NASCAR Pre-Race Media: Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 (3 p.m. ET, FOX, PRN) race preview/favorites

TRACK: Atlanta Motor Speedway (1.54-Mile, Dogleg Oval) DISTANCE: 325 Laps – STAGE 1/2 110 LAPS, FINAL STAGE 115 LAPS (500.5 MILES)

Starting Lineup

Favorites – Is This Ford’s To Lose?

Kevin Harvick

Harvick is a lap leader king in Atlanta. The California native has led 100 or more laps in seven of his last nine Atlanta starts including 195, 116, 131, 292, 181, 45 and 151 respectively in his last seven tries. Harvick, also has 12 top 10 finishes in his last 14 starts on the Georgia race track too including a win last year. Over his last six starts, he’s finished second, sixth, ninth, first, fourth and first respectively.

Chase Elliott

He’s never won on his hometrack but the Georgia native does have four top 10’s in five tries.

Joey Logano 

Logano, has been had his best at Atlanta every year since joining Team Penske. In six starts there with Joe Gibbs Racing, his best finish was 18th. In eight starts with Penske, he’s finished worse than 14th just once. In fact, Logano has four top six finishes in eight tries. He’s had a runner up in two of the last four weeks on the season.

Brad Keselowski 

The Team Penske driver has six straight top 10 finishes in Atlanta including three top twos in his last four tries. Two of those top two finishes are wins. He’s won in every other year, so 2021 is his turn..he’s had three top five finishes over the last four weeks on the season.

Martin Truex Jr.

He’s going to be quiet here but don’t overlook him. Truex, is winless in 22 career Atlanta starts, but does have six straight top eight finishes and eight in his last nine starts on the Georgia track overall including a runner-up in 2019 and a third place run a year ago. He is coming off of a win last week to go along with bringing three straight top six finishes with him into the weekend.

Denny Hamlin

Why not here too? He won in 2012 and has had three top fives since, but two of which have occurred in the last three years including a fifth place run last year. He has four top five finishes in five races this season.

Kyle Busch

Since 2010, Busch has scored seven top seven results in his last 10 Atlanta starts. He may have only led 18 combined laps over his last six Atlanta starts but he also has four top seven’s in his last five too.

Race Preview

We’re back to action on Sunday with the first race back east following a two week west coast stretch. Atlanta is one of the drivers’ favorite tracks with the 1.54-mile track being the second oldest racing surface on the schedule. That creates a lot of tire wear and multiple grooves to race on.

While the track also has a ton of past history, the recent stretch has seen this go to all Ford’s. They’ve won four straight with Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick alternating wins in each of the last four years. They will be tough to stop, but don’t count out the Toyota’s either.

It’s been since 2014 since a Toyota won, but all four drivers in the JGR camp have excelled in Atlanta lately too. Martin Truex Jr. has no wins in 22 tries but does have eight top eight finishes in his last nine tries including three consecutive top five’s. Denny Hamlin hasn’t won since 2012 but has two top fives in his last three starts. Kyle Busch hasn’t won since 2013 but he was runner-up last year to go along with six top seven finishes in his last eight Atlanta tries. They were 2-3-5 a year ago and have had a front row seat at watching Keselowski and Harvick dominate in the Peachtree State. Can they close the gap enough this weekend?

Chevy may have something to say again though. They won Homestead with William Byron on a worn surface. Plus, this could be a spot to where Kyle Larson earns his second win of the season, both coming in the last three weeks at that.

Larson’s not had a ton of Atlanta success, with a runner-up on 2017 as his lone top five finish. But, with Atlanta being an aged surface and how well Larson races on tracks like this, I say, watch out.

He just came home third last month in Homestead. Larson, has four top five finishes in his last six Homestead starts. Then you factor in Darlington. He has three top three’s in his last four starts on that track and a top 10 in five of his last six. He led 45 laps there in 2016, 124 in 2017, 284 in 2018 and 44 in 2019.

What about Fontana? Larson has three top two finishes including a win there in 2017. He was runner-up in 2018 too. In Xfinity competition, Larson has two wins in five tries including a top eight in each.

With being so good on aged tracks, it’s only a matter of time before a win in Atlanta.

Of Note

We’ve seen 13 different winners in the last 19 races on intermediates including 11 straight.

It all started nearly two years ago, on June 30, 2019 at the Chicagoland Speedway to be exact, with Alex Bowman. Then, Kentucky Speedway (Kurt Busch), Las Vegas in the Fall (Martin Truex Jr), Kansas (Denny Hamlin), Texas (Kevin Harvick) and Homestead (Kyle Busch) to close out the season. Last year, we had Las Vegas (Joey Logano), Charlotte (Brad Keselowski/Chase Elliott), Atlanta (Harvick), Homestead (Denny Hamlin), Kentucky (Cole Custer), Texas (Austin Dillon), Kansas (Brad Keselowski), Vegas (Kurt Busch), Kansas (Joey Logano) and Texas (Kyle Busch) following suit. So far, we’ve had two 1.5-mile tracks in 2021. One occurred in Homestead. William Byron won. The other a few weekends ago in Las Vegas with Kyle Larson.

We’re running out of names to keep this going? All that’s left on the big teams are Christopher Bell, Ryan Blaney, Chase Briscoe, or Aric Almirola.

Also, 15 of the last 17 Cup races run have seen a different winner too.

Key Stat

Ford has won in each of the last four years in Atlanta. Can they make it five straight on Sunday?

They Said It

“At this point, we’ve got to take the cards that are dealt to us when the race starts,” Aric Almirola said. “A lot of it is how your car is when the race starts. It’s hard to gamble with a car that’s not as competitive as it needs to be. You have a lot more options when you have a fast race car. You can pick and choose your strategy because you can be a little more control of your race and not worry about going multiple laps down when you do roll down pit road.

“Every once in a while you can squeak something out on strategy but for the most part, you don’t really win races on wild strategy anymore unless you have a fast race car. Somebody else is going to get on that same strategy and going to have a fast race car. We’ve got a lot of smart engineers in the garage area and crew chiefs. They see all the different strategies and scenarios and things that play out. If a handful of cars get on that strategy, and it’s the race winning strategy, you have to have a faster race car than all of those other guys to be the race winning car on that strategy. That’s why a lot of it depends on when you get to the race track and see where your car is competitive relative to the field.”

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