Quaker State 400 Preview: Atlanta - The Sequel

Quaker State 400 Preview: Atlanta - The Sequel

This article is part of our Weekly Preview series.

With the twists and turns of Road America now well in our rearview mirror, we head this week to a much different venue for the second time this season.  NASCAR pulls into Atlanta Motor Speedway for the second visit of 2021.  This event is a new addition to the Cup Series schedule will make for the first time that NASCAR's top division has competed twice in a season at the Atlanta oval since 2010.  For much of the last decade, the sanctioning body only scheduled one event per year at Atlanta.  That will change this weekend as NASCAR runs the Quaker State 400.

The lightning-fast quad oval plays host to this 400-mile battle Sunday afternoon.  Atlanta Motor Speedway is similar to the many intermediate ovals we've already raced in the 2021 campaign.  However, tire wear always seems to be the overarching theme each time we visit this track.  We'll need to pay very close attention to who is currently surging in the Cup Series and also who performed well the last time we raced in Atlanta back in March of this year.  To a lesser degree, the historical statistics of Atlanta will also play a part for identifying those teams that will make the transition back to intermediate oval racing the best.  Atlanta Motor Speedway has a good group of drivers that dominate each time we visit central Georgia.  The table below illustrates this group well. 

The intermediate oval is the most frequent type of track found on the NASCAR

With the twists and turns of Road America now well in our rearview mirror, we head this week to a much different venue for the second time this season.  NASCAR pulls into Atlanta Motor Speedway for the second visit of 2021.  This event is a new addition to the Cup Series schedule will make for the first time that NASCAR's top division has competed twice in a season at the Atlanta oval since 2010.  For much of the last decade, the sanctioning body only scheduled one event per year at Atlanta.  That will change this weekend as NASCAR runs the Quaker State 400.

The lightning-fast quad oval plays host to this 400-mile battle Sunday afternoon.  Atlanta Motor Speedway is similar to the many intermediate ovals we've already raced in the 2021 campaign.  However, tire wear always seems to be the overarching theme each time we visit this track.  We'll need to pay very close attention to who is currently surging in the Cup Series and also who performed well the last time we raced in Atlanta back in March of this year.  To a lesser degree, the historical statistics of Atlanta will also play a part for identifying those teams that will make the transition back to intermediate oval racing the best.  Atlanta Motor Speedway has a good group of drivers that dominate each time we visit central Georgia.  The table below illustrates this group well. 

The intermediate oval is the most frequent type of track found on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule.  This event should set the tone for these style ovals for the second half of this season.  While Atlanta has some minor differences that set it apart from tracks like Las Vegas, Texas and Kansas, there are still enough similarities to draw some comparisons.  Still, we need to take a quick look at the recent loop statistics of AMS and get a feel for our driver group before we make any predictions for this weekend's race.  Since this is the second Atlanta race of 2021, we'll be drawing on some information from that March race and beyond in these loop stats.  So keep that little tidbit in mind when reviewing these electronic scoring statistics.  Here are the loop stats for the last 23 races at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

DriverAvg. FinishQuality Passes# of Fastest LapsLaps LedLaps in Top 15Driver Rating
Kevin Harvick12.87246061,2895,085101.4
Kyle Larson12.12821764181,67298.0
Martin Truex Jr.15.09792943515,92996.7
Denny Hamlin16.77473304185,16395.6
Kurt Busch13.78703196584,82295.4
Kyle Busch12.17973334394,73094.6
Brad Keselowski15.65781911353,27594.4
Ryan Blaney13.722491681,47491.0
Chase Elliott14.729558261,59489.9
Joey Logano16.54862121952,75583.3
Ryan Newman18.7637101443,55678.0
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 17.13113011,56977.5
Erik Jones16.818620081074.4
Alex Bowman18.014923073372.1
Austin Dillon19.72151601,16569.8
Aric Almirola17.5232503699169.2
Daniel Suarez18.815118177266.9
Christopher Bell19.540209465.9
Cole Custer18.517105064.4
William Byron19.0648236563.8

Given what has happened at Atlanta Motor Speedway in March's Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500, it's almost certain that it will be Kyle Larson vs. the world again this weekend.  The Hendrick Motorsports star dominated leading 269 of the 325 laps raced, but was out-maneuvered by Ryan Blaney in the closing laps and would finish second to the Penske Racing No. 12 team.  It was a power-move by Blaney and a bit of a shocking upset given how strong Larson was that afternoon. 

