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Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500

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Wow, what a way to kick off the 2016 season.

Denny Hamlin's 0.010 second of a win over Martin Truex Jr. in Sunday's Daytona 500 was an absolute thrill (so was his 15/1 odds). But that stuff is over -- in the past -- the rear view mirror -- and the results will do nothing to help you in handicapping until the series returns to another restrictor-plate track at Talladega in May.
Bookmark the results and move on to what matters for this week’s race on the 1.5-mile high banked layout at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Up to 38 drivers could win at Daytona. At Atlanta, a good case can be made for maybe only 12 drivers. Who are those drivers?
The two types of racing are completely different and what we see in Atlanta will be what we see for most of the season (11 races on 1.5-mile tracks) -- the low downforce package that was used last season at Kentucky Speedway and Darlington Raceway.
Most will agree that 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.
Daytona 500 runner-up Martin Truex Jr. is disappointed and happy at the same time about Sunday's results, but is confident and ready to roll at Atlanta as he begins his first season in a Toyota with a Joe Gibbs Racing affiliation -- an affiliation that showed up big time Sunday.
“Obviously we’re looking forward to bringing our Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Toyota to Atlanta," Truex Jr. "I think it’s going to be an incredible race with lower downforce on the race cars. I think the cars are going to be a real handful and it’s going to be exciting. I’m looking forward to just kicking off that part of the season, getting to work, seeing how our cars are, where we stack up. The anticipation is high. Going to Atlanta with a little bit of momentum is always a good feeling.”
The "handful" part Truex Jr. mentioned is the part that most of the drivers love about this package.  

Just about the only thing we can apply to Atlanta from Daytona is that 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 Hamlin finished third. Those results look awfully similar to Sunday’s race where four of the five JGR cars --including Truex Jr. -- 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, but when a driver has been doing it for so long in all different type 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.
The only problem with Johnson this week is that his best finish last season with the low downforce package was ninth -- didn't lead a lap, either -- and Hendrick Motorsports best finish was seventh.

You can never count out HMS and Chevy, but they were both well below their own standards and had to do some catching up.

Did they make some ground up during the off-season and will it be a work in progress?      
We’ll get a better read on just how 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 that the gap will be almost the same and it will be a battle between Gibbs and Penske for the win.
Top-5 Finish Prediction:

1) #18 Kyle Busch (8/1)
2) #22 Joey Logano (8/1)
3) #20 Matt Kenseth (10/1)
4) #11 Denny Hamlin (12/1)
5) #99 Carl Edwards (14/1)

NASCAR Expert Picks
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