QuikTrip 500 Preview: Shifting Gears to Atlanta

QuikTrip 500 Preview: Shifting Gears to Atlanta

This article is part of our Weekly Preview series.

With the caution flags, wrecks and twisted sheet metal of the Daytona 500 now well in our rearview mirror, we head this week to a much different venue for the second race of the season. NASCAR pulls into Atlanta Motor Speedway for the one and only visit of the 2018 season. The lightning-fast quad oval will play host to the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 on Sunday afternoon.

Racing at Atlanta is a completely different game than the just completed Daytona 500. The one thing we can rely on is that this typical cookie cutter oval has sister ovals in the Monster Energy Cup Series. Tracks like Charlotte, Texas and even Las Vegas and Kansas bear some resemblance to Atlanta. So, for many teams it will just be a matter of looking at setup conditions for similar ovals and tweaking as needed through practice. Also, the historical statistics will play a part for identifying those teams that will make the transition from superspeedway to intermediate oval racing the best. Atlanta Motor Speedway has a good group of drivers who dominate each time we visit central Georgia. The table below illustrates this group well. Considering that the 1.5-mile speedway is the type of track that NASCAR competes on the most, the trends and marks set at AMS will need to be kept in our memory going forward. Those drivers that pound the pavement in Atlanta will likely be setting the stage for success at other early-season intermediate ovals such as Las

With the caution flags, wrecks and twisted sheet metal of the Daytona 500 now well in our rearview mirror, we head this week to a much different venue for the second race of the season. NASCAR pulls into Atlanta Motor Speedway for the one and only visit of the 2018 season. The lightning-fast quad oval will play host to the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 on Sunday afternoon.

Racing at Atlanta is a completely different game than the just completed Daytona 500. The one thing we can rely on is that this typical cookie cutter oval has sister ovals in the Monster Energy Cup Series. Tracks like Charlotte, Texas and even Las Vegas and Kansas bear some resemblance to Atlanta. So, for many teams it will just be a matter of looking at setup conditions for similar ovals and tweaking as needed through practice. Also, the historical statistics will play a part for identifying those teams that will make the transition from superspeedway to intermediate oval racing the best. Atlanta Motor Speedway has a good group of drivers who dominate each time we visit central Georgia. The table below illustrates this group well. Considering that the 1.5-mile speedway is the type of track that NASCAR competes on the most, the trends and marks set at AMS will need to be kept in our memory going forward. Those drivers that pound the pavement in Atlanta will likely be setting the stage for success at other early-season intermediate ovals such as Las Vegas, Texas and Kansas.

The intermediate oval is the most frequent type of track found on the Monster Energy Cup Series schedule. This event should set the tone for these style ovals for at least the first third of the season. While Atlanta has some minor differences that set it apart from tracks like Texas and Charlotte, 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 first race of 2018 at this track and just the second race of the season, we'll be drawing on some information from last season and beyond. So keep that little tidbit in mind when reviewing these electronic scoring statistics. Here are the loop stats for the last 19 races at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

DRIVERAVG FINISHQUALITY PASSESFASTEST LAPSLAPS LEDLAPS IN TOP 15RATING
Jimmie Johnson10.17303585665,109105.4
Chase Elliott6.599350629105.2
Kevin Harvick14.65844399124,00097.0
Kurt Busch13.76762756033,79895.2
Denny Hamlin19.15302973653,89793.9
Martin Truex Jr.17.37791872814,64393.0
Brad Keselowski18.1410112592,26192.4
Kyle Busch13.75862464233,49191.7
Kasey Kahne19.34802673493,37385.9
Erik Jones14.0663025383.2
Kyle Larson15.515212775982.7
Joey Logano17.62971531621,66281.6
Clint Bowyer21.54541121152,92180.0
Ryan Newman19.353554272,93477.6
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 19.014317073375.0
Jamie McMurray 20.05973002,70574.2
A.J. Allmendinger17.93045111,24871.9
Ryan Blaney21.55422029769.0
Trevor Bayne17.3806032767.8
Austin Dillon25.01268063967.0

Given what has happened at Atlanta Motor Speedway in last season's Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500, it's almost certain that the Stewart Haas Racing teams, Penske Racing teams and Hendrick Motorsports teams will be battling again for the win this weekend. We expect the race winner to most likely come from one of these three stables since Hendrick, Penske and Gibbs drivers have won the last 11-straight events at AMS. While Ford drivers were conspicuously missing speed on intermediate ovals last season, it was actually a Ford driver who won the Atlanta race one year ago. Brad Keselowski outdueled Kyle Larson in the closing stages of last year's Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 and crossed the finish line first. For Keselowski it was his first-career victory at the Atlanta oval, and it was Fords first win at AMS since 2008.