The reason that we believe Atlanta is a bit of field equalizer and a bit different than most of the other 1.5-mile tracks on the circuit is simply because of tire wear.  The racing surface at Atlanta Motor Speedway is very abrasive and bumpy.  It causes drivers to handle very loose race cars mere laps into a green flag run.  Most of the other similar ovals have newer, less abrasive surfaces so the tires don't fall off as quickly as they do in Atlanta.  We saw just 11 lead changes in the spring at this oval as Larson seemed to solve the track better than anyone else.  More typically, we usually see about 20-25 lead changes here.  With the increased temperatures of July, the track will be a bit of a different animal this time around.  It will be harder for Larson to dominate this event, but given how well he's racing it's still not out of the question.  We'll give you a run down of the drivers you need this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway, and a few who could surprise in the Quaker State 400 at Atlanta.

The Contenders – Drivers in the hunt for the win

Kyle Larson – The central Georgia speedway has become one of Larson's best in his resume. Despite lacking the experience of some of the longer tenured stars in the Cup Series, Larson has done a lot in a little bit of time at this oval. He's led 418 combined laps in seven starts, collected two runner-up finishes and four Top 10's.  The Hendrick Motorsports star has yet to check the win box here, but that's coming.  His flirtation with victory lane here in March of this year was only foiled by a superhuman effort by Ryan Blaney. Larson has been the sharpest driver in the series with two wins and four Top 5's on the five intermediate ovals of the schedule.  He'll be the man to beat in Sunday's Quaker State 400.

Chase Elliott – Coming off the big road course win at Road America, Elliott poses the biggest threat to Larson's potential dominance this weekend.  The driver of the No. 9 Chevrolet considers this his hometown track as he hails from just up the road in Dawsonville, Georgia.  Elliott too has never won at Atlanta Motor Speedway, but he's led 26 laps here and posted four Top-10 finishes in six-career starts (67-percent).  The time to win is now as he rolls into central Georgia with a lot of momentum.  Elliott's last two intermediate oval starts have yielded a pair of Top-5 finishes. That includes his 22 laps led and runner-up finish last time out at Charlotte in the Coca-Cola 600. 

Kyle Busch – The driver of the No. 18 Toyota will be looking to build on the momentum of his current three-race Top-3 streak this weekend.  One of his two victories this season have come on the intermediate ovals (Kansas).  He has been as dominant as anyone in the series on these style tracks in 2021 with one win and four Top-5 finishes (4.4 average finish).  The Joe Gibbs Racing star is a two-time Atlanta winner (2008 and 2013) and he rides a four-race Atlanta Top-10 streak into this weekend's action.  His last two starts at the blazing-fast oval have netted finishes of second- and fifth-place.  If there's a driver in the field who can upset the Chevrolets this Sunday afternoon, it's Busch and his No. 18 Toyota team.

William Byron – Byron has been a model of consistency on the intermediate tracks this season.  He won early in the season at Homestead and he's nabbed two Top-5 and five Top-10 finishes on these cookie cutter tracks.  Byron has led 148 combined laps on these ovals so he's not been just playing follow the leader.  Last time out he led 19 laps and finished an impressive fourth-place in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.  Atlanta Motor Speedway has held little success for the driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet to this point, but he did grab a strong eighth-place finish here in March's Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500.  We're willing to bet he'll be a Top-5 finisher this weekend and an outside threat to win.

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

Ryan Blaney – The March winner at Atlanta Motor Speedway checks in on the solid plays list this week.  Everything went perfect for the No. 12 Ford team that afternoon in March.  Not much has been that perfect since, but it stands to reason the young driver will have some added value this weekend.  He's been somewhat inconsistent on the intermediate ovals this season with just a 40-percent Top-10 rate.  However, we're willing to shrug that off given where we're racing this Sunday.  Blaney has liked Atlanta a lot in his last three trips to the facility.  With 68-combined laps led, a win and a pair of Top-5 finishes, that would seem to be an understatement.  Blaney and crew chief, Todd Gordon, learned a lot here in March of this year that they'll use to good effect in Sunday's Quaker State 400. 

Alex Bowman – Bowman hasn't been quite as strong as his fellow Hendrick Motorsports brothers on the cookie cutter tracks this season, but he's not been half-bad.  The driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet has been improving in recent outings.  Two of his last three starts on the 1.5-mile tracks have netted a pair of Top-5 finishes, and that includes his last outing at Atlanta Motor Speedway.  Bowman peddled the team's Chevy to a brilliant third-place finish in the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500.  That start earlier this season has been Bowman's career-best Atlanta mark in six total starts.  We're willing to bet he and the No. 48 team can rediscover that magic again Sunday at the Atlanta oval. 

