Fantasy owners had to cringe as they watched four “Big One” crashes claim five or more cars each time at the Daytona 500. As the final segment was just getting under way, 17 cars piled into one another. So many rosters were decimated in such a haphazard manner that players should simply lick their wounds and turn to Atlanta with the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500.
Special to Yahoo Sports
By Dan Beaver
1. Jimmie Johnson: With back-to-back wins at Atlanta in the past two seasons and a fourth in 2014, it is difficult to think of Johnson as anything but a favorite to win the QuikTrip 500.
2. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: The “Big One” crash doesn’t respect anyone when they come with the frequency seen last week. Junior will put that disappointment behind him at Atlanta just like he did last year.
3. Kevin Harvick: The new points’ system benefited Harvick more than any other driver at Daytona. A win in stage two and a second in the first segment helped him land fourth in the standings.
4. Joey Logano: The focus turns from the wild card plate tracks to the 1.5-milers. Logano scored runner-up finishes at Vegas, Chicagoland and Texas last year.
5. Chase Elliott: Three laps at Daytona may have been the only thing separating Elliott from his first Cup win. Young guns can be emotional, but he needs to concentrate on Atlanta and Vegas now.
6. Brad Keselowski: He had a near-perfect record on similarly configured 1.5-mile tracks in 2015 and got off to a solid start last year, but Keselowski faded slightly on this track type at the end of 2016.
7. Matt Kenseth: Once the king of the “cookie-cutter” tracks, Kenseth is going to need to reign supreme at Atlanta and Vegas to recoup all the points he lost at Daytona.
8. Ryan Blaney: The Wood Bros. are synonymous with success on certain tracks. Atlanta is one of these, so Blaney should rebound from his 25th-place finish there last year if he avoids trouble.
9. Kyle Larson: Last week’s final laps showcased the coming changing of the guard. Larson took the lead from Elliott with two laps remaining before he also ran out of gas. Those two have more battles to come.
10. Martin Truex Jr.: A tough Daytona put Truex in a bit of a hole regarding the points’ standings, but four results of seventh or better in his last five Atlanta races signal a reversal of fortune.
11. Kyle Busch: History was made last week when Busch became the first stage winner in NASCAR’s new format, but an accident in segment two added only one more championship point to his total.
12. Kurt Busch: A win last week at Daytona punched Busch’s ticket to the playoffs and gave him five bonus points that will persevere until Homestead. It also gives him momentum.
13. Kasey Kahne: Momentum began to shift for Kahne at the end of last season. He was fortunate to avoid the Daytona carnage. Now, Atlanta starts the real test of his expected improvement.
14. Denny Hamlin: No one doubts Joe Gibbs Racing’s prowess on this track type and Hamlin had a handful of top-10s last year. His average finish on the “cookie-cutters” was about 16th, however.
15. Ryan Newman: Drivers can completely ignore last week’s Daytona 500 and reset their emotional clocks. The real season starts at Atlanta, and Newman is within sight of the top 16.
16. Aric Almirola: Daytona does not mean much to a driver’s handicap unless they were searching for momentum. Almirola and his RPM team desperately needed last week’s strong run.
17. AJ Allmendinger: Reality could set in quickly for Allmendinger at Atlanta. Last year he earned two “cookie-cutter” top-10s, but averaged a result of barely 20th.
18. Jamie McMurray: With aggressive moves in the draft, McMurray did not make many friends at Daytona. That could come back to haunt him as the season progresses.
19. Paul Menard: One has to page all the way back to October 2014 to find a similarly-configured, 1.5-mile track race in which Menard scored a top-10; 22 races have passed since then.
20. Danica Patrick: It is not much of a consolation, but Patrick earned segment points in both stages of last week’s race that ameliorated the damage of a poor finish.
21. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: In 2016, Stenhouse had only one truly bad result on similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks. That came at Kentucky, but he scored an average of 16th in the other races on this track type.
22. Austin Dillon: An 11th at Atlanta was followed by a fifth at Vegas and then a seven-race streak of top-20s on this course type for Dillon.
23. Clint Bowyer: The Daytona weekend started with a lot of promise for Bowyer. That came crashing down on lap 129, but his takeaway from the 500 is that he has a very fast Ford.
24. Ty Dillon: None of the Rookie of the Year contenders were running at the end of last week’s Daytona 500, so the true battle to be the top freshman was preempted till Atlanta.
25. David Ragan: The equipment Ragan finds himself in this year is not much different than what he has raced in the past several seasons. Most of his recent results have ended in the 30s.
26. Chris Buescher: Fantasy owners can expect the JTG-Daugherty Racing organization to improve throughout the season, but it will take a while for Buescher to consistently contend for top-20s.
27. Matt DiBenedetto: With a top-10 finish last week, DiBenedetto was the top-performing Group C driver among those racing fulltime. That allowed his Daytona owners to save allocations for the remarkable rookies.
28. Daniel Suarez: He was scored only one position ahead of Ty Dillon at Daytona, but Suarez earned top rookie honors in the 500. He will be much better on the unrestricted, intermediate speedways.
29. Michael McDowell: Last week was the best opportunity for this team to score a top-10, but they have been improving since last fall and will continue to be surprisingly good dark horses with some top-20s.
30. Erik Jones: Last week it was predicted that Jones would be uncomfortable in the car given the early inspection setbacks. This week’s prognostication says he will shine at Atlanta.
31. Trevor Bayne: There was a lot of enthusiasm with this team at Daytona. Bayne lived up to the hype with a top-10 in the 500 because he survived the lap-137 crash that claimed his teammate.
32. Cole Whitt: Leading the Daytona 500 under green flag conditions will have put this team on fantasy radar screens, but Whitt is not ready to earn top-30s on unrestricted, intermediate speedways.
33. Landon Cassill: Front Row Motorsports should hover around the 30th-place mark most weeks. Both Cassill and Ragan will finish several laps off the pace, but at least they’ll finish.
34. Gray Gaulding: This young gun was not eligible to run at Daytona, so Gaulding joins the Rookie of the Year battle at Atlanta. None of his competitors had a strong showing last week, which levels the playing field.
35. Jeffrey Earnhardt: Dale Jr.’s cousin made seven starts on similarly configured 1.5-mile tracks last year with a best result of 26th at Charlotte. He’ll need a lot of attrition to come close to matching that mark.
36. Reed Sorenson: Last week, Sorenson piloted the unchartered No. 55 because his plate prowess gave them the best chance to get both cars in. He got wrecked in his qualifier, but will make the show this week in the No. 15.
37. Derrike Cope: Don’t expect too much from Cope this week. He has not been in a Cup car since 2011 and has not finished a race in that series in more than a decade.
38. Timmy Hill: This team will not have to worry about qualifying with only a 38-car field, but they will only move up in the standings through attrition.