Photo: Logan T. Arce/ASP, Inc.

Up to Speed: Ambetter Health 400 at Atlanta Preview

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

After a drenching weekend in Daytona, the NASCAR Cup Series sticks around on the East Coast as it heads to Atlanta Motor Speedway for the second superspeedway race of the season – Sunday’s Ambetter Health 400.

Atlanta’s aging racing surface, which had been in place since 1997, held together as long as possible, but the 260 laps around the 1.5-mile track in July 2021 were the last on that particular surface as the track underwent a repave and reconfiguration for the 2022 season.

The 24-degree banking in the turns was increased to 28 degrees, making the banking the highest among intermediate tracks in NASCAR. The straightaways remain banked at five degrees. In addition, the racing surface was narrowed from 55 feet to 40 feet in the turns, 52 feet on the front stretch, and 42 feet on the back stretch.

In the races since its reconfiguration, the new Atlanta superspeedway/intermediate hybrid has put on some of the most entertaining races of the season and this time around, will play an even bigger significance as the track will play host to the opening race of the 2024 Playoffs. Any intel gained here this weekend could go a long way in helping teams get a leg up to start the postseason.

As is always the case at superspeedway races, there will be no practice this weekend. The drivers and teams will show up and qualify on Saturday before heading into Sunday’s main event.

By the Numbers

What: Ambetter Health 400, NASCAR Cup Series Race No. 2 of 36

Where: Atlanta Motor Speedway – Hampton, Georgia (Opened: 1960; Reconfigured: 1997/2021)

TV/Radio: FOX, 3:00 pm ET / PRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Channel 90

Track Size: 1.54-mile quad-oval

Banking: 28 degrees in turns; 5 degrees on straightaways

Race Length: 260 laps, 400.4 miles

Stage Lengths: First stage – 60 laps, Second stage and Final stage – 100 laps

March 2023 Winner: Joey Logano – No. 22 Ford (Started on pole, 140 laps led)

July 2023 Winner: William Byron – No. 24 Chevrolet (Started 18th, 19 laps led)

Track Qualifying Record: Geoffrey Bodine (197.478 mph, 28.074 seconds – 11/15/1997)

Top-10 Driver Ratings at Atlanta:

  1. Ryan Blaney – No. 12 Team Penske Ford – 98.0
  2. Martin Truex Jr. – No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 95.1
  3. Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 94.6
  4. Chase Elliott – No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 94.4
  5. Kyle Busch – No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet – 92.6
  6. Brad Keselowski – No. 6 RFK Racing Ford – 91.8
  7. Kyle Larson – No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 86.9
  8. Joey Logano – No. 22 Team Penske Ford – 86.3
  9. Christopher Bell – No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 80.5
  10. William Byron – No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 80.5

From the Driver’s Seat

“Driving at the new Atlanta configuration is definitely challenging just due to the fact that it’s really, really fast and it’s a mile-and-a-half so it seems like the superspeedway speeds that you get at a mile-and-a-half make everything go by really quick and things happen quick, faster than a superspeedway,” said Kyle Busch.

“That’s definitely the challenging part. Understanding the grip level of what the cars have in the draft and the moves you can make is also pretty challenging. It’s easier for everybody to go fast with it being restrictor plate style racing and everybody being able to hold it wide-open for the most part is what makes it a plate race.”

Last Time at Atlanta

2024 Daytona 500 champion William Byron was in the right place at the right time last summer when the NASCAR Cup Series raced under the lights at Atlanta.

With severe weather threatening, the driver of the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet was able to overcome an early race incident to advance to the lead over A.J. Allmendinger on Lap 167 of a scheduled 260.

However, a crash broke out on Lap 179 to bring out the yellow flag and with the cars circling under caution the rain began to fall. After the weather continued to go downhill, NASCAR red-flagged the race and eventually called it with 185 laps completed to give Byron his fourth win of the season and second on the reconfigured Atlanta layout.

Daniel Suarez would be credited with a runner-up finish, followed by Allmendinger in third, Michael McDowell in fourth, and Kyle Busch in fifth.

The remainder of the top-10 went to Brad Keselowski, J.J. Yeley, Justin Haley, Ryan Blaney, and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

Saturday, February 24

  • NCS Qualifying (11:30 am – FOX Sports 1)

Sunday, February 25

  • NCS Ambetter Health 400 (3:00 pm – 260 laps, 400.4 miles – FOX)

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.