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 as NASCAR pulls into Atlanta Motor Speedway. This event was a new addition to the Cup Series schedule last season. For much of the last decade, the sanctioning body only scheduled one event per year at Atlanta, but that changed with the addition of the Quaker State 400 to the 36-race schedule.

The lightning-fast quad oval will host this 400-mile battle Sunday afternoon. Atlanta Motor Speedway is similar to the many intermediate ovals we've already raced in the 2022 campaign, with the added twist of last offseason's track reconfiguration. We'll need to pay very close attention to who is currently surging in the Cup Series as well as 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 in identifying the 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, as the table below illustrates. 

Atlanta's offseason overhaul increased the banking to a whopping 28 degrees and narrowed the racing groove to just 40 feet. The racing is pretty unique now and almost resembles the action we normally see on superspeedways like Daytona or Talladega. We need to take a

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 as NASCAR pulls into Atlanta Motor Speedway. This event was a new addition to the Cup Series schedule last season. For much of the last decade, the sanctioning body only scheduled one event per year at Atlanta, but that changed with the addition of the Quaker State 400 to the 36-race schedule.

The lightning-fast quad oval will host this 400-mile battle Sunday afternoon. Atlanta Motor Speedway is similar to the many intermediate ovals we've already raced in the 2022 campaign, with the added twist of last offseason's track reconfiguration. We'll need to pay very close attention to who is currently surging in the Cup Series as well as 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 in identifying the 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, as the table below illustrates. 

Atlanta's offseason overhaul increased the banking to a whopping 28 degrees and narrowed the racing groove to just 40 feet. The racing is pretty unique now and almost resembles the action we normally see on superspeedways like Daytona or Talladega. We need to take a quick look at the loop stats from that March event and get a feel for our driver group before we make any predictions for this weekend's race.

DriverAvg. FinishQuality Passes# of Fastest LapsLaps LedLaps in Top 15Driver Rating
William Byron1.01567111307134.9
Chase Elliott6.0282529284108.1
Ryan Blaney17.01831015266105.4
Joey Logano9.0234412232103.2
Daniel Suarez4.0238813263101.8
Ross Chastain2.01331442200101.6
Bubba Wallace13.01226322087.3
Alex Bowman10.015711017786.6
Erik Jones14.020110025385.5
Martin Truex Jr.8.01847519285.0
Christopher Bell23.015691623483.6
Tyler Reddick28.01220512482.1
Kurt Busch3.015911415279.4
Chase Briscoe15.019517521478.4
Denny Hamlin29.01934118278.3
Justin Haley11.015213115677.7
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 31.017082217176.2
Chris Buescher7.01793021274.7
Corey LaJoie5.063905373.6
Aric Almirola22.01209619667.9

Given what has happened at Atlanta Motor Speedway in March's Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500, it's almost certain that it will be another multi-driver brawl this weekend. The first Cup Series event on the newly reconfigured Atlanta oval offered up an Atlanta-record 46 lead changes among 20 different drivers. Those amazing statistics show just how transformed Atlanta Motor Speedway is now after the banking and surface changes. By contrast, the prior two events at Atlanta only had 11 and 10 lead changes among six and seven drivers, respectively. That radically different racing was all too apparent to the casual observer. No lead was safe and any driver could make a push to the front, much like a superspeedway race. We're sure to see similar action again this Sunday.

William Byron won that race in March at the new Atlanta, and although he led 111 laps, it was far from certain on even the white flag lap that he'd be victorious. Byron would nip Ross Chastain by just 0.145-seconds at the line to win with a host of other drivers in their "back seats" at the checkered flag. We had eight caution periods for accidents, most of which were of the multi-car variety, so we also have to acknowledge the luck and staying out of trouble components that have been introduced to the Atlanta race. We had 12 cars DNF in that March event. We'll give you a rundown of the drivers you need in your lineups and a few who could surprise this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

The Contenders – Drivers in the hunt for the win

Chase Elliott – Elliott is on a roll coming back to Atlanta, winning and finishing runner-up in the last two events. Elliott was not as sharp in March of this year as he is now, but even back then he led 29 laps and finished sixth-place in the first event on the new Atlanta oval. He was a factor in the outcome right up until the last lap, so it's quite apparent the new configuration is very much to the liking of the Hendrick Motorsports star. Since superspeedway racing is so similar to the action we see now in Atlanta, it's noteworthy that Elliott has grabbed 10th- and seventh-place finishes at Daytona and Talladega this season. The No. 9 team has had good cars on these high-speed, drafting style ovals.

Ross Chastain – Chastain is a two-time winner this season and has nine Top 5's, so he must be relevant in any discussion about serious contenders. The Trackhouse Racing veteran rides a four-race Top-10 streak into this weekend and is coming off an impressive fourth-place finish at Road America this past weekend. Chastain led 42 laps and battled for the win right up until the last lap in March at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He would just get nipped at the line by William Byron but still collect an impressive runner-up finish that March afternoon. Chastain and the No. 1 Chevrolet team will use that experience and set up their car accordingly for this Sunday's Quaker State 400. Another endorsement of Chastain's chances was his big win in the similar style of racing at Talladega in April.

