Kobalt 400

One of the solo cookies—Atlanta Motor Speedway—was on the schedule last week. The paucity of data from the single race in Nevada is offset somewhat by the juxtaposition of the Kobalt 400 with the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500.

HAMPTON, GA - MARCH 05:  Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Autotrader Ford, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Folds Of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on March 5, 2017 in Hampton, Georgia.  (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)

(Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)

Drivers can gain some momentum at this stage of the schedule. In a couple of weeks, they will visit the two-mile Auto Club Speedway. A couple of weeks after that, they will be on another “cookie-cutter” course: Texas Motor Speedway. Four of the first seven races of the season are on similarly-configured, 1.5- and two-mile tracks.

Last year, six drivers who scored top-10s at Atlanta, backed that up with another top-10 at Vegas. Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch led the charge in 2016 with a pair of top-fives. Joey Logano, Austin Dillon, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. came close to adding their name to the top-10 sweepers with a worst result of 12th in the two races.

Several of those drivers ran well again last week. Notably, Johnson and Busch did not and it will be interesting to see if the dark horses who stepped into their place in the QuikTrip 500 can also unseat them in this week’s contest.

The “cookie-cutter” promotors hate that description of their tracks. And to be fair, no two courses are alike. From their point of view, they have a right to bristle. Fantasy players have a different outlook and should find cookies quite tasty.


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AAA Texas 500

The AAA Texas 500 is the last of 10 races held on similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks this season.

DALLAS, TEXAS - MARCH 30: The new Checkered Past beer is unveiled during the Texas Motor Speedway Media Day at Gilley's Dallas on March 30, 2016 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)

Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)

Homestead-Miami Speedway is also a 1.5-miler, but its unique shape often keeps it from getting lumped in with the other, so-called “cookie-cutter” courses. For purposes of handicapping, we normally look at Texas Motor Speedway, Atlanta Motor Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Kansas Speedway, Chicagoland Speedway, and Kentucky Speedway as the doglegged or double-doglegged 1.5 milers/. We occasionally toss in the two-mile Michigan International Speedway and Auto Club Speedway for good measure.

Yes, yeah, yeah… Every track is unique, but that is a concern only for the drivers. These 1.5-milers are similar enough in terms of what they require from teams that the same cast of characters tends to dominate the front of the pack.

No one has swept the top 10 on this course type in 2016, but there are still some standouts. Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch have top-fives in more than half the first nine races, while a few others have top-10s in all but two events. These drivers are Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, and Kurt Busch. Martin Truex Jr. has perfect record of top-15s on similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks—as does the elder Busch brother.

On this track type, it pays dividends to top load with talent. Lightly-funded teams do not have the resources for hours of wind tunnel testing or complicated simulations. They have good, but not always the best, engineers and a little loss here and there combine for a big deficit.


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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400

By design or happenstance, the two track types that dominate the Chase also dominate the season as a whole. Flat tracks are represented New Hampshire, Martinsville, and Phoenix—and at less than a mile in length, they are all of the shorter variety.

Similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks have four or five races depending on how one classifies Homestead. Kansas and Charlotte are in round two with the Talladega lottery tossed in for giggles and to keep drivers at a heightened sense of anguish. Texas is wedged between two flat track races in round three—and of course, Chicagoland kicks off the Chase and round one.

JOLIET, IL - SEPTEMBER 20: Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Ground Toyota, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series myAFibRisk.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway on September 20, 2015 in Joliet, Illinois. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

(Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

Round one is the most eclectic of the rounds. With one similarly-configured, 1.5-mile track race, a short, flat track contest, and the high banks of Dover, drivers really have to show their range. One wishes NASCAR rearranged the remainder of the Chase to showcase the variety of racing and talent in each round—perhaps by replacing either Kansas or Charlotte with a road course race and Martinsville or Phoenix with a different track type—but we digress.

The weakness of the schedule actually plays into the hands of fantasy players. Back-to-back races on “cookie-cutter” courses in a few weeks and the slight separation of the short, flat track events means owners can concentrate on these two courses. Seven (or eight) of 10 races run to a type, leaving one to worry over Dover, Talladega, and perhaps Homestead—and since nothing is predictive for the restrictor-plate, superspeedway, in essence Dover stands alone as a track where handicapping occurs in a vacuum.

