NASCAR Cup Series News & Notes – Atlanta Motor Speedway

It took construction crews 163 days, but the newly redesigned Atlanta Motor Speedway awaits the NASCAR Cup Series for this Sunday’s (March 20) Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 on FOX, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio at 3 p.m. ET, the fifth race of the 2022 season.

Not long after Kurt Busch took the checkered flag last July at Atlanta Motor Speedway, crews began dismantling the track in preparation for its first repave since 1997. The reconfiguration produced 28-degrees of banking in every corner of the 1.54-mile speedway, making Atlanta the steepest intermediate track on the NASCAR schedule.

“Our goal all along for the reconfiguration of Atlanta Motor Speedway has been to create a first-of-its-kind experience on the NASCAR circuit and we’ve done just that,” said AMS Executive Vice President and General Manager Brandon Hutchison. “Never before has NASCAR raced on an intermediate track like ours with 28 degrees of banking, much less with superspeedway cars. Both will happen for the first time in Atlanta this year.”

In addition to the steeper turns, over the course of the five months of transformation the changes to the speedway include a new drainage technology and brand-new asphalt.

All the action begins at Atlanta for the NASCAR Cup Series this Friday, March 18 with 50 minutes of practice from 5:05-5:55 p.m. ET and the Busch Light Pole Qualifying will be held on Saturday, March 19 from 12:30-1:50 p.m. ET and both will be televised on FS1.

There are many unknowns on how this weekend’s racing will play out, but all indications are pointing to superspeedway-style racing that has been seen at Daytona and Talladega.

“In NASCAR we have our Daytona and Talladega style draft and those are on 2.5- and 2.66-mile tracks,” NASCAR driver and four-time Atlanta winner Kurt Busch said during testing at Atlanta back in January. “This is a mile-and-a-half. Things are going to be moving quicker. You’re going to be digesting things much faster and you’re going to have that Daytona and Talladega style feel here at a mile-and-a-half.”

NASCAR Cup Series

Next Race: Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500

The Place: Atlanta Motor Speedway

The Date: Sunday, March 20

The Time: 3 p.m. ET

The Purse: $8,263,045

TV: FOX, 2:30 p.m. ET

Radio: PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 500 miles (325 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 105),

Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 210), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 325)

2021 Race Winner: Ryan Blaney

Atlanta Motor Speedway and the NASCAR Cup Series  

The NASCAR Cup Series and Atlanta Motor Speedway go way back, 62 years to be exact.

Originally called Atlanta International Raceway, the track was then a 1.5-mile paved speedway, and it hosted its first NASCAR Cup Series race on July 31, 1960. The event was won by NASCAR Hall of Famer Fireball Roberts from the pole position in a 1960 Pontiac.

This last year was not the first time Atlanta has undergone a reconfiguration. The track was re-measured to 1.522 miles in the spring of 1970. It was renamed to Atlanta Motor Speedway in 1990. The track layout was reversed, and the track was reconfigured to 1.54 miles between the two races in 1997.

From 1960 – 2010, Atlanta Motor Speedway hosted multiple NASCAR Cup Series races during each season; starting in 2011 the series began only visiting Atlanta once a year (2011-2020). Last season marked the first time since 2010 that the series visited the facility more than once a season. Also, from 1987 to 2000 Atlanta Motor Speedway held the final championship race of the NASCAR Cup Series schedule.

In total, there have been 115 NASCAR Cup races at Atlanta Motor Speedway since the first race there in 1960. The 115 NASCAR Cup Series races have produced 53 different pole winners and 45 different race winners.

Nine of the 53 NASCAR Cup Series Atlanta Motor Speedway pole winners are active this weekend.

Active Pole Winners (9) Poles Season
Kevin Harvick 2 2017, 2014
Aric Almirola 1 2019
Kyle Busch 1 2018
Kurt Busch 1 2016
Joey Logano 1 2015
Ricky Stenhouse Jr 1 2013
Denny Hamlin 1 2010
Martin Truex Jr 1 2009
Greg Biffle 1 2007

Buddy Baker (1968, 1971, 1976, 1979 sweep, 1980, 1984) and Ryan Newman (2003 sweep, 2004 sweep, 2005 sweep, 2007) are tied for the NASCAR Cup Series most poles at Atlanta Motor Speedway with seven each. Kevin Harvick leads all active NASCAR Cup Series drivers in Atlanta poles with two (2014, 2017).

Six of the 45 NASCAR Cup Series Atlanta Motor Speedway race winners are active this weekend.

Active Race Winners Wins Seasons
Kurt Busch 4 2021, 2010, 2009, 2002
Kevin Harvick 3 2020, 2018, 2001
Brad Keselowski 2 2019, 2017
Kyle Busch 2 2013, 2008
Ryan Blaney 1 2021
Denny Hamlin 1 2012

NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt leads the NASCAR Cup Series in wins at Atlanta Motor Speedway with nine victories (1980, 1984, 1986, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1995, 1996, 2000). Kurt Busch (2002, 2009, 2010, 2021) leads all active NASCAR Cup Series winners at Atlanta Motor Speedway with four victories, including the most recent race last July.

