The Cup Series will head back to the Eastern Time Zone this week to compete at Atlanta Motor Speedway. This track is now considered a Superspeedway and the cars will use their Superspeedway aero package. The race will be a bit different from last year though. The race will be 400 miles, instead of the 500 miles it was in 2022. The racing at Atlanta was decent last year and I expect the same this week. The Ambetter Health 400 can be seen Sunday at 3 pm ET on Fox.
STRATEGY FOR ATLANTA
The Cup Series will not have any practice this weekend. The teams will qualify the cars Saturday and then lineup up to race Sunday. We will have to use the data from the two races at Atlanta last year and combine it with what we have seen in 2023. It would be nice to see the cars on the track, but the draft skews the speeds so I doubt we would learn anything anyways. There are a handful of drivers who performed well at Atlanta last year and got off to a hot start in 2023. These are the drivers who will be in my lineup this weekend.
The strategy at the Superspeedways is to save allocations. The racing at Atlanta is not like the racing at Daytona and Talladega. William Byron led 111 laps in the first race at Atlanta last year and Chase Elliott led 96 laps in the second race. We will likely see one driver dominate the race and it will not be as easy for the less-funded teams to finish up front as it is at Daytona and Talladega. You can play some of the mid-pack drivers in your lineups, but I am sticking to the top teams. I mapped out the allocations for the season and I can get to the championship race in Phoenix without using the drivers with a lot of risk in my lineup Sunday.
Here are the picks for the Ambetter Health 400 …
DRIVER GROUP GAME LINEUP
GROUP A DRIVERS
WILLIAM BYRON (9): How can you fade Willy-B right now? He has won the last two races in the Cup Series (Las Vegas and Phoenix) and he won this race at Atlanta last year. Byron did not only win, he dominated the race at Atlanta. The No. 24 car led 111 laps, scored 12 Stage Points and went to Victory Lane. I expect Byron to be wearing his big hat and holding a trophy at the end of the race Sunday.
ROSS CHASTAIN (9): The best driver at Atlanta Motor Speedway last year was Ross Chastain. He finished second in both race, averaged 38 laps led and he had the second-best Driver Rating (behind Chase Elliott who is not racing this week). Chastain finished ninth at Daytona this year. He should have the speed to contend for the win at Atlanta.
(CONTRARIAN PICK) CHRISTOPHER BELL (9): Sometimes the best strategy is to simply play the fastest car. This is a race, right? The fastest car at Atlanta last year was the No. 20 car. Bell had the fastest average speed in laps 1-30 and laps 30-50 at Atlanta last year. His speed did not translate into top-10 finishes, but the car was fast. Bell finished three of the four races this year in the top-six, so he is on a hot streak. Bell should be a good play at Atlanta.
GROUP A DRIVER RANKINGS: 1) William Byron 2) Ross Chastain 3) Ryan Blaney 4) Christopher Bell 5) Joey Logano 6) Denny Hamlin 7) Kyle Larson
GROUP B DRIVERS
DANIEL SUAREZ (9): Trackhouse Racing flexed their muscle at Atlanta Motor Speedway last year when Ross Chastain finished both races in the top-two and Daniel Suarez finished both races in the top-six. Suarez has been on a hot streak to start the 2023 season. The No. 99 car has finished three of the first four races in the top-10. All of the stats suggest Suarez will finish in the top-10 Sunday so I will have him in my lineup.
MARTIN TRUEX JR. (8): Martin Truex Jr. has not heated up yet this year, but maybe a trip to Atlanta Motor Speedway will be the track to light a spark in the No. 19 team. Truex scored the most Driver Group Game points on the Superspeedways last year and that included two good races at Atlanta. Truex finished eighth in the first race and 11th in the July race. I will take my chances with the No. 19 team Sunday.
BRAD KESELOWSKI (9): Most of my picks are based on the stats from the 2022 results at Atlanta, but not this one. RFK Racing looks like they found some speed over the offseason, so I will take a chance with Brad Keselowski. He finished 12th and 18th in the two races at Atlanta last year (not too bad). The No. 6 car was one of the fastest at Daytona (Keselowski led the most laps) and RFK Racing has been a lot better in qualifying. If Keselowski is going to win this year it will likely be at a Superspeedway. This is a good race to use an allocation with the No. 6 car.
ALEX BOWMAN (9): You cannot have too many Hendrick Motorsports cars in your lineups. HMS dominated “The West Coast Swing.” Will their domination continue at Atlanta? I do not see any reason why it can’t. Bowman has a decent chance to finish in the top-10 Sunday, but I have him in my lineup for what he can do Saturday. Bowman has been the best driver in the Cup Series at qualifying at the Superspeedways. I will have the No. 48 car in my lineup and hope Bowman can score me some bonus points for qualifying this week.
(CONTRARIAN PICK) JUSTIN HALEY (9): Do you have the guts to play Justin Haley? I do not, but the stats scream “PLAY HALEY.” The No. 31 car finished 11th in the first race at Atlanta and seventh in the second race at Atlanta last year. It was the best track for Haley. I will use Haley in my One & Done lineups and my DFS contests. I want to play the “safer” picks this week in the Driver Group Game.
GROUP B DRIVER RANKINGS: 1) Daniel Suarez 2) Martin Truex Jr. 3) Alex Bowman 4) Brad Keselowski 5) Erik Jones 6) Justin Haley 7) Kyle Busch 8) Kevin Harvick 9) Aric Almirola 10) Tyler Reddick
GROUP C DRIVERS
COREY LAJOIE (8): We have officially reached “Corey LaJoie Week.” LaJoie put on a show in the race at Atlanta last year. He qualified 33rd but quickly made his way through the field. LaJoie finished fifth in the race. He came back to the track in July and was leading with two laps left in the race before Chase Elliott moved LaJoie out to the way to steal the win from him. LaJoie said during media day at Daytona, “We have the race at Atlanta circled. We really feel like that race is our best chance to win this year.” I will take a chance with LaJoie Sunday.
RICKY STENHOUSE JR. (9): Ricky Stenhouse Jr. crashed in both races at Atlanta last year. That should not surprise anyone. That is typically what Stenhouse does at the Superspeedways, or is it? Stenhouse won the Daytona 500 this year and he said the secret to his success was to be more patient in the races. Did Stenhouse finally learn to tame his aggressive driving style and use his talent to get to the front at the end of these races? Maybe the Daytona 500 win was luck, but the options in Group C are not great this week.
(OTHER CHOICE) JOSH BERRY (9): If Josh Berry is available in your league; you have to continue to use him until Chase Elliott comes back. I ran the stats for this race four different ways and the driver that came out on top in every model was Elliott. He clearly had the best car at his home track last year. Berry will likely have the best car in the field Sunday. I doubt he will win the race, but he should be able to bring it home in the top-15.
GROUP C DRIVER RANKINGS: 1) Josh Berry 2) Corey LaJoie 3) AJ Allmendinger 4) Ryan Preece 5) Ty Gibbs
* Be sure to check back Saturday after final practice for my updated starting lineup.
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