Ambetter Health 400 Preview: New Superspeedway

Ambetter Health 400 Preview: New Superspeedway

This article is part of our Weekly Preview series.

This weekend NASCAR pulls into Atlanta Motor Speedway for the first of two visits in the 2022 season. The lightning-fast intermediate oval will host the Ambetter Health 400 this Sunday afternoon. Racing at Atlanta is a completely different game than the just-completed Phoenix event. This track produces high speeds and lots of side-by-side racing action. In addition, the Atlanta oval underwent a big repaving and redesign project during the off-season of 2021. The asphalt at Atlanta had not been repaved since 1997, making it the oldest surface that NASCAR competed on. In addition, the banking was given a radical redesign. The former 24-degree corner banking was increased to a whopping 28-degrees while keeping the banking on the straights at a modest five-degrees. The racing groove was also narrowed from 55 to 40 feet, coupling the higher speeds in the turns with less room to move about. Atlanta is now truly like no other intermediate oval on the NASCAR circuit. The racing at Atlanta last season resembled more of the action that we see on the larger, superspeedway ovals like Daytona and Talladega. Aerodynamics, drafting and moving through the field with momentum are now the standard characteristics of Atlanta, and all that action packed into a 1.5-mile oval. 

The intermediate oval is the most frequent type of track found on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule. This event will likely be a big outlier thanks to the radically new configuration of Atlanta Motor Speedway and what we witnessed there in 2022. However,

This weekend NASCAR pulls into Atlanta Motor Speedway for the first of two visits in the 2022 season. The lightning-fast intermediate oval will host the Ambetter Health 400 this Sunday afternoon. Racing at Atlanta is a completely different game than the just-completed Phoenix event. This track produces high speeds and lots of side-by-side racing action. In addition, the Atlanta oval underwent a big repaving and redesign project during the off-season of 2021. The asphalt at Atlanta had not been repaved since 1997, making it the oldest surface that NASCAR competed on. In addition, the banking was given a radical redesign. The former 24-degree corner banking was increased to a whopping 28-degrees while keeping the banking on the straights at a modest five-degrees. The racing groove was also narrowed from 55 to 40 feet, coupling the higher speeds in the turns with less room to move about. Atlanta is now truly like no other intermediate oval on the NASCAR circuit. The racing at Atlanta last season resembled more of the action that we see on the larger, superspeedway ovals like Daytona and Talladega. Aerodynamics, drafting and moving through the field with momentum are now the standard characteristics of Atlanta, and all that action packed into a 1.5-mile oval. 

The intermediate oval is the most frequent type of track found on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule. This event will likely be a big outlier thanks to the radically new configuration of Atlanta Motor Speedway and what we witnessed there in 2022. However, historical data will still serve a somewhat useful purpose. It will be good to acquaint ourselves with which drivers have had success at Atlanta in the past, so that we may get a good idea of who could adapt quickly and succeed going forward. Here are the loop stats for the last 26 races at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

DriverAvg. FinishQuality Passes# of Fastest LapsLaps LedLaps in Top 15Driver Rating
Kevin Harvick13.09166241,3005,44797.6
Chase Elliott11.3745751642,31397.0
Ryan Blaney12.1630109852,25095.7
Martin Truex Jr.14.11,2803293836,43195.7
Denny Hamlin17.41,1663484235,77794.7
Kyle Busch12.99753825515,16093.5
Brad Keselowski15.28322081353,77490.5
Kyle Larson14.64941954192,08490.2
Joey Logano16.88692342073,30583.4
Tyler Reddick21.0319161867780.8
Christopher Bell17.8404201677079.9
Alex Bowman17.14765501,29578.8
William Byron18.13882015499578.7
Erik Jones15.851037101,22574.1
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 21.150339251,77470.6
Aric Almirola17.654374501,40369.9
AJ Allmendinger 18.83045411,24869.8
Ross Chastain16.7312267451668.9
Daniel Suarez17.548232141,18968.6
Austin Dillon21.63552501,45966.8

With William Byron's victory in this event one year ago, Chevrolet charged to its second-consecutive victory at the Atlanta oval and Byron came away as the first Atlanta victor on the new configuration of the track. The NASCAR Cup Series returned to Atlanta in July and Chase Elliott pulled off a dominant victory over Ross Chastain, and gave Chevrolet their first Atlanta season sweep of the track since 2007. Those performances cut off Ford's nice little streak at Atlanta Motor Speedway and handed Chevrolet a comfortable three-race Atlanta win streak. With the new configuration, it will be interesting to see if Chevrolet can keep their current hold on the Georgia speedway or if Ford can rally back to the top.

