By David Morgan, Associate Editor
Back in mid-March, NASCAR found itself heading into Atlanta for the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 when the COVID-19 pandemic started to take hold across the sports world and the race weekend was postponed.
Fast forward to this weekend and the NASCAR Cup Series returns to the epicenter of where it all began for another shot at the 1.5-mile quad-oval.
With a track surface that is old and worn, having not been repaved since its reconfiguration in 1997, Atlanta always gets rave reviews from drivers who enjoy slipping and sliding around on the worn-out asphalt. Tire management will play a big role in the final outcome of the race with the abrasiveness that the track offers over the course of a run.
As a result of the current race weekend schedules without practice or qualifying, the starting lineup was set by a random draw. Hometown hero Chase Elliott will be starting on pole with Aric Almirola starting alongside.
By the Numbers
What: Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500, NASCAR Cup Series Race No. 10 of 36
Where: Atlanta Motor Speedway – Hampton, Georgia (Opened: 1960; Reconfigured: 1997)
TV/Radio: FOX, 3:00 pm ET / PRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Channel 90
Track Size: 1.54-mile quad-oval
Banking: 24 degrees in turns; 5 degrees on straightaways
Race Length: 325 laps, 500.5 miles
Stage Lengths: First two stages – 105 laps each, Final stage – 115 laps
Pit Road Speed: 45 mph
2019 Winner: Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford (Started 19th, 33 laps led)
Track Qualifying Record: Geoffrey Bodine (197.478 mph, 28.074 seconds – 11/15/1997)
Top-10 Driver Ratings at Atlanta:
- Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford – 100.5
- Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet – 100.5
- Matt Kenseth – No. 42 Chevrolet – 97.5
- Kurt Busch – No. 1 Chevrolet – 96.9
- Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford – 96.6
- Martin Truex, Jr. – No. 19 Toyota – 95.2
- Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota – 94.2
- Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota – 92.7
- Chase Elliott – No. 9 Chevrolet – 89.2
- Joey Logano – No. 22 Ford – 83.2
From the Driver’s Seat
“I love Atlanta,” said Clint Bowyer. “I think everybody likes Atlanta. If you are a racecar driver, you get up on the wheel and are slipping and sliding around. You work your rear end off there. That is what you look for in a racetrack. Coming from a dirt background, the harder you drive her, the faster she goes. The harder you work, the faster it goes. With that thing and the speed you are going and the aero platform you have, it is very easy to overdrive the car and blow through the grip in the tires.
Last Time at Atlanta
As Brad Keselowski held the lead in last year’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta, he had a war on two fronts to deal with. Still battling the effects of a stomach flu that had sidelined him for most of the weekend, the 2012 series champion had his hands full dealing with a hard charging Martin Truex, Jr. over the closing laps.
Holding onto a decent lead following the final restart with 43 laps to go, Keselowski looked to be well on his way to his first win of the season, but an overheating engine and concerns over tire wear started to become an issue.
Keselowski did his best to nurse his Ford Mustang to the finish, but the issues he was dealing with gave Truex an opportunity to close in fast on the lead and a potential win. However, lapped traffic became a problem for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver and he ran short of time to get past Keselowski to steal the victory.
With two laps remaining, Truex had a shot at the lead and the win, but Keselowski blocked his line off of Turn 4 and was able to hold serve the remainder of the race, crossing the finish line 0.218 seconds ahead of Truex.
“Good enough to get the job done,” Keselowski said of his condition. “I think first off, I’ve got to give a lot to credit to one, my wife, who’s standing in the back. She was sick just like I was, and she took great care of me along with everybody in the care center. I couldn’t be here today without them. So thank you.
“And Doug Yates, we ran over a piece of debris with, I don’t know, probably 50 laps to go and overheated really bad, and I thought there was no way this engine would make it to the end, but Doug Yates and his team, they do a great job. I’m pretty sure it’s all used up, Doug, but it’s in Victory Lane, so that’s okay, right?
“And then my sponsor Autotrader; they let me put for my foundation all the names of some veterans on the car to honor them. Just a lot of really cool things that came together this weekend, and this is one of them I’m not going to forget for a very long time.”
- Chase Elliott – No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
- Aric Almirola – No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
- Joey Logano – No. 22 Team Penske Ford
- Kyle Busch – No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
- Clint Bowyer – No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
- Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Team Penske Ford
- Ryan Blaney – No. 12 Team Penske Ford
- Alex Bowman – No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
- Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
- Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
- Martin Truex Jr. – No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
- Kurt Busch – No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
- Chris Buescher – No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford
- Erik Jones – No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
- Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
- Austin Dillon – No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
- Ryan Newman – No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford
- John Hunter Nemechek – No. 38 Front Row Motorsports Ford
- Matt Kenseth – No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
- William Byron – No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
- Matt DiBenedetto – No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford
- Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet
- Bubba Wallace – No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet
- Tyler Reddick – No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
- Corey LaJoie – No. 32 Go Fas Racing Ford
- Joey Gase – No. 51 Petty Ware Racing Chevrolet
- Christopher Bell – No. 95 Leavine Family Racing Toyota
- Ty Dillon – No. 13 Germain Racing Chevrolet
- Ryan Preece – No. 37 JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet
- JJ Yeley – No. 77 Spire Motorsports Chevrolet
- Cole Custer – No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
- Josh Bilicki – No. 27 Rick Ware Racing Ford
- Brennan Poole – No. 15 Premium Motorsports Chevrolet
- Garrett Smithley – No. 53 Rick Ware Racing Chevrolet
- Quin Houff – No. 00 StarCom Racing Chevrolet
- Michael McDowell – No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford
- Daniel Suarez – No. 96 Gaunt Brothers Racing Toyota
- Timmy Hill – No. 66 Motorsports Business Management Toyota
- J. McLeod – No. 78 B.J. McLeod Motorsports Ford
- Reed Sorenson – No. 7 Tommy Baldwin Racing Chevrolet