NASCAR Pre-Race Media: Atlanta Track Trends, Race Preview, etc

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

Sunday will mark the 116th race at the Atlanta Motor Speedway for the NASCAR Cup Series. This is one of the most historic tracks on the schedule with a lot of rich history. Atlanta though, was also a popular track on the schedule due to the aged surface. See, when the track was reconfigured for 1997 and beyond, they also repaved it then. That was also the last time that the asphalt has been replaced. That stat made it the third oldest surface in NASCAR trailing only Dover (1995) and Fontana (1996). Now though, a repave and partial reconfiguration will make this race a brand new ball game. In fact, it may look more of Daytona and Talladega than Atlanta of old.

Some key trends are as follows.

  • Ford has won every Cup race in Atlanta with the exception of one since 2017.
  • Don’t look for much out of the Toyota camp. They’ve won just twice in the Peachtree state and have failed to reach victory lane there since 2014.
  • Expect few cautions – we’ve had six or fewer for seven straight races including five in four of the last five tries.
  • Starting spots matter – 5 of the last 6 started inside of the top 10 (Ryan Blaney started 10th back in the spring, Kurt Busch 8th last summer)
  • Since stages began, the race winner scored stage points in every stage minus 1 race (2019). Last year, the eventual race winner finished in the top three in each stage. In fact, since 2017, the winner finished in the top 5 in 5 of the 6 Stage 1’s including 4 in the top 3 to go along with the top 7 in 5 of the 6 Stage 2’s.
  • The final green flag run to the checkered has been at least 43 laps in each of the last 4 races including 101 and 90 laps respectively last year and 108 laps in 2020.

TRACK COMPARISONS

Prior to the repave, this wasn’t your typical 1.5-mile either. It has a dogleg on the front stretch to make it most similar to the Texas Motor Speedway as well as the Charlotte Motor Speedway. But, while it may look similar to those two, it’s hard to compare in the sense that Texas had been repaved and the first and second corners vary from Atlanta.

That made maybe Charlotte the closest comparison in terms of shape but Darlington, Homestead and Fontana were the most closest in comparison in terms of how to setup the car to combat the aged surface. Fontana and Atlanta had two of the oldest racing surfaces in the sport today and Homestead is always abrasive on tries. That’s why for Atlanta, you had to compare this track to tracks with old surfaces and not other 1.5-milers.

In turn, it created a bumpy and aged track that produced high tire wear and multiple lanes to race in. Because of that, Atlanta had become one of the drivers’ favorite tracks to compete on.

Now, that’s all out the window. The repave and racing package makes this closely resembling Daytona/Talladega instead.

The track was supposed to go through a repave a few years ago, but due to the drivers’ input, they decided to patch some of the cracks and holes instead of fully repave it. They had no choice this time around.


HAMPTON, GEORGIA – JULY 11: Kyle Larson, driver of the #5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet, drives during the NASCAR Cup Series Quaker State 400 presented by Walmart at Atlanta Motor Speedway on July 11, 2021 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Favorites

Kyle Larson

Hard to bet against him. He should have won this race last year in sweeping both stages as well as leading 269 of 325 laps. He was only 18th though in the summer race though but has 2 top 2’s in his last 3 starts on the season.

Ryan Blaney

He was fourth in 2020, won this race in 2021 and fifth in the July race last year. Blaney has a pair of fourth place finishes in 4 races this season but if not for pit road, he would have won by now. He’s one of the best superspeedway racers today.

Denny Hamlin

He has three top fives in his last five in Atlanta as well as arguably being the top superspeedway racer in the game today. Combine all together and you get a potential race winner for these odds.

Kyle Busch

Since 2010, Busch has scored nine top seven results in his last 12 Atlanta starts. He may have only led 18 combined laps over his last seven Atlanta starts prior to leading 91 circuits last July but he also has six top seven’s in his last seven too including a fifth place run in March and runner-up to his brother last July. He also has 3 top 7’s in 4 races this year at that.

Kevin Harvick

Harvick is a lap leader king in Atlanta, but failed to lead a lap in either race last year. Prior to 2021, 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 last March’s goose egg. Harvick, also has 13 top 10 finishes in his last 16 starts on the Georgia race track too including a win in 2020. Over his last eight starts, he’s finished second, sixth, ninth, first, fourth, first, 10th and 11th respectively. Harvick has 2 top 10’s in his last 3 starts on the season and was a factor to win February’s Daytona 500.

Sleepers

Ross Chastain

Busch won in this car last year while Chastain has finished 3rd and 2nd respectively in each of the last two weeks. 3rd, 2nd…1st?

Kurt Busch

He is a former winner (2009, 2010, 2021) and despite crashing and finishing last back in March, he rebounded to win in July. Busch, has six top eight finishes in his last seven starts on the track and 10 in his last 13 starts. Other than March of last year, his worst finish since 2010 in Atlanta is 13th. He was third in 2019 and sixth in 2020 and has a win in 2021. He also has 2 top 8’s in his last 3 starts on the season.

Alex Bowman

He was third and fourth respectively last year and always fast on superspeedway’s.

Tyler Reddick

He was 26th last March but sixth in the summer race. He led the most laps (90) in Fontana, 7th in Vegas and 3rd last week.

