NASCAR Barometer:  Joey Logano Dominates Atlanta

NASCAR Barometer: Joey Logano Dominates Atlanta

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Ford and Team Penske rose to the challenge last week at Atlanta Motor Speedway, capturing the pole, sweeping stage wins, and winning the race. Joey Logano was the dominant force behind the surge starting from pole, leading 140 total laps, winning the first stage and the race. Only five laps were run under caution in the first two stages, leaving the drivers and pit crews free to decide the battle on track. The three Penske teammates generally held the upper hand, though. Brad Keselowski moved his Ford into the lead on lap 209 and went on to lead 47 laps in a battle between himself and the Penske teammates. Ultimately, moves from the cars behind Keselowski jumbled the order on the final lap, leaving Logano with a head full of steam that he carried through to the checkered flag. The win was the first of the season for the defending champion and the first for Ford. 

Not much from Atlanta will carry over to this week's race at Circuit of the Americas. Momentum from success can give teams a boost, but road course racing is an entirely different animal than superspeedway racing. That could mean a quick return to dominance for Chevrolet, especially considering the manufacturer has won both races held at the track. Ross Chastain won last year for his first series victory, and Chase Elliott won the inaugural race at the track. Elliott, one of the best road course racers in the series, remains sidelined by a broken

Ford and Team Penske rose to the challenge last week at Atlanta Motor Speedway, capturing the pole, sweeping stage wins, and winning the race. Joey Logano was the dominant force behind the surge starting from pole, leading 140 total laps, winning the first stage and the race. Only five laps were run under caution in the first two stages, leaving the drivers and pit crews free to decide the battle on track. The three Penske teammates generally held the upper hand, though. Brad Keselowski moved his Ford into the lead on lap 209 and went on to lead 47 laps in a battle between himself and the Penske teammates. Ultimately, moves from the cars behind Keselowski jumbled the order on the final lap, leaving Logano with a head full of steam that he carried through to the checkered flag. The win was the first of the season for the defending champion and the first for Ford. 

Not much from Atlanta will carry over to this week's race at Circuit of the Americas. Momentum from success can give teams a boost, but road course racing is an entirely different animal than superspeedway racing. That could mean a quick return to dominance for Chevrolet, especially considering the manufacturer has won both races held at the track. Ross Chastain won last year for his first series victory, and Chase Elliott won the inaugural race at the track. Elliott, one of the best road course racers in the series, remains sidelined by a broken leg, which should open the door for others to seize the opportunity and snag their first win of the season.

UPGRADE

Joey Logano – Logano had a perfect start to the race weekend in Atlanta by landing the pole position. He then jumped to the front and lef the pack through the entirety of the first stage to win the opening segment. It was only in the final stage that it appeared he wouldn't get the victory, but that situation changed when Christopher Bell made a move that enabled Logano's lower line of traffic to get a run and snag the lead from Brad Keselowski in the last half lap. It was Logano's first Atlanta victory and capped a dominant weekend for Logano who are working to turn the tables of Chevrolet's early momentum. Up next to continue the roll is Austin where Logano led laps in both prior races and finished third in the inaugural race at the track. He finished 31st last year after late-race contact, though.

Brad Keselowski - Keselowski has led laps in every race so far in the 2023 season, and that trend continued Sunday in Atlanta. Keselowski was part of the Ford contingent that dominated the afternoon. However, not being part of Team Penske meant Keselowski was the odd man out in the final miles. Pairing with Tyler Reddick's Toyota enabled Keselowski to consolidate the lead through many of the final miles, but a late move from behind on the final lap left Keselowski to block the oncoming Logano. The bottom line carried too much momentum for Keselowski to fend off on the final lap and the No. 6 was left to go another week searching for his first points win with his new organization. Those trends will be difficult for Keselowski to continue at Austin where his average finish is 16.5, but the momentum he carries into the coming week could put him in contention for a top-10.

Austin Cindric – It was a Penske Racing kind of day in Atlanta, and Cindric flexed his superspeedway muscle by winning the second stage of the afternoon. Teammate Joey Logano had led the vast majority of the race up until the point the lead pack caught traffic on the final lap of the segment. Tyler Reddick made a move to the inside for the lead while Cindric took his chance on the high line, just edging out Reddick and Logano at the line. Late in the race Cindric found himself teamed up with his Penske teammates again pushing for the lead. Late moves on the final lap shuffled the No. 2  back to the 11th finishing position, nearly scoring his second top-10 of the year so far. Superspeedways aren't the only tracks where Cindric can outperform. He knows his way around the road courses, too. In fact, last season he finished eighth and led 11 laps at Circuit of the Americas.