Kyle Busch – The driver of the No. 18 Toyota was in the hunt for the win earlier this season at AMS and led 21 laps in the early going of the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500. However, Busch would get caught up in a multi-car crash on lap 102 and would eventually succumb to those injuries to the No. 18 Toyota and retire for the afternoon on lap 171. He'll look for redemption in Sunday's Quaker State 400. Busch has been great on intermediate ovals of late, collecting three Top-3 finishes in a three-race stretch of Kansas-Charlotte-Gateway a few weeks ago. Additionally, the Joe Gibbs Racing star has led a combined 31 laps in his two superspeedway events this season and nabbed strong finishes of sixth- and third-place at Daytona and Talladega. We believe strongly that Busch will factor in the outcome Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Kyle Larson – Larson wasn't very sharp the last time the Cup Series visited Atlanta in March of this year. He struggled in qualifying, crashed during the race and finished a distant 30th. This is a much improved driver and team now as we come back to the central Georgia speedway. Larson rides a two-race Top-5 streak into Sunday's Quaker State 400, elevating the team to a lofty fourth place in the driver point standings. Larson is getting this team back into contention to win on a weekly basis, and that's a scary prospect for the other top drivers in the Cup Series. The driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet has been good at drafting and superspeedway racing this season. He won the pole at Daytona and he led a whopping 32 laps at Talladega before finishing a strong fourth in the GEICO 500. Larson will be racing among the leaders in the closing laps Sunday in the Quaker State 400.

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

William Byron – Byron has had an inconsistent season, but he was the winner in March at Atlanta Motor Speedway on its new configuration. He led a race-high 111 laps that afternoon, but it would take some work to wrestle the lead from Bubba Wallace after the final restart of the day and hold off many challengers to secure the victory, one of two wins on the season for the driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet. Byron rides a streak of inconsistency into this weekend's event at Atlanta, however, though revisiting the scene of his early-season win should result in a bump in performance and fantasy value. The Hendrick Motorsports youngster is looking to turn his season around, and this weekend's Quaker State 400 should give him the opportunity for a Top-10 finish.

Ryan Blaney – Blaney has been a top superspeedway performer in recent years, so it was little surprise to see the Penske Racing youngster race so well on the newly-redesigned Atlanta oval in March. Blaney led 15 laps that afternoon and won stage 2, but he would get shuffled out of the lead pack at the end and wind up in 17th place at the checkered flag. He'll get a shot at redemption Sunday in the Quaker State 400. Blaney and the No. 22 Ford team have been locked in this season on the big drafting ovals, leading a combined 59 laps and finishing in fourth and 11th place. He hasn't been the top threat to win the superspeedway events, but he's been a face among the leaders for a majority of the laps in these races. Blaney should easily nab a Top-10 finish Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Kurt Busch – The 23XI Racing veteran loved the old configuration of Atlanta, and we believe he likes the new configuration just as well. Busch was the only Toyota driver to crack the Top-6 in March's Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500. He led four laps in that race and held off Daniel Suarez in the final frantic laps to secure an impressive third-place finish. 23XI Racing has a recent history of making good speed in these superspeedway events, and Busch and his teammate Bubba Wallace never hurt for top-end speed in these races. Busch has incredible career stats on the superspeedway ovals of Daytona and Talladega, and those talents play very well to the newly configured Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Daniel Suarez – The journeyman driver has been on quite a little streak this June and July. Suarez grabbed his first-career Cup Series win at Sonoma a few weeks back and is fresh off a Top-5 finish at Road America this past Sunday. He now has four Top-5 and six Top-10 finishes for the season and is vying for career-best Cup Series campaign and finish in the final points. Suarez will look to keep his good summer going with a strong finish at Atlanta this weekend. The driver of the No. 99 Chevrolet was strong here in March of this year, as Suarez led 13 laps and was in contention to win at the end of that race. He would eventually cross the finish line fourth for one of his best efforts of this season, so he has to be confident returning to Atlanta this weekend. 

Sleepers – Drivers with good history at Atlanta & solid upside

Joey Logano – Logano's superspeedway prowess should pay off big in the second Atlanta race of the 2022 season. The Penske Racing star qualified third here earlier this year, led 12 laps and raced hard to a respectable ninth-place finish. It was a good effort early in the season as Logano was still getting used to the Next-Gen car. Intermediate and larger speedway ovals have been sources for success for Logano in what has been an inconsistent season. The last of his eight Top 10s this campaign happened two weeks ago at the Nashville oval. The No. 22 Ford team weren't world-beaters or even serious contenders to win, but Logano was good enough to squeeze out a ninth-place finish. He should be similarly valued this Sunday at Atlanta.      