Kyle Busch was our last Atlanta victor for Toyota (2013). Now that he's moved on to a Chevrolet team this season, Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. would seem best positioned to upset Ford and Chevrolet to put the Toyota brand back in victory lane at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Hamlin is a one-time Atlanta winner and Truex has flirted with victory lane at the facility on three different occasions since 2019. If the first four events of 2023 have shown us anything, it's that parity currently reigns. We've had some surprise winners to this point, but Toyota has yet to scratch the win column. Hamlin, Truex and their Toyota teammates will have a lot to prove on the reconfigured Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Since this race will be difficult to forecast, and historical data is only marginally helpful, we're going to have to examine the first four events of the season. Right now current hot streaks may play the biggest role in determining who has success on this higher-banked and repaved Atlanta oval. Kyle Larson, William Byron, Ross Chastain and Brad Keselowski have led the most laps to this point. Alex Bowman, Kevin Harvick, Chastain and Byron have collected the most points.  These drivers will be names of focus as we outline our Atlanta picks for this weekend. We'll give you a run down of the drivers you need this Sunday afternoon at Atlanta Motor Speedway, and a few who could surprise in the Ambetter Health 400.

The Contenders – Drivers in the hunt for the win

William Byron – After two consecutive victories at Las Vegas and Phoenix, Byron rolls into Atlanta as the hottest driver in the series. The No. 24 Chevrolet team will look to stay on a heater in Sunday's Ambetter Health 400. For Byron's part, he enjoyed some success on the reconfigured Atlanta Motor Speedway last season. The Hendrick Motorsports star led a whopping 111 laps in this event one year ago and charged into victory lane as the first winner on the new configuration. Byron would lead 41 laps in last season's second visit to AMS, but would get rolled up in a mid-race crash and would be denied the possibility of the season-sweep at Atlanta. Given this driver and team's current momentum, and Byron's success at Atlanta last season, he has to be seen as one of the top contenders in the Ambetter Health 400.

Kyle Larson – The driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet will look to hit the reset button after some misfortune at Phoenix last weekend. Larson led over 200 laps at Phoenix, but a late-race caution would derail his hopes for victory lane. He and the team have finished in the Top 5 of the last two events and displayed extraordinary speed right of the hauler, and that's most important. Larson had some tough luck in his two Atlanta outings of last year, but did crack the Top 15 in his second attempt at the track during mid-summer. As for his Atlanta Motor Speedway history, Larson has never won at the mid-Georgia oval, but has led over 400 laps and finished runner-up there twice. He's going to be a top contender to win this Sunday afternoon.   

Ross Chastain – Chastain ran into some late-race trouble at Phoenix but don't let that deter you from fantasy ambitions at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The Trackhouse Racing star banged out 74 laps led and a pair of impressive runner-up finishes at the reconfigured speedway last season. Those performances totally blew his past Atlanta performances out of the water, so don't get too caught up in historical numbers when it comes to Chastain and the No. 1 Chevrolet team. The stronger of Chastain's four races so far this season have been Daytona and the two-mile Fontana oval, so this driver and team's current package for the fast, big speedways is on point. There's a very good chance that Chastain and his Trackhouse Racing team can upset some of the more heralded favorites at Atlanta.    

Alex Bowman – The Hendrick Motorsports veteran has started the 2023 season on a roll. Bowman is the only driver to this point to register Top-10 finishes in each of the first four races. He's not just rode around in parade formation either, Bowman has led 31 combined laps and hotly contested for the win at Las Vegas a couple weeks ago. The driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet qualified well in both his Atlanta starts last season and even cracked the Top 10 in this event one year ago. An untimely accident and crash in the second Atlanta date would be all that would derail Bowman from a pair of Top 10's at AMS. Bowman has been warming up at this particular oval, dating back to even the prior configuration. He has two Top-5 and three Top-10 finishes in his last four Atlanta starts.

Solid Plays – Near locks for a Top 10 with an outside shot to win

Ryan Blaney – Coming off his best performance of the season and impressive runner-up finish at Phoenix, Blaney will look forward to another opportunity to challenge for a win. The No. 22 Ford team are getting their act together and coming to a good oval to succeed. Blaney is a one-time Atlanta winner and he's finished inside the Top 5 in four of his last five starts at AMS. In his last start at the Georgia speedway, the Penske Racing star qualified well, led 2 laps and finished fifth-place in last July's Quaker State 400. The action at Atlanta with the pack racing and drafting now more closely resembles superspeedway racing like Daytona and Talladega. It's no coincidence that this style of racing is one of Blaney's strengths. We believe he will be a factor in the outcome this weekend. 

