The NASCAR schedule returns to a sense of normalcy this week with Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. After five races were run in two weeks following a hiatus of more than two months due to COVID-19, Sunday’s event comes seven days after last week’s race in Bristol.
But the streamlined format in place since NASCAR’s return will continue. It means no practice or qualifying, with the green flag signaling the first at-speed laps around the 1.5-mile track. Drivers have not experienced many problems dealing with the accelerated schedule, but Atlanta could provide a challenge much different from Darlington, Charlotte and Bristol.
Atlanta’s surface, one of the oldest on the circuit, was last repaved in 1997. The rough and worn asphalt chews up tires quickly and puts a premium on handling. Drivers typically love tracks that put the onus more behind the wheel than on the setup, but that approach could prove tricky, particularly in the early stages of Sunday’s race.
Atlanta also throws a grueling 500 miles at drivers who, with the exception of the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, have become somewhat accustomed to shorter races since NASCAR’s return. So look for some drivers to simply try to be in position to make their moves in the closing laps.
Here’s a look at a few contenders for the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500:
The Team Penske driver has two wins this year, benefiting from late-race opportunities both times. He comes into Atlanta after winning Sunday at Bristol and, based on his recent success at AMS, has to be considered the favorite. Keselowski has won two of the last three Atlanta races in addition to a runner-up finish.
His top-10 streak finally was snapped at eight when he came home 11th last week at Bristol. Harvick has been a powerhouse at Atlanta, and his laps-led statistic is insane. Over the last 10 Atlanta races, Harvick has paced the field for 1,061 laps. Denny Hamlin is next at 262. That dominance has paid off for Harvick in the way of an average finish of 9.5 during that span.
MARTIN TRUEX JR.
Don’t be put off by Truex’s slow start to the season. While the former Cup Series champion has not been as strong as in previous years over the first nine races, Truex has had plenty of speed in recent weeks and just needs to find a way to finish. Atlanta might be his magic elixir. He has five consecutive top-five finishes at the track and came home second last spring. Over the last 10 AMS races, Truex’s average finish of 8.4 is second best of all active drivers.
The driver with the best average finish over those last 10 races in Atlanta is the eldest Busch brother. Busch’s mark of 6.9 has been strengthened in his last four AMS outings with four top-10 finishes, including a third in 2019. After his Bristol run, Busch has finished in the top 10 in six of his last seven races.