Kurt Busch – The Chip Ganassi Racing star is a three-time Atlanta winner and he has over 800 laps led for his career at this facility.  Busch has been strong with all the different race teams he's competed with over the years at this Georgia speedway.  Aside from the victories, he's posted 15 Top-10 finishes in 30 starts at AMS.  That checks in at strong 50-percent rate, but that's been rising in recent years.  Busch has five Top 10's in his last six visits to Atlanta for a sizzling 83-percent rate.  He has been racing well of late with four Top 10's in his last five events entering Atlanta weekend.  Busch seems to be hitting on all cylinders at the moment at visiting one of his favorite intermediate ovals this weekend.

Kevin Harvick – The Stewart Haas Racing star is a three-time Atlanta winner, and two of those have come since 2018 at the mid-Georgia oval.  Harvick hasn't been in race-winning form yet in 2021 so he's slotted neatly in the solid plays list this week.  He rides a seven-race Atlanta Top-10 streak into Sunday's Quaker State 400 and that can't be overlooked.  Harvick now has over 1,300-career laps led at this facility with most of those coming in just his last eight starts.  The veteran driver finished 10th here in March of this year and that would seem to be a reasonable expectation for a floor this weekend.  We expect Harvick to be better this time around and potentially a threat to crack the Top 5.

Sleepers – Drivers with good history at Atlanta & solid upside

Denny Hamlin – Hamlin has been the sharpest non-race winning driver of the 2021 season.  The Joe Gibbs Racing star has stacked up an impressive 11 Top-5 finishes and stands first in the series points as we visit Atlanta for the second time this season.  Hamlin has displayed that consistency on the intermediate ovals and has grabbed two Top-5 and three Top-10 finishes on these style tracks this year.  Last time out he peddled the No. 11 Toyota to a strong seventh-place finish in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte.  Hamlin has been a steady hand at Atlanta Motor Speedway in recent outings.  Finishes of fourth-, 11th-, fifth- and fourth-place have been his last four starts at the central Georgia race track.       

Brad Keselowski – The Penske Racing star has always loved to race at AMS.  Keselowski is a two-time Atlanta winner (2017 and 2019) and he stuffs the Top-10 box here at a strong 62-percent career rate.  Although this season has been a bit of a down campaign on the intermediate tracks, and part of the reason for our sleepers list inclusion this week, Keselowski has finished third- and 11th-place in this last two outings on these size tracks.  While we don't expect the No. 2 Ford team to be world beaters this weekend, they should respond accordingly on one of Keselowski's favorite cookie cutter ovals.  He should be a good bet to crack the Top 10 in Sunday's Quaker State 400.

Austin Dillon – The veteran driver of the No. 3 Chevrolet has been sharp as a tack on the intermediate ovals this season.  Dillon has logged three Top-10 and five Top-15 finishes on these ovals in 2021 for a strong 9.2 average finish.  He rides a three-race Top-10 streak on the cookie cutter tracks into Atlanta this Sunday.  Dillon has been somewhat uneven at this facility over the years, but recent races have shown great promise.  The Richard Childress Racing driver has 11th- and sixth-place finishes at Atlanta Motor Speedway in his last two visits, the best efforts of his career at this facility.  The strong sixth-place finish came in March's Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500. 

Tyler Reddick – Dillon is not the only RCR driver set up to succeed this weekend.  His teammate in the No. 8 Chevrolet should have a good performance as well.  Reddick is racing well entering Atlanta weekend.  Coming off his 10th Top 10 of the season at Road America, the young driver has finishes of 11th-, ninth- and eighth-place in his last three starts.  Reddick has cracked the Top 10 on the cookie cutter ovals in 2021 to the tune of 60-percent.  That includes his most recent races at Kansas (seventh-place) and Charlotte (ninth-place).  Reddick has made just two-career Cup Series starts at Atlanta Motor Speedway, so he's yet to make his mark at this track.  However, those 650-laps of racing on this rough surface will begin to show what the youngster has learned this weekend.    