Ryan Blaney - The 2023 season is off to a good start for Blaney with four top-15 finishes from the first five races. Sunday's seventh-place finish at Atlanta was his third top-10 in the same timeframe and second in a row after a runner-up finish at Phoenix. Blaney's Atlanta performance was especially impactful considering he overcome a speeding penalty during green-flag pit stops to claw his way back into the top 10 for the finish. The extra distance on pit road from NASCAR moving the entrance to the back straight meant drive-through penalties were particularly painful. Blaney's mistake and then recovery meant he recovered multiple laps throughout the remaining distance, evidencing his speed on track. Fantasy players will want that momentum to continue this week in Austin where he started on pole and finished sixth in 2022.

Corey Lajoie – A fourth-place finish was a just reward for Lajoie who continues to impress at superspeedways. Astute fantasy players would have had their eye on him entering this weekend since he typically finds a way to be among the top 10 in these types of races. Those who were brave enough to choose him this past week at Atlanta would have been rewarded, too. He was among the top 10 for the majority of the afternoon, and then he worked his way into the top five for the finish to grab his first top finish of the season. It has been a very good start to the season for Lajoie and his Spire Motorsports team, and they are in the top 16 in the standings as a result. While the coming week's trip to COTA shouldn't be expected to replicate the highs of Atlanta, Lajoie should be considered regularly at superspeedways.

DOWNGRADE

Bubba Wallace – Atlanta should have been a chance for Wallace to grab a top result before heading to the road course in Texas. Instead, just 10 laps into the race he found himself spinning into the inside wall. The spin and damage left him multiple laps down early, but the team rallied to get him back on track to gather as many lost positions as possible. Unfortunately, the hole proved too big for them to overcome and Wallace finished the race 27th and five laps behind the leaders. While the superspeedway was a venue for fantasy owners to consider choosing him, Wallace is not as promising on road courses. His average finish from two COTA starts is 38.5 with two DNFs. He has one top-five so far this season and he will be a viable fantasy selection certain weeks, but this week may not be one of those.

Kevin Harvick – Having a Ford Sunday at Atlanta was an advantage, and Harvick used that advantage to find his way to the lead in the final stage. While out front the pack behind built a big run that caused Ross Chastain to get the No. 4 machine loose as they rapidly closed the gap to Harvick, sending him spinning in front of the oncoming traffic and causing a multi-car accident. The incident was the first major incident of the afternoon and left Harvick with too much damage for the team to overcome. The veteran and his team will work to overcome last week's DNF and continue the hunt for their first win of the season, though. While he is a decent racer on road courses, Harvick's two outings in Austin haven't been that great. He crashed out in the rain in 2021 and then finished 11th in 2022 after qualifying 18th. 

William Byron – Byron was going for three wins in a row Sunday in Atlanta, but the cards were not in his favor. First, the Ford-powered machines had a heavy advantage and led the majority of the race. Then Byron was caught in the multi-car wreck triggered when Kevin Harvick spun in the lead. The damage to Byron's machine was too much to continue and he ended the day early. The DNF was a double whammy after NASCAR penalized the Hendrick Motorsports teams for unapproved hood louvres in the days leading up to Atlanta. Byron lost valuable points and his crew chief with the assessment. Much has gone Byron and Hendrick's way early in the 2023 season but the heavy penalties and crash on Sunday give them a true taste of adversity from which to overcome. Byron's average COTA finish is 11.5 with starts of fifth and 24th.

Kyle Larson – The Chevrolet dominance that started the season wasn't there to support Larson Sunday at Atlanta. The Hendrick driver was making the best of his situation after being assessed the massive penalties like all the Hendirck teammates. While running toward the front in the final segment Aric Almirola lost a tire and spun in front of Larson, causing the No. 5 to suffer a few heavy hits. The damage was more than enough to end Larson's day, which was especially frustrating considering his was just an innocent bystander. Larson continues to knock on the door of a maiden 2023 victory but come up short. This week's trip to a road course could be a chance for him to bounce back quickly from Atlanta's disappointment, though. He finished second there after starting on the front row in 2022 and has been one of the best recently on road courses.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Hendrick Motorsports –  After being the dominant organization during the start to the 2023 season, Hendrick Motorsports slipped backward at Atlanta. The first cracks started to appear even before cars hit the track for qualifying when NASCAR levied significant point and financial penalties to all of the Hendrick cars. Those penalties also included crew chief suspensions, leaving every car in the stable needing to fill an interim gap for one of the most critical roles in a race team. The scenario got worse Saturday during qualifying when Ford-powered cars dominated the speed charts. While Hendrick attempted to claw their way back forward during the race, by the finish the highest-placed car was Alex Bowman in 14th. Not a single Hendrick car finished in the top 10. Fantasy players must now wonder how much of that dip came from the penalties versus the style of racing and how much of that will carry into the road course visit at COTA this coming week.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
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