The NASCAR Cup Series will visit the Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend for their first race at the track this season. The 1.54-mile oval will host the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 on Sunday, March 21. The race will be 325 laps with stage lengths consisting of 105-105-115. Coverage of Sunday’s race will begin at 3 p.m. ET on FOX with the green flag scheduled for 3:18 p.m.
Points leader Denny Hamlin will start on the pole. Alongside him will be last week’s winner, Martin Truex Jr. Penske teammates Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski will start in row two. Hometown favorite and defending Cup Series Champion Chase Elliott will round out the top five.
Race winners at Atlanta typically skew towards Champions of the sport. Just twice in the last 12 races has a non-champion won at the track. Past champions will be among the favorites for Sunday’s race.
Kevin Harvick Looks to Continue Atlanta Success
To put it lightly, Kevin Harvick has been dominant at Atlanta over the past decade. Harvick has finished inside the top-10 in 12 of his last 14 races at Atlanta. That stretch includes two wins and seven top five finishes. The most impressive stat may be the laps led. He’s led over 115 laps in six of his last seven races here. Not to mention, his first career win came at Atlanta in just his third career Cup Series start. He got bested on pit strategy in 2015 and got caught speeding late in the 2017 race so he could easily have two more wins at Atlanta.
Harvick has been consistent in this season, but he just hasn’t had the race-winning speed we saw in 2020. As the defending winner of this race, Harvick should be a threat to win again. He starts seventh on Sunday.
Martin Truex Jr. Goes for First Atlanta Win
Martin Truex Jr. came into last week’s race at Phoenix Raceway having never won there. In his 31st try at the track, Truex Jr. finally pulled off the victory. He will look to complete a similar feat this week at Atlanta. Truex Jr. is 0 for 22 at Atlanta but he’s currently riding a run of eight top 10 finishes in his last nine Atlanta races. He nearly won in 2012 before a caution with under five laps to go erased his lead. He would fall back on pit stops and finish fourth. Truex Jr. had another close call in 2019 before finishing just 0.218 seconds behind race winner Brad Keselowski.
Truex Jr. has shown race-winning speed virtually every race this season. With a win in the bank, expect the 19 team to take more chances in hopes of picking up more playoff points.
More Contenders to Watch Out for on Sunday
Brad Keselowski has quietly gotten off to a strong start this season. Three top five finishes and a stage win at Las Vegas has Keselowski second in the point standings. His Atlanta stats are impressive. Eight top-10 finishes in his last 10 starts here include two wins. He has led laps in four straight Atlanta races. Not to mention, he’s led laps in three consecutive races this season. Look for Brad to be out front at some point on Sunday.
Kyle Busch’s struggles for 2020 look to have carried over into 2021. Just one top-five finish this season has the driver of the No. 18 Toyota 15th in points. Even with his struggles last season, Busch led seven laps and finished runner-up at Atlanta. With three straight top 10 finishes at the track, look for Busch to get back on track on Sunday.
One of the hottest drivers this season has been Kyle Larson. He missed the majority of last season, but hasn’t missed a beat in 2021. A win and four top-10 finishes this season has Larson firmly in the championship hunt. His average finish of 13.8 at Atlanta is second-best among active drivers. He was passed late in 2017 by Keselowski before settling for a second-place finish. Larson had the dominant car in 2019, leading 142 laps. Unfortunately, he suffered a pit road penalty at the end of stage 2 and never recovered. If Larson can clean up his mistakes, look for him to be a threat to win again.
Final Thoughts for Atlanta
This track definitely caters to those with more experience. Past champions like Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., and Brad Keselowski should all be out front on Sunday. But don’t be surprised to see guys like Larson or even Ryan Blaney find their way to the front. Will Atlanta give us our sixth different winner in six races? Tune in to find out.