Busch has the opportunity to become the 12th different driver to win consecutive races at Atlanta Motor Speedway in the NASCAR Cup Series joining Marvin Panch (1965 sweep), Bobby Allison (1972 sweep), David Pearson (1973 sweep), Richard Petty (1974-75), Cale Yarborough (1980-81), Bill Elliott (1985 sweep, 1992 sweep), Dale Earnhardt (1989-90; 1995-96), Bobby Labonte (1997-98), Jeff Gordon (1998-99), Carl Edwards (2005 sweep), Jimmie Johnson (2007 sweep; 2015-16).

Team Penske’s Joey Logano jumps to points standings lead heading to Atlanta

2018 NASCAR Cup Series champ and Team Penske driver Joey Logano has returned to the driver points standings lead for the first time since following Martinsville Speedway’s Playoff race in 2020.

This season, Logano and crew chief Paul Wolfe started slow with a 21st-place finish at Daytona but have since put up a fifth at Auto Club Speedway, a 14th at Las Vegas and then an eighth-place finish last weekend at Phoenix.

Logano heads to Atlanta looking for his first win at 1.54-mile track. In 16 series career starts at Atlanta, Logano has posted two top fives and five top 10s.

Though Logano has yet to win at Atlanta, with the new configuration and anticipation of superspeedway-type racing he might be one to watch. Logano is considered one of the best active drivers at Daytona and Talladega; where he has combined to win four times (Daytona, one win; Talladega, three wins).

Chase Briscoe latest of long list of new winners in the Cup Series

Stewart-Haas Racing’s Chase Briscoe became the 200th different winner in NASCAR Cup Series history with his victory last weekend at Phoenix Raceway. Briscoe joins Sunoco rookie and Team Penske driver Austin Cindric (Daytona 500 winner) as the second Cup Series first-time winner of the 2022 season. Now the series heads to Atlanta Motor Speedway with 10 different drivers entered this weekend looking for their first win.

If there is another new winner this weekend at Atlanta, it will be the 23rd time the NASCAR Cup Series has seen back-to-back first-time winners; most recently last season when Michael McDowell (Daytona) and Christopher Bell (Daytona Road Course) opened up the year with two first-time winners.

It’s a great time to be competing in the NASCAR Cup Series. In fact, the last decade of Cup racing (2013-2022) has produced 18 of the 200 first-time winners in the series:

Cup First-Time Winners Track Date
Chase Briscoe Phoenix Sunday, March 13, 2022
Austin Cindric Daytona Sunday, February 20, 2022
Bubba Wallace Talladega Monday, October 4, 2021
Christopher Bell Daytona RC Sunday, February 21, 2021
Michael McDowell Daytona Sunday, February 14, 2021
William Byron Daytona Sunday, August 29, 2021
Cole Custer Kentucky Sunday, July 12, 2020
Justin Haley Daytona Sunday, July 7, 2019
Alex Bowman Chicago Sunday, June 30, 2019
Chase Elliott Watkins Glen Sunday, August 5, 2018
Erik Jones Daytona Saturday, July 7, 2018
Ryan Blaney Pocono Sunday, June 11, 2017
Austin Dillon Charlotte Sunday, May 28, 2017
Ricky Stenhouse Jr Talladega Sunday, May 7, 2017
Kyle Larson Michigan Sunday, August 28, 2016
Chris Buescher Pocono Monday, August 1, 2016
AJ Allmendinger Watkins Glen Sunday, August 10, 2014
Aric Almirola Daytona Sunday, July 6, 2014

Since the inception of the NASCAR Cup Series in 1948, the 1950 season holds the record for the most first-winners in a single season with 12 followed by 1956 with 10. The 2011 season holds the record for the most first-time winners in a single season during the Modern Era (1972-Present) with five.

Parity Party: 2022 season off to a fast start

Consider this, in the first four races of the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season the fans have seen four different pole winners, four different race winners and three different driver point standings leaders.

Joey Logano is the latest of the three driver point standings leaders taking the top spot following his eight-place finish last Sunday at Phoenix. Logano joins Austin Cindric and Kyle Larson as the three drivers to hold the point standings lead this season.

2021 series champ Kyle Larson (Daytona), Austin Cindric (Auto Club), Christopher Bell (Las Vegas) and Ryan Blaney (Phoenix) have all won a pole this season. Both Cindric and Bell were first-time pole winners in the NASCAR Cup Series becoming the 241st and 242nd different drivers to win a pole in the series, respectively.

Rookie Austin Cindric (Daytona), Kyle Larson (Auto Club), Alex Bowman (Las Vegas) and Chase Biscoe (Phoenix) have all won a race this season. Cindric and Briscoe were first-time winners in the series. Briscoe became the 200th different winner in the NASCAR Cup Series.

