Following William Byron’s victory at Phoenix Raceway, NASCAR ends its early West Coast swing and heads to Georgia. Thus, let’s wrap up action from this past Sunday’s United Rentals 500, review numbers from last year at Atlanta, and assess some DFS expectations for this Sunday’s Ambetter Health 400 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. 

 

United Rentals 500 Wrap-Up

For all the talk of how the 30% reduction in downforce, via the modifications made to the Gen Seven short track package, was supposed to improve the quality of racing and passing, Sunday looked just like any other short-flat track race from 2022.

In fact, quality passes were down 942 to 707 compared to this race last year. Meanwhile, the polesitter (Kyle Larson) led 64% of the race, more than the 45% that Ryan Blaney led from the pole in 2022. Larson’s 202 laps led are the most laps led by the driver who led the most laps since Phoenix was reconfigured in 2018. 

In other words, NASCAR may need to go back to the drawing board to figure out their short-track passing woes, but this could be a ton of conjecture for just one race. However, this current iteration is probably what we will see at short tracks and road courses for all of 2023. Should that be the case, it’s a safe bet that there will be an extremely strong correlation between practice speeds and actual race speeds and performance. 

Kyle Larson and William Byron showed the fastest long run speeds in practice and backed that up by leading all but 52 of the 312 laps. Kevin Harvick had a demonstrably fast short and long run car on Friday as well, grabbed the lead with roughly 40 laps remaining, and would have won if not for Harrison Burton cutting down a tire and spinning with nine laps left. 

The next time this package will be on display will be Richmond, a race that saw the front row combine to lead 250 laps, and all but 6 of the 400 laps led from drivers starting in the top-six starting positions. Chances are we may be headed for a repeat of this same type of race in three weeks. 

Atlanta, Spring – 2022

When NASCAR headed to Atlanta last spring, it was anyone’s guess as to how Atlanta would race. Without the input of the drivers, track officials finally decided to repave Atlanta following the summer race of 2021 — 25 years since it was last coated with fresh asphalt. However, they went above and beyond just a simple repave and decided to rebank and narrow Atlanta, turning the intermediate-oval into a miniature superspeedway. Combined with the first month of the Generation Seven car — just what would racing at Atlanta actually look like?

Well — it was a superspeedway style race that they wanted and that was what the drivers got at Atlanta. In all, there were 10 real cautions in the Spring race with nearly 20% of the race being run under the yellow flag. Six of those cautions were for multi-vehicle accidents including the lap-146 wreck that collected nearly a third (12 vehicles) of the field. In all, 12 drivers failed to finish the race with all of them getting parked due to wrecks. 

Fast forward to the summer race at Atlanta, and it was more of the same from the spring. This time, 24.6% of the race was run under the yellow flag with the average green flag run sitting at just 15.1 laps. In this race, there were 11 real cautions with seven of those being multi-car accidents with two “big ones” on laps 92 and 171. 

Thus, Atlanta wanted a miniature Daytona, and the track yielded such results. However, the interesting thing to note for DFS purposes is that neither of the optimal lineups from the 2022 Atlanta races really resemble a Daytona or Talladega race. In fact, they look like Atlanta never made any changes to the track. Both the spring and summer races were anchored by two lap leaders and then filled out with other drivers that finished in the top 10. 

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As far as cash goes, the best bet is to approach this slate just like you would any other superspeedway race and build with an eye toward place differential and finishing position. However, in tournaments, both races showed that due to the bulk of laps (267 this Sunday) you can’t disregard lap leaders. There are just far too many laps led points available for tournament players to act like “stacking the back” is how you’ll win this Sunday. It’s going to take courage, and some nuance, but GPPs are going to be won via the strategy of embracing a lap leader or two in each lineup that will inevitably start higher up the grid then you would normally have like four weeks ago at Daytona.

 

Expectations for the 2023 Ambetter Health 400

The only wild cards for this weekend are the fact that NASCAR will hold zero practice time, so hopefully, none of us get stung by a driver and a faulty electrical or mechanical issue that could have been diagnosed with a simple 20-minute practice session (aka Kyle Larson at Auto Club). 

Also, NASCAR has moved the entrance to pit road back to turn three. Thus, drivers will only have their qualifying lap, plus the warm-up laps before Sunday, to get acquainted with the new pit road entry point. It’s likely we could easily see the scenario where someone misses pit road, during a green flag run, and end up losing position as they have to pit on the next lap.

Regardless, Sunday is setting up to be a fairly chaotic superspeedway-style race, like its predecessors last season, and winning a tournament is going to boil down to the strategy above combined with some pure luck hoping you can land a six of six lineup where all drivers complete every lap and finish in the top 15.