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

What Will The Racing Look Like?

This isn’t only the first question among the five, but arguably the most important one. It’s the elephant in the room. What will this weekend look like? Will Sunday’s race look like one for a 1.5-mile type of race or more like Daytona/Talladega.

See, this wasn’t a popular decision in the garage to redo Atlanta. This was always one of the more popular race tracks on the schedule. The old worn out surface led way to phenomenal racing due to the amount of tire falloff and the many lanes you had to race on.

The repave though, while not wanted by the drivers, we knew would eventually happen. It hadn’t been done since 1997 and with the surface barely hanging on, something needed to be done soon. You couldn’t keep patching it.

But, that’s not what drew the ire of the garage. They didn’t like it but knew it needed done. What made them mad was, not only did Atlanta go through a repave, they did some reconfiguring and added banking. By the way of it, this race could look a lot like the ones you see on superspeedway’s, hence the exact same package.

Now, with this being a 500-mile race, will it look like the Daytona 500? I doubt it. It’s 1 mile shorter in length than Daytona and does have some different characteristics like a dog leg instead of a tri-oval as well as smaller banking than Daytona, but other than that, it could be similar in ways.

Plus, with a Next Gen car, I don’t think anything about the past Atlanta can translate over to this one. So, what will this one resemble?

It’s anyone’s guess.

HAMPTON, GEORGIA – JULY 11: Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #19 Auto-Owners Insurance Toyota, 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 Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Can JGR Get Going?

As we head back east, Joe Gibbs Racing is honestly reeling. We’ve had four different teams with four different drivers win races. JGR and Toyota aren’t one of them.

Martin Truex Jr. has only led 12 total laps and while he swept the two stages in Daytona, was 13th, 13th, 8th and 35th on the season in finishes. Denny Hamlin had issues in the Clash, wrecked in the Daytona 500, had overheating issues in Fontana, made a costly mistake shifting after his final stop in Vegas and was plagued by pit road problems in Phoenix. He has no top 10’s all season (37th, 15th, 32nd and 13th) with 31 laps led.

Christopher Bell was 34th in Daytona, 36th in Fontana, qualified on the pole in Vegas but spun while running third and finished 10th. He qualified fourth in Phoenix but spun again and came home 26th. 3 of his 4 races being 26th or worse with 32 laps led himself.

The best has been Kyle Busch and he should have won if not for that late caution in Vegas and while he’s led 77 laps, he’s not had a smooth season thus far. Still, he has 3 top 7’s in four races so when he does heat up, watch out.

They sit 2nd (Busch), 13th (Truex Jr.), 27th (Hamlin) and 30th (Bell) heading to Atlanta.

The thing is, Toyota’s have 2 wins in Atlanta but 0-for-9 over the last 9 races in the Peachtree State. Truex Jr. is 0-for-24 but does have 10 top 10’s since 2012 (11 starts) to go along with four top fives in his last five. The thing is, if this races like Daytona/Talladega, these are his better tracks.

Hamlin, 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 in 2020 and a fourth last March. Unlike Truex, if this races like a superspeedway, he’s among the best in the game today and has those 3 top fives in his last 5 starts in Atlanta to make him a viable option.

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.

Busch may be their top guy again though. 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.

What Will SMI Do Next?

Atlanta is just the latest outside of the box project that SMI has done. I have a feeling though, it’s not the last. From the Texas repave/reconfigure, to Charlotte moving the Fall race to the ROVAL, to Bristol moving the spring race to a dirt event and now to Atlanta’s similar fate to Texas, what’s next?

They have to do so in order to stay ahead of the NASCAR owned tracks. New Hampshire lost a date, Atlanta was down to one date, Dover was looking bleak, Kentucky was gone, it was time for some changes.

So, Dover gets a date shifted to Nashville Superspeedway who maybe soon gets moved to the Fairgrounds? Is that the next move?

They moved the All-Star race from Charlotte to Bristol to now Texas for a second straight year which takes a points paying weekend away from the Lone Star State track.

Atlanta does this and now has two dates again. Vegas has poured a lot in to keep two dates. Sonoma isn’t going anywhere. Charlotte’s two separate dates (oval, ROVAL) seem to be their future. Bristol is clearly thinking outside of the box.

So, what’s next?

HAMPTON, GEORGIA – MARCH 21: Ryan Blaney, driver of the #12 BodyArmor Ford, crosses the finish line to win the NASCAR Cup Series Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on March 21, 2021 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Can Ford Keep Atlanta Dominance Going?

Ford has been en fuego in Atlanta lately. They’ve won five of the last 6. Both Brad Keselowski (2017, 2019) and Kevin Harvick (2018, 2020) had alternated victories before Ryan Blaney’s triumph last spring. Can they keep that streak going on Sunday?

Keselowski was outside the top 20 in March of last year and 10th in the summer, but had finished in the top two in three of the last four years prior. Harvick meanwhile, has 13 top 10’s in his last 15 there. He’s led 100 or more laps in seven of the last 11 races at that too.

Ford broke the longest consecutive wins streak by a manufacturer in the NASCAR Cup Series at Atlanta Motor Speedway lastspring as the previous best was four victories. 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, 2021).
  • Chevrolet(1983 sweep-1984 sweep)
    • (1995 sweep-1996 sweep)
    • (2003 sweep-2004 sweep).

Plus, Ford’s dominated Daytona which would be more of an indicator than Atlanta would have been like last year. Ford swept the entire top five in every practice session during Speedweeks, swept the top 3 in both Duels and also put four cars in the top five in the Daytona 500.

Add it all up and you get what could be a dominating day out of the blue ovals on Sunday.

Can Elliott Get Hometown Victory?

Chase Elliott has been NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver for four years now. He’s coming off of a championship a couple of years ago and is hoping to keep scratching items off his to do list. Obviously one of them is to win the Daytona 500. He’s still not done that yet. Another big one for Elliott is to win on his home track in Atlanta. That’s something his dad did five times. Elliott, is currently 0-for-7 in Cup. Can he get an Atlanta win in his eighth start on Sunday?

“I would love to have a win at Atlanta,” Elliott said of his hometrack. “I feel like anyone’s home track you want to have a win at for sure. I would love to go and have a good run in Atlanta. It’s always going to be a special place for me. I’ve spent a lot of time racing legends cars down there so for sure I’d love to go and have a good run.”

Elliott also notes though that while he’d love to get a win in his home state, he’d just like to win anywhere too.

“I’m not super picky when it comes to a win,” Elliott continued. “I’m good with wherever. A win would be great though. I would love to get that done one day and be able to have one there for sure.”

He’s had a top 10 in five of his previous seven tries. It’s just that he’s only had one top five finish in those seven starts too. What has he been missing there? They hope that they can figure that out and put his No. 9 Chevrolet in victory lane on Sunday afternoon.

“Frankly, I really don’t know why,” Elliott said. “We’ve gone there and had some really good runs, a couple days where I thought we were capable of winning. And then, we’ve been there and been way out to lunch.

“I’m not exactly sure what that is all the time. Obviously, car configurations and rules and different packages play a role in it. Hopefully, this week, we can be more on the ‘hit’ side and execute a good race. Definitely have to have a good race to give yourself a shot to win.”

He led the most laps in the season opening Daytona 500, a race that could be a precursor to this weekend, so it’s anyone’s guess.

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