The 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is just two races old, and if you throw out the wild-card restrictor-plate race at Daytona, we have a one-race sample to use to make judgments on drivers.
However, one race is better than none, and being able to identify the drivers who are set to outperform and underperform preseason expectations is a massive advantage for fantasy owners, especially when it comes to DFS NASCAR. One hot sleeper pick can be the difference between a solid finish in a larger tournament and winning the top prize.
Yes, there is always the chance that last weekend's race at Atlanta will end up being an outlier and a poor predictor of things to come, but there is also a chance that the Atlanta race was a glimpse into the future. After all, it's not uncommon for drivers who start strong to continue to run well, at least for the first few months of the season.
Either way, it's worth taking a closer look at the results to try to gain an edge on the rest of the competition for this weekend's race at Las Vegas and beyond. With that in mind, let's take a closer look at the biggest winners and losers coming out of Atlanta.
If there were any questions about whether Harvick's dominance would continue after Stewart-Haas Racing's switch to Ford this offseason, he answered them in emphatic fashion at Atlanta. He led 292 of the 325 laps and led all drivers with 62 fastest laps run. Over the last couple of years, Harvick has been the most reliable DFS option week in and week out, and it doesn't look like that is going to change much in 2017.
Coming off an impressive rookie year, the biggest question for Elliott was whether he would take the next step or experience the dreaded sophomore slump. After flirting with a win at Atlanta, the early returns suggest he is headed for star status in both real life and fantasy. Don't be surprised if becomes a Top 5 DFS option on a routine basis this year.
After spending 2016 in NASCAR purgatory with an underfunded HScott Motorsports team, there was no doubt that Bowyer was going to improve this year with Stewart-Haas Racing. However, it was still impressive to see him battling in the Top 5 at Atlanta last weekend, considering the track has traditionally been one of his worst. Bowyer could be on his way to becoming a borderline Top 10 driver again, and if that's the case, he is going to be underpriced for at least the next few races.
Young drivers don't always live up to the hype, but Jones certainly didn't disappoint at Atlanta. He ran in the Top 10 for long stretches, and he came away with a Top 15 finish. You can still expect growing pains from the rookie, but his performance at Atlanta confirmed that he has Top 10 upside. Jones is going to be the reason someone wins a GPP this year.
Roush Fenway Racing
It has been a hard fall from grace for Roush Fenway Racing the last few years, but downsizing to just two teams this offseason may have been just what the doctor ordered. Both Trevor Bayne and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finished in the Top 15 at Atlanta, and they showed muscle throughout the race with Stenhouse posting the seventh-best average running position and Bayne ranking 12th. One race isn't going to be enough to erase a history of mediocre results in the eyes of most, so both drivers could be underpriced, underowned options Sunday at Vegas.
Front Row Motorsports
When David Ragan returned to Front Row Motorsports this offseason, he said he was shocked at how much the team had improved in just a couple of seasons. After he and teammate Landon Cassill both cracked the Top 25 at Atlanta, it looks like Ragan wasn't just saying nice things about his race team. Both Ragan and Cassill figure to remain cheap, and both could be worth a look at Vegas if they qualify outside of the Top 30.
There always seems to be one driver from a small team who overachieves, and it looks like this year it could be Whitt. Despite starting 37th at Atlanta, Whitt drove his TriStar Motorsports No. 72 Toyota to a 20th-place finish, piling up serious points in the place differential category. He is going to remain dirt cheap, and he looks like he could have value as a punt play this year. If he qualifies in the back again at Vegas, I won't hesitate to use him for cap relief.
On the heels of a below average year, even by his standards, it was discouraging to see Menard struggle in the back half of the field all afternoon at Atlanta. His struggles were more glaring when you consider that both of his Richard Childress Racing teammates spent most of the race running in the Top 10. After his showing last weekend, he is going to have to start outside the Top 30 before I begin to consider him.
I have no doubt that better days are ahead for Suarez, but the rookie looked a little overwhelmed last weekend at Atlanta. He battled for a 21st-place finish, but he wasn't close to hanging on the lead lap. For the time being, the excellent equipment at Joe Gibbs Racing might not be enough for Suarez to overcome his lack of experience. I'd cap his ceiling around the Top 20 right now, so adjust expectations accordingly.
His performance at Atlanta was forgettable, to say the least. He was completely non-competitive throughout the event, and he only managed to crack the Top 30 because other drivers had mechanical issues. To make matters worse, Almirola has typically run well at Atlanta. I don't care where he qualifies. I have no faith in Almirola right now.
I thought moving to JTG Daugherty Racing this offseason would help Buescher. That may still be the case, but it doesn't look it will be an overnight fix. He toiled outside the Top 25 for most of the afternoon at Atlanta, eventually finishing 24th as other drivers dropped out. Still, the performance was uninspiring and heading to Vegas; I'd rather take my chances with either of the Roush Fenway Racing cars or either of the Front Row Motorsports cars.