After an exciting, crash-filled Daytona 500, NASCAR moves to Atlanta Motor Speedway this Sunday for the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500. A new competition package promising more passing and more competitive racing makes its debut. Drivers using the new Ford Mustang model did very well in Friday’s qualifying, as Aric Almirola (#10, 20-1), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (#17, 30-1) and Clint Bowyer (#14, 15-1) swept the top three spots, with Denny Hamlin (#11, 15-1), last week’s Daytona 500 winner, completing the second row in his FedEx Toyota. We’ll highlight two drivers flying under the radar at Atlanta who have a good shot to get their first win of the season, and one driver to avoid in the wagering.
Kurt Busch (#1, 20-1)
Busch qualified eighth on Friday and has three career wins at Atlanta in 27 starts. He’s also led 802 laps at the 1.5-mile oval, the second-most of all active drivers (Kevin Harvick is first at 1,152 laps). Busch has finished in the top 10 in three of his last four trips to Atlanta, and has led at least 20 laps in three of those four heats. He and fellow Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Kyle Larson (#42, 8-1) will start the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 side-by-side, as Larson qualified seventh.
Matt DiBenedetto (#95, 60-1)
A huge longshot in the Daytona 500, DiBenedetto led the most laps in the race before he was taken out by an untimely crash. He drives for Leavine Family Racing, a one-car stable with close ties to Joe Gibbs Racing, who swept the podium last Sunday with Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Erik Jones. DiBenedetto has finished no better than 28th in the three career starts at Atlanta, but his #95 Toyota appears to be the best car he’s been in in his brief career.
Look but don’t touch: Kevin Harvick (#4, 4-1)
Harvick was likely made the race favorite on the strength of his win in last year’s edition of the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500, and the fact that he’s led 473 laps at Atlanta in his last two races combined. However, he qualified 18th on Friday and battled a steering problem throughout the practice session.
“Today has been a complete waste of time for us. The car won’t steer,” he told the AP on Friday. “We can’t figure out what is wrong with the steering to make it go straight. We were kind of just hoping for the best there and it didn’t fix any of it.”
Harvick has to be considered a horrible value bet at Atlanta this week based on the less-than-ringing endorsement of his vehicle.