Martin Truex Jr. – Truex had a great drive on the new Atlanta oval back in March's Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500. He qualified poorly but made a drive from deep in the field to lead 5 laps and finish eighth. Truex will look to recreate that success Sunday in the Atlanta sequel, the Quaker State 400. The Joe Gibbs Racing star has shown good speed this season in superspeedway events and even captured a Top-5 finish at Talladega in April. Intermediate ovals have been his best tracks in what has been an inconsistent season for the No. 19 Toyota team. Truex should possess the speed and skill to challenge the Top 10 Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Denny Hamlin – After a couple poor weeks of road course racing, we're calling for the Hamlin rebound effort this Sunday at Atlanta. Intermediate ovals have been kind to the driver of the No. 11 Toyota lately, with a late-May victory in Charlotte and a sixth-place finish more recently at Nashville. Hamlin should be happy to see the steep banks of Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend. He was rolled up in a late-race accident at Atlanta back in March and will look to redeem himself in Sunday's Quaker State 400. Superspeedway Racing has always been something Hamlin was good at, as evidenced by his three career wins in Daytona and two career wins at Talladega. He likely won't be racing for the win at Atlanta this Sunday, but Hamlin should be mixing it up with the Top 10 in the closing laps.       

Bubba Wallace – The 23XI Racing driver was in contention for the win right up until the final laps last time out at Atlanta. Wallace would restart among the leaders with 13 laps to go, but he got moved to the outside line and scraped the wall in the closing laps, dropping him from the Top 5 to a lesser 13th-place finish. However, Wallace's 3 laps led and overall good performance can't be overlooked. The driver of the No. 23 Toyota has been a good superspeedway performer in recent seasons and even won at Talladega last year, so it comes as no surprise that Wallace likes the newly reconfigured Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Tyler Reddick – Coming off the big performance and his first-career win at Road America this past weekend, Reddick rides a tidal wave of momentum into Atlanta Motor Speedway this week. While expecting the Richard Childress Racing youngster to challenge for the win this week would be a bit too much, expecting him to challenge for a Top 10 is well within reason. He qualified well earlier this season at Atlanta, starting fifth on the grid. Reddick would lead 5 laps mid-race, but he'd get rolled up in one of the many multi-car crashes and finish a distant 28th place. We're calling for the rebound effort this Sunday in the Quaker State 400 and are expecting Reddick to qualify well and race among the leaders in this 400-mile contest.

Chris Buescher – Coming off a pair of Top-10 finishes (at Sonoma and Road America) over the last three events, Buescher will look to keep his good momentum going at Atlanta Motor Speedway this week. The Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing veteran had a great performance at the new Atlanta track in March of this year with a strong seventh-place finish in his No. 17 Ford. That experience will be good as gold entering our second race of the 2022 season at the new Atlanta oval. Buescher has been an inconsistent performer most of this season on intermediate ovals, but Atlanta is different. It races much more like a superspeedway now and that plays to his strengths as a driver.

Slow Down – Drivers to avoid this week

Kevin Harvick – The Stewart Haas Racing star had some good performances the last few weeks on road circuits, but now we go back intermediate oval racing. Despite riding a three-race Top-10 streak into Atlanta, it should be a week to fade the driver of the No. 4 Ford. Harvick did lead 11 laps here in March's Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500, but he'd eventually fade to a disappointing 21st-place finish in the first race on the new Atlanta. That has been much of the story for 2022 for Harvick on intermediate and larger ovals. He's had a lack of speed to lead laps, poor qualifying efforts and subpar finishes. Harvick is a driver to pan this Sunday in the Quaker State 400. 

Christopher Bell – Bell has had a pretty good season, but he's hit a bit of a rough patch of late. Two uncharacteristic finishes on the road courses of Sonoma and Road America ended what was a five-race Top-10 streak for the driver of the No. 20 Toyota through May and much of June. Bell will look to hit the reset button this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway, but this form of racing hasn't been his best in the 2022 campaign. Bell had good speed in our earlier race in Atlanta and led 16 laps, but he would run into trouble and finish a distant 23rd place. Daytona and Talladega have been equally disappointing for the Joe Gibbs Racing youngster, as the new Next-Gen car has presented problems for Bell in this form of racing. 

Noah Gragson – Youth and inexperience will be big disadvantages this weekend. Atlanta Motor Speedway has been transformed into a unique animal, and the narrow racing grooves have left zero margin for error. Gragson raced here earlier in the season in the No. 16 Chevrolet of Kaulig Racing and would be the first retiree in that event after crashing on lap 25. He's back for another crack at the high banks of Atlanta, and while we're more optimistic this time around we're also reserved about his chances. Gragson has had a tough season of superspeedway racing in 2022 and his Daytona and Talladega efforts back that fact up.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – Stenhouse is probably the biggest boom-or-bust pick in the field this weekend as we return to Atlanta. He had great speed there in March of this year, leading 22 laps but running into a major accident and finishing a disappointing 31st. His stories for Daytona and Talladega this year have been quite similar. Pretty decent speed, but the No. 47 team has lacked the luck to close the deal on these high-speed, high-stakes races. We know Stenhouse knows how to race and succeed in this type of event, but it just hasn't translated to the new Next-Gen car in the 2022 season.

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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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