NASCAR Pre-Race Media: Top 5 burning questions for Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 (3 p.m. ET, FOX, PRN)

Is 500 Miles Too Long? What Kind Of Racing To Expect

This debate comes up annually for our stops in Texas and Atlanta, but it has to be asked again, is 500 miles on these tracks too long? I mean, in the past, 500 miles used to be a test of man vs. machine vs. track. Now, all the drivers can easily make it 500 miles. The cars can too. That means the track isn’t as grueling.

Last year, 500 miles in the hot/humid Georgia heat was a test. This year, it’s March, so I don’t see this being too tough on the drivers this time around.

The thing is, the last three Atlanta races lasted 3 1/2 hours. The 2017 race was 3-hours and 33 minutes. 2016 was 3-hours and 15 minutes while the 2015 race was 3-hours and 49-minutes and 2014 3-hours and 55-minutes.

Do we really need to be racing that long? Most fans attention span is between 2-3 hour time span. You get north of 3 hours, well it gets redundant.

While Atlanta is a great track for tire wear and holding onto your car throughout a race run, the thing is, do we need to see 500 miles of it or would 400 miles suffice?

“The pace fall off is massive,” said Chase Elliott. “Every lap you run you’re basically just losing time. If you can run 2 laps the same in the first 10-15 laps of a run, you’ve really done well. At least in the past. In this package, you might be able to run a couple of the same, maybe a little longer than you could before, but still the fall off is definitely there.

“That’s what makes the race track so challenging is to just find some consistency. Just to get in a rhythm and not beat up your tires. That’s a hard thing to do when you’re trying to go really fast and trying to set a fast pace at the same time. That’s always been a challenge and I say always will be as long as the surface is the way that it is.”

So, expect for this weekend’s race to see guys pitting all over the place. The strategy is going to be, some will pit early and be faster on their initial early stint runs with everyone else that hasn’t pit being slower on older tires. But, eventually those on the new tires will slow down as their tires wear and those already on the older tires will have to pit to go on new tires and flip the script.

Which strategy is going to win out.

The thing now too is, you used to be able to use strategy to maybe find some track position to make this work. Now a days, that’s out the window they say. Part of that is that you don’t know the kind of car that you have before the race goes green anymore since we don’t have any practice, and if you don’t have a fast race car, strategy isn’t an open way to the front due to how the sport has evolved.

“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.”

Ryan Newman says that the stages are partly to blame for this because you’re sort of boxed in on what you could do too.

“It’s still an option that it’s not the option that it used to be mostly because of the stage racing and the way that it’s broke up,” Newman said. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that when your tires are falling off 3 or 4 seconds over a run that you’re going to split it up. It’s monkey see monkey do sometimes. When the first guy comes in then everyone else is ready. There’s different aspects of it because of the stage racing. We’ve seen many fewer opportunities to have a fuel mileage race. That’s good and bad in my opinion. It leads to some drama and different strategies. It is what it is. The decisions have been made to be the program that we take and the entertainment packages that we take and we’ve got to make the best of it as a team.”

I for one believe the Atlanta and Texas stops should be shortened to 400 miles. Atlanta is going to be interesting with some guys trying different strategy, but recent trends say that they don’t pan out and you get 500 miles of that.

Does Starting Position Matter More Now Than Ever Before?

Starting position has always played a role in NASCAR. The thing is, some times the starting spot is just a number. Other times, starting spots played a pivotal role on the outcome of the race. Take this weeks race in Atlanta as a prime example. Three of the last four winners have come from inside of the top 10.

But, with how starting spots are determined these days, it’s even more beneficial to get a good result in the previous race, because bad starting spots can also aid in stacking back race results too.

“Starting in the back is a dagger every week,” Aric Almirola said. “That’s the hard part about where we’re at now in not only do we not get practice, but when you have a bad weekend, it doesn’t end with that weekend. It carries over to the next week. It used to, when you had a bad weekend, you could put it behind you and go to the race track the next weekend and have a fresh start. You practice, you qualify and if you qualify up front, you get a good starting position and pit selection. You get to start completely over with that brand new weekend.

“Now, when you have a bad weekend, it really carries over to the next weekend because you have a bad starting spot and a bad pit selection. A bad pit selection usually means that you’re pitting around other cars that are competitive and on the lead lap so you’re constantly going to be battling them getting in and out of your pit box. It just makes everything more difficult and harder to dig out of these holes. So it is a challenge with starting in the back and not scoring stage points in the first stage. It’s hard to come through the field and score stage points in Stage 1 when you start in the back. It’s just a really different approach and set of circumstances in starting the race based off where you finished last time and your pit select being off that. It definitely makes the momentum harder to swing and turn around.”

Ryan Newman agrees.

“Yeah there’s no doubt that the starting procedure is a big hinderance if you had a bad last week or mired back after a couple of bad races in the points” said the Roush Fenway Racing driver. “That system it is what it is. Everybody has an opportunity, but I’d much rather prefer where there’s a random draw for a starting position because in the grand scheme of things, I think that’s the way it should be. We haven’t done a good enough job. We need to do a better job and move up. When we had a good finish at Homestead, we didn’t make the best of it the following week and that’s on us. We’ve got to sharpen up our pencils in respect of making our cars better so we can capitalize on that starting procedure. But yes, it is no fun when you have a bad weekend and having to start in the back, especially on some race tracks where it’s a challenge more so to pass and you’re sometimes counting on your pit crew to pass more cars than you’re able to on the race track.”

Will We Get Another New Winner Or A Repeat Winner?

