Atlanta Motor Speedway – 325 laps / 500 miles
The past four races here have been dominated by two drivers: Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski. This is a worn-down track, which the drivers love, but that means track position is more important than ever. Tires are huge here and much like every other 1.5-mile track, whoever has the best pit strategy will take the checkered flag. Martin Truex Jr. blew it last night in the Xfinity Series race due to a late-race speeding penalty. I wouldn’t be shocked to see someone beat themselves today in similar fashion. Let’s get into my picks:
William Byron (+1200/+450): Am I a little biased? Yes. But, that’s ok. How am I biased? Check out next week’s podcast to see why. He has only raced here three times with a best finish of 17th. However, he already has a win this season on a similar track and Hendrick Motorsports is the hottest team in racing. He’ll be competitive today at the least.
Tail Byron: Am I a little biased? Yes. We’re tailing instead of fading this week. William has finished 8th, 8th, and 1st in the only intermediate tacks this season. He’s trending up and seems to be getting better every week. He more or less started the #FadeTrain and every once in a while respects must be paid. He also has the 6th pit stall today, with an easy entry due to the 7th pit stall being vacant, and he is starting inside the top 10. Time to go all in on Byron this week.
William Byron over Joey Logano (+115): Logano only has two top 5s in his fourteen career races here. He has an average finish of 13 in recent races at this track, and Penske doesn’t seem to have their 1.5-mile package figured out. They look great on the short-run but fall of in the long-run. To top it off, I would expect Keselowski to be the guy on Team Penske this week.
William Byron over Kyle Busch (+130): I hate Kyle Busch and I hate even more that he is known as “Rowdy”. He’s coming off a third-place finish at the most recent 1.5-mile track of Vegas, but finished last week 25th, and 10th at Homestead – where Byron won. He has the 29th pit stall and is starting in the 19th position.
William Byron over Ryan Blaney (+115): Ryan Blaney is the antithesis of Kyle Busch here; I’m a big fan. He actually is trending in the right direction with back-to-back top 10s after a slow start to the season. However, Keselowski is the Penske guy today. In only five career races here, Blaney finishes on average 16.20. Looking back to Homestead, which to me is a good indicator for other 1.5-mile tracks, he finished 29th.
Phoenix Raceway – 312 laps / 312 miles
Today the Instacart 500 gives us our first 1-mile track of the season; thank god, because these 1.5-mile tracks stink. Joey Logano is looking to go back-to-back at the spring race in Phoenix while Chase Elliott is looking to go back-to-back after winning the Cup Series Championship here in November. It’s hard to feel overly confident about any research I do considering this is the first 1-mile track race of this season, only the fifth race overall, and each of those races has had an unexpected winner. I’ll continue to give a pick for who will take the checkered flag, but remember my bread and butter is the Fade Train (which went 0-3 last week to go 5-3 thus far on the season). Let’s get into it.
Denny Hamlin (+550): Denny has the third-best driver rating at Phoenix Raceway in the last six races and he has also led nearly 10% of all laps in that span. He’ll be starting in the front row today after Larson was kicked to the back and he has the second pit stall which will come in huge towards the end of the race. With three top 5s in four races this season, I think it’s just a matter of time before we see him take the checkered flag.
Fade Kyle Larson: While Larson has the third-best average finish in recent races here, he only has the eighth-best driver rating. Coming off of a huge win, I can see this being a letdown spot for him, if that’s even a thing in racing. I feel even more confident in fading Larson after learning he was kicked to the back of the lineup with his teammate William Byron (team Hendrick crumbling?).
Martin Truex Jr. over Kyle Larson (+130): Truex has the eighth-best average finish compared to Larson’s third-best, but has a favorable driver rating of 97 to Larson’s 96.5. He’ll be starting in the second row today and while the 33rd pit stall is not ideal, he has an easy exit out of his stall with a gap between him and the 32nd stall.
Joey Logano over Kyle Larson (EVEN): Like I said earlier, Logano is looking to go back-to-back in the spring race here in Phoenix. He has a favorable driver rating of 98.6, he’ll be starting in the fourth row, and he has and easy entry into pit stall 9 which is arguably more important than an easy exit (which Larson has in pit stall 5).
Kyle Busch over Kyle Larson (+110): It’s hard to find a track where Kyle isn’t leading all races in pretty much every statistic. This track is no different from the rest. Busch has the best average finish here in recent races (3.33), he has two wins in the last 6 races, and has a driver rating of 125.9. I faded Kyle last week and it looked great for 95% of the race, but Busch ended up finishing strong. Maybe the curse of last year is over. He’s starting in the 3rd row and has the 16th pit stall with 2 vacant stalls in front of him.