Kevin Harvick – The Stewart Haas Racing star is a three-time Atlanta winner, and two of those victories have come since the 2018 season. He's fresh off a strong challenge for the win at Phoenix this past weekend, so Harvick should be strong at Atlanta. The veteran driver has cracked the Top 10 at Atlanta in 47-percent of his 34-career starts there. Harvick now has well over 1,300-career laps led at this facility with most of those having come since the 2014 season. He is getting a good handle on this season's rule package with the car and his fifth-, ninth- and fifth-place finishes the past three races are a very hopeful sign heading to Atlanta Motor Speedway. Harvick is off to a good start this season, and coming into the Ambetter Health 400 with a lot of momentum.

Kyle Busch – Busch rebounded to the Top 10 this past Sunday at Phoenix. It was not an easy effort, but he pedaled the No. 8 Chevrolet to a respectable eighth-place finish in the United Rentals 500. The Richard Childress Racing star will look to keep it rolling with a good performance at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Busch is a two-time winner on this track in the old configuration, and he sports a respectable 42-percent Top-10 rate at AMS. Now that the racing action resembles more what we see on the bigger superspeedway ovals, we point to Busch's Daytona performance of February as a good indicator of potential. He did get rolled up in an overtime crash, but showed the speed to challenge for the win in the Daytona 500. We believe Busch and the No. 8 team will have high potential for Sunday's 400-mile race in Atlanta.   

Christopher Bell – Bell has been the top performer out of the gates this season for Joe Gibbs Racing. The driver of the No. 20 Toyota has one pole position, 21 laps led, two Top-5 and three Top-10 finishes through four events. The numbers are good enough to place Bell a lofty fifth-place in the driver points coming to Atlanta. The young driver didn't have a whole lot of success at AMS last season, although Bell did lead 16 laps in this event one year ago. We believe he'll be greatly improved after last season's looks at this high speed oval. Bell's Top-5 finish at the similar intermediate sized oval in Las Vegas a couple weeks ago is a good indicator of potential this Sunday. The Joe Gibbs Racing youngster has a career-best finish of eighth-place at Atlanta, and we believe he can better that mark in the Ambetter Health 400.

Sleepers – Drivers with good history at Atlanta & solid upside

Joey Logano – Logano has been a bit inconsistent to start the season, but we still feel very strongly that he has a lot to offer and upside for this Atlanta race. The Penske Racing star was strong at Daytona (finishing second-place) and strong at Las Vegas (pole position and early laps leader) before crashing in that race. Those two events are a good measure of where the No. 22 team should be coming to Atlanta Motor Speedway. Logano had a bit of a mixed bag in his two Atlanta starts last season on the new configuration. This event one year ago saw the veteran driver lead 12 laps and finish ninth-place. Logano would get rolled into an accident when he'd return to the track last July. We believe Logano and the No. 22 team have sleeper potential at Atlanta Motor Speedway.          

Daniel Suarez – If last season is any indication, Suarez is poised to have a big weekend in Georgia this Sunday. The Trackhouse Racing veteran led 13 laps in this event one year ago and finish a strong fourth-place in the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500. Suarez would return to Atlanta last July and nab a good follow-up sixth-place finish in the Quaker State 400. It seems that the new racing style at Atlanta really appeals to Suarez and his No. 99 Chevrolet team. The veteran driver has started 2023 strong with Top 10's in three of the first four events of this season, and Suarez comes to Atlanta a respectable 11th-place in the driver points. He should not be overlooked in weekly lineup and DFS games alike.

Martin Truex Jr. – The start to this season has been a bit of an inconsistent affair for Truex and the No. 19 team. He's led just 16 laps to this point and has just one Top-10 finish through four races. Truex's 17th-place performance last week at Phoenix was just a bit perplexing. Atlanta Motor Speedway has been a track of recent success for the Joe Gibbs Racing star. He has nine Top 10's in his last 10 AMS starts coming into Sunday's Ambetter Health 400. That includes his eighth- and 11th-place finishes on the newly-configured Atlanta last season. Truex led 33 combined laps in those two events and showed extraordinary speed. If there's a race to get Truex and the No. 19 team on a roll, it's Sunday's 400-mile battle in Atlanta.

Tyler Reddick – Reddick showed some life last Sunday at Phoenix, piloting the No. 45 Toyota of 23XI Racing to a strong third-place finish in the United Rentals 500. It was easily his best performance of the 2023 season with his new race team. We're not convinced he can pull off another Top 5 again this week, but he does have potential to challenge the Top 10 and most certainly place in the Top 15 at Atlanta. Reddick has qualified well in his last three Atlanta races and he's led laps in two of those events. Speed has not been a problem for the young driver when he visits Atlanta Motor Speedway. His luck with accidents has not been good, especially last season at the mid-Georgia oval. Assuming Reddick's luck holds up, he should have the speed and experience to register a good finish in the Ambetter Health 400.

