Race Preview Update: Atlanta II

The Sprint Cup teams got in both practices and qualifying at Atlanta yesterday under warm, sunny skies. Today’s forecast on Weather.com calls for more of the same, and that’s a boost for predictability. Add together yesterday’s prelim data with the solid historical data I discussed on Wednesday, plus the consistent, rain-free weather, and predictability should rate well above average. Right?

Not really. First, this weekend featured the funky, compressed prelim schedule in which the teams practice twice and then qualifying on the same day. Most teams work on their race-trim setups during Practice 1 and maybe for a little while early in Practice 2, but then they turn to qualifying-trim. That gives us far less race-trim data to review than we get on a normal weekend.

In addition, the teams practiced and qualified yesterday during the day on a relatively hot track, but they’ll race tonight under the stars on a relatively cool (and cooling) track. That substantially degrades the quality of the prelim data because the setups will perform differently on a cool track than they did on a hot track. Apples and oranges, to a degree.

Finally, Jayski’s Tire Info Page says the teams are running a different right-side tire than they did in the spring Atlanta race (the left-side remains the same). Different tires tend to perform differently, so that change degrades the historical data a bit.

All told, I think we can rate tonight’s race predictability average at best, probably a tick below. Fantasy players can therefore be a bit aggressive with start saving, and bettors need slightly bettor odds than normal to justify laying the money down.

Handicapping Atlanta II
I ran the numbers from the two practices and qualifying to produce new rankings, and then I merged those rankings with my mid-week rankings (heavily weighting the results toward the new rankings). I tweaked those results per the 10-lap averages from both practices, and then I did one last fine-tuning after reading the opinions of other online experts.

I came up with this top four:

  1. Kasey Kahne
  2. Ryan Newman
  3. Denny Hamlin
  4. Kurt Busch

I rated Kahne #1 in my mid-week preview, and he held onto the top spot thanks to some very solid work on Saturday. I’m bumping Newman up from #5 to #2 because he looked flat-out fast in both short and long runs.

Hamlin and Kurt Busch surprised me yesterday, however. Hamlin wasn’t even really on my radar earlier this week, but he looked strong in practice yesterday and then captured the pole. He’s easily a top five choice.

Kurt Busch, on the other hand, looked worse than I expected. I’ve dropped him into the #4 hole,and I’m actually tempted to rate him even lower.

I also expected to see a lot more out of Dale Jr., but he looked pretty bad yesterday.

If you’re betting today, make sure you shop around to get the best possible line on your driver(s). Picking up an extra point or two for one race may not seem like much, but it’s crucial if you want to make money in the long run.

My Yahoo! Fantasy Picks
Group A
I’ve got Kurt and Kyle Busch, and I’ll go with Kurt, but it’s fairly close. I rate Kyle #10 overall, and he could easily have a terrific night.

Hamlin is #1 in Group A, followed by Kurt, Juan Pablo Montoya and Jimmie Johnson, in that order.

Group B
I’m excited to have both Kahne and Newman activated; I’ll start them without a second thought over Matt Kenseth and Dale Jr.

I like Clint Bowyer third best in Group B, followed by Kenseth, David Reutimann and Dale Jr., in that order.

Group C
As expected, Paul Menard appears to be the man in Group C this week. I’ll start him over Regan Smith, who looked third-best in C but well behind Menard. Menard could score a top-15 finish.

I like A.J. Allmendinger second-best in C. After Smith, it’s Sam Hornish Jr., and then Scott Speed.