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. The effect is that for the Toyota and Chevrolet drivers who dominated on these style tracks last season, at Atlanta their tires fell off after 15 or 20 laps and everyone was proverbially in the same boat. We saw only nine lead changes in this event one year ago, which was dramatically below the recent norm of 20 to 28 lead changes. With the right pit and tire strategy here, anybody can dominate and win. 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 Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta.

The Contenders - Drivers in the hunt for the win

Martin Truex Jr. -
The most dominant driver of last season on the 1.5-mile oval circuit was Truex and his No. 78 Furniture Row Racing team. He grabbed one pole, seven victories, and 11 Top-10 finishes on those tracks in 2017. The veteran driver has seen his level of performance come to life at Atlanta Motor Speedway in recent seasons. Truex rides a three-race Atlanta Top-10 streak into this weekend's action. His start in this event one year ago yielded a strong eighth-place finish. Since that event, we've seen the Furniture Row Racing star take his game to a whole new level on these style ovals. Although Truex has never won at Atlanta, he's the odds-on favorite to win this Sunday afternoon.

Brad Keselowski -
The Penske Racing star is our defending event champion at Atlanta. Keselowski will do a good job in defending that title. He nabbed seven Top-10 finishes on the intermediate oval circuit last season, although he lacked the speed to contend for many of those victories. Keselowski did have the right strategy and skill though to win at Atlanta, and he could repeat that success again this Sunday. The veteran driver rides a three-race Atlanta Top-10 streak into this weekend, and that's reflective of his career numbers at this facility. Keselowski cracks the Top 10 at this oval at a strong 56-percent rate. After wrecking out of last week's Daytona 500 with a very fast car, the No. 2 team will be hungry to rebound in this event. That makes Keselowski a dangerous driver at Atlanta.

Kyle Larson -
This driver was completely dominant the last time the Cup Series was in action on an intermediate oval. Last season's finale at Homestead-Miami saw the No. 42 Chevrolet set the pace for most of the afternoon. Larson led 145 laps before finishing third in that event. That's a good impression to be left with as we resume racing on these cookie cutter tracks. Larson nabbed eight Top-10 finishes on the 1.5-mile oval circuit last year, and that included a whopping four runner-up finishes. He wasn't just consistent on these style ovals, he was mere ticks off from upstaging Martin Truex Jr. at times. The Chip Ganassi Racing star finished runner-up in this event one year ago, and you can bet he learned a lot from that experience.

Kevin Harvick -
The Stewart Haas Racing star has been painfully close to winning at Atlanta Motor Speedway in his last four attempts. The driver of the No. 4 Ford has led 195, 116, 131 and 292 laps in those starts, but has somehow come away without the trophy. This track has always been special to Harvick. He won his first career Cup victory at AMS in 2001, and he's finished inside the Top 10 in his last three trips to Atlanta Motor Speedway. Considering that the Stewart Haas Racing star grabbed two poles, one victory and 10 Top 10s on these style ovals last season, the No. 4 team has to be kept on the contenders list this week. That's something to underscore before making out your fantasy racing lineups this weekend.

Solid Plays - Drivers who are near locks for the top 10 with an outside shot at winning

Chase Elliott -
Elliott was caught up in one of the multi-car, blocking-induced crashes at Daytona last Sunday. However, before his misfortune he looked like one of the drivers to beat in the Great American Race. He should bring that speed to Atlanta this weekend in his No. 9 Chevrolet. Elliott has eighth- and fifth-place finishes in his only two Atlanta starts, and that bodes well for Sunday. He's very familiar with his home-state oval. The Hendrick Motorsports phenom rounded out last season well on the intermediate oval circuit nabbing six consecutive Top-10 finishes between Kentucky and Homestead. Elliott is still searching for career win number one, and it's quite possible he could break through this weekend at AMS.