Bubba Wallace – Superspeedway Racing has always been a big part of Wallace's success. From his victory at Talladega to his three runner-up finishes at Daytona, Wallace seems to have a nose for the pack/drafting style of racing. Atlanta has mostly become this style of racing since the reconfiguration. Wallace nabbed a pair of Top-15 finishes at AMS last season, but we believe he'll be even better in his second season of racing on this oval. The driver of the No. 23 Toyota recently registered a strong fourth-place finish on the 1.5-mile oval in Las Vegas.  It was his first Top 5 of the season. Wallace followed that up with a respectable Top 15 at Phoenix this past week. He should be motivated for a good Atlanta outing this Sunday.

Josh Berry – Berry's Cup Series debut at Las Vegas two weeks ago in relief of Chase Elliott didn't go so well. However, we give the young driver high marks for rebounding strong and grabbing a hard-fought Top-10 finish at Phoenix this past Sunday. Berry will continue to drive the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet for the next several weeks as Elliott recovers from his broken leg. Elliott and the No. 9 team have been dynamite on the Atlanta oval in recent seasons and especially last year when he captured the July win on the newly configured track. Berry will get the benefit of all that excellence and team support in his third Cup Series start this Sunday. We obviously don't expect the rookie to win, but he could be an outperform candidate in deeper tiers of weekly fantasy games.    

Slow Down – Drivers to Avoid This Week

Denny Hamlin – Hamlin's start to the season has been anything but positive, and it culminated in an ill-advised dust up with Ross Chastain in the final laps of last week's Phoenix race. The Joe Gibbs Racing star has just one Top 10 through the first four events of 2023, and he's just not performing as well as he should to this point. Despite being a one-time Atlanta winner, Hamlin has just a lowly 36-percent career Top-10 rate at this track. The new configuration of last season didn't help matters either. The driver of the No. 11 Toyota struggled with the new banking, finishing 29th- and 25th-place in his two Atlanta starts of 2022. With no good notes from last season, and plenty of struggles to start this season, we see Hamlin has a high-risk driver in the Ambetter Health 400.

Chase Briscoe – After Briscoe's seventh-place finish at Phoenix this past weekend, he seems a young driver on the comeback trail. The driver of the No. 14 Ford didn't start the season so well with difficulties in the first three events, but it appears that Briscoe is righting the ship just in time for Atlanta. However, Briscoe didn't exactly set the world on fire with his two starts at Atlanta Motor Speedway last season. The young driver would collect 15th- and 16th-place finishes, and one of those efforts came with a pole-winning car. Briscoe's lack of laps led through the first four races and his tendency to fade into the field over the course of a race are problematic trends heading into Sunday's 400-mile battle in Atlanta.

Austin Dillon – Aside from a nice Top-10 finish at Fontana, the season hasn't started so well for Dillon and the No. 3 Chevrolet team. The crash and DNF at Daytona ruined what could have been a good finish and his 27th- and 16th-place finishes at Vegas and Phoenix leave a lot to be desired. This is not the normal, consistent Top-15 team that we've grown accustomed to seeing the last few years. Atlanta Motor Speedway has been a track of struggles for Dillon over the years. Just one of his 12-career starts here have netted a Top-10 finish (8.3-percent) and his 21.6 average finish is a troubling statistic. Last year's new configuration didn't help matters as Dillon and his RCR team struggled to 35th-place finishes in both Atlanta events. We believe he is a driver to avoid in all fantasy racing formats this weekend.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – After winning the season-opening Daytona 500, things have come back to Earth with a thud for this driver and team. Stenhouse has finishes of 12th-, 24th- and 19th-place in the three events since his big victory at Daytona. Atlanta Motor Speedway offers the same style of racing that he mastered at Daytona, but Stenhouse's performance here last season left a lot to be desired. Despite leading laps in both events, the JTD Daugherty Racing veteran crashed and finished 31st in this event one year ago. Additionally, the veteran driver returned last July and experienced a mid-race engine failure that would also slot him a disappointing 31st-place. We view Stenhouse and the No. 47 Chevrolet team as a high-risk play in weekly lineup leagues this week.  

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Taylor
Taylor is RotoWire's senior NASCAR writer. A nine-time FSWA finalist, Taylor was named the Racing Writer of the Year in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2016 and 2017. He is also a military historian, focused specifically on World War II and the U.S. Navy's efforts in the Pacific.
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