Column by: SHANE CARLSON / RPW – HAMPTON, GA – Atlanta Motor Speedway couldn’t come soon enough for many of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series teams. Multiple big pileups ended many teams’ days short of the finish line, and relegated them to bad finishes.
Luckily, there’s always next week in racing, and the 200 mile-per-hour circus brings their act to Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend. As mentioned in both the XFINITY and Truck Series previews, the track is going to be the beast that may not get slayed, but merely tamed this weekend. A greasy, slick racetrack will provide a challenge to each driver as they try to dial in the handling on their cars as best they can.
Another key to winning on the old Atlanta surface is going to be what line the drivers use on the track. Some drivers like to get their left-side tires as close to or even on or below the yellow line in the corners. As a result, this helps the car “hook” through the center of the corner and help the handling in the corners.
The downside to this is the drivers will need to be off the throttle slightly longer than they would if they chose to run up high next to the wall. Kevin Harvick will be hooking the bottom of the racetrack, while you can expect Kyle Larson to rim-ride around the high side and try to make speed at the top line of the racetrack.
One of the reasons Atlanta is such a popular track is because it provides multiple lanes for passing, and the tire falloff is measurable, which all leads to some great finishes. To name a few: 2000 when Dale Earnhardt edged out a hard-charging Bobby Labonte, 2001 when Kevin Harvick beat Jeff Gordon by a bumper, 2005 when Carl Edwards bested Jimmie Johnson at the stripe, 2011 when Jeff Gordon outlasted teammate Jimmie Johnson, and 2012 when Denny Hamlin denied Jeff Gordon a win. Atlanta has a knack for providing some of the sport’s most memorable theatrics, and this weekend could be another one to add to the highlight reel.
My Pick to Win is…
No. 4 Jimmy John’s Ford Fusion
Harvick has only one career Cup win at Atlanta, an emotional victory coming in just his third start taking over for the late Dale Earnhardt in the rebranded No. 29 where he was forced to fend off Jeff Gordon. After qualifying third for the Cup race on Friday afternoon, he went out and dominated the XFINITY Series race on Saturday. Added seat time can only help his effort on Sunday, where he seems to be the class of the field as other drivers couldn’t figure out what makes him so fast in Atlanta. Last year, he led 292 laps before falling to ninth-place finish. He wants to rid that taste from his mouth.
Sunday, Feb. 25
1:00 PM ET
Folds of Honor Quick Trip 500
Radio: Performance Racing Network
MONSTER ENERGY NASCAR CUP SERIES POWER RANKINGS
- Austin Dillon: It would be a sin not to put the Daytona 500 champ at the top of this list.
- Ryan Blaney: Blazing fast in that highlighter yellow Ford last Sunday, Blaney had the car to win, but was shuffled out of the draft late and finished a disappointing seventh.
- Darrell Wallace Jr.: Bubba’s race was filled with just as many storylines as the winner’s was. A tremendous start to his full-time tenure at Richard Petty Motorsports, the challenge for his team now lies in the 1.5-milers and making sure the equipment is up to par.
- Denny Hamlin: He was in position to win his second Daytona 500, but with no other Toyotas around in the front of the draft, he was left with no playmates on the playground and wound up third.
- Joey Logano: Logano was also in position for his second Daytona 500 trophy, but found himself more-often-than-not being the pusher instead of the one being pushed at the end. Regardless, the Penske-powered Fords were strong all week.
- Paul Menard: I’d say the change of scenery for Menard has already started to pay off. Moving over from Richard Childress Racing Chevrolets to the famed Wood Brothers Ford has been an upgrade for him and it showed as did the alliance with Penske. Do not be surprised if the ever-playful (just kidding) Paul Menard gets a win or two.
- Chris Buescher: Perhaps the most under-appreciated young talent at the Cup level, Buescher kept his JTG Daugherty Chevy in mint condition for a fifth-place finish. I think people forget he has more wins than Chase Elliott. (Buescher-1, Elliott-0)
- AJ Allmendinger: The Dinger was close behind his JTG Daugherty teammate Chris Buescher, in 10th after starting mid-pack in 20th. It capped off a great day for the two-car team.
- Michael McDowell: That 34 car has a way of making themselves known whenever they get to Daytona or Talladega it seems. McDowell is a new addition to that team this year, and bringing home a top-10 is a great way to build the momentum and cohesion of Front Row Motorsports into the remainder of the schedule.
- Aric Almirola: What could have been. The Florida native was the leader on the last lap until he blocked Austin Dillon (rightly so) and Dillon’s front bumper sent a perfectly good racecar into the wall. Almirola had no problem with Dillon going for the win, but you could read the heartache on his face.