Denny Hamlin -
Hamlin turned in some of his best intermediate oval performances of last season during the 10-race Chase for the Cup stretch at the end of 2017. The driver of the No. 11 Toyota grabbed two poles, four Top-5 and five Top-10 finishes in those five events at the end of last year. Couple that with his recent Atlanta success, and you have a perfect storm of sorts brewing for this weekend. Hamlin's had some tough luck at the Atlanta oval in recent years, but that's only tempered his career numbers at the facility. The veteran Joe Gibbs Racing driver has over 350 laps led at this oval, one victory and six Top-10 finishes. Of the circuit's 1.5-mile tracks, it's probably his toughest, but he still maintains good stats here. Coming off the strong third-place showing at Daytona, we think the No. 11 team is a safe fantasy racing play for the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500.

Kyle Busch -
The driver of the No. 18 Toyota will be looking to rebound from last weekend's struggles in the Daytona 500. Busch led over 500 laps on the intermediate oval circuit in 2017, but he didn't collect any wins. That speed only led to five Top-10 finishes on these style ovals last year. The Joe Gibbs Racing star is a two-time Atlanta winner, including this event in 2013. While AMS has been a mixed bag for Busch over the years, right now he's hitting on all cylinders with his team and particularly on these style ovals. Last season's finale at Homestead is a good example. It's the last time the series went racing on an intermediate track, and Busch led 43 laps en route to the runner-up finish.

Joey Logano -
The resume at Atlanta Motor Speedway has been quickly improving in the last few seasons. More importantly, Logano improved his intermediate oval performance late in last season's Chase with seventh- and sixth-place finishes at Fort Worth and Homestead. The No. 22 Ford team has grabbed one pole position, three Top-10 and five Top-15 finishes in their last five Atlanta starts. Those efforts have bolstered what was a null resume at the Atlanta oval prior to 2012 for this Penske Racing star. Last season was a down year on the intermediate tracks for Logano and he still managed an impressive 64-percent Top-10 rate on these style ovals. The good performance at Daytona this past week can only be seen as a morale booster for this quickly rebounding driver and team.

Sleepers - Drivers with good history at Atlanta who can provide a solid finish

Ryan Blaney -
This will be Blaney's third career start at the Atlanta oval. Since we only race here one time per season, it doesn't allow for the experience and resume-building that other tracks offer. The young driver should begin to see how to navigate this track in start number three. Blaney showed tremendous skill and maturity last year at Wood Brothers Racing. He racked up six Top-10 finishes on these style ovals, and flirted with victory at both Texas and Kansas. Now that's he in this new Penske Racing team, the sky's the limit, as he showed us at Daytona this past week. Blaney's No. 12 Ford could have the speed to upset and surprise, so the upside potential here is pretty tremendous.

Jimmie Johnson -
Johnson owns five-career wins at Atlanta Motor Speedway, including two of the last three seasons at this oval in central Georgia. These intermediate tracks were not that good for the No. 48 team last season with only three Top 10s total. For that reason alone, Johnson will be seen as something of an underdog this weekend in the race field at Atlanta. For that reason, we have bumped him down to the sleepers list this week. Make no mistake about it, there are some risks deploying Johnson in your fantasy lineup. However, his 54-percent Top-5 rate, and 62-percent Top-10 rate at this track are marks that are impossible to ignore. Until this driver and team can string some good finishes together they'll be a risk, but the track specific history begs a start for Johnson this weekend.

Kurt Busch -
The Stewart Haas Racing star is a three-time Atlanta winner and he has close to 750 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 12 Top-10 finishes in 26 starts at AMS. That checks in at about a 46-percent rate, but that's been rising in recent years. Busch has six Top 10s in his last eight visits to Atlanta for a sizzling 75-percent rate. He suffered an ill-timed crash at Daytona this past weekend, so you can bet the No. 41 team's urgency this weekend will be very high. That should motivate Busch to a Top-10 finish in the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500.

Erik Jones -
The Joe Gibbs Racing prodigy had tons of speed at Daytona last week, but very little in the way of luck. With all the blocking at the front of the field, it was a day ripe for wrecks, and one would find the No. 20 Toyota. Jones looks to hit the reset button this week at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The young driver made his Cup debut at this oval one year ago, and collected an impressive 14th-place finish in his first Atlanta race. Intermediate ovals were a bit of a mixed bag last season for Jones will he was in the No. 77 Toyota. However, with a year's experience on these tracks and the step into the Joe Gibbs Racing team, that should change. Jones' last Xfinity Series start at Atlanta netted an outside pole and a brilliant third-place finish in 2016. So he has the potential to race extremely well here.