This week’s challenge is how to handicap Chicagoland, however. Even though more than a quarter of the races are contested on similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks, it has been nine weeks since one was last visited. At two miles in length, Michigan International Speedway provides some insight, but the last “cookie-cutter” race came at Kentucky Speedway and that was a bit of a wild card because of a recent repaving and reconfiguration project.


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Quaker State 400 by Advance Auto Parts

That huge sigh at the end of the Coke Zero 400 was the collective breath of millions of fantasy NASCAR players who survived back-to-back wild card races.

Now it’s time to get back to racing and a cookie never tasted so sweet.

Along with Atlanta Motor Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Kansas Speedway, and Chicagoland Speedway, Kentucky Speedway is one of the similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks. But instead of decrying the lack of originality in a course that looks like so many others, now is the time to appreciate what one has.

The last time NASCAR hosted a Cup race on this track type was the Coke 600 in May and another will not be held until the Chase begins in September at Chicagoland. That is, unless one counts the two-mile Michigan International Speedway as part of this course type because the FireKeepers Casino 400 was run three weeks ago with that track’s second race coming up in August.

Considering that the similarly-configured, 1.5- and two-mile tracks make up more than a third of the schedule, this is remarkable. One reason for the break from cookies is that NASCAR will get their sustenance from flat bread instead. After Kentucky, the series rolls into New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Pocono Raceway, and Indianapolis Motor Speedway for three straight weeks of flat track racing.


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Coca-Cola 600


There are certain races and tracks that transcend.

Radically different from most of the tracks of its time, Charlotte Motor Speedway was designed to provide maximum exposure for fans. Its double-doglegged configuration allowed anyone on the frontstretch, to see the cars as they exited turn four and entered turn one. The two kinks made the front markedly different from the backstretch and unique created passing opportunities.

Charlotte was the mold from which many of the other so-called “cookie-cutter” tracks was designed—and there is a reason. This track regularly hosted some of the most exiting races of the season. Its uniqueness has been lost with the addition of tracks like Texas Motor Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Kansas Speedway, Chicagoland Speedway, and Kentucky Speedway, as well as the reconfiguration of Atlanta Motor Speedway from a true oval to its current doglegged version. Auto Club Speedway and Michigan International Speedway can be viewed as slightly longer versions of the same mold.

There another other part of the equation, however, and that is certain races are also iconic. There are weekends that define NASCAR. The Daytona 500, Southern 500, and Brickyard 400 are all events that add to a driver’s greatness. The World 600 belongs to that group.

While NASCAR’s headquarters were based in Daytona Beach, Fla., Charlotte became the emotional center of the sport. Most of the major race teams began within easy driving distance of this city and an abundance of races in the 1970s, 80s, and well into the 90s occurred within a day of this epicenter. As NASCAR expanded from its roots, the Charlotte area remained home for most race teams because the infrastructure was built up there.

Even the fall race is special because this is one of the Chase races in the Contender Round.

Simply put, winning at Charlotte is special.


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GoBowling.com 400

2473_DB_DFS_skyscraperLast year, both the spring and fall editions of Kansas Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway’s two races run were back-to-back. This gave the teams some consecutive time on two of the seven similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks of Atlanta Motor Speedway, Charlotte, Texas Motor Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Kansas, Chicagoland Speedway, and Kentucky Speedway and allowed them to generate some momentum.

This year, the two races are interrupted by Dover International Speedway and the All-star break, which will give fantasy owners an extra week to examine the data from the GoBowling.com 400 before committing to Charlotte’s roster. Then Pocono Raceway is on the schedule, followed by the two-mile Michigan International Speedway that many believe is similar to the 1.5-milers.

The series is stutter-stepping its way to the summer and what was once the traditional halfway point of the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway. Even though it is technically one week from the center, that still demarks the season and gets fantasy players prepared for a long stretch to the Chase.


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