Atlanta Preview: Fantasy NASCAR Numbers and More

Scott EngelCorrespondent IMarch 5, 2009

After three wacky weeks, the Sprint Cup standings and your fantasy league rankings certainly don’t look like you’d expect them to. Be patient, though, especially if you are new to Fantasy NASCAR.

Any experienced player knows there is a better chance of the Florida Marlins selling out a full homestand than Michael Waltrip remaining in the top 12 all season long. There’s my weekly Waltrip shot. I guess I won’t be getting a discount on NAPA Auto Parts any time soon.

Two other early surprises are David Reutimann (fifth in the Cup standings after a fourth place showing at Las Vegas) and Bobby Labonte (10th in the standings after finishing fifth at Vegas).

It’s always good to go with “hot” drivers when you can, especially at bargain rates.

Labonte is a good bet for another solid finish at Atlanta, where he won six times earlier in his career. Labonte is no longer a dominant driver, of course, but his average finish of 16.6 at the site makes him another good lower-ring pick for this week.

Reutimann finished 20th in the first Atlanta race in 2008. 

So while neither driver is among the better-ranked competitors in terms of all-important Driver Rating (get the full lowdown on Driver Rating simply by registering for a FREE RotoExperts account, no strings attached), they should continue to fill out the end of your lineups nicely. This is especially true in tiered and salary cap leagues.

Jimmie Johnson has the best DR at Atlanta (112.9), which is the prime Loop Data statistic to be considered every week.

All LD stats cover the past eight races at Atlanta Motor Speedway dating back to 2005, and Johnson also leads in Average Running Position (7.2) and Laps in the top 15 (2,375 or 91.2 percent). He has three wins, nine top 5s and 10 top 10s in 15 AMS starts. He swept both races at the site in 2007, and will likely push for the win this week after another disappointing finish at Vegas (24th).

Carl Edwards has also not lived up to expectations early on, and this can be the week where he starts to truly display his better form.

Atlanta is one of Edwards’ best tracks. He has three wins, five top 5s and seven top 10s in nine AMS starts. His DR of 107.4 also suggests he can dominate at Atlanta this time, and he leads all drivers with 260 of the Fastest Laps Run since ’05. He ranks second in Average Green Flag Speed (174.077) and Laps in the top 15 (2,204, or 84.6 percent) during that span.

Kyle Busch should keep the momentum going from his win at Vegas, even though his 90.2 DR is only ninth best. Busch is the defending champion of this event, and Loop Data doesn’t fully reflect how strongly he can run since leaving Hendrick Motorsports.

Yet Loop Data indicates that Dale Earnhardt Jr. can deliver another solid finish a week after a 10th place finish vaulted him out of the dangerous 35th spot in the car owner’s standings. Earnhardt’s DR of 103.7 is third-best among all drivers since ’05, and he leads all competitors in Average Green Flag Speed (174.094) and Quality Passes (274).

NASCAR defines Quality Passes as passes of cars in the top 15 while under green flag conditions.

Earnhardt now sits in a more comfortable spot in the standings (29th) with two races left before those who aren’t in the top 35 must begin qualifying into the field on time.

Ryan Newman (33rd) and Mark Martin (34th) are in dangerous territory, while Joey Logano, who finished 13th at Vegas, needs to come through with another respectable finish.

Martin ranks 14th in DR (85.1) at AMS since ’05, while Newman is 20th (69.1). Martin has failed to finish in the top 20 in four of his past five Atlanta starts. Still, he is a good pick because of the sense of urgency he will be driving with. Newman, however, has yet to show much with his new team, and should be avoided despite his precarious current positioning.

Jeff Gordon sits atop the standings for the first time since late October of 2007, and it looks like he will win for the first time since the middle of that same month very soon.

Yet he isn’t the best bet to outdo Edwards or Johnson this week, who need the stronger finish more than Gordon. Gordon does have four wins and an average finish of 12.7 at AMS, with 21 top 10s in 33 starts. So he’ll be a good candidate for another solid finish even if he doesn’t finish. His DR of 98.4, however, is seventh best since ’05, and suggests victory will elude him one more time this week.

Tony Stewart’s DR of 101.1 is fourth best since ’05, and he is off to a respectable start is his new owner/driver situation, placing eighth in the standings so far.

In some games, he is not a top-tier or elite-ranked driver, so continue to ride Stewart for the sound finishes. He has two wins, eight top 5s and 12 top 10s in 20 AMS starts.

Greg Biffle has the fifth-best DR at AMS (100.2) and ranks second in Average Running Position (10.2). He has seven top 10s in 12 Atlanta starts.

Further suggesting that premier drivers can fill out the top of the field this week, Matt Kenseth ranks sixth in DR (98.4) and has 11 top 10s in 18 starts. Clint Bowyer currently sits second in the standings, but don’t overrate him based on current Cup positioning. He has an average finish of 15.0, which is certainly respectable, but his DR of 87.0 is 13th.

Kasey Kahne (82.2 DR, 15th) runs hot and cold at AMS. He has a win and five top 10s at Atlanta, but has finished better than 28th just once in his past five races at the site.

Other drivers to consider for the lower tiers of your lineup include Juan Pablo Montoya (76.9 DR, 16th, fifth place at AMS in 2007 debut), Brian Vickers (73.4 DR, 19th), Reed Sorenson (native of Peachtree, Georgia, 67.9 DR), and Robby Gordon (65.4).

David Ragan also finished eighth in the second AMS race last year, while A.J. Allmendinger came in 14th.

For more analysis and in-depth AMS rankings, visit the full preview here.  You can also listen to my weekly Fantasy NASCAR podcast, RotoRacing, on