Ryan Newman -
The 17-season veteran has always liked racing at Atlanta. Newman's accomplishments here are pretty impressive when you tally the numbers. He's a seven-time pole winner at the Georgia oval. To go along with that, he's grabbed nine Top-10 finishes, with three of those coming in the last five visits. Newman was a spotty performer on these intermediate tracks last season, but he did claim a Top-10 finish at Homestead in the series' last race of 2017 on a cookie cutter track. That's a good vibe to ride into Atlanta. Considering that the No. 31 RCR team claimed an eighth-place finish in the season-opening Daytona 500 last weekend, they should come to AMS with a lot of optimism and momentum that other teams are missing right now.

Austin Dillon -
The Daytona 500 winner will look to follow up his dramatic performance of last weekend in race number two of the season. While we don't expect to see the No. 3 Chevrolet in victory lane this Sunday, we could see Dillon race well and post his best-career Atlanta finish in the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500. Dillon won at the intermediate oval in Charlotte during the Coca-Cola 600 last season, and he nabbed a swath of Top-15 finishes on cookie cutter ovals throughout last season's Chase for the Cup. Those efforts were steady yet unspectacular. It could be that the driver of the No. 3 Chevrolet is finally coming of age, and the team is gelled around him. That makes Dillon a driver to watch very closely in the coming weeks.

Slow Down - Drivers to avoid this week

William Byron -
We hate to pick on Byron and the No. 24 team this week, but it's for good reason. We're actually high on his chances of winning Rookie of the Year this season, but it could be a bit rough in the early part of the schedule until he gets adjusted. This will be his Cup debut at Atlanta Motor Speedway. This oval is a driver's track and typically not kind to the inexperienced driver. Hands are very busy here keeping the car straight as you drift through the corners, battling tire wear and loose-handling conditions for 500 miles. Byron has just one Camping World Truck and one Xfinity Series start at this oval, so his experience racing this facility is very limited. Leave the rookie on the bench this week, and watch as Byron improves going forward.

Daniel Suarez -
This will be Suarez's second look at Atlanta Motor Speedway in a Cup car. While there were some lessons learned in last season's 21st-place finish for the No. 19 team, we're not certain those are ready to be employed just yet. The Joe Gibbs Racing prodigy was hit-or-miss on these style tracks last season with only two Top 10s in the 11 events. He also registered two DNF's on these similarly configured tracks during last season's Chase (Kansas and Homestead), so Suarez didn't exactly end last season on a good note on the intermediate ovals. At this point on paper it looks like a definite fantasy racing risk to deploy Suarez for the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500.

Kasey Kahne -
While Atlanta Motor Speedway has been a tremendously successful oval for Kahne over the years (two poles, three victories and 10 Top-10 finishes) we have to signal the downturn this weekend. Last year was beyond a struggle for this veteran driver on the 1.5-mile tracks. Kahne labored to just one Top-10 finish and a 22.7 average finish on these style tracks in 2017. That was with the much better-equipped No. 5 team at Hendrick Motorsports. Kahne will bring the scrappy, but resource limited No. 95 team to Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend. Their driver last season, Michael McDowell, managed a similar 22.4 average finish on the cookie cutter tracks. No, we don't expect any pleasant surprises or breakouts from this driver and team at AMS.

A.J. Allmendinger -
Despite racing to the Top-10 finish last week in the Daytona 500, we have to give the fantasy racing downgrade to the No. 47 team this week. Allmendinger has a sub-par record of racing at this oval the last five years. With only one Top-10 finish and three finishes outside the Top-25, he checks in at a lowly 22.8 average finish across the recent span. The JTG Daugherty Racing veteran failed to crack the Top 10 even once last year on the cookie cutter ovals, and his average finish checked in at a similar 22.0 for those events. We're hopeful that Allmendinger will be improved this season, but we need to see some results first. This is a "wait and see" driver this season, and should be benched for this event.

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.
GEICO 500 Preview: Superspeedway Battle
GEICO 500 Preview: Superspeedway Battle
NASCAR Barometer: Chase Elliott Breaks Winless Streak
NASCAR Barometer: Chase Elliott Breaks Winless Streak
NASCAR DFS: PrizePicks Selections for the EchoPark Automotive 400
NASCAR DFS: PrizePicks Selections for the EchoPark Automotive 400
NASCAR DFS:  AutoTrader EchoPark  Automotive 400
NASCAR DFS: AutoTrader EchoPark Automotive 400