3
20. Ryan Newman: 20.00 / 3
21. Jimmie Johnson: 21.33 / 3
22. Danica Patrick: 25.00 / 2
23. Aric Almirola: 26.00 / 2
24. Landon Cassill: 26.33 / 3
25. Casey Mears: 27.67 / 3
26. David Gilliland: 28.33 / 3
27. David Ragan: 28.67 / 3
28. Kasey Kahne: 31.00 / 3
29. Dave Blaney: 31.33 / 3
30. Travis Kvapil: 31.67 / 3
31. JJ Yeley: 32.00 / 3
32. Clint Bowyer: 34.00 / 3
33. David Stremme: 37.67 / 3
34. Joe Nemechek: 41.00 / 3
35. Michael McDowell: 42.33 / 3
36. Josh Wise: 43.00 / 2

Exercise Caution

Most caution flags: 14, 2007 Pep Boys Auto 500
Fewest caution flags: 1 (2 times), 1970 Dixie 500, 1961 Festival 250
Average number of caution flags per race: 6.0

Final Caution, last five races:
September 2013: Lap 299 of 325: 2-car accident in turn 4 (Jeff Burton and Austin Dillon)
September 2012: Lap 321 of 327 (green-white-checkered): 1-car accident on frontstretch (Jamie McMurray)
September 2011: Lap 251 of 325: 2-car accident on backstretch (Mark Martin and Regan Smith)
September 2010: Lap 304 of 325: debris
March 2010: Lap 333 of 341 (green-white-checkered): 7-car accident in turn 4 (Jamie McMurray, Mark Martin, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Clint Bowyer, David Gilliland, and Martin Truex Jr.)

Most caution laps: 99, 1977 Dixie 500
Fewest caution laps: 7, 1986 Atlanta Journal 500
Average number of caution laps per race: 40.6

Leading the way

Most leaders: 17, 2000 Cracker Barrel 500
Fewest leaders: 3, 1977 Atlanta 500
Average number of leaders: 8.7

Most lead changes: 45, 1982 Atlanta Journal 500
Fewest lead changes: 7 (2 times), 1961 Dixie 400, 1960 Atlanta 500
Average number of lead changes: 21.6

Victory Lane

Last five winners at Atlanta (starting position):
September 2013: Kyle Busch (9)
September 2012: Denny Hamlin (7)
September 2011: Jeff Gordon (5)
September 2010: Tony Stewart (5)
March 2010: Kurt Busch (11)

Worst starting position for race winner: 39th, Bobby Labonte 2001 NAPA 500

A race at Atlanta has been won by the pole sitter 14 times and from the front row 26 times in 106 races.

Active winners at Atlanta:
Jeff Gordon: 5
Kurt Busch: 3
Carl Edwards: 3
Jimmie Johnson: 3
Tony Stewart: 3
Kyle Busch: 2
Kasey Kahne: 2
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: 1
Denny Hamlin: 1
Kevin Harvick: 1

First time winners at Atlanta:
2005: Carl Edwards, Golden Corral 500
2001: Kevin Harvick, Cracker Barrel Old Country Store 500
2000: Jerry Nadeau, NAPA 500
1966: Jim Hurtubise, Atlanta 500
1961: Bob Burdick, Atlanta 500
1960: Bobby Johns, Atlanta 500

Running at the End

The following active drivers have been running at the end of every Atlanta race they started:
AJ Allmendinger (8)
Joey Logano (7)
Aric Almirola (3)
Danica Patrick (2)
Trevor Bayne (1)
Austin Dillon (1)
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (1)

Dan Beaver has been covering fantasy NASCAR for more than 12 years with a little help from his >500,000 record database. He can be found on Twitter @FantasyRace.
Email :Dan Beaver

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