NASCAR Pre-Race Media: Sunday’s Quaker State 400 (3:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, PRN) race favorites/preview

TRACK: Atlanta Motor Speedway (1.54-Mile, Dogleg Oval)

Starting Lineup

Favorites – Can Ford keep reign going?

Kyle Larson

Hard to bet against him. He’s won twice on 1.5-mile tracks this season including what should have been a third in Kansas and a fourth in the spring race in Atlanta. He led 269 of 325 laps in March and enters as the easy favorite.

Kevin Harvick

Harvick is a lap leader king in Atlanta, but failed to lead a lap this past March. Prior to this year, the California native had 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 prior to March’s goose egg. Harvick, also has 13 top 10 finishes in his last 15 starts on the Georgia race track too including a win last year. Over his last seven starts, he’s finished second, sixth, ninth, first, fourth, first and 10th respectively.

Chase Elliott

He’s never won on his hometrack but the Georgia native does have four top 10’s in six tries and emerges after a win in Road America last Sunday.

Denny Hamlin

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

Kyle Busch

Since 2010, Busch has scored eight top seven results in his last 11 Atlanta starts. He may have only led 18 combined laps over his last seven Atlanta starts but he also has five top seven’s in his last six too including a fifth place run in March.

Race Preview

For the first time since the 2010 season, the NASCAR Cup Series will come to the Atlanta Motor Speedway twice in the same year. Atlanta is one of the drivers’ favorite tracks with the 1.54-mile track being the second oldest racing surface on the schedule. That changes next year obviously as this will be the final race on this surface.

The current track creates a lot of tire wear and multiple grooves to race on. Next years will be the opposite.

While the track also has a ton of past history, the recent stretch has seen this go to all Ford’s. They’ve won five straight with Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick alternating wins in each of the last four years then Ryan Blaney this past March. 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 23 tries but does have nine top nine finishes in his last 10 tries including three top fives in his last four. Denny Hamlin hasn’t won since 2012 but has three top fives in his last four starts. Kyle Busch hasn’t won since 2013 but he was runner-up last year to go along with seven top seven finishes in his last nine Atlanta tries. They were 2-3-5 a year ago, 4-5-9 this spring 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?

Well, I say not so fast on all of this.

Chevy may have something to say again. They won Homestead with William Byron on a worn surface and saw Alex Bowman finish third in March.

Plus Hendrick Motorsports has won half of the 20 races this season including 8 of the last 9 including the all-star race. They won 15 of the last 34 races overall after only scoring 14 wins in the previous 133 tries.

Kyle Larson could be the overall man to beat because of that. Coming into this year, Larson’s didn’t have 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 he excelled this spring.

He led 269 of 325 laps but was caught and passed by Blaney in the end. I don’t expect them to allow that to happen again. Larson, has led 66% (831 of 1,259) laps on 1.5-mile tracks this season with seven stage wins and a runner-up in nine stages run. He has a top two in three of the four races as well.

On older surfaces, Larson, has four top five finishes in his last six Homestead starts. Then you factor in Darlington. He has four top three’s in his last five starts on that track and a top 10 in six of his last seven.

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.

Chase Elliott has never won in Atlanta but does have five top two finishes in his last eight starts on the season including a win last Sunday.

This may be Chevys race to lose instead. They may get some pressure in the form of JGR though, not Ford, most notably Kyle Busch.

Busch has three straight top threes including six in the last 10. Hamlin, hasn’t finished better than fourth in his last 11 races while Truex has two top fives in his last 10.

Penske is slumping too with Keselowski not having finished 10th or worse in 8 of his last 9. Logano has one top five in his last six and three in the last 11 with Blaney having one top five since his Atlanta win.

SHR is no where near their old form either.

This could all spell and end to Fords reign in Atlanta on Sunday.

Of Note

We’ve seen 14 different winners in the last 23 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 five 1.5-mile tracks in 2021. William Byron (Homestead), Kyle Larson (Vegas), Ryan Blaney (Atlanta), Kyle Busch (Kansas) and Kyle Larson (Charlotte) have won them.

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.

Key Stat

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

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