Last year, Las Vegas Motor Speedway was awarded a second date while Charlotte Motor Speedway converted their fall event into an infield road course race. That means 10 of 36 races (28 percent of the schedule) are still contested on tracks that bear a lot of similarities to one another.
The similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks of Atlanta Motor Speedway, Charlotte, Texas Motor Speedway, Las Vegas, Kansas Speedway, Chicagoland Speedway, and Kentucky Speedway continue to be the meat and potatoes of the NASCAR schedule.
The drivers will tell you none of the tracks are the same – and that is certainly true from their point of view. Still, the requirements to go fast on these courses are similar enough to ensure that the same drivers rise to the top week in and week out. During the last 18 races on this track type, five drivers have scored top-fives in at least half the events; 11 have top-10s in that many races among a field of 40 cars. The favorites are fairly easy to predict and success for fantasy players comes in small increments.
NASCAR fantasy picks for Atlanta
This is not the week to take a big risk, so concentrate on the favorites and save your dark horses for specialty tracks.
Martin Truex Jr.
At the moment, we can think of no better driver to anchor one’s roster on a similarly-configured, 1.5-mile track than Truex. He enters the QuikTrip 500 with 20 top-10s in his last 21 attempts on this track type; 18 of these were top-fives and seven of those were victories including last July’s Kentucky race. In 2018, Kyle Busch took over some of that supremacy, but Truex now races for the same team and will only be stronger as a result.
Elliott has been one of the favorites many weeks on similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks, but he suffered along with Chevrolet for most of last year. In the first eight races of 2018 on this track type, he scored only one top-10. The good news is that came at Atlanta in last year’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500. When he finished 34th in the next event at Las Vegas, it snapped a seven-race top-10 streak on this 1.5-milers.
One of Elliott’s three wins came last fall at Kansas in the fall. He followed that with a sixth at Texas and seems to be restarting his streak.
Now is not the time to conserve – especially if you were particularly hard-hit by last week’s field crushing 'Big One' accidents that left all but eight cars damaged. Busch’s status as one of the Big 3 came in large part because of his dominance on similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks with three of his eight wins on that course type. In addition, he finished second twice more and was outside the top 10 only once because of trouble at Texas in the third-to-last race of the season.
Blaney was a little uneven last year on the 1.5-milers. He started out with an 12th in Atlanta, scored back-to-back fifth-place finishes at Vegas and Texas, and then had a pair of results in the mid-30s. By the end of the year, he was back in top form with a second at Kentucky and Texas, a fifth at Vegas in their fall race, and a seventh at Kansas. While the competition concentrates on Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski, Blaney will allow you to make your roster unique without incurring a lot of risk.
Suarez was decent on similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks last year. He should be even better in 2019 as he moves into an organization that wants him and is committed to reviving careers. Clint Bowyer, Aric Almirola, and Kurt Busch all found success in a short period of time after joining Stewart-Haas Racing. Team leader Kevin Harvick was one of last year’s dominators. Joe Gibbs Racing had Kyle Busch to anchor their team, but the rest of the cars seemed languid at times. Still, Suarez managed to score five top-15s in the No. 19 with one top-10. This year, his top-15s will become top-10s and he should have a top-five to his credit as well.
As of the writing of this article, Suarez was on four percent of the NASCAR Fantasy Live rosters.
Harvick is going to be an anchor for quite a few players. He certainly deserves the recognition with four wins on this track type and top-fives in most of the remainder of the races, but there is a little reason to be concerned. First, this team made a lot of mistakes in 2018 and that hurt them on at least three occasions. Secondly, two of the four wins were encumbered with penalties for cheating and now that NASCAR is cracking down on coloring outside the lines, Harvick may lose some of his dominance.
It is going to take a while before fantasy owners learn to trust Johnson again. He was once the king of the "cookie-cutter" tracks, but those days are well gone. Last year he had one brief shining moment with a fifth under the lights in the Coke 600, but his other races were bad enough to give him an average finish of 18.5 on this course type. He seemed rejuvenated at Daytona and could be a good value in a few weeks at Ingenuity Sun Media Raceway, but this is a good week to evaluate him.