Through four races the 2022 season has also seen 16 different drivers post top-five finishes – the second-most through the first four races of season behind the 2020 (17) in the last 10 years (2013-2022).

In the NASCAR Cup Series, the first four races of 2022 have produced an average number of different leaders per race of 10.75 – the most since 2014 (12.0) – and an average of 26.0 lead changes per race – the most since 2011 (35.0). And to boot, all four of the NASCAR Cup Series races have concluded with a Margin of Victory of less than a second and the season’s average Margin of Victory through four races is 0.295-second – the closest since 2016 (0.232-second).

NASCAR Cup Series, Etc.

NASCAR Cup Series Featured Matchups: 2022 Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway – Below is a close look at the featured matchups fans can bet on heading into this weekend’s event.

5 – Kyle Larson VS. 12 – Ryan Blaney

    • The lead matchup for this week’s slate sees a pair that dueled for the win in last year’s Spring event at Atlanta, after a dominant performance from Larson was spoiled late in the race by Blaney, who charged past Larson in the final laps of the event to take the surprise victory.
    • Atlanta, however, is not the same track that it was when these two dueled in 2021. With 4 more degrees of banking and a freshly-repaved track surface, Atlanta is likely to race closer to the 2.5-mile Daytona track than a traditional 1.5 mile track – something which would suit Blaney, who is widely regarded as a top driver on the circuit on superspeedways.
    • Larson struggles mightily in superspeedway-style races and has the 47th best average finish among drivers who have competed in similarly styled races since 2019. Blaney, on the other hand, has the fifth best average finish over the same time period on superspeedways.
    • Larson’s team’s hope would be for Atlanta to end up racing more similarly to a typical intermediate track, a track-style of which he is the best in the series (he ranks first in driver rating on intermediates since 2019).
    • Look for Blaney to have the edge in this matchup if the race turns into a pack-style drafting race, and Larson if it takes on a more traditional intermediate-track look/feel.

9 – Chase Elliott VS. 11 – Denny Hamlin

    • Georgia’s favorite son Chase Elliott visits his home track in Atlanta this weekend in a matchup against a veteran driver in Hamlin who has struggled mightily in the first four races of 2022.
    • Hamlin currently sits 27th in points, after a combination of wrecks, poor luck and driver/team errors to start the season have plunged his No. 11 team to its worst start in multiple years.
    • Elliott, who sits third in NASCAR Cup Series points courtesy of stage points, has had similarly up and down luck to start the season after showing race-winning speed in both Fontana and Phoenix, and only posting finishes of 26th and 11th to show for it.

47 – Ricky Stenhouse Jr. VS. 23 – Bubba Wallace

    • This matchup pits two superspeedway specialists together just weeks after the two traded the lead late in the Daytona 500.
    • Stenhouse and Wallace have each shown the most aptitude at superspeedways in their respective careers thus far, with each driver garnering their first wins at Talladega and posting their best career finishes to-date at the superspeedway track type.
    • Both drivers were significant factors to win in February’s Daytona 500 – with Wallace coming up just short of victory with a second-place finish, while Stenhouse was leading with under 10 laps to go in the event before a wreck in the closing laps squashed his shot at victory.

14 – Chase Briscoe vs. 8 – Tyler Reddick

    • Two of the biggest surprises of the 2022 season thus far comprise the final matchup of this week’s slate, with Phoenix winner Chase Briscoe going head-to-head with Tyler Reddick.
    • Both Reddick and Briscoe have been threats to win in multiple races to start the 2022 season, with Reddick showing dominant speed and leading large chunks of the race at The Clash and Fontana; while Briscoe finally broke through for his first career Cup win last Sunday in Phoenix.
    • In superspeedway-style events, both drivers have shown flashes of brilliance thus far in their young careers – Briscoe posted a third-place finish in the season opening Daytona 500 and has the sixth-best average finish in the series on superspeedways since 2019. Reddick has struggled to deliver finishes on superspeedways in his young Cup career thus far, but has shown a nose for the front of the field – he nearly won the 2020 summer race at Daytona before getting collected in a wreck while leading with under five to go in the race.
    • Should the race take on a more intermediate track look/feel, Reddick may have an edge. His 13.54 average finish since 2019 on intermediates is 11th best in the series, compared to Briscoe’s 20.31 which ranks 27th.

Brantley Gilbert named Grand Marshal for Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 – Multi-platinum selling Country superstar Brantley Gilbert has been named the grand marshal for the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 NASCAR Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday, March 20. The Georgia native will give the command to start engines ahead of the 500-mile race as part of his grand marshal duties. Gilbert will also help kick off the party in Atlanta Motor Speedway’s Peach Pit on Saturday night.

“I can’t wait to be part of a weekend full of fun and incredible NASCAR racing at Atlanta Motor Speedway,” Gilbert said. “I know that nobody brings more excitement and enthusiasm than Georgia race fans and I can’t wait to kick things off at my home track!”

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