For the first time of the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season, they’ll return to a track for a 2nd time. Does that help or hurt the show in Sunday’s Quaker State 400 (3 p.m. ET, USA, PRN). In this new era of how race weekend’s are being conducted, you get very minimal track time before the actual race itself.
The final 32 races of the 2020 season saw no practice. Last year, only the new tracks got any sort of practice and/or qualifying. This year, a return to each ensued but on a very minimal basis. Usually just 1 short practice session that rolls into qualifying. There’s not very many adjustments that can realistically be made. In turn, it’s set up way more parity than we’ve ever seen before.
We’re not crossing over into the second half of the season and we’ve witnessed 13 different winners in 18 races run. How many more will we get over the final 18 weeks?
See, if we ran race weekend’s like we did in the past, we’d have 3 practices plus qualifying. The bigger teams had plenty of time to figure out how to get their cars dialed in for the race that way which is why the bigger teams normally dominated the show. Now, they’re guessing.
Plus, with a new car, it’s completely altered the game. No one has a leg up on anyone. That’s why I was wondering with a second trip to a track now, does this give any sort of advantage back to the big teams even if we’re not practicing this weekend?
Atlanta this past spring raced a lot like Daytona and Talladega. There’s drafting involved now. Do you really need practice for an event like this anyhow? You’ve had the Daytona 500, Talladega and a spring race here.
That’s why this weekend being the first race back to a track for a 2nd time may not be any sort of advantage or even a disadvantage. There’s not many adjustments you can make between race weekend’s for superspeedway’s. It’s an entirely different beast.
Which means we could have the potential to see a 14th different winner on the year on Sunday. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Brad Keselowski are great speedway racers and can easily pick up a win here and take a potential playoff berth with them. The thing is, neither have had much success on superspeedway’s this season either. Stenhouse has been 28th or worse in all 3 while Keselowski was 9th, 12th and 23rd respectively himself.
Still, the playoff bubble drivers are going to be sweating even more so than the Georgia heat is providing. 2 of the 3 wildcard drivers belong to Joe Gibbs Racing. While Toyota’s have been off on road courses, they’ve gained on speedway’s.
Bell was credited with a 23rd place finish here in March but that’s because he got a penalty on the final lap while running 2nd. Martin Truex Jr. was 13th, 8th and 5th in the 3 speedway races. He’s 0-for-25 in Atlanta though and while he does have 11 top 10’s since 2012 (12 starts) to go along with four top fives in his last six, this race will run like a superspeedway and those are arguably Truex’s worst tracks. He’s never won on them before.
Kevin Harvick was 30th, 21st and 10th on speedway races this season. Aric Almirola was 5th, 22nd and 13th so he could certainly close the gap to his teammate and even Truex Jr.
The one I have my eye on is Bubba Wallace. He was 2nd before Bell got by him on the final lap in March. He finished 2nd in the Daytona 500 and the Coke Zero Sugar 400 last August. He won Talladega last Fall. This may be his best shot until Daytona next month to pick up a win and a playoff berth.
If not him, then I look back to the top of the standings now for your winner. While speedway races typically produce wild results, Atlanta on Sunday my reward the top 3 in poitns.
Ryan Blaney is also winless on the year but he’s 2nd in points at the midway makr. He won at Atlanta last year, is a strong speedway racer and has 3 top 6 finishes in the last 4 weeks of the season. I like his No. 12 Ford, especially since the Ford camp has won all but 2 Atlanta races since 2017. 1 of which though wasn’t in March. In saying that, Ford’s still have in my opinion the top speedway package. They went 1-2-3-4-5 in all four Daytona 500 practices, 1-2-3 (Duel 1), 1-2-3-4 (Duel 2) and 3 cars in the top 5 for the ‘500 itself.
However, Chevrolet is 2-for-3 on speedway tracks this season though too and a pair of Chevy drivers that sit 1-3 in points are right there to capitalize too.
Points leader Chase Elliott is 0-for-8 on his hometrack but was 6th back in March and has a top 10 in all 3 speedway races run this season. He also enters with 2 straight top 2 results on the year as well.
Ross Chastain won Talladega, was 2nd here in March and has 7 top 8 results in the last 9 races including 4 straight.
Kyle Larson is 4th in points on the heels of 2 straight top 5 finishes (4th, 3rd) but with the Atlanta changeover, this doesn’t suit him anymore. Larson has never won a superspeedway race and has just 1 top 5 in 32 starts on them at that. He was 30th back in March.
Joey Logano is 5th in points but his last 5 Atlanta starts have seen him finish 23rd, 10th, 15th, 19th and 9th respectively. He was 21st (Daytona) and 32nd (Talladega) in the other 2 speedway races run this season.
Kyle Busch was once the hottest driver in the sport with 8 top 10’s in a 9 race span including 3 straight top 3’s but has finished 30th, 21st and 29th respectively since. H was 6th and 3rd respectively on the other 2 superspeedway races this season though and was runner-up in this very race last year too. This will say a lot about this momentum.
That’s why this race could go either direction Sunday.