This Sunday in Atlanta, the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 is the sixth race of the 2021 season already. Through the first five races, we’ve seen five different winners. Does that streak push to six? If so, you’re betting against the likes of Michael McDowell (best finish of 24th in Atlanta), Christopher Bell (3rd, 1st in NXS competition, 1st in Trucks too, 3 top 10’s in last 4 races on season), William Byron (best finish of 17th in Atlanta but 3 straight top 8’s on the year), Kyle Larson (2 top 10’s in last 3 in Atlanta, 4 top 10’s in 5 races in 2021) and Martin Truex Jr. (6 straight top 8 finishes in Atlanta and 8 of the last 9, also 3 straight top 6’s on the season).

You’re also getting good value though with the drivers that have not won too.

Here’s who you’re getting this weekend that have also not won a race this season.

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. He also has four top 10’s over five starts in 2021 too.

Chase Elliott

He’s never won on his hometrack but the Georgia native does have four top 10’s in five tries. He’s also coming off of a fifth place finish last Sunday.

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.

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.

So which grouping do you take? Do we see a repeat winner or a sixth different victor of the season?

With Martin Truex Jr. taking the checkered flag last weekend, the 2021 season marks the 15th time in the NASCAR Cup Series Modern Era (1972-Present) that the season schedule has opened with five different winners (2021, 2017, 2014, 2013, 2011, 2005, 2003, 2001, 2000, 1998, 1993, 1991, 1986, 1984, 1979). This weekend, the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 (3 p.m. ET on FOX, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at Atlanta Motor Speedway will have the chance to produce the sixth different NASCAR Cup Series winner of the 2021 season making it the eighth different season to start the year with six different drivers in Victory Lane; joining 2014, 2003, 2001, 2000, 1991, 1986, 1984.

The Modern Era record of different winners to start a NASCAR Cup Series season is 10 set back in 2000. Dale Earnhardt Jr. snapped the streak winning his second race of the 2000 season at Richmond (Race No. 11).

Season Race No. Winners Track Date
2000 1 Dale Jarrett Daytona Sunday, February 20, 2000
2000 2 Bobby Labonte Rockingham Sunday, February 27, 2000
2000 3 Jeff Burton Las Vegas Sunday, March 5, 2000
2000 4 Dale Earnhardt Atlanta Sunday, March 12, 2000
2000 5 Ward Burton Darlington Sunday, March 19, 2000
2000 6 Rusty Wallace Bristol Sunday, March 26, 2000
2000 7 Dale Earnhardt Jr Texas Sunday, April 2, 2000
2000 8 Mark Martin Martinsville Sunday, April 9, 2000
2000 9 Jeff Gordon Talladega Sunday, April 16, 2000
2000 10 Jeremy Mayfield Auto Club Sunday, April 30, 2000

In the Modern Era (1972-2021), the record for the most different NASCAR Cup Series winners in a single season in its entirety is 19 set back in 2001. The series has also seen a total of 18 different winners (second-most) in a single season twice – in 2002 and 2011. Last season the series produced 13 different winners.

There are five former NASCAR Cup Series Atlanta Motor Speedway winners entered this weekend looking for their first win of the 2021 season: Kevin Harvick (three wins), Kurt Busch (three), Brad Keselowski (two), Kyle Busch (two) and Denny Hamlin (one).

Brad Keselowski during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on February 24, 2019 in Hampton, Georgia.

Can Ford Keep Atlanta Dominance Going?

Ford has been en fuego in Atlanta lately. They’ve won four straight. Both Brad Keselowski (2017, 2019) and Kevin Harvick (2018, 2020) have alternated victories. Can they keep that streak going on Sunday which would put Keselowski into victory?

He’s finished in the top two in three of the last four years. Harvick meanwhile, has three straight top four results including six straight top 10’s. He’s led 100 or more laps in seven of the last nine races at that too.

The longest consecutive wins streak by a manufacturer in the NASCAR Cup Series at Atlanta Motor Speedway is four victories and both Ford and Chevrolet have accomplished the feat three times.

  • Ford(1964 sweep-1965 sweep)
    • (Nov. 1991, 1992 sweep, Mar. 1993)
    • (2017, 2018, 2019, 2020).
  • Chevrolet(1983 sweep-1984 sweep)
    • (1995 sweep-1996 sweep)
    • (2003 sweep-2004 sweep).

Ford has the opportunity to become the first manufacturer to win five straight at Atlanta Motor Speedway in the NASCAR Cup Series this weekend.

HAMPTON, GA – FEBRUARY 24: Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, leads a pack of cars during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on February 24, 2019 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Is Bristol Overshadowing Atlanta This Weekend

The NASCAR Cup Series is racing at the Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend. Unless you’ve been paying attention to the site or seeing Fox Sports promote Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500, you may not know there was a race this weekend feel like the Bristol Dirt Race was the next one up.

See, Bristol has been getting a lot of attention this season. That’s because Bristol is a widely popular race track and when you throw dirt on the half mile Tennessee oval, you’re going to get even more headlines.

Next Sunday will mark the first Cup Series race on dirt since 1970. Factor in it being in Bristol and well, you get some attention. Throw in that said race being next weekend, and you can see why the anticipation and excitement is growing by the day. We’ve seen several driver announcements in the past few days of Cup drivers running in the Truck Series event there the day before. That’s helped the attention skip past this week and into next.

But, before we get to Bristol, we have to go through Atlanta first and that’s been a topic this week on if the Bristol Dirt Race is overshadowing Atlanta in some way. With how this week up until this point has transpired, you can make a solid case that it has.

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