Chris Buescher – The light bulb flipped on for Buescher at Atlanta in 2019.  The journeyman driver has grabbed a pair of Top-10 finishes in his last three starts at the 1.5-mile track since then.  That includes his strong seventh-place finish in March's Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500.  Buescher rides a three-race intermediate oval Top-10 streak into Sunday's Quaker State 400, so the mid-sized ovals have been by far his best in 2021.  The 11.2-average finish across these five events speaks for itself.  The Roush Fenway Racing driver is setup to have a great weekend of racing in Atlanta.  He and crew chief, Luke Lambert, should have some good notes from their Spring outing here in March of this year.

Matt DiBenedetto – The seven-season veteran finished a steady 11th-place at Atlanta in March of this year, and generally that's been representative of DiBenedetto's efforts on intermediate ovals this season.  The driver of the No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford is coming off a strong 10th-place finish at Road America last weekend and riding that momentum into the Quaker State 400 this Sunday.  DiBenedetto has 11th-, fourth- and 18th-place finishes in his last three cookie cutter oval starts.  While Atlanta has not been a track of career-long success for him, DiBenedetto and crew chief Greg Erwin should find a way to challenge the Top 10 again this Sunday afternoon.

Slow Down – Drivers to avoid this week

Martin Truex Jr. – It's really a tough proposition to start Truex this weekend at Atlanta.  On the one side, he's been one of the most dominant drivers in recent seasons on intermediate ovals, but on the other hand are his recent consistency issues.  He peddled to a ninth-place finish at Atlanta in March, but somehow that doesn't really measure up to Truex's potential on these style tracks.  The last look we have of the No. 19 Toyota team on a 1.5-mile track was Truex's disastrous 29th-place finish at Charlotte.  Atlanta hasn't really been his best intermediate oval with no victories and just a 48-percent Top-10 rate.  We believe there are better top tier fantasy drivers to choose from this week.      

Joey Logano – Logano's intermediate oval racing has been his poorest performing tracks in 2021.  The five races to-date have yielded just one Top-10 finish and an inflated 16.6 average finish.  The Penske Racing star is normally much sharper on these style tracks than he has been this year.  Logano and Atlanta have a bit of a tumultuous past when we examine the record books.  With no wins, and just a 33-percent Top-10 rate, Atlanta Motor Speedway ranks has one of Logano's poorest intermediate ovals.  He finished a subpar 15th here in March and has just one Top-10 in his last three starts at the track.  It's best to keep the driver of the No. 22 Ford on the bench this week.       

Aric Almirola – Atlanta Motor Speedway has been tough on Almirola over the years, so the fact that he's slumping this season makes him a double jeopardy driver this weekend.  With just two-career Top 10's in 11 starts and only one Top 10 in his last seven starts, Atlanta has been a forgettable track for the driver of the Stewart Haas Racing No. 10 Ford.  Almirola's last start here netted a subpar 20th-place finish in March's Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500.  Couple that with his 27.8 average finish on the 1.5-mile tracks this season and you have a huge caution flag waving over this driver and team.        

Cole Custer – The 2021 season has been a down campaign in general for Stewart Haas Racing drivers and probably none more concerning than Custer.  Last season's rookie of the year has just two Top 10's so far this season and comes to Atlanta a distant 28th-place in the driver point standings.  Not much has gone right for Custer this year.  Custer hasn't cracked the Top 10 since mid-May and there are a lot of concerns at the Cup Series pulls into Atlanta.  Custer's two-career starts at Atlanta Motor Speedway are pedestrian 19th- and 18th-place finishes.  Given this driver and team's struggles, they'll be challenged to equal those marks this Sunday.  Custer has an inflated 22.2 average finish racing on these style tracks this season.

Want to Read More?
Subscribe to RotoWire to see the full article.

We reserve some of our best content for our paid subscribers. Plus, if you choose to subscribe you can discuss this article with the author and the rest of the RotoWire community.

Get Instant Access To This Article Get Access To This Article
RotoWire Community
Join Our Subscriber-Only NASCAR Chat
Chat with our writers and other RotoWire NASCAR fans for all the pre-game info and in-game banter.
Join The Discussion
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.
NASCAR and F1 DFS: PrizePicks Selections for the Coca-Cola 600 and Monaco Grand Prix
NASCAR and F1 DFS: PrizePicks Selections for the Coca-Cola 600 and Monaco Grand Prix
NASCAR DFS: Coca-Cola 600
NASCAR DFS: Coca-Cola 600
NASCAR DFS Trucks: North Carolina Education Lottery 200
NASCAR DFS Trucks: North Carolina Education Lottery 200
Coca-Cola 600 Preview: Memorial Day Marathon
Coca-Cola 600 Preview: Memorial Day Marathon