EDITOR’S NOTE: Congrats to Micah for his right-on prediction of Denny Hamlin at 10-1 odds to win the Daytona 500. We’ll see if he can make it two in a row this week in Atlanta.
What a way for NASCAR to kick off the season. Denny Hamlin’s thrilling 0.010 second of a win over Martin Truex Jr. in Sunday’s Daytona 500 made a resounding statement to all its race starved fans. Whether you like restrictor plate racing or not, you couldn’t have been disappointed with the end results even if you didn’t have Hamlin at 10-1 or higher.
Everything you saw on Sunday throw out the window for this week’s race on the 1.5-mile high-banked layout at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The two types of racing are completely different, but what happens in Atlanta will be what we see for most of the season – the low-down force package that was used last season at Kentucky Speedway and Darlington Raceway.
Most will agree those were two of the best races of 2015. Drivers could pass much easier and really had to feather the cars lightly around the turns. It made the results almost as much about the drivers as the set-up and equipment, which was a major turnaround from the other packages historically used on 1.5-mile tracks.
Just about the only thing we can apply to Atlanta from Daytona is Joe Gibbs Racing has an edge. They jumped out of the gate quickly with a set-up that won both of those races. Kyle Busch won at Kentucky and his three JGR teammates all finished in the top-5. Carl Edwards won at Darlington and teammate Hamlin finished third. Those results look awfully similar to Sunday’s race where four of the five JGR cars finished in the top-5.
Expect the Gibbs cars to have a little bit of an edge Friday and Saturday during practices and then in the race Sunday afternoon. They’re most likely a little more advanced at this juncture.
The most competitive team outside of the JGR stable with this package last year was Team Penske with Joey Logano finishing in the top-5 of both and Brad Keselowski leading the most laps at Darlington before settling for second. Expect those two to be the top challengers to Gibbs this week.
Analyzing the package from last year’s results should be a huge consideration to making wagers this week, but we also can’t forget about past history at Atlanta. This track has always appealed to certain drivers, and most of it comes from having the good equipment. When a driver has been doing it for so long in all different types of NASCAR mandated set-ups, you kind of have to give them a rating boost.
Jimmie Johnson won this race last season, the fourth of his career at Atlanta, and he’s had a ninth-place average finish in his past 20 starts there. Matt Kenseth has surprisingly never won there, but has a 12th-place average finish in 27 starts. Edwards, Kasey Kahne and Kurt Busch are three-time winners and Kyle Busch has won twice. Hamlin, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kevin Harvick each have a win as well.
We’ll get a better read on just how large the gap on this type of track large the gap on this type of track is between JGR and the rest of the teams during Friday and Saturday’s practices. My feeling is the gap will be almost the same and it will be a battle between Gibbs and Penske for the win.
Micah Roberts is a former Las Vegas race and sports book director, one of The Linemakers on SportingNews.com , and longtime motorsports columnist and sports analyst at GamingToday. Twitter: @MicahRoberts7 Email: [email protected].