Brad Keselowski

I don’t know if I trust RFK Racing yet and Keselowski was ninth, 28th and 10th in his last three in Atlanta. Prior to that run, he had three straight top two’s. Prior to that? 35th, 39th, 9th and 9th respectively. Also, Keselowski has been 27th, 24th and 23rd in the three non Daytona races this year. Granted, this could look like Daytona so for his odds, why not?


Who To Fade?

Chase Elliott

He’s never won on his hometrack but the Georgia native does have five top 10’s in seven tries. The only catch is, he’s had just 1 top five finish in that span. He’s more of a fantasy option than a race winner.

Joey Logano

His last four Atlanta starts have seen him finish 23rd, 10th, 15th and 19th respectively.

Martin Truex Jr.

He’s 0-for-24 in Atlanta but does have 10 top 10’s since 2012 (11 starts) to go along with four top fives in his last five. On the year, he’s been 13th, 13th, 8th and 36th respectively and heading to a track that will race like a superspeedway (his worst tracks).

William Byron

Just 1 top 10 and no top fives in 5 Atlanta starts. Byron, also is an up and down speedway racer, so may be best to skip him this weekend.

Christopher Bell

Why not here? Well let me tell you. Bell, was third and first respectively on this very race track in his two Xfinity Series starts on it. He won the Truck Series race in 2017 too to go along with being eighth here last July. That’s all great. However, 3 of his 4 finishes in 2022 were 26th or worse and he has no top fives in Atlanta in Cup action.

Aric Almirola

Only 2 top 10’s in 12 tries including 8 of which being 15th or worse.

Cole Custer

19th, 18th and 17th in his three Atlanta starts.


Preview

NASCAR is off to another wild start. 28-1 Austin Cindric won the Daytona 500. 18-1 Alex Bowman won in Vegas while 50-1 Chase Briscoe was victorious last Sunday in Phoenix. Kyle Larson was only 4-1 in his Fontana win to resemble any sort of relevance this year.

Four drivers. Four teams. All different winners. Will we get a fifth this weekend?

I mean, for the ones that have won this season, why pick them in general? That’s why this year has been so unpredictable.

Cindric, was a rookie in the Daytona 500. Of the previous 63 Daytona 500 races, only eight times has a driver posted his career-first NASCAR Cup Series victory with a win in the event. Also, only 2 drivers have ever won the Daytona 500 in their first appearance. That was Lee Petty (1959 inaugural race) and Trevor Bayne (2011).

So why would anyone side with a rookie?

Same for Bowman in Vegas. He had 1 top 5 in 8 prior starts there including both last year being 27th and 22nd respectively.

Same for Briscoe last weekend. He said Phoenix used to be his worst race track and his results last year as a rookie in Cup there were 22nd and 35th respectively.

Now, NASCAR will embark back east again for Sunday’s race in Atlanta. This time though, while it may be the 116th time we’ve been to the Georgia race track, this race will likely not look like the previous 115.

That’s because Atlanta not only went through a repave since the series has been here last, but a part reconfiguration too which will have a racing package this weekend like the ones you see annually at Daytona and Talladega.

Will it race that way though? No one truly knows. It’s strictly a guess between a race that looks like Daytona/Talladega or one that resembles a 1.5-mile one. That’s why we’re getting Daytona/Talladega like odds this weekend.

It’s hard to base any true favorites or not because we don’t know. If you base things off past Atlanta trends, then the Ford’s (won all but 1 since 2017) are the favorites. You could exclude the Toyota’s too then (2 wins today, 0-for-last-9). But, does that now change?

Toyota’s are the only manufacturer not to win this season (0-for-4) as they’ve won just four times in the last 21 races. However, while Martin Truex Jr. is 0-for-24 in Atlanta and has 1 top 10 in four races this season, he also has 4 top fives in his last five in the Peachtree state. Denny Hamlin has no top 10’s all year but 3 top fives in his last 5 in Atlanta and arguably the top superspeedway racer today. Kyle Busch has 3 top 10’s in 4 races this season as well as 6 top 10’s in his last 7 in Atlanta including 3 straight top fives (2 runner-ups) in that span. Christopher Bell has finished 26th or worse in 3 of his 4 races this season but was 8th last time out in Atlanta. You also can’t discredit what 23XI Racing is doing. 3 top 10’s in 4 races this year with Kurt Busch having 2 of them. He won four times in 31 Atlanta starts including just last July. Granted, that was with Chevrolet power, but Busch has 7 top 10’s in his last 8 Atlanta tries.

In saying that, the Ford camp was still the most dominant manufacturer in Daytona though so maybe there’s more to this than we thought. They went 1-2-3-4-5 in all four practices, 1-2-3 and 1-2-3-4 in the two Duels as well as putting three cars in the top five in the Daytona 500 itself.

Ryan Blaney (+1000) is the defending race winner and is right there with Hamlin as one of the best superspeedway racers around right now.

That’s why the odds are greatly in our favor this week and more wide open.

Of Note

Does the repave make this race like a superspeedway and throw all of these past stats out?


Key Stat

Toyota is 0-for-9 in their last nine Atlanta starts and only has 2 total